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Jarmila Balážová: New ministers could change Czech perceptions of gender and minorities

Prague, 20.1.2014 23:12, (ROMEA)
From left to right:  Bohuslav Sobotka, Jiří Dientsbier and Michaela Marksová-Tominová (Collage: Romea.cz)
From left to right: Bohuslav Sobotka, Jiří Dientsbier and Michaela Marksová-Tominová (Collage: Romea.cz)

We finally have the names of the cabinet to be led by incoming Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka. This means the strange double-government situation in this country will soon be over, one that has made it very difficult for the average citizen and the public in general, who directly elected a President and deputies to the lower house, to figure out who is basically doing what, especially what the outgoing, Zeman-appointed cabinet has abolished, approved, negotiated or reallocated.

In the middle of all of that we also had the attempted putsch within the ranks of the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD), the affairs around Kott, Nagyová, Pancová and Rath, President Zeman pulling strings, etc. Once Zeman has finally named the government, I believe the situation will become just a touch easier to follow and more transparent.    

At a minimum, it will be better to follow the steps taken by just one government, one whose members the citizens will eventually be able to hold accountable - or even to praise, should there be something to praise them for. I also believe and hope that the competences, positions and roles of the President and Prime Minister will be clarified and stabilized, at least as far as the outside world is concerned.

That just may come to pass, as Bohuslav Sobotka has proven to be a pragmatic player with a great capacity for compromise and cool nerves. He stood up to a very unpleasant situation inside his party, an attempted putsch, under what was, at the very least, a set of curious circumstances, including the position of President Zeman around secret meetings with those attempting the putsch, etc. 

To be able to hang on to his position as incoming premier in such a situation definitely attests to Sobotka's enormous knowledge of the political chessboard and, as I have said, his ability to keep a cool head. We will now see what kind of premier he will be, and time is always the best analyst.  

Thanks to his many years of political practice, Sobotka is naturally very well aware that he is not taking the helm of the country in the easiest of situations, and now he must demonstrate his capacity, and that of the ministers he has chosen, for compromise, in the sense that they must fulfill the promises made to the voters while not leading the country down the road of irrecoverable losses. In my opinion, he has made an interesting choice in the persons of Jiří Dientsbier for Human Rights Minister and Michaela Marksová-Tominová for Labor and Social Affairs Minister, both of whom will be taking up posts that were not their originally preferred options.

Dientsbier can now use his long-term popularity, political maturity, and seriousness to work on a topic that is perceived to be so marginal that it wasn't even included in the past two cabinets. Tominová can draw on her experience to date in the fields of gender and minorities to introduce protections for both into specific systemic measures with respect to employment and other related steps forward.

It is possible that Dienstbier will manage to inspire a new dimension, a new luster for human rights issues and win support for his proposed moves from the government, as there is no doubt he belongs among the very few strong political matadors here who also enjoys an aura of likability and pure moral credit. I am well aware of the opinions saying that entrusting one of the country's favorite politicians with the human rights agenda instead of with the Justice Ministry is an act of revenge, a means of keeping him away from real power and depriving him of the people's favor, but I do not doubt that Dienstbier has heard that interpretation of his appointment at least once and has armed himself against it psychologically.   

For minorities in general, including the Romani minority, this moment could present the challenge of attempting to finally strip so-called Romani topics of their hallmark of segregatedness and endeavoring to present them as broader human rights topics, seeking overlapping areas of concern when it comes to correcting society's positions on sexual minorities or women as well. I don't mean we should let ourselves escape notice by pretending there are no specific topics linked exclusively to Romani people, but why should we seek such exclusion out or let others invent it where it doesn't have to exist?  

This goes for the media too - we accuse the authors of television programs and journalists of not understanding this topic and, for example, of using the term "inadaptables" in connection with Romani people in particular, but we ourselves, through our active participation in the very broadcasts we criticize, are contributing to legitimizing topics that have been conceived in such an absurd fashion. This applies to politics too, and we must realize that a more than good opportunity has just been afforded us in the appointments of Dienstbier and Marksová-Tominová.   

The behavior and opinions to date of both of these appointees make it easy to guess the direction they may take and, unlike several of their predecessors, the stances they may take on the topics affected by the ministries they will lead. For citizens for whom children's rights, gender equality, and the position of cultural, ethnic, national, religious and sexual minorities is important, both of these appointees could prove to be genuinely interesting ministers, especially if they manage to connect their ministries and their work in an elegant way. 

Their positions to date and their specific actions (articles they have written, civic and expert discussions they have participated in, their personal attendance at demonstrations, etc.), as well as their expertise and their willingness to work systematically, without populist gestures, could begin to cultivate the Czech political scene at a time when such cultivation is greatly needed. At a minimum, they could at the very least initiate some real, systemic change.   


Jarmila Balážová, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Jiří Dienstbier, Michaela Marksová-Tominová, Vláda, lidská práva



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