Czech town bans public consumption of alcohol - because of Roma

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 21th of September 2011   Source: romea.cz

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Councilors in the town of Čáslav have approved an ordinance banning the public consumption of alcohol. They claim the move has been necessitated by problems with Romani residents who have recently moved into town. Roughly 100 Romani people from all over the country have moved into residential hotels there. The landlords of these properties are cashing in on the social housing benefits awarded to their tenants by the state.


"We want to prevent what has happened in other towns, even though the municipality naturally has limited powers in this respect," Mayor Jaromír Strnad (ČSSD) told the Czech Press Agency. He was referring to the situation in the Šluknov foothills, where several anti-Roma demonstrations have taken place due to the allegedly rising rate of crimes committed by Romani perpetrators. Police special forces units from Prague are overseeing security in the area.

The Mayor of Čáslav says the owners of four residential hotels in the town have discovered that it is profitable to accommodate Romani tenants. Their properties fill up easily and the state regularly disburses their tenants' "aid in material distress" benefit. For example, at one point 50 Romani residents had allegedly moved in to the "Bílý kůň" residential hotel on the town square. While there are fewer of them there today, the total number of Romani residents in the town is now roughly 100. The buildings of the former school cafeteria and a former clothing factory have also been transformed into residential hotels and difficulties have been reported with those properties as well.

The ban on alcohol consumption is not total, but concerns the main streets in the town center. "This does not concern residential sections on the outskirts, it mainly concerns the center," the mayor said, adding that three of the four residential hotels occupied by Romani tenants fall into the restricted zone. "Naturally we have done our best to include those places in the alcohol ban," he said.

Another preventive step will be restrictions on the operation of gaming rooms from the start of next year. Strnad says the town is also considering buying out one of the residential hotels and using the property for a different purpose.

Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková told the Czech Press Agency today that she will follow the situation in Čáslav and will definitely visit the town should the situation there deteriorate. News server Romea.cz is informed that the Central Bohemian Regional Coordinator for Romani Affairs, Cyril Koky, is already addressing the situation.

Šimůnková said there is no simple solution to the problem with the residential hotel landlords, because their property rights cannot be restricted. "We don't want to restrict property owners' rights in a state where the rule of law applies. However, there is a need to reflect on how town councils might intervene so that property owners don't abuse social welfare to create Romani ghettos," she added.

Šimůnková said dialog must be started with these businesspeople and reasonable conditions must be agreed to. Another approach would be to regulate the disbursal of welfare benefits for housing. The commissioner said town councils do have a certain amount of room to maneuver in this respect even though their powers are limited otherwise.

Today the Czech Government is scheduled to discuss proposed measures to address the problems with ghettos. There are already around 400 such impoverished places in the Czech Republic. The cabinet is counting on linking the disbursal of social welfare payments to children's regular school attendance and to the performance of community service by the long-term unemployed. "These people on welfare should have to do something to receive it," agrees Strnad.

ryz, Czech Press Agency, translated by Gwendolyn Albert


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