My first blog comes to you from the (relative) comfort of an economy Delta airline seat somewhere over the Atlantic, flying ‘home’ to Switzerland after a week in Washington DC. Aside from the whirling of the excessively cold air-conditioning and cramp in my feet, I am accompanied by the familiar feeling of betwixt and between that has intensified since making the decision to divide my time between the UK and Switzerland. Although I believe nationality is only one component of what it means to be me, defining myself as ‘British’ and ‘Swiss’ does provide a certain sense of belonging, a point of reference helping me cope with this sensation of ‘in the middle’. Losing the battle for the armchair to my considerably larger neighbour, my thoughts turn to my fellowship at the Dženo Association – an independent Roma media news and information service based in Prague…
In my initial preparation for Dženo I stumbled upon the case of Romani people pressurised into concealing their ethnicity in order to attain Czech citizenship. The powerful stigma associated with being ‘Gypsy’ in the Czech Republic which drives many ethnically ‘underground’ for official information and registry purposes denies Roma of the very sense of belonging which I, in seat 17F, find so comforting.
Since discovering that I would be going to Prague this summer, I have become aware that the Roma stigma is entrenched and far from limited to Eastern Europe where nationalism, citizenship and ethnicity are often contentious issues. As a Brit on continental European soil, I have inevitably been confronted with snide remarks about British food and the island’s notorious consumption of alcohol. The incessant stereotyping is omnipresent within the international university community. Yet never once have I had reason to question, hide or defend my loyalty to and pride in my cultural roots. Stereotypes help us all make sense of the world, but the blindness that tends to come with it is dangerous. The hostile response amongst friends, colleges and family to my decision to advocate Roma rights surprised me somewhat and is an indication for the challenges I am likely to face during the course of my fellowship.
Posted By Christina Hooson
Posted Jun 5th, 2009