Czech Roma Affairs Coordinator: We have to get ghetto residents into the labor market
Cyril Koky works as the Coordinator for Romani Affairs at the Central Bohemian Regional Authority. He graduated from the Military High School in Liptovský Mikuláš, Czechoslovakia and was reassigned from serving in Slovakia to the Bohemian town of Kolín, where he served for 10 years.
Mr Koky decided to leave the Army and then worked at the District Authority in Nymburk. He graduated from the College of Political and Social Sciences in Kolín with a Bachelor's Degree and completed his Master's at the College of Economics and Public Administration Management in Bratislava, Slovakia.
Mr Koky is married with two children. His oldest son is currently a first-year student at the Law Faculty of Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic.
How does he view current issues in the Czech Republic, and what is the first step he believes should be taken to resolve them? Jakub Šťástka of news server Deník.cz published an interview with him on 30 0ctober (http://kolinsky.denik.cz/zpravy_region/koky-musime-dostat-lidi-z-ghett-na-trh-prace-20131030.html) which we bring to you in full translation:
Q: The topic of socially excluded localities remains in the news here in Kolín. The town is now said to be giving residents of those localities apartments in various neighborhoods around Kolín, and some locals are concerned about this. What do you think of it?
A: It always depends on how a specific family operates, whether they have an adequate income, whether they can live without problems somewhere else, what their expectations are. If they meet certain conditions, then why not? There are great differences among Romani families. It's not true that all Romani people automatically want to live together with their same kind, that's a fundamental error. I have lived at the same housing estate for several years now and I behave fairly toward my [non-Romani] neighbors, I don't give them offense, I don't trouble them, I expect the same from them and it works brilliantly.
Q: So you don't see a problem with the town closing the socially excluded locality of Zengrovka and rehousing its inhabitants at the housing estate?
A: I believe the town will definitely not destroy the buildings on Zengrova Street and will not move those residents elsewhere. After all, those apartments cannot remain unoccupied. Personally I do not consider that area to be a particularly dangerous or extensive excluded locality at all. I have seen far worse localities elsewhere in Central Bohemia. However, I am of the opinion that it would be good if Zengrovka were not to be a basically purely Romani locality in the future, it would be ideal if it could be mixed.
Q: The media says the agencies are pumping big money into various pieces of research that yield no practical outputs. What do you say to that?
A: You know, if you want to address an area this complicated, then you need to know the results of those analyses, the data, the information, so you can adopt a solution. However, I don't believe these analyses and research projects are costing the taxpayers millions. That money is not being wasted. I consider, for example, the "social card" project, the dysfunctional vehicle registries, etc., to be the absurd projects.
Q: Even college graduates can't find work these days. What chance do people from the ghettos have?
A: The Romani minority has long been afflicted with a high unemployment rate, which represents a rather large economic loss for the state due to lost tax revenue and higher welfare expenditures. When issuing public tenders, unemployment could be minimized by establishing the condition that 10 % of those employed by the winning firm to work on that project must come from the ranks of the long-term unemployed. There's no need to go on and on this - in short, we must get people from the ghettos into the labor market.
Q: On the contrary, that sounds like positive discrimination. Young people who have just graduated from school might want those same conditions as well.
A: It's complicated. On the one hand the public shouts about Romani people not working, but when Romani people might get a chance to work, then the public curses that as well. We must realize what it is we really want. Either we pay welfare, or we get people onto the labor market. I believe the second option is better. A family who is on welfare today, and who might make extra money under the table, is better off than a family working for minimum wage. That has to change. The minimum wage in Germany is five times what it is in our country.
Q: There are more than 20 residential hotels in Kolín and a great deal of discussion about problems related to them, like crime and drugs. What is your view of this issue?
A: Legislators and the state have totally failed in this area. They have not yet supported the building of social apartments because we still do not have a law on social housing. Thousands of families with children are living in residential hotels all over the country today, many of them in catastrophic conditions. For one room they often pay the same rent as they would pay for a whole apartment at a housing estate, this can't go on.
Q: What can be done about it?
A: There must be an unequivocal ceiling set on the state housing benefit, and that ceiling should correspond to the customary rents in a particular place. However, if those benefits are either drastically reduced or totally abolished, homelessness could rise, as no one else will house these families and they might end up on the street. Then who will address this? Families from the majority population are also falling through the cracks. The state must adopt measures in the housing area to improve housing conditions overall for low-income groups of residents.
Q: How do other countries address this?
A: In France, for example, the entire basis of the social housing system is in the hands of semi-state or state organizations. These provide developers with significantly advantageous credit terms, tax relief, etc., for the construction and management of social apartment units intended for lease or for sale. France invests no small amount of money into social housing and its law is so sophisticated that an applicant will usually be moved into the requested housing by the start of the next month. Essentially it can be said that the concept of a lack of apartments is unknown in France.
Q: Young Romani people are said to be unqualified for employment. How would you resolve this problem?
A: The next government will have to place more emphasis on the preschool education of children, primarily those from socially excluded localities. It should be obligatory for children to attend at least one year of preschool prior to their enrolling into primary school. In addition, if it were up to me, I would extend compulsory education from nine years to 12.
A: The aim would be for a pupil who has completed primary school to continue studying, perhaps at a technical college, to acquire the handicrafts and skills that are so needed on the labor market. That would essentially create a greater chance for such graduates to assert themselves on the labor market instead of just lounging around at home at the age of 15. The family must be motivated for young Romani people to actively educate themselves further.
Q: What about the specialized schools? That's also a hot topic. Would you abolish them?
A: In the Czech Republic, most Romni children continue to be educated in the "practical schools" according to the program for the lightly mentally disabled. Precisely because of its exclusion of Romani children from mainstream education, the Czech Republic has been the target of sharp criticism for several years now, both from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and from NGOs. However, the Romani children whom the Czech school system often sends to these "practical schools" (which used to be called "special schools") have, for example, moved with their families to Great Britain and attended mainstream primary schools there without any problems. What is certain is that we are creating a big problem for ourselves here in the Czech Republic. All children should be educated together. When they don't attend school together and don't communicate with one another, what will it look like when they are adults who don't know one another at all?
Q: The argument against that has been made that children from the ghettos will hold the others back.
A: In England children from all cultures and nationalities are educated together. Why does this work in England and not in our country? If Romani children receive high-quality preschool preparation here, I do not see the slightest reason why they should not enroll into mainstream primary school here. We have a lot of work to do in that direction. The Education Ministry in particular would be the correct body to initiate these changes.
Q: Fine, you'll prepare the children, but are the teachers ready for this?
A: The question is what are they being taught in the education departments? Future teachers must be sufficiently professionally prepared for inclusive education. The primary schools must also be prepared for it. I remember my childhood: My parents were never academically educated, my father worked for the railways, my mother in a bakery, and no one was learning along with me, but I had the good fortune to have high-quality teachers who constantly motivated me, starting with nursery school and up through college. I have very fond memories of them.
Q: What would you advise the Kolín district to do about the issue of ghettos?
A: You know, the existence of socially excluded localities in many towns of the Czech Republic currently represents a serious security risk. Look at the number of anti-Romani marches in this country, a dissatisfied, frustrated portion of the public is frequently and openly supporting radical, simplistic solutions. It's as if we haven't learned enough from the past about what happened as a result of the economic crisis during the 1930s in Germany (and today in Greece). Unfortunately, rapid, universal solutions do not exist. Without long-term, systematic work, we will just be constantly putting out fires. That's why it is important for everyone to bear their share of responsibility for addressing this thorny issue - the Government of the Czech Republic as a whole, representatives of towns and villages, and Romani people themselves. We must not allow the extremists to address this topic for us.
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