Stacy Kosko (Czech Republic)

Stacy Kosko (Dzeno Association): Stacy received her B.A. from Syracuse University in 2000, with majors in French, English, and Television/Radio/Film. This led her to travel to London to study media and to Brazil to teach English. At the time of her fellowship Stacy was pursuing her Master's of Science in Foreign Service at Georgetown University, with a concentration in Conflict Management. She was also working towards a certificate in Refugee and Humanitarian Emergencies through the Institute for the Study of International Migration.

Dženo Then and Now, Part I: The Velvet Generation

27 Oct

It’s fitting, on so many levels, that Bob Dylan is quietly providing the soundtrack as I sit here trying to piece together my organization’s past, present, and future from a pile of official documents and the chairman’s meandering stories. This is the third time in thirty minutes that I’ve heard “How Does it Feel,” but when I returned from the chairman’s office, pile of notes in hand, “The Times (They are A-Changin’)” is the song that greeted me. The serendipity, dear reader, begs to be exploited, so forgive me for adopting, right this minute, a theme for this piece. (Thank you, Mr. Dylan.)

“The line it is drawn, the curse it is cast”

Ivan Veselý, chairman of the organization that is today the Dzeno Association in Prague, began his journey as an artillery officer in the Czechoslovak People’s Army, but in 1989 was stripped of his rank for speaking about the “humanization” of the army. “It was not my life mission to become activist,” he told me. But six months later, the Revolution came. “I was active in the Velvet Revolution. I was sure we needed a change of system to a direct democracy, to better participation.”

He fought for an end to communism, but at that point, he had still not become a human rights activist. Then in 1990, he and a friend were attacked by skinheads. They were badly beaten. “I knew fascists, yes. But skinheads? What is it?” Here Mr. Veselý began what has become his life’s work: human rights, with a focus on the Roma, better known in Europe as “gypsies.” The college-educated man explained to me that he realized he had two choices in life. One was a good, ordinary career. “And if someone ask ‘Are you Roma?’ I would say ‘I don’t know.’” The other choice was to become an activist. “I can say ‘Okay, I am Roma, and what I’m doing is my defense.’”

“Keep your eyes wide, the chance won’t come again”

Ivan was dead serious when he spoke to me, but his eyes flashed as if he were smiling, remembering the throngs of students – one hundred thousand strong – that had converged on Wenceslas Square to protest the Communist Regime. He explained that he and others like him who had been active in the protests understood the need in the nineties to harness and channel that revolutionary energy. He predicted a great, sleeping youth in the coming decades.

In my mind I compared this to the complacency that has blanketed the American youth ever since the “end” of the civil rights movement, as if the war has already been won, as if there is no longer a need to fight. “I am from the Velvet Generation – we predicted this… Someone must prepare the conditions for the next generation.”

And so Ivan Veselý, with Deborah Harding, the vice President of the Open Society Institute, founded the Dzeno Foundation. They raised money for the education of Romany students and they organized cultural events. They sent the first Roma activists to Bosnia to report on the condition of the Romany people during the war and they started a Roma information center. In Ivan’s words “We tried to open another view on Roma Issues here” because “if you’d like change you must personally be working for change in this system.”

(To be continued…)

Posted By Stacy Kosko (Czech Republic)

Posted Oct 27th, 2006

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