Vsetín faces Roma exodus|
In late 2006, Jiří Čunek, then mayor of the eastern town of Vsetín and
later Christian Democrat chairman, made a controversial decision to move
several hundred Romany rent-defaulters out of a dilapidated block of flats
in the town centre and relocate them in a complex of portacabins on the
outskirts of Vsetín. Now, five years on, most of them are choosing to move
even further – as far as the United Kingdom.
According to the Vsetín municipal authority, a hundred and thirty Roma
have left the town for Great Britain and another hundred say they want to
follow suit, such as this young woman interviewed by Czech Television.
“I am thinking about leaving. But we will wait and see what happens in
January. There will be a lot of new laws in January, so we will wait until
January. I myself would go happily.”
Members of the local Roma community say they hope not to face racial
prejudice in Britain and to find a job. Many of them are unemployed and
their debts are soaring. Local community coordinator Marian Tulej says it
is easy to condemn the Roma for not working and living on state welfare but
according to him finding a job is hard.
“It happens that we arrange a job interview for someone, but when they
turn up they are told the position is no longer vacant.”
Those leaving are hoping to create a better life for themselves in
Britain, seeing the example of Irena Grunzová, a relative of one of the
families, who moved to London 12 years ago and works for a cleaning
service. Speaking over Skype, she told Czech Television that she, too,
could not find a job back in the Czech Republic.
“When a company here advertises vacancies and needs people, they don’t
care whether you are Roma, Pakistani or black. But it’s not what some
people think – that they will come here and immediately receive social
benefits and welfare. Here, one has to work. And when you do work, the
state will provide you with help and support.”
Christian Democrat Senator and former Mayor of Vsetín Jiří Čunek who
was behind the move of the Roma families to the portacabins five years ago
says those leaving now are just using their right to free movement.
“I hear they are seeking jobs. That surprises me, but it also makes me
happy at the same time.”
According to the head of the government’s Agency for Social Inclusion in
Romany Localities Martin Šimáček, this kind of rhetoric only increases
tension in society. At the moment, the Vsetín exodus is one of several
areas of friction between the Roma community and the majority population.
Ethnic unrest has been troubling the northern district of Šluknov
following a number of violent attacks in the summer, which the locals blame
on members of the Roma minority. Most recently, the eurasiareview.com site
quoted the Hindu statesman Rajan Zed calling for the immediate withdrawal
of a Czech primary school textbook, which reportedly stereotypes Roma and