When I announced to my Czech father that this summer I am coming to the Czech Republic, where he lives and where I grew up, to help advocate for Roma rights as an Advocacy Project fellow, he asked: “Will you be going out into ‘the field’?”
I replied that I most likely will and that I hope to do so, although I will surely be spending quite a bit of my time in the Prague office of Dženo Association, the Roma press agency I will be working for. (The truth is, of course, I don’t know yet, because I have yet to start.)
My father’s next response was: “Well, I can take you out to the field. I know some activists who can take you around. Then you’ll really see how those people are.”
The tone of his voice implied a sentiment I’ve heard from my fellow Czechs too many times to count: there is nothing that can be done unless the “unruly,” “problematic” Roma minority assimilates into the white Czech majority population. The commonly held belief is that most Roma people live in ghettos (and yes, housing segregation is a real issue); that they are “unconforming,” rowdy, lazy people prone to a life of crime, poverty and misery. But these stereotypes must be challenged and questioned.
[government-funded anti-racism campaign poster: “together against racism”]
Just today, Amnesty International UK released a report, which condemns the breaches of the human rights of the European Roma. As the German press agency Deutsche Welle states:
“The report identifies systemic discrimination against Roma communities in several European countries: substandard schools for Roma children in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, forced evictions in Italy, Serbia and Macedonia, and assaults and murders of Roma in Hungary.”
The list of barriers the Roma face across Europe is overwhelmingly long. The issues are outlined well by the Hungary-based European Roma Rights Centre, an international public interest law organization working to combat anti-Romani racism and human rights abuse of Roma. The issues are:
– increasing racially-motivated violence, often lacking adequate prosecution
– rising extremism, driven in large part by extremist political parties and politicians who “have sharpened their anti-Romani rhetoric and actions, creating a climate in which rights violations are more likely to occur with impunity.”
– discrimination in access to health care and social assistance
– coercive sterilization of Romani women
– widespread residential segregation
– evictions due to gentrification and a lack of affordable housing
– lack of coordinated response to discrimination from governmental bodies
All of the above are symptoms and manifestations of institutional racism, prevalent all across Europe, and strongly present and visible in the Czech Republic.
My goal as an AP fellow is to help inform international audiences about these issues and to help illuminate not only best practices combating these barriers, but also the resilience, resourcefulness and strength of the Roma people and their allies as they work to create a more equitable society.
And as for battling the prejudice that surfaces in my interactions with the majority population in the Czech Republic, including my family members, I will see. I can’t remain silent, but I may have to find a way to make brief, strong statements and conserve my energy, which instead of hitting against wall after wall, would be much better spent on directly supporting the advocacy work of the press agency I will be with.
Posted By Tereza Bottman
Posted May 26th, 2010