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August 12, 2022



COMMENTARY: Czech TV show portrays Roma as nothing but criminals

5.12.2020 8:15
The "Police in Action" television show on Prima TV in the Czech Republic. (2020) (PHOTO: Prima TV)

Until recently, the crime-focused news program "Krimi zprávy" was almost the only one on television to depict Romani people in the Czech Republic. Before that, in the days of communist Czechoslovakia, we had the program called "The Federal Criminal Bureau is on the Watch" (Federální kriminální ústředna pátrá).

Currently Romani people are "popular" in a program called "Police in Action" (Policie v akci) on Prima TV, and they're not playing any secondary roles, either, but are equally (well, almost) the central figures! Let's set the record straight, though.

The central characters in this program are, naturally, police officers. The show features bad actors and bad consultants, because what it portrays has as much to do with actual police work as a local tennis champion from Olomouc has in common with Rafael Nadal.

The tragedy is that the people appearing on the program are actually police officers, either currently on duty or retired, or maybe they are members of municipal patrols - which is why I understand the screenwriters even less, who have turned the program's reconstrutions of police interventions into a mixture of comedy and embarrassment. Nevertheless, this awkwardness is all based on situations in which viewers can find all the "proof" they need to shore up their convictions that Romani people are all thieves, screaming lowlifes, thugs and abductors of children.  

Let's take the thieving, for example. A gentleman (a white man of course, how could it be otherwise) forgets his wallet in his car, heads back for it, and notices two children trying the car doors to see if they will open while their mother watches them - a woman who looks as if she got dressed according to a handbook on "how to look like a typical cikánka".  

The "hero" of the program somehow detains the children and calls Delta Force, or rather, the local police patrol, who are shown arriving on the scene immediately. The white guy explains, comprehensibly and politely, what has happened (sure, he himself is detaining three boys as would-be thieves who do not even attempt to escape, but why would they, cigoši steal from childhood, right?) while the mother begins to speak as if she is playing the role of a cigoška as outlined in some neo-Nazi manual.

The Romani woman goes into "lowlife mode" and begins claiming that they have done nothing and were just passing by. The white guy is clear on what is happening, and so is the cop, while the Romani woman, named Lakatošová, is yelling at full throttle, and she is not calmed by the police officers using the familiar mode of address with her, nor by their threatening her with a fine (that part I believe).    

In the end, all's well that ends well, the car has not been damaged and the police officers tell the lowlife woman to go home. She continues to swear at the poor white guy, who gets to hear he is a "fucking fucked-up piece of shit".  

What else do we expect, right? The high point is the voiceover by our narrator, who tells us that Ms Lakatošová calmed down and probably headed back to work because her lunch break was over, and that the children went back to school.

This one story shows everything at once. In it, Romani people are dull, screaming beasts ("Aww, Mr Chief, I didn't do anything!"), they steal, they are not at work, and their children are not in school because, instead of school, they are walking around trying car doors to see if they will open.

The stereotypes come at you from all sides and the gadje [non-Roma] consumer of them chuckles with glee, because he knew this long ago, it's just being confirmed for him now. After all, "Police in Action" is based on real stories, right?

There's more, though. A poor gadje boxing trainer goes to his car and discovers his tires have been slashed.

The cops have no suspects and are therefore unable to do anything - so "Rocky Balboa" goes to settle accounts with "the Roma" on his own. We cut to a scene with not just three Romani people, but five, and many children.  

We see cops jump out of their vehicle, we see the gadje man holding a Romani man by the throat, and everybody is roaring so loudly you can't understand a single word. We cut to a cop explaining that it is normal for Roma to lie. 

We then cut to the cop explaining that to prevent an assault from being committed, they have to arrest the perpetrator of the tire-slashing and interrogate him at the police station. Please note that the cop is already calling him a "perpetrator", not a suspect.

The next cut is to the cops arresting the mother, the same Ms Lakatošová as earlier, and one of her sons, putting them both into the back seat of a police vehicle and driving off (really, when have you ever seen two suspects being taken together in one car without an officer sitting in the back, has the screenwriter ever read any handbooks on police work, are we supposed to believe this?) while the narrator tells us this hilarious duo are on their way to a destination with which they are very familiar.

During 10 minutes there were so many racist prejudices shown that I felt like throwing my television out of the window. The fascists can just post this video on their websites without even having to read anything.

This is no accident. All one has to do is look at the content of the other episodes of this program. 

A Romani man steals a wallet, Romani people attempt to steal a wallet and slash tires, a Romani man steals a car, a Romani man is an aggressive drunk, a Romani woman abducts children, Romani men abuse their own sister and tie their sister-in-law to a chair, a Romani man steals a purse (and sure, they claim to have just found it and to have been on their way to report their find to the police). All of this is not shown as happening over the course of a year, but during less than one month, concretely, between 5 November and 1 December. 

Romani people are helping to depict the community as criminal

Is Prima TV kidding us all, or are they just doing this to drive up their ratings? Probably there is no point here in discussing crime statistics in the Czech Republic and the percentage of Romani people represented among the population, because if the screenwriters were to think about it, they'd have to slap themselves in the face.

They are actually depicting us Roma as criminals and as people behaving dementedly - and Romani actors are helping them do it! I wonder what the salary is for an actor who is willing to perform on such a purely racist note. 

Where is the Council for Radio and Television Broadcasting? Where is anybody to simply say out loud that Prima is gambling with prejudices that are primitive and racist? 

As for the actress who has played the role of Ms Lakatošová, all I can ask is: Are you at all normal? I get that you're doing a job for money, but are you at all aware of what you're doing?

Your children are shown stealing? You're yelling like that and acting like a monkey?  

This is probably not your usual behavior, is it, because I dare say the situations Prima is depicting as "normal" are, in 2020, absolutely exceptional. Be that as it may, you have still agreed to play the role of a Vlax Romani lowlife on a program depicting Romani people exactly as the gadje would like to see them.

Don't be surprised later on when some fascist beats up some Romani kid here - you will also be to blame for that. Don't be surprised when they accuse a Romani man who happens to walk by a damaged car of having caused the damage.

That accusation will be your fault, too. Enjoy the alms the gadje are giving you for serving as their "useful idiot", as the Czechs say.  

Giňa Tabarik, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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