Politics of Exclusion in the Czech Regional Politics.
Case Study of the Jeseníky Region
The issue of minority' exclusion together with a quest for a targeted “enemy“ within society has appeared as a highly relevant topic of the political and social debate in the past few years;. At the same time, political movements in the Czech politics have been attempting to attract voters by emphasizing the issue of exclusion. This development is expectable – or more likely to occur – in economically and socially disadvantaged regions that cope with a wide range of significant problems such as high unemployment rate and unfavourable outlook for further development. The 2013 general elections have shown that the voters’ support for parties that had used the exclusion strategy in their campaigns has been higher in those regions than in the others. That is for instance the case of political movement Úsvit (see here). The Bruntál and Jeseník district fulfill the criteria for being labeled as excluded regions (high unemployment rate; bad transport connection; unavailabilty of social and cultural facilities). Therefore, the chance of political manipulation of voters by parties’ election strategies aimed at the social issues is higher.
In our study we have focused on the 2014 regional election campaigns in Bruntál and Jeseník districts. We have analyzed election manifestos, visual campaigning in individual cites as well as interviews with local people in order to get as complex picture of each individual election campaign as possible. Before the World War II, the examined region was populated mostly by Germans. Only a small group of ethnic Czechs lived there before the World War II– especially in Šumperk and the cities in the valley towards South. Jeseníky were re-settled by a wide group of ethnic Czech, Roma and Slovak people from Czechoslovakia and the South-East Europe. The places high in the mountains lost their traditional agrarian character. In addition to that, the area bordered on Germany, instead of today's Poland.
We have focused on following cities: Bruntál, Břidličná, Budišov nad Budišovkou, Javorník, Jeseník, Krnov, Rýmařov, Vrbno pod Pradědem and Zlaté Hory. All of the listed cities are either regional or micro-regional centers and therefore the role of ideology in politics might play an important role there; in contrast to a higly personalised politics in small municipalities.
The general findings of research of the election campaigns can be summed up in the following points: representatives of the political parties use the topic of social exclusion only rarely; the local people in the individual cities focus mainly on practical problems linked with the everyday life, such as the level of transport connectivity, unemployment rates, or insufficient cultural facilities.
Surprisingly, the election manifestos mentioned the social exclusion of Roma people or even of the so called “Roma issue” only rarely. The issues of Roma minority and socially excluded areas were not mentioned by the respondents, although during the interviews they were asked directly.. In addition to this, the Agency for Social Inclusion, a Czech government agency, describes Budišov nad Budišovkou, Bruntál, Krnov and Vrbno pod Pradědem as places with socially excluded areas. Nevertheless, the significance of this topic for the political parties is obviously low.. The parties as well as the local people do not define the Roma minority and the social exclusion of Roma people as an issue significant enough to be articulated by the political parties on the local level. However, there are some cases that deserve some attention. The first one is the success of the movement Úsvit přímé demokracie in Bruntál. As mentioned above, Úsvit is the party which openly speaks for the exclusion of Roma people from the major society and accuses them of missusing the state social assistance system. Although the party passed the threshold needed to gain seats in the city council, the election campaign focused on the issue of Roma minority and its exclusion only marginally.
The second case in the participation of the extremist “Worker’s party of the social justice” (DSSS) in the local election in Krnov. Although the party built up a candidate list, its election campaign was de facto non existing; the party gained only 2 % of votes.
Although the political parties as well as public in individual cities keep silent about this issue, the threat of a rising immigration of socially weak citizens may cause a rise of public tension. This particularly is the case of Budišov nad Budišovkou, Javorník and Bruntál.
The issues thematised by the parties show that almost all of the parties do not attempt to artificially create social exclusion issue in the campaign. The question to be asked is, why this not the case of the politics on the national level, where the topic of socil exclusion or targeting Roma minority is often used. To answer the question why does the national and the local level of politics differ so fundamentally we can take a look at the data that we gained during our field research. The role of the identification of the people with the individual places as well as their feeling of belonging play crucial role on the local level. Therefore, the understanding of the city (in our case a small size city with up to 23.000 inhabitants) as a community of shared sense of identification with a certain place is a crucial factor in not identifying the issue of social exclusion as social and political topic to be thematised.
(by Michal Vít on behalf of study conducted by Pavlína Janebová, Jana Mydlilová, Vendula Ženatá)