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Mayors complain about Czech Govt at Šluknov demonstration

Šluknov, 19.7.2012 19:52, (ROMEA)
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Mayors from the Šluknov district convened a demonstration "against crime" in the town of Šluknov today. They are primarily bothered by the stance taken by the Czech Government, which they do not believe is doing much to address the situation. Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas sent a message through a spokesperson that the Government has been gradually fulfilling all of the points on the 10-point plan for Šluknov. A counter-demonstration to the mayor's demonstration was also held in Šluknov by the Konexe association, entitled "Gathering against crime, corruption, clientelism, incompetence, and racism among politicians in the Ústí Region."

The event convened by 15 mayors of towns throughout the Šluknov foothills was attended by roughly 200 people. Dissatisfaction with the social situation was voiced at the demonstration. The crowd was dominated by mothers with children in prams and older people. Several Romani people also watched the event, which took place in the park of the town's chateau. News server reported during the course of the event that "There are about 15 [Romani people] here listening and watching."

The demonstration was accompanied by security measures. Police patrols positioned along the road into town randomly checked drivers' identifications. Several police patrols also covered the town on foot. As of 17:30 CET no interventions had been necessary.

According to the Mayor of Varnsdorf, Martin Louka, the fuse for sparking unrest this year could become a locality on Kovářská street in his town. Landlords have been attracting socially deprived residents onto that street, including Romani people who are leaving the municipally-owned residential hotel. The situation there is reportedly starting to be unbearable. "These frictional areas of intolerance are influencing life in the entire town, which is unpleasant," Louka said.

News server Romea investigated the situation on Kovářská street in May of this year and was not able to find anything out of the ordinary going on there. The unspoken problem for the town could be that Romani tenants are leaving the municipally-owned residential hotel in order to live on Kovářská. The residential hotel was overpriced and cost its tenants more than CZK 2 000 per person monthly. Since the tenants all qualified for state housing subsidies, Varnsdorf was getting money from the state to cover their rents. Those monies were being used in large part to finance the operation of the town's Social Services Center, which was also headquartered at the residential hotel. Since the Romani tenants are now moving into Kovářská street, the town is losing its financing and there is the risk that it will have to finance most of its center on its own now.

Louka spoke from the podium at today's demonstration to explain to people what he is doing to improve the situation. The town recently halted the privatization of its apartment stock and unoccupied spaces will soon become the headquarters of a field social worker. The town hall is also cooperating with police.

The mayors all wanted to tell people what has changed during the year since social unrest flared up in the Šluknov district. The number of gaming rooms has been restricted, the residential hotels have been inspected by public health officials, new rules for tenants were introduced in them, many decrees were adopted, more crime prevention assistants were hired, there are more police officers on the streets, and a police riot unit was created.

"We wanted to tell people in person what has succeeded during this past year, what hasn't, and why," Mayor of Šluknov Eva Džumanová said. "Unlike the Government, we woke up and started to take action. Our work can always be improved, but we don't have much more freedom of movement and we've reached the ceiling of what is possible," Josef Zoser, chair of the Šluknov District Development Association, who is also the Mayor of Jiřetín pod Jedlovou, told residents at the demonstration.

The mayors said municipalities mainly need changes to the law on waste collection that would introduce sanctions for stealing public property both for scrap metal collectors and the salvage points that buy from them. They said the number of community service jobs also needs to be increased because the long-term unemployed, mainly Romani people, must get to work. "Unfortunately, most of those matters are taking a long time to address, but they should be addressed more quickly as part of a legislative emergency," Zoser told those who had assembled.

The mayors do not yet have a misdemeanor registry. "It won't be ready until the second half of 2013. Adjustments to the rent paid by the Labor Office for social housing will not change until April 2013. That's just not possible... It's a terribly long time for us to wait," Zoser explained to his audience.

Of course, it was the Government, not the mayors, who sent extra police officers to the foothills, and the Government is also gradually working on the 10 demands issued by the mayors, as the Prime Minister has said in a statement. "Under no circumstances is the Government indifferent to the situation in that region. On the contrary, the cabinet is taking many steps to aid Šluknov district, which was preyed upon by social unrest a year ago, and not just through the Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner and the Agency for Social Inclusion, but also through measures adopted by various ministries," the Prime Minister said.

Civic activists did not like the mayors' demonstration. A counter-demonstration organized by the Konexe association was attended by around 20 people. "We didn't make speeches, but we discussed the entire matter in a circle," Míra Brož of Konexe told news server The group then went to observe the mayors' demonstration.

It has been almost a year since the first "demonstration against crime", convened by local politicians, took place on a square in Rumburk. Czech MP Foldyn and local mayors addressed the demonstration, which got out of hand. An aggressive crowd of several hundred people, some of whom were chanting racist slogans, did their best to attack Romani-occupied homes. The demonstration kicked off several months of anti-Romani unrest in the Šluknov foothills.

"On the basis of last year's events we believe holding a 'demonstration against crime' on the square in Šluknov is like playing with matches in a haystack, and we therefore convened a gathering in the places where the poorest Romani people live in Šluknov ," explained Brož. "The mayors claim they want to demonstrate against the incompetence of the Government and Prague politicians with respect to helping them address problems in the region. Why don't they demonstrate in Prague in front of the Government headquarters? Why are they demonstrating near the places where Romani people live?" commented Jozef Miker, an activist with Konexe. "Many residents of Šluknov district automatically understand a demonstration 'against crime' as a demonstration against Romani people, and everyone remembers very well how last year's 'demonstration against crime' convened by Lukáš Kohout in Varnsdorf turned out, as did the 'demonstration against crime' convened by local politicians in Rumburk."

František Kostlán, Gwendolyn Albert, František Kostlán,, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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