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Open Letter: Reasons behind the proposal to remove Dr. Džamila Stehlíková from her ministerial post

Prague, 4.12.2008 16:35, (ROMEA)

The Honorable
Mirek Topolánek
Prime Minister of the Government of the Czech Republic
Tř. Dr. E. Beneše
110 00 Praha 1

Prague, 2 December 2008

Re: Reasons behind the proposal to remove Dr. Džamila Stehlíková from her ministerial post

Honorable Prime Minister,
During the past few days I have transmitted through the media the stance arrived at by a recent meeting of prominent members of the Romani community and activists regarding the latest developments concerning the Roma-occupied Janov housing estate, namely, that Madame Minister Džamila Stehlíková has not fulfilled her role, that she does not have a grasp of the situation, and that it would be appropriate for her to leave office, not only for Romani community matters to be addressed, but especially for them to be resolved.

I feel obliged to explain this opinion, which is not merely my own, to you in more detail.

The reservations which the Romani community and I have against Madame Minister Stehlíková are essentially of two kinds; they are on the one hand reservations concerning her person, and on the other hand reservations concerning the Government’s policy toward the Roma, which she is meant to represent.

I would like to point out two aspects of the reservations towards Madame Minister’s person which are a source of problems when addressing Romani community matters: The first reservation is that Madame Džamila Stehlíková knows absolutely nothing about this issue and her ability to rely on the advice of those who do is very limited. She has demonstrated her ignorance of the given issue in the past through many remarks which were and are completely unacceptable to the Roma and for which she has had to subsequently apologize. She has violated the basic trust between her office and the Romani community. The second reservation I have against Madame Minister is the fact that - at least in the cases the Romani community has been able to witness - she always gives preference to the interests of her political party over the interests of the ministry. Naturally, such an approach provokes fundamental doubts regarding the sincerity of Madame Minister’s motivation and about all of her steps, and not only those regarding the Roma.

The other set of reservations concerns the state policy represented by Madame Minister, with the additional comment that the realization of this policy has borne the marks of the negative aspects of Madame Minister’s personality outlined above.

State policy vis-a-vis the Romani minority is to have been realized primarily with the help of the Agency for Social Inclusion (Agentury pro sociální začleňování). Irrespective of the fact that the Agency itself was established almost a year ago, it is possible to say that this model of an Agency is failing irrevocably. The Agency has become a normal department of the Office of the Government and has no powers. It is not functioning even to the limited extent that it might possibly be functional. Moreover, from the audit that is underway, it is evident that from a organizational point of view this particular system is not even possible. As far as I am aware, the Agency has succeeded in establishing virutally no communication with the Romani community, and its communication with the municipal representatives whom it is meant to help address socially excluded localities is seriously endangered.

An example of this inability to handle communication is precisely the “solution” proposed for the situation at the Janov housing estate. The Romani community is very well aware of the difficulty of this problem, and that awareness is the reason they do not agree with the way in which the matter of the Janov housing estate is being addressed. Under the leadership of Madame Minister, a model which opens the way for the Czech Republic to be extorted by municipal governments has been established. The only result of the riots there is that Madame Minister has begged the question by saying Janov should be included in a special pilot project through which she has promised the town an exceptional flow of money into the given locality. There is nothing to prevent other municipalities from following in the steps of the Litvínov town hall, including with the eventual quiet support of the Workers’ Party (Dělnická strana).

Honorable Prime Minister,
In civilized countries the principle applies that one does not negotiate with terrorists and that extortionists are sent to prison. However, the enforcement of these civilized principles evidently is not part of Madame Minister’s portfolio . From the point of view of the Romani community, the result of “solving“ the Janov problem in this way is that Madame Minister has directly endangered other Romani communities and individual Roma with the possibility of more marches and attacks to come from members of the radical movement. From the point of view of the Roma, Minister Stehlíková will bear direct responsibility should other attacks occur in other towns.

The way that has been opened up in Litvínov is evidently successful and leads to the direct possibility of a fundamental budget increase for any town. Mr Vice-PM Jiří Čunek recently said in the media that it is possible to access up to CZK 15 billion from EU funds for projects creating the inclusion of socially excluded localities (which are, if we are sincere, at least 95 % Roma) and addressing current housing policy. There is no doubt many municipalities will attempt to gain access to these finances. Thanks to Madame Minister Stehlíková, an effective route to that money is now known. How much of this financing will truly go towards aiding the Roma who are socially excluded continues to remain a great unknown, given the sad posiiton of the Agency and the fact that the Government Council for Romani Community Affairs has no powers.

Honorable Prime Minister,
I have spared no criticism in the foregoing. However, in serious communication it is customary to also submit constructive proposals for addressing the situation under discussion. Permit me to outline several points which both I and prominent members of the Romani community would consider to be steps leading to a solution for the co-existence of the Romani community and the majority society.

1. Incorporating Romani community problems into the jurisdiction of the Minister for Minorities and Human Rights is insufficient and does not correspond to the seriousness of the problem. I propose the establishment of a Government Commissioner for Romani Community Affairs with, at a minimum, the same jurisdiction that the Minister for Human Rights has had to date, as well as an expanded jurisdiction. I remind you that this model has proven itself to a great extent in Slovakia. (I can testify to this on the basis of my many years of personal cooperation with Dr. Klára Orgovánová, who for years has been the Slovak Government Commissioner for Romani Community Affairs.)

2. The current model for the operations of the Czech Government Council for Romani Community Affairs as an advisory body working on a voluntary, unprofessional basis is simply unsatisfactory. The unequal position of this body is very obvious once we realize that this group, which convenes itself ad hoc and is supported by a meagre staff, is meant to be a team player (and/or opponent) to all the ministries concerned with the various aspects of Romani community problems, i.e., in particular the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry, the Education Ministry, the Culture Ministry, the Interior Ministry, the Health Ministry and the Regional Development Ministry, each of which has a large-scale, professional apparatus at its disposal. From this point of view it appears very problematic whether Article 25 Paragraph 2 letter c) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms is being fulfilled. According to this article, “Citizens belonging to national and ethnic minorities are also guaranteed the right to participate in resolving matters concerning national and ethnic minorities under terms established by law.” Setting aside the fact that are practically no laws that refer to this statute of the Charter (and that it is therefore possible to say that the state’s constitutional responsibility to establish such terms is not being fulfilled), it is possible to consider certain formal indications as demonstrating the formal fulfillment of the constitutional guarantee towards the Romani minority. In reality, however, these constitutional guarantees are not fulfilled. I therefore propose the Council be restructured as a professional body which in addition to its existing functions is particularly charged with facilitating communications with individual Romani communities. It must be said that such an aspect is completely lacking from the Government’s strategy for addressing Romani community affairs. It is a less important organizational/technical question whether such a transformed Council would report to the Government Commissioner for Romani Community Affairs or directly to the Prime Minister.

3. The existing model of the Agency for the Inclusion of the Socially Disadvantaged Population is merely a deceptive manoeuvre which is not even capable of directly naming things for what they are, i.e., that the problem concerns the coexistence of the Roma (or the Gypsies, if you like) with Czech society. I propose abandoning the model of the Agency and replacing it with both the Council and the Office of a Government Commissioner. A special method of cooperation with the Supreme Audit Office should also be developed to assist in the development of conceptual criteria for evaluating Roma projects and grants.

Honorable Prime Minister,
The Roma are frequently maligned for not having their own proposals developed for resolving the problems relating to their own community. I assure you this is not the case. However, the Roma fundamentally reject being used as mere puppets in inter-party game, or playing the role of pawns to be moved about the political field according to the particular constellation of the members of the coalition government at a particular moment in time. The Roma are interested in genuinely resolving the situation in their communities, in addressing co-existence with the majority society, and in the development of the Czech Republic, which is their genuine and valid home. The Roma are prepared to hand over to the relevant authorities a complete program not just for addressing, but for RESOLVING their own problems, including a proposal for the various steps to take over time. However, they refuse to allow their intentions to be misused as a political toy by the majority society, as has become all but customary in the Czech Republic. I hereby request, Honorable Prime Minister, that you take steps to convince the Romani community of the seriousness of your Government’s intentions to settle this problem. Believe me, you have among the Roma an inexhaustible number of allies who are simply waiting for you to demonstrate genuine political will.

Should your considerations of this matter tend in a direction which is compatible with the opinions I have tried to outline above, it would probably be appropriate for the Roma and their representatives to explain some other aspects of this issue to you during a personal meeting. We hope to hear from you regarding such a possibility.

With complete respect,

Ivan Veselý
Second Vice-Chair of the Czech Government Council for Romani Community Affairs
tel.: 603 424 260
Španělská 6, 120 00 Praha 2

1) RNDr. Martin Bursík, Green Party chair, via the Czech Parliament
2) ing. Václav Klaus, President of the Czech Republic, via the Office of the President of the Czech Republic – Prague Castle

Gwendolyn Albert, Ivan Veselý, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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