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Karel Holomek: Czech Gov't Roma Council has a new chair after cabinet reshuffle

16.11.2016 17:31
Karel Holomek  (Photo: Lukáš Houdek)
Karel Holomek (Photo: Lukáš Houdek)

Czech Prime Minister Sobotka has replaced two of his ministers, Health Minister Svatopluk Němeček and Human Rights and Legislation Minister Jiří Dienstibier, who was also the chair of the Czech Government Council for Roma Minority Affairs. Incoming Human Rights Minister Jan Chvojka is a lawyer and a Social Democratic MP.

Mr Chvojka has the professional qualifications to serve as a minister with legislation as part of his agenda, and he probably also has qualifications for human rights, as he has been the chair of the lower house subcommittee handling that agenda. We shall see!

The Prime Minister is justifying replacing these ministers as a necessary change in order to bolster the Social Democrats' falling voter preference ratings prior to next year's elections to the lower house. He claims to want voter preferences for the party to improve in a more dynamic way and has let his potential voters know this ever since the Social Democrats lost rather badly in last month's elections.

Such a reason for these dismissals, of course, is a pretext, and not very many people believe it. The real reason for this reshuffle is something else.

Neither of the ministers dismissed is aware that they ever did anything wrong while in office, and the Prime Minister has even confirmed that they did not.  Why, then, is he replacing them 11 months prior to the next elections?

We cannot believe the PM to be an inexperienced politician doing something that makes no sense. The purpose of this reshuffe, of course, is something other than the stated one.

The PM is well aware that merely replacing ministers will not curry any particular favor with the voters. It will, however, firm up his position inside the party and as PM in the runup to the Social Democratic convention.

It is necessary for Sobotka to draw closer to the wing of his party that has always been strongly bothered by Dienstbier - by the way he views human rights and politics, by his firm, unrelenting opposition to Czech President Zeman, and certainly by much else. Those who have undoubtedly wished Dienstbier would be dismissed are the so-called "putschists" from the Social Democrats who previously attended a meeting with Zeman without letting the PM know.

They include Czech Interior Minister Chovanec, the influential MP Tejc, and South Bohemian Regional Governor Zimola - strong players in the party whom Sobotka must have on his side. The same goes for the director of the Motol Hospital, Miloslav Ludvík, who was a strong critic of Health Minister Němeček, whom he is now replacing.

Sobotka has undoubtedly won by making that change. His First Vice Prime Minister and Finance Minister Andrej Babiš (ANO) has been a critic of Němeček for years.

The reason is that Němeček wanted to prevent attempts to privatize hospitals here. We hope the Social Democrats have not absolutely lost their judgment and that they will not accede to that idea.

In any event, the PM is playing a political chess game that might well escape the rest of us. What kind of a chair will his new minister be for the Roma Council? 

So far we know Chvojka enjoys political support in the Pardubice Region. Nothing is known about whether he has been engaged to any significant degree in the human rights field or on the issue of Romani people.

None of that matters if he proves to be a good chair and a good head of the Human Rights Section at the Office of the Government. We will learn all of that soon enough.

Speaking as a frequent member of Government Councils and as a participant in many high-level negotiations, I had the opportunity to get to know the outgoing Human Rights Minister well. I must express my appreciation for his sincere efforts to fulfill the human rights agenda in legislative terms and his support for the civil society sector in fulfilling the program of Romani integration and the strategy for combating Romani exclusion from the life of this society, including the segregation of Romani children in the schools.

The new head of the Council will have a lot of catching up to do in that direction. The Prime Minister certainly was not thinking about that when he decided to replace these ministers.

Reprinted with permission from the author's blog on Aktuálně.cz.

Karel Holomek, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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ministr pro lidská práva, Politika, Rada vlády pro záležitosti romské menšiny, Sociální vyloučení



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