Initiative to form multi-cultural police force bears little fruit

The Czech Police proudly announced last year that a new initiative would see the force more multi-cultural. Members of the country's biggest minority group, the Roma, would be motivated to join the force. In some districts in Moravia a number of Romanies are acting as social workers to help inform their communities about their rights. The aim of the police project though is to fight xenophobia within the rest of society.

If an official opinion poll was conducted to see how the majority Czechs felt about the initiative, I never got to see it. But of the few people I spoke to, I was surprised to find that the older generation found it hard to imagine taking orders from someone of a different ethnic background while the younger generation had nothing against it and was curious to see who would be the better officer.

In their attempts at carrying out the projects, curiously enough, two regions in Bohemia had completely different experiences. The region around the northern town of Usti nad Labem now has ten new Roma officers. But instead of working with the rest of society, they are made to help solve problematic cases in their own communities. This does not make them popular among their own people.

The nearby town of Most has given up on its initiative. Despite the fact that its project was supported with an 11 million crown EU fund, Romanies have not been integrated into the police force because of a lack of suitable candidates. Only seven people were willing to try it out, not even one fulfilled the criteria - a clean criminal record and a basic education. The town council was shocked to find that a significant number of the local Roma community could not even read or write in Czech.

Roma representatives and human rights activists blame the Czech authorities for discriminating against the Roma and sending them off to "special" schools for children with learning disabilities, where they are given very little attention.

But judging from discussions posted on a number of Czech websites, in my opinion, the project has failed. Instead of integrating communities, they are divided even further. The Roma are looked down upon for not meeting the criteria, while many Roma condemn those who join the force and then clamp down on their own people.