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SocDem leader Jiří Paroubek: Roma must be kept in mainstream education

Brno, 14.4.2010 17:59, (Romano hangos)

Do the various Czech political parties approach the topic of the Roma differently? Do they consider it important, will they focus on it? In the run-up to the elections, we asked those political parties that achieved at least 5 % of the vote last time to answer these questions. In Romano hangos 2 we interviewed the leading candidate of the Public Affairs (Věci veřejné) party in South Moravia, Jiří Dobeš, and the leading Communist Party candidate in North Moravia, Kateřina Konečná. Party leaders Jiří Paroubek of the Czech Social Democrats (ČSSD) and Ondřej Liška of the Green Party have responded on behalf of their parties, while we have yet to hear from the Christian Democrats, the Civic Democrats, or TOP 09.

Jiří Paroubek’s responses are below. Our next issue will belong to the Greens.

Do you have any Roma or citizens of other nationalities on your candidate lists? Where and how many?

We do not follow nationality as a criterion for our candidates in any elections. In the regional elections, Rudolf Polák, who is Roma, was elected on our ticket to the Hradec Králové regional government. We know that David Beňák, who is proud of his Roma nationality, is running in the parliamentary elections on the Prague list. There could be other Roma on the candidate lists in other regions.

Who in your party, perhaps on an expert commission, focuses on topics related to the Roma? What are the results of that focus?

During the second half of 2008, ČSSD established its own Expert Commission for Roma Affairs, which I personally oversee. This commission used to be chaired by Kateřina Kalistová and is now chaired by David Beňák. The commission includes experts, non-Roma and Roma, who are experienced, who take an active interest in this area, and who do good work. Proof of this is our Framework Program for Roma Affairs and Socially Excluded Localities, which was published in 2009 as part of the election campaign. This April, on the occasion of International Roma Day, we will publish a revised version of the program. I dare say no other political party has developed as comprehensive of a concept on the issue of Roma integration. I believe the framework program is a good basis, and it is of course still open for comments. Our other expert commissions, whether the central, regional or local ones, also deal with the topic of Roma integration as part of their work - for example, the school commissions or the social affairs commissions. I personally meet regularly with representatives of Roma organizations to listen to their problems.

Do you know of any localities or quarters which might be considered ghettos in your neighborhood? Can you briefly describe what goes on there and how it is being addressed?

Right now there are no localities similar to ghettos in the immediate area where I reside. However, that does not mean that I have never been to such a locality. I know what they look like. Their residents wrestle with dozens - with hundreds - of problems, but the solutions do not lie in the populist, short-term steps such as were practiced, for example, by the former Minorities Minister Michael Kocáb. Our party is aware of this, and therefore experts who are members or sympathizers of ČSSD are writing what we call Orange Books which will comprehensively address this issue. Effective solutions will only come about through long-term, targeted programs with the participation of everyone concerned – experts, institutions, and the residents themselves. There must be enough financing from the budgets of the state, the regions, and the municipalities, and of course from the European funds, and laws and regulations may also have to be changed. We are aware that not only Roma live in these localities, but unfortunately very often more than half of the residents in such places are Roma. Our party has espoused an active solution through the Framework Program for Roma Affairs and Socially Excluded Localities, as I have already mentioned, and also by signing a Memorandum of Cooperation with Roma NNOs. We are doing our best to support the exchange of experiences; for example, in March we held a seminar in Ústí nad Labem on the topic of Roma Integration in the Regions, where we presented our experience in this area.

What do you think of the special schools? What steps should be taken to make sure most Roma attend elementary schools and non-Romani parents do not remove their children from them?

The former special schools may have been well-founded, and if elementary schools are not able to educate children of reduced intellect, then they cannot be abolished without an adequate substitute. This has to do with the number of pupils in specialized schools, today called family schools. Unfortunately, Czech schools are not yet sufficiently multicultural. They are not able to take into account the specifics of how children are raised in Romani families and the basic cultural differences, and they do not know how to work with the unwritten rules that are followed in Roma communities. As a result of this and other factors, Romani children have ended up and continue to end up in the practical schools even when they should not. The result is that they then cannot study at a proper middle school. The path toward a solution is to keep Romani children in mainstream education through high-quality pre-school preparation at nursery schools, preparatory classes, etc. Above all, this means pre-school preparations that are free of charge. This also means strengthening the elementary schools by providing a sufficient number of teaching assistants and, of course, high-quality, professionally trained teachers. The implementation of other activities is also related to this, such as field social work or community planning. Outreach to Romani parents and to elementary school directors is important. The work of the educational psychology counseling centers also needs to undergo a fundamental change – these centers often recommend children attend practical school even though they have not been diagnosed as lightly mentally disabled. The School Act is not thoroughly obeyed in this regard, even though it requires the prior written informed consent of the parents. All of this makes it evidently clear that enrolment in such a school should not just be a matter of course. Romani children are assigned to these schools more often than non-Romani children and are then labeled lightly mentally disabled, less intelligent. I believe the Czech School Inspection Authority has been conducting inspections in this context for several months and the results so far are very disturbing. Healthy children have been educated as if they were mentally disabled.

Do you believe that using Romanes in schools and in the media will awaken Roma self-confidence? Will it contribute toward integration, or will it distance Roma from the educational process conducted in Czech?

There is no doubt that use of the mother tongue is definitely one of the ways to awaken the self-confidence of any nation, which is desirable. It definitely should not be claimed that such a step would deteriorate the quality of education. It would never occur to anyone to say that children attending English-language or German-language schools are not properly educated or something like that.

I do not understand why such questions are asked in the context of Romanes instruction and the idea of voluntarily learning the language. Romanes is a codified language taught at colleges all over the world. I cannot agree with “experts” like Mr Josef Klíma, who told Czech Radio that it would not be entirely correct to teach Romanes because not enough books have been published in that language, or rather, books are not translated into that language. The problem that Romani children beginning school encounter is the fact that they do not speak either Czech or Romanes well, but they do speak their specific ethnolect. That is why we must discuss when to start Romanes instruction so that children will be able to master every aspect of both languages.

Do Romani role models – singers, journalists, officials, politicians, musicians, etc. – inspire other Roma? Do you believe other Roma want to follow in their footsteps, or do they bad-mouth them and envy them when they are from a different extended family?

Romani role models do have an influence, as do others. In my opinion such role models generate positive motivation. More and more Roma are studying at middle schools, at colleges, and at universities. I believe this is the result of positive role models and supplementary programs which financially support Romani middle school students in their studies, both from the state budget and from foundation sources. There definitely exist cases in which successful Roma encounter envy or back-biting, but we non-Roma are neither better nor worse in that respect.

Which sections in your party’s program concern matters related to the Roma?

Our party strives to ensure that every citizen can enjoy his or her right to a dignified life and a fair chance. That is what our electoral program is about. The program as a whole concerns all citizens, the Roma included. We are aware of their specific needs, and that is why we have created the Orange Book focusing comprehensively on Roma integration. Naturally, this issue affects many areas of culture, education, housing policy and the labor market, including discrimination, loan-sharking, political radicalism, social exclusion, etc., and these are also in our Program for Hope and Change – A Better Future for Ordinary People, which is based on the Orange Books. It is also available on our web pages.

In today’s economic crisis, how can we increase the computer literacy, foreign language skills and qualifications of the large number of Roma who are unqualified? Where and how can they improve their qualifications if they are working full-time?

We see two paths. The first is prevention, keeping Romani children in mainstream education. The second is an active, effective, targeted employment policy. The basic tool is to offer re-qualification courses, to recognize other forms of education, etc. We will therefore support and implement projects that offer various forms of education. Roma are not the only ones who encounter a lack of available jobs or affordable housing. Qualifications, therefore, are only one of the problems faced by those at risk of social exclusion or those already excluded. Our party is aware of this, and our Hope and Change program proves it.

The original article was published in Romano hangos 4-2010 at http://www.srnm.cz

Gwendolyn Albert, Pavel Pečínka, Pavel Pečínka, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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