Prime and Labor Minister highlight importance of social reform in solving Šluknov district’s racial tensions

Petr Nečas in Nový Bor, photo: CTK

On Monday, Prime Minister Petr Nečas, Labor Minister Jaromír Drábek and the government’s human rights commissioner set off on a visit to the North Bohemian Šluknov district, where racial unrest is escalating and unemployment and crime are on the rise. Government officials are now meeting with local politicians to discuss possible solutions to a situation that is threatening to spin out of control, but some say their reaction has come too late.

Petr Nečas in Nový Bor,  photo: CTK
In response to a series of racially-motivated demonstrations in North Bohemia’s Šluknov district, Prime Minister Petr Nečas travelled the region on Monday, meeting with local mayors, regional police officials and representatives from civic initiatives. Mr. Nečas also visited a gaming bar in Nový Bor, where he praised those locals who had not participated in a series of anti-Romany gatherings after an attack by Romanies on patrons of the bar triggered a number of such demonstrations.

Speaking after a meeting with local officials, the prime minister said that while integration was important, the region’s high crime rate needs to be addressed first.

“In the long term, integration is the only solution. But integration works only if public order and safety are ensured, and if those two conditions are not given, integration will not work.”

Demonstration in Varnsdorf,  September 17,  2011,  photo: CTK
For his part, Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Jaromír Drábek met with local politicians and has pledged to create one hundred community service jobs in several municipalities of the region, where unemployment is rampant. In a news conference on Monday, he highlighted that the country’s generous social policies had contributed to the problem.

While the majority of locals welcomed the ministers’ visit, some have criticized Mr. Nečas for reacting too late. In an open letter, the mayors of Rumburk, Varnsdorf and Šluknov wrote they feel the prime minister has forgotten about the region and its problems. Is that a sentiment that is spreading among locals? I put the question to Rumburk’s Protestant priest, Filip Šimonovský, one of the signatories of the petition Světlo pro Šluknovsko or Light for the Šluknov district.

“I think that it was a mistake that he did not come here earlier. It would have been an important gesture. It is comparable to when a natural disaster happens in America, the president travels to the site, and people notice that. It makes them feel that he takes an interest, and that helps, so it is shame that he didn’t get here earlier.”

Demonstration in Varnsdorf,  September 17,  2011,  photo: CTK
Mr. Nečas’s visit comes on the heels of another anti-Romany gathering on Saturday, the seventh such demonstration to be held in the region within the last month. On Sunday evening, news of another attack by a Romany in Varnsdorf, which may have been racially motivated, added further fuel to the fire. But many say that such attacks have only stirred up hatred that has been brewing among the region’s majority population for a long time.