MINELRES: Fwd: The Prague Post: State's Roma monitoring criticized

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Tue Jan 24 08:46:24 2006


Original sender: Roma Network <romale@zahav.net.il>


www.praguepost.com

State's Roma monitoring criticized 

Groups worry about potential abuses against historically marginalized
population 

By Brandon Swanson
Staff Writer, The Prague Post
January 18, 2006 

[photo]
VLADIMiR WEISS/The Prague Post 
Rozalie Carna's son Jan Zigo and his partner were attacked at home by
three skinheads.  


When the government watched young Arabs, Turks and blacks rioting in
Paris late last year, it saw a city in flames over long-simmering racial
and economic issues. Czech officials worried that a similar situation
could arise domestically with Roma, or gypsies.

In response, the government implemented a Roma monitoring program Jan. 4
to gather information about the group ranging from employment to
education.

"Unless we want to allow a similar conflict to happen in the Czech
Republic, we have to take action immediately," said Katerina Berankova,
Labor and Social Affairs Ministry spokeswoman. "And to introduce any
permanent changes, we need to know their position and to what extent
they are socially outcast."

Historically, Roma have been marginalized from society here, as they
have been throughout Europe, but there has never in the nation's history
been an incident of the group rioting.


Lacking reliable information

The announcement of the program immediately raised eyebrows in the Czech
press, which questioned whether the government was trying to carry out a
Roma-only census, something that has led to discrimination in the past.

"It is nothing of the kind," said Czeslaw Walek, director of the
government's Office of Council for Roma Community Affairs.

Walek said the government will analyze living standards without taking
down personal data, but the program has drawn criticism from Roma rights
advocates, who say such data could be used for discriminating against
Roma.

"The anonymity of such monitoring is just an illusion," said Ivan
Vesely, chairman of the Dzeno, a Prague-based Roma advocacy group  one
of several that have spoken against the program.

"Even if there is no name or address given, there are still other social
and economic data  a given location, and so on  and from these data it
is not really all that difficult to figure out who the monitored people
are," he said.

Walek said that Roma have complained that the government either does not
contribute enough money to improving their lives or wastes the money it
disburses. Indeed, internal government inspections have shown that many
Roma programs and subsidies had no impact because they were originally
based on poor information about the Roma. 

"The aim is to improve the effect of measures already taken, to use
available funding in a more effective way," he said.

Walek said his office has not received any complaints about the
monitoring program outside of "traditional concern," and that all Roma
Council members were informed of the project before its implementation.

But the very thing that makes the program necessary  the government's
inability to collect reliable demographic information about Roma  may
also be its biggest obstacle.

It could prove difficult for the government to gather information on an
ethnic group that has historically been suspicious of its motives. Only
11,000 Czechs declared themselves Romany in the latest population census
while an estimated 250,000 Roma live in the Czech Republic.

Unemployment of Roma in this country runs anywhere from 70 percent to 90
percent, depending on the region, and many depend heavily on welfare.

The monitoring is legal so long as it remains a sociological analysis,
said David Strupek, a Prague lawyer who has experience with Roma issues.

"It becomes a legal problem only if the project amounts to collecting
personal data of particular citizens," he said.

The program will cost about 1.5 million Kc ($62,630) per year. Initial
data will be submitted to the government this summer and a full report
will be released in 2008.


Lingering issues

The new year has already been a tumultuous one for Roma in the Czech
Republic.

Romany families were evicted from municipal apartments in the Nestemice
district of Usti nad Labem, north Bohemia, this month for owing back
rent.

That district became the epicenter of an international human rights
controversy in the mid-1990s when city officials began building a
concrete barrier to separate Romany municipal housing from private
housing after residents complained about the Roma.

When the city refused to halt construction on the wall, the government
sent 10 million Kc in aid to improve coexistence between the two groups.
The city used part of the money to buy the private houses surrounding
the Roma and the residents moved away.

Also in the Usti region, 10 Romany women filed suit in criminal court
over sterilizations that took place between 1979 and 2003.

One woman said that government officials asked her to be sterilized
because she had seven children, and she signed an authorization form;
later, she said she had trouble reading and writing.

More than 50 Romany women were sterilized in the Czech Republic during
that period.

Meanwhile, Roma are now considering creating a human shield to prevent
the right-wing National Party from building a memorial in Lety, south
Bohemia, at the site of a former Nazi concentration camp for Roma. 

On the existing plaque that commemorates the deaths of hundreds of Roma
there, the Nationalist Party plans to erect another plaque that reads:
"This place was a collection camp, not a concentration camp. History is
a question of truth, not interpretation."

The party plans to erect the memorial Jan. 21.

Strupek said that the planned memorial appears to be legal, but police
may interpret it as provoking Roma.

"The statement is politically incorrect, to say the least, and perhaps
this is a far too mild way to put it," he said. "It is on the edge of
expressing hostility toward Roma. It is on the edge of the law."


 Petr Kaspar and Iva Skochova contributed to this report. 

Brandon Swanson can be reached at
bswanson@praguepost.com

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