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Commentary: Romani representatives lost the Czech Television debate

Prague, 11.6.2011 14:09, (ROMEA)
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Thursdays' performance by Messrs Tancoš and Štefan on Michaela Jílková's program "Máte Slovo" ("You Have the Floor") can be summed up in one sentence: They lost by a technical knockout. Why? A full 10 ten rounds would have just prolonged their suffering. Their side received a beating by the team of one businessman and a few politicians that was similar to the one Rocky Balboa delivers in the last two minutes of that film. I hope Honza Balog likes my boxer metaphor - now let's get to the core of the problem.

I watched a recording of the program - unfortunately, Thursday evening I had no opportunity to watch television, so my colleagues kept calling me while I was driving home to tell me how it was going. In the end I had to turn my phone off because I would have had no time to do anything but talk, even with the "hands free" device.

I ended up watching the comedy on Friday morning, for which I'm glad. If I'd watched it live, I would have smashed my television to bits, instead of just wanting to smash my computer monitor, which costs less to replace. From the moment I saw how the forces were distributed on either side of the discussion, I could not understand what it was supposed to be about. Was it a discussion about whether to make the welfare benefit of aid in material distress subject to collections, or was it a discussion about Romani people? Do only Romani people collect welfare? Evidently not. Why, then, were only Romani people invited as opponents of the motion?

Once I had gotten over the fact that only Romani people were on the opponents' side of the discussion, the next shock was what our Romani "representatives" said. From start to finish, neither one of them understood what the program was really about. I am not sure whether they signed up because they wanted to represent Romani people, or because they wanted to advertise their businesses as Mr Tancoš did. One way or the other, the problem of welfare was constantly transformed into a Romani problem. As an independent observer I would have had to conclude that according to the logic used, the only recipients of welfare are Romani people - evidently all of them, because Mr Tancoš was speaking (he actually said this) for all Romani people. However, he did not understand that he was designating all of the socially "indaptable" people who were being spoken of as Romani (as Michaela Jílková did her best to warn him, in vain, the entire time). Neither of the Romani gentlemen, unfortunately, understood the most essential thing: Their stupidity gave MP Řápková the advantage and she immediately knocked them out.

There is no point in commenting on the content of the discussion - whoever saw it can certainly form their own opinion. The saddest thing is, that on behalf of Romani people, a person was there who on the one hand complained about the gadje [non-Romani people] and about racism, and who on the other hand is managing to live in a half-destroyed building full of crap (literally) and rats as big as puppies, a building falling apart because it is waterlogged. Someone has stolen the metal components that make up the plumbing.

Do the Romani people really have no one capable of at least minimally preparing for such a program? I personally know many Romani people who could have managed to oppose almost any politician in a dignified manner, so why aren't any of them on the show? Is it really necessary to give that space to people who aren't even able to address a cellar overflowing with waste? Must we constantly make idiots of ourselves in front of the entire nation?

This doesn't just concern Michaela Jílková's program - this is our general problem. Politicians air their anti-Roma opinions, but the opinions of Romani people themselves are not seen in the media. There is an established, functional Romani news server, but Romani people aren't using it for their own writing. Are we going to keep waiting for things to "resolve themselves"? In the internet age the borders have fallen, almost anyone can write now, so what's the problem? Declaring membership in the Romani community? Time? Desire? How many Romani people do you know who regularly write, who comment on the events around them? I know two and there's no need to name them.

If we do not respond, the result will always be the same. We'll lose by a technical k.o, because we will be "represented" by people who are incapable of putting together a single worthwhile sentence on the topic at hand.

Gwendolyn Albert, Patrik Banga, Patrik Banga, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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