Margaret Swink

Margaret Swink (Dzeno Association, Czech Republic): Originally from Michigan, Margaret received her B.A. in international relations from Michigan State in 2000. Seeking a warmer climate, she joined the Peace Corps and spent the next two years teaching English and building a library in Cameroon. At the time of her fellowship, Margaret was finishing her first year of her Master’s program in International Relations at Yale University with a concentration in comparative foreign policy and human rights.

Power of One

03 Jun

So I’m leaving for Prague tomorrow. It still seems surreal. I’m packing my bags, and getting ready to go, but it still hasn’t hit me that I won’t be in New Haven on Monday. Despite the fact that I have been virtually interning for Dzeno since January, I can’t quite get it through my head that I am really going to Prague. To live. For 10 weeks. And I don�t speak a word of Czech. It’s all quite hard to wrap my mind around.

Ten weeks seems like such a short time to accomplish anything. Thinking back to my time in Peace Corps, after 10 weeks I barely knew the names of all of my colleagues. It really did take me the entire two years to finish my major projects. So what can I accomplish in ten short weeks for Dzeno? The fight for Roma rights in Europe is huge: they are the lowest of the low, their situation is worse than many refugees or immigrants. The Roma remain strangers in a land they have inhabited for generations. I am overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the problem: what can one person (or one small NGO) do to change the world?

Of course, I am forgetting my history, forgetting where I am going. The former president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, answered these questions in 1978, in one of my all-time favorite works: The Power of the Powerless. Facing the enormity of the Communist regime, Havel wrote:

“…[T]he crust presented by the life of lies is made of strange stuff. As long as it seals off hermetically the entire society, it appears to be made of stone. But the moment someone breaks through in one place, when one person cries out, “The emperor is naked!”–when a single person breaks the rules of the game, thus exposing it as a game–everything suddenly appears in another light and the whole crust seems then to be made of a tissue on the point of tearing and disintegrating uncontrollably.”

Years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Havel saw the light at the end of the tunnel, and predicted the end of Communism. But it wasn’t just one person that ended Communism, you’ll say, it was the triumph of the masses. But each person decided on their own to break the rules of the game, to refuse to exist in the cage, to see that the emperor was naked.

The fight for Roma rights is quite different. To achieve progress for the Roma, change must occur on a level deeper than political systems; it must occur in the hearts and minds of individuals steeped in generations of prejudice. The Roma themselves must believe that they deserve better. Czechs must believe that Roma are equal, and worthy of the rights and duties of full citizenship. And every individual must believe that they can change the world. Even me.

Posted By Margaret Swink

Posted Jun 3rd, 2005

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