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Watch out, fire!

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Roma ghetto in Chanov (ČTK)The ministry’s project would help Romani familys move out of ghettos. (ČTK)Recent street clashes between radicals attacking a Romani ghetto in Litvínov has shown that the situation is edging toward trouble. The problem of “socially excluded localities” has reached a state where people welcome neo-Nazis as those coming to liberate them from a nightmare. That has, of course, resulted in an increased interest in the cure the current government wants to present.

Minisry’s efforts

The Regional Development Ministry’s proposal for a solution to the constantly worsening situation in 310 Romani ghettos came as a first-class surprise one month before the elections. A document concerning the future of “deprived town parts inhabited mostly by the citizens of the Romani ethnic group” was hit, above all, by an emotional critique at first.

“We clearly stated that it is only a working version open to all objections and discussions,” said Jozef Baláž, Regional Minister Čunek’s adviser and the proposal’s co-author, sitting in his office adorned by photos of Romani children.

The most controversial part of the ministry’s concept – the division of Roma living in socially excluded localities into three categories, according to their potential to leave the ghetto (see the final paragraph “Three classes”) – will probably remain after minor amendments. “Whether and how we will adjust the criteria does not really matter, what matters is that the family be approached individually by a social worker and that the help to be tailored to its needs,” Baláž said.

Just do something

“I am not against the working version on the whole,” said Karel Novák, director of People in Need programme of social integration.

According to Novák, the planned project has a long way to go in order to be developed a concept. He says that it is clear today that the announced attempt to “break the big family solidarity” should be left out. Baláž and other authors consider this solidarity in excluded localities to be a frequent survivor strategy, in which individual success gets melted down among all the family members and encourages passive backwardness – a common family budget, for example, does not motivate career growth or the unemployed to search for a job. “This certainly might cause a problem, but I would still not go into breaking the system,” Novák said. “I would rather offer a helping hand to those who want to leave.” According to Novák, big family solidarity has great advantages too: “There are practically no homeless people among Roma and putting grandparents into homes is very rare too. The family always takes care of its members.”

Long-distance run

There are also plans for cooperation with the Education Ministry (concerning pre-school preparation, money for Romani assistants and leisure time activities for pupils), the Social Affairs Ministry (greater strictness in social benefits distribution and better social fieldwork) and the Justice Ministry (an amendment allowing the poorest debtors to be able to announce personal bankruptcy), necessary inter-ministry talks are still in early stages, however.

How to persuade the public

According to a study done by Ivan Gabal, Karel Čada and Jan Snopko – Klíč k posílení integrační politiky obcí (The key to strengthening the integration policies of towns), based on last year’s survey among almost 3,000 respondents in all the regions, the Czech public believes that 92% of Roma do not want to work and only take advantage of social benefits. The absolute majority of people also thinks that Roma are to blame for their own difficult situation and therefore should solve their own problems.

Respondents showed the greatest acceptance toward programmes aimed at the education of Roma, less acceptance for programmes focused on employment. “That does not come as a surprise – when we take the Czech’s general trust in education and also since the respondents believe the chance for change is the greatest with children,” said the sociologist Čada.

Three classes

“Number one” Roma families would be those who were exemplary in paying the rent for the past year, where at least one adult family member has long-term employment and where the children attend school or pre-school without any unsubstantiated absences. An immediate offer to move out of the ghetto, in addition to a one-year assistance of a social worker at their new address should be their reward.

The second category would be represented by families with adult members registered at the labour office for no more than six months, with children who miss school only on occasion and where the rent debt is not too high. Number two families should get a job after a more involved assistance of a social worker, pay part of their debts and then move out of the ghetto.

Third category families would be under the strictest regime, with the help of so-called lodging houses with a set regime. They would be moved out in case of breaking the rules concerning alcohol and drug consumption, night peace or rent payments. The daily assistance of a social worker and altogether discomfort of strict regime should motivate the family to start leading an ordinary life.

Translated with permission by the Prague Daily Monitor.

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