Kimberly Birdsall

Kimberly Birdsall (The Dzeno Association): At the time of her fellowship, Kimberly was pursuing her Master’s degree in Foreign Service from Georgetown University, with a concentration in U.S. Foreign Policy.

Displaced perceptions Prague.

11 Jun

The city of 1000 spires. Actually, I am not so sure anyone has ever officially counted them, as there appears to be substantially more than that in the orange light of a setting sun. Truly a beautiful city- full of lovely parks, fragrant fruit trees, ancient history and modern sparkle. I´m finally settling in, becoming comfortable with the twisty cobblestone streets and a language filled with sounds that my throat seems unable to produce. And of course, getting to work.

My concepts about the Roma situation and the problems they face are shifting quickly. On Sunday, I attended a meeting of Romany leaders organized by Dženo and held in a small town outside of Prague. It was advertised as a discussion about the June 13/14th referendum to determine the Czech Republic´s fate regarding entrance into the EU. Dzeno Association advocates that Roma citizens should vote YES, as being part of the EU will allow easier immigration to European countries, and greater access to health, education, and welfare services. Ivan Vesely told the participants that it was naïve to think that European countries would not allow the Czechs into the EU based on their sub-standard treatment of Roma, and they should accept it and take advantage of the larger platform to advocate with a louder voice.

The meeting quickly turned to passionate discussions of Romany politics. Romany leaders have long, complex histories with one another, and old grievances and power struggles often reappear. Many of them had participated in the ROI, a political party formed with the collapse of Communism in the 1990s. However, being inexperienced in professional politics, the party collapsed and some of its leader became bitter adversaries.

I learned more in that six hours about the state of the Roma political situation than I had in all of the reading I had done before I arrived in Prague. I find it difficult to put aside my “American brainwashing” as a Dženo colleague so strongly put it. Roma culture dictates that young women do not express their views, and during an entire day of discussion, not one woman stood up to speak. And the lack of information sharing between Roma groups calls for a system of communication and more frequent meetings, a suggestion must likely not welcome from a young white American girl.

But I am also absorbing the beauty of Roma heritage. The strength of their familial connections, and the resilience of their language and culture, even after extensive persecution by Communist leaders and the horrors of the Holocaust, is amazing. Their traditions, expressed through song, dance, oral history, riddles and folklore tales, are mesmerizing in their richness. So much more to learn…

Posted By Kimberly Birdsall

Posted Jun 11th, 2003

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