Jan Cibrik explains his collaboration with Czech city officials who are so harsh about impoverished Roma
The crisis in the Czech town of Ústí nad Labem that broke out in connection with the closing of two residential hotels seems to have been smoothed over for now. Thanks to enormous efforts primarily by the Deputy Mayor of one of the centrally-located municipal departments, Karel Karika, most of the people who were living in the closing facility in that municipality managed to find new housing, while about 25 people from the other facility have been provided temporary shelter by the city in the gym of a school in the excluded Předlice neighborhood.
In the meantime, the city refused an opportunity to collaborate with the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion and began to clean up the dump on Sklářská Street that has afflicted the excluded Předlice neighborhood for years. In both cases the city leadership led by Mayor Věra Nechybová of the Ústecký Citizens' Forum (Ústecký fórum občanů - UFO) party is cooperating with a particular group of local Romani people who are expressing support for the local leadership, some of whom will run for UFO in the autumn local elections.
Both the rhetoric of the UFO movement that some Romani people are said to be using and their collaboration with the party in general has some critics. "The governing UFO movement has connected with the most powerful, richest family in Předlice, one that most impoverished Romani people are afraid of, and one that leases housing there. Those people are suddenly partners for the city," local activist Miroslav Brož commented previously to news server Denik.cz.
"They are undercutting our work, they have let themselves be bought cheap, and they are calling impoverished Romani people in the residential hotels 'parasites'. That is really swinishness, that is not Romanipen," Romani activist Jozef Miker said in an interview for Romani Internet television.
"They are intimidating impoverished people and they should be ashamed of themselves," Miker added. The activists' harsh words are about a group of Romani people centered around local resident Jan Cibrik.
In April Cibrik became a member of the local Crime Prevention Commission. He himself was convicted as part of a case against an allegedly corrupt former local police officer, Michal Havel, although that verdict has yet to take effect.
The city leadership is standing by its choice of Cibrik. "Anybody can make a mistake. We will honor the presumption of innocence until such time as a verdict takes effect. What got our attention was that he came forward with rational proposals after nothing had been done in Předlice for years," Deputy Mayor Jiří Madar (UFO) told news server Denik.cz.
News server Romea.cz has asked Cibrik when the collaboration first began between the local Romani people in his group and the current city leadership. We also asked what his view is of the recent disputes and overall situation in the community.
Q: Who came up with the offer of arranging to clean up the dump in Předlice? Previous cleanups were attempted by, for example, the Amare Předlice group, but they say the city was not very open to them. How did your collaboration begin with the city government?
A: We have been functioning in Předlice even before Amare Předlice, about 10 – 15 years ago. Locals were engaged and they didn't create any associations. It was just an initiative of locals, long-term residents who were doing their best to develop some activities to improve things here. We established contact with the city during the time of Petr Gandalovič [Mayor of Ústí nad Labem from 2002 - 2006]. That was in 2002, but the cooperation never culminated in any successful outcome, it always ended freezing up. Recently we were organizing balls for charity, Romani ones, under the auspices of Madame Mayor, and we discussed the issue of the localities. The work by field workers and nonprofits there was at the zero point. Last year Madame Mayor invited us for a discussion of how we might address this together. The city proposed that we establish our own nonprofit if we were so dissatisfied with the others. Each of us has our own jobs, though, so we did not have the time for that. Some time around the close of 2017 I was asked whether I wanted to join the Crime Prevention Commission. I was elected a member there in 2018. Its job description is to generate and propose ideas to the city council where, currently, the people in office are interested in addressing such matters, in my opinion, and want to uplift the city. As part of that commission and in collaboration with the city council we have proposed different ideas and submitted various motions. One was the idea to clean up the dump. The liquidation of the dump is still underway, there is still a lot to clean up there, and it will probably look like it does for several more weeks. There are tons of garbage there.
Q: You began collaborating with the city leadership, which is UFO...
A: The city council is not just UFO, it's members of UFO plus Květoslava Čelišová, who is from the Communist Party.
Q: Both UFO and Ms Čelišová speak about Roma in a particular way. First the Mayor and Deputy Mayor refused aid to the people in the closing residential hotels, and then under pressure from the media they reversed that position a bit. Ms Čelišová, according to information from Mr Brož, called Romani people "locusts who destroy everything". Can collaboration function despite such statements?
A: I don't sit on the council, so I don't know how those people express themselves. If somebody talks like that and you have it recorded, then I would consider a different strategy for how to address these issues. I can't make anybody stop talking - if I negotiate with them, it's about how best to address the situation. We're not addressing how those people behave, I will not discuss with them whether Romani people are like this or like that. However, to accuse me of cooperating with somebody who has such opinions seems odd to me. I have never read it published anywhere that those are their opinions. I do believe people have prejudices, but if I had to constantly address who has which prejudices I would never resolve anything. We need the leadership. We need them to be inclined toward us and we need to address the situation. If we argue here that somebody said something bad about Romani people and is now in office, and if I have to negotiate with them, then I must negotiate with them even if I don't like what that person is alleging (or not). In my presence these people do not speak that way and they would never allow themselves to. I would argue that this is not the way forward. We will speak correctly and courteously, they are the governing coalition, and that is how we should approach them. We cannot mutually insult each other here, we want to earn respect through our work. I believe this is rather about the fact that some nonprofits urged the city leadership to clean up the dump and then we began cleaning it up. I would rather ask the nonprofits, the people who are engaged it this, to hang in there, to collaborate with us, to get involved. If they wanted to clean something up, then they should join us. Why is nobody coming to offer their aid now? There is a need for assistance.
Q: You are one of the signatories to a petition asking the city council not to enter into collaboration with the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion. Another signatory, Tibor Gaži, addressed the assembly meeting with a rather harsh speech...
A: That was not a harsh speech. He had stage fright, he is not a pro, he is not a public speaker. We did not want to speak about Romani people there, and that was why we used the term "inadaptables", which naturally we don't like either, but they aren't just Romani people, those who fall into that category. We did not want to use the word "Roma" because there are other nationalities there also, Czechs as well. That, unfortunately, is how the politicians speak, we wanted to speak in their language so they would understand us. He [Gaži] asked whether those nonprofits aren't causing us harm also, by the way. We wanted to draw attention to the fact that one shouldn't just look at the inadaptables who are drawing welfare, but at the nonprofits that are getting no small amount of money themselves. I'm not saying all nonprofits are bad, and what's more, we were just speaking about what it's like here in the north. I do openly say that when it comes to the nonprofits involved with Romani people here, they do not work. For 30 years the Gypsy question has been being included here, for 30 years nobody has included anybody, and here, in this way, nobody will include anybody else for the next 30 years either. If all we do is dance around with these analyses and studies, it will not aid anybody. We need to do hard work on the streets and in the families. If you take, for example, the situation at those residential hotels, the field workers were meant to work on those facilities being just a short-term solution for those people. Have you seen the residential hotel? There are 12 to 13 apartments per floor with one restroom for them all. I know some of the people there and I said to them: "You must be joking, how can you stay here, I wouldn't last a day here." Those people were working, but you know how it is. Collections proceedings, gambling, drink - all of that has destroyed them.
Q: Do you perceive there to be a conflict between you and the activists and nonprofits in Ústí nad Labem?
A: It is not a conflict, I am not worried about this as a conflict. I can speak normally with all those people. However, if they are attacking me for collaborating with the people who are currently in city government who, according to them, are against Roma... Those people do not make public appearances of that kind... If Mr Okamura and people like him were sitting there then yes, you could go ahead and lynch me [for cooperating], but I believe that here it is not at the level that we would be able to compare it with the kind of people like the SPD movement. I believe that would be worse. We just wanted to clean up the mess in Předlice, and if the city is inclined to do that, we welcome it - we all welcome it.
Q: On Facebook there are allegations that some people living in the residential hotels were afraid to address the local assembly because the people connected with you were there. How do you explain that?
A: Those people were not afraid.
Q: They are saying that, though.
A: They are not the ones saying it, Mr Brož and Mr Miker are. I am communicating with the local people, and with the people like Mr Brož and Mr Miker, I just asked them why they only ever give things a bad rap? They demonstrate against one thing, but then they say the city is doing the right thing to clean up the dump, so they are contradicting themselves. I merely told them not to make things even worse. Other people were there whom I've known all my life, once they used to live in Předlice and now they are at the residential hotel. I asked one of them who's a handyman, he can do anything, from masonry to anything else - "You're a clever person and you're letting yourself be manipulated," I said. He told me he didn't even know why he was there [at the demonstration], he had found a place to move to, but he was asked by Mr Brož to go there. Anybody can demonstrate if they disagree with something, but I just said I was lobbying for the people who weren't willing to go there at all. If I were in their situation, in danger of not having the opportunity to take a job, for example, I would address my housing situation first. I would bring my children to the assembly meeting and fight for them there, but those people didn't go there. We are arguing here about people who don't care. I get it that some people will sit at home and wait to see if somebody else will do something for them - "I don't do anything, I'm a musician, somebody else should do it." However, the activists and nonprofits should be exactly there for them, to fight for them, to wake them up to take action, to motivate them. If the nonprofits come together and demand more activity from those people, then they will be successful. However, if all we ever do is shout about what we want, then nobody will ever give us anything. The prejudices in the Czech Republic are terribly enormous. What will the majority society say? The Gypsies should get to work, but nobody will give them work exactly because they are Gypsies. On the other hand, lobbying that way is not correct either. Let's actually integrate, not just do studies and talk about it, let's do it from the ground up.
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