Miroslav Kováč: Czech Government inclusion strategy won't happen
The Czech Government's new Strategy for the Fight against Social Exclusion will probably mot bring about any significant improvements in this area. The document describes only the problems that are visible (the end results), not the actual state in which people in excluded localities find themselves. The Strategy also does not address the deeper causes of why this issue has arisen in the first place. The document is based on six areas: Security, housing, social services/family/health, education, employment and the welfare system, and regional development.
In the area of security, emphasis is placed exclusively on repressive measures which depend on and are linked to active cooperation with police. Such cooperation should be considered standard. In its own way, therefore, the Strategy is not only challenging the police to fulfill their ordinary obligations, it is even requiring discriminatory treatment of Romani people. The increased surveillance and more repressive measures, including those of collections agents (enforcing court orders for collections or evictions) would primarily be used against this target group of the population.
Preventive security measures only have the character of monitoring activities. Here the concept of "assistant for negotiation with the authorities and police" is used, which of course would only be positive if Romani people were hired to perform this role. The nonprofit sector in excluded localities operates today (of course, directed predominantly by "non-Roma"), so we cannot expect significant improvement in this area, because nothing genuinely new is being introduced that has not already been in place for some time now. On the contrary, it can be expected that the situation will deteriorate with the incoming "reform laws".
In the area of housing, the Strategy counts on providing social housing which would be in the hands of private persons exploiting their property for commercial purposes. This is a fundamental problem. Social apartments should primarily be managed by towns and villages, who are supposed to make use of their housing stock for this purpose. Residential hotels can be used for short-term crisis housing, as can housing operated by the nonprofit sector, but it cannot become a permanent "solution". I see as positive the effort to advocate for legislative amendments aiming at increased involvement of towns and villages in the securing of apartments and the provision of social housing.
Of course, the question is whether the towns and villages which sold off their real estate in the past will have sufficient interest in such legislation. Another question is whether sufficient support for such legislation can be found in Parliament to instruct municipalities to take such steps given municipal and state budgets.
In the area of social services, this document points out the lack of coordination of the services provided and the duplication of work in this area. It also refers to the cost of these services and their lack of efficiency. In this context I would like to remind readers that the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion in Roma Localities is a frequent provider of social services.
From the Strategy it is also evident that the director of the Agency, as co-author of the document, is doing his best to monopolize the provision of these services, and the list of priorities explains how - for example, the point on creating a unified methodology at both municipal and regional level. The costs of designing an inefficient methodology are calculated at CZK 290 000 per half year. This lack of efficiency primarily consists in the fact that if a methodology does not honor the specifics of a given locality, it must be adjusted to the needs and requirements of that locality.This method artificially creates a demand for the analyses which the Agency will have to develop and for which it will require funding (the estimate given is up to CZK 1 million), which firms up the Agency's position. Social services primarily address unemployment, through which the rationale of this methodology is justified. In the other steps, the document again focuses primarily on creating analyses, even though the Agency has been operating since 2008 and it could be expected to have already mapped this area. Some other proposals make it seem as if the Agency had just been created this year.
In the area of employment, the so-called "progressive employment" being proposed is a rarity. Here, once again, emphasis is not placed on creating or supporting new jobs, but on the creation of auxiliary employment conditions where wages will be paid and public services will be enhanced. For the rest, the Strategy just copies some of the models that have been "working" for many years (such as re-qualification courses).
It is evident that the proposed approach would bring about only marginal improvements. The law, which is usually neglected, could be made use of here by town halls. The Strategy does clearly mention the Law on Public Tenders (No. 137/2006), which says that "the body issuing the tender may list in its terms of reference any requirements concerning special conditions for the fulfillment of public tenders, especially in the social field, the field of employment, or the field of environment." I do not know of any town halls who would apply this law to excluded localities in the cases of their long-term unemployed.
INVESTMENT: EMPLOYMENT AND HOUSING
Citizens must be motivated to ensure the accessibility of employment and services. Unfortunately, the Government Strategy does not go beyond motivation. Employment should be the starting point in this strategy - otherwise the entire process of attempts to integrate the long-term unemployed will remain merely demonstrative experiments, a way to draw on European Social Fund subsidies. Instead of creating analyses and a monopolization strategy for the Agency, support should first and foremost be sought for employing the long-term unemployed and send a significant portion of investment in that direction. A law on social housing should be developed and towns should finally start creating housing stocks to be used for this purpose.
EDUCATION AND PREVENTION MUST BE STRENGTHENED
On the question of security, prevention must be strengthened in collaboration with all stakeholders. Of course, from the existing Strategy it is clear that Romani people themselves are not participating in any such projects and are not being counted on for future participation. This fact in and of itself undermines the entire Strategy for the Fight against Social Exclusion.
Education should also be strengthened. In this section of the document there are many inspirational schemes, but once again there is no mention of the need for Romani participation in addressing these issues. Romani assistants at schools in excluded localities predominantly inhabited by Romani people should not be missing - a positive byproduct of this approach is the creating of jobs for such assistants. The so-called "year zero" to assist Romani children get an equal start at school should also be made mandatory. I see the positive aspect of the Strategy here as consisting of support for this group of children (payment of tuition or meals for the poorest families).
The Government Strategy might even deteriorate the situation. It does not address problems comprehensively or systematically. In most cases, the document has only an informative character and does not propose conceptual changes. The existing practice demonstrates that space is primarily being created for drawing on financing from the European Social Funds without a significant shift toward stabilizing the given issue. This is one of the reasons the majority society bears so much antipathy and grudges against the Roma.
Approval of this Strategy is completely divorced from the newly-arising "reform laws", which will have immediate impacts on socially deprived citizens and which will cause a rise in the numbers of such people. The Strategy does not emphasize an anti-discrimination campaign, even though when indebtedness intensifies, it will have a very negative impact on the Romani minority. However, a campaign against violence is being designed, which is a positive step.
ŠLUKNOV DISTRICT IS THE RESULT
I personally do not believe the Government Strategy will be fulfilled. The tasks it sets local authorities, the nonprofit sector, police officers, teachers, and others participating in integration are already part of the job descriptions and activities of these actors. I don't believe that just because this Strategy (which is essentially just a list of what is happening or was proposed several years ago) is being proposed by the Agency, it will start being fulfilled tomorrow.
This document is essentially meant to show the Government that the Agency for Social Inclusion in Roma Localities is the only entity that knows anything essential about the issue of integration, the only one that knows how to "solve" it, and is therefore the only entity with a right to act in this area. This document will probably end up just like the countless ones that have preceded once the Agency receives its official status at Government level. It will only be marginally fulfilled, just for show. The results will be marginal. Most of the steps included in this Strategy have already been applied by the Agency or presented by it. The result is the situation in Šluknov district, where the Agency has been working since 2008.
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