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Commentary: If I were Romani, I'd go crazy

29.3.2015 20:25
A settlement of Romani people from Romania in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, 2012 (photo: Lukáš Houdek).
A settlement of Romani people from Romania in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, 2012 (photo: Lukáš Houdek).

"To be Romani all too frequently means living in an excluded locality. To live in a ghetto means being close to the drug mafia, loan sharks, and speculators in social housing, to be in the sights of those who traffic in poverty. It means to experience despair, frustration , hopelessness and resignation. In such a situation, merely finding the will to escape it is a minor miracle," writes commentator Martin Vrba in an article for the Czech online magazine

According to Vrba, however, one's will alone is not enough:  "After you find the will, you learn what you, as a Romani person, have already known - the society 'out there' wants to keep you right where you are. Or ideally, somewhere else, so the decent people won't have to see you and be bothered by you. Long ago you were forced to acknowledge that the majority would rather see you behind a wall or watch on television as you are deported to India."

Vrba also says that even though Czech society is doggedly convinced otherwise, it may be time for it to realize that to be born Romani is seriously no advantage. Rather, it is a rather unenviable position.  

"Imagine you have a starting line that is a couple of kilometers behind the main runners in a marathon that all of society participates in. While the runners in the leading, privileged positions, garlanded with degrees from prestigious universities and with family capital behind them, enjoy the game to the fullest, it is rather probable that you are enjoying it far less," Vrba writes.

"When all is said and done, if I had been born in a ghetto, transferred to a special school during childhood, grew up on the territory of the drug mafia and then gone to do manual labor without any prospects, if I had to account for my skin color to landlords, and if, on top of all that, I had to listen to the wise speeches of local pub regulars backing the skinheads who had just held a demo underneath my windows the night before, then one day would I would simply snap and become a rather uncivil guy," Vrba concludes. "If, after a local loan shark gave me a clever loan, I heard from a collections agent that I would be entitled to make only the subsistence minimum for the next decade, I would evidently judge that all I have left to lose are my chains." 

Martin Vrba, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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