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Čeněk Růžička: Czech politicians trying to force Roma to emigrate

Lety u Písku, 29.9.2011 17:48, (ROMEA)
Čeněk Růžička, chair, Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust

The following is a translation of a speech written by Čeněk Růžička, chair of the Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust, for the occasion of the commemoration at the former concentration camp for Roma at Lety u Písku held in honor of the Day of Czech Statehood (28 September):

Speaking as a survivor of the victims of Nazism who are rest here, I have the honor of welcoming you. We are standing at one of the places where events occurred during Nazism that marked us for our entire lives. Those events have been irrevocably engraved on our memories, reminders that are once again relevant today with respect to the currently exacerbated relations between the majority and the Romani minority in this country.

Yes, esteemed Roma, this is the sacred site from which essential appeals must be heard. The words spoken here are dignified and important.

Today this place should be honored by reading the names of the Romani victims of racism who were murdered at the hands of Czech neo-Nazis after 1989. This makes for sad reading. When reading the names of innocent victims, our hearts ache, but given the rising aggression being committed against our people by our fellow citizens, it is even more important to read their names. Our appeal and our wish is that we will finally live in this country as free, respected people whose lives are not at risk.

I am one of those Roma whose entire families all but completely perished, for racist reasons, in the Nazi concentration camps. I know very well what a manipulated mob, as we have been watching live on television recently, is capable of.

The Roma and Sinti, whose roots in the Czech lands are 600 years old, have had their own experiences with the Czech nation. Those who can remember the 1930s, who can remember the law that violated the constitutionally guaranteed equality of citizens and set up special police files on Roma and Sinti, banned our entry into selected towns, introduced special "Gypsy identification cards", ordered us to regularly report to police stations, and terrorized us in other ways - thank God, some of the people who lived through that are still alive.

The adoption of that law exacerbated society's anti-Roma sentiment even more, and those who were mayors then, like those who are mayors today, contributed to the aggravation. The end result was the behavior of the Czech camp guards toward our people in the Nazi concentration camps at Lety and Hodonín, where Czech guards tortured as many as 600 of our people, i.e., their fellow citizens. Of those victims, at Lety alone, 241 of them were children.

Romale, when I learned what happened to my people here at Lety, I could not believe my ears. Until the recent events that have taken place in Šluknov occurred, I continued to hope that somewhere in the archives we would discover documentation of the fact that the Czech guards had actually been ordered to work our people to death, instead of doing it on their own initiative. However, we really do not have time to do this work now. It's useless. We already know how far hatred of the Roma can go.

We know very well what kind of a hell the Czech guards prepared for our people at Lety and Hodonín. We know how hatefully a large part of the majority society treated them. Each one of us still experiences this day in and day out - at local authorities, on public transportation, in the shops and in the streets. It is merely a fortunate coincidence that the ongoing crusade against Romani families has not yet resulted in the very worst outcome of lives being lost.

Who can guarantee that similar pogroms against the Roma will not be repeated with even greater intensity in any part of our country, and with fundamentally worse outcomes? Who can guarantee that Romani individuals, concerned for the lives of their families, will not do something reckless? The tragedy of our people in this country has no end. Are the 20 racist murders of our people that have been committed during this new regime not enough?

We must count on the fact that the relationship of Czech bureaucrats and politicians to the Roma corresponds now and will correspond in future to the general relationship of Czech society toward the Romani community. Moreover, among a large part of high-level politicians, this relationship is even more dangerous and more hateful, because they are designing and passing the laws that influence our life. Take, for example, Czech MP Ivana Řápková (whose educational qualifications I will not list for reasons that are infamous). This celebrity star totally lacking in intellect, this woman who is compensating for her own deficiencies with her hatred of the Roma, this woman who has risen into the lower house by walking all over us. As you know, she is not alone on the political scene.

Romale, what will laws look like when they are designed and passed by people who utterly hate the Roma? They exploit the individual offenses of individual Romani people and intentionally base generalizations on those incidents which they then apply to an entire "category of people". They adopt repressive laws - mayoral decrees - and they are not thinking of the results of their behavior at all.

Can you imagine what would happen if we were faced with elections in the immediate future? These officials are able to behave this way because they have the support of a fundamental majority of right-wing politicians and they feel supported by a large part of the nation, i.e., by their voters.

Esteemed Roma, my question is: How much money does any family in this country require not to fall into the category of people below the poverty line? In the US, this amount is established at USD 22 000 annually, which is CZK 370 000. The social welfare system in this country is not as overgrown as politicians from right-wing political parties claim. In comparison with other EU Member States, it is rather modest. What defines the poverty category in this country? Someone needs to specify this. How much money does a family or individual have to make in order to not live below the poverty line?

The state cannot reject our arguments forever. The tragedy of the Roma in this country has no end. Both non-Roma and Romani mothers are afraid to let their children walk to and from school. Romani families are worried about what tomorrow holds for them.

I want to send all politicians a message from this place: If you continue to make life difficult for us by adopting decrees and laws while the cost of almost everything in this country keeps rising, you won't force us to leave as you hope. You will just create an army of homeless Romani families making their living somehow, and the voracious media are already making sure prejudice against us intensifies and inter-ethnic relationships radicalize.

An exacerbated situation will eventually arise to which the police will not be able to respond in time. There is a risk that human lives will be lost.

How loudly do we have to shout here for our arguments to be heard? There are journalists here, the television is here. Naturally, we will be grateful for their assistance in delivering this message.

Romale, we have lived in this country for centuries, we are living here, and we will live here whether anyone likes it or not. We want to live like free, respected people, a proud Romani nation - not like people who fear for their lives. We must remember the Romipen of our ancestors and practice it as ours - we must resurrect it once more. This is missing from our lives, and to a certain extent is the cause of the moral decline of some of our families.

I would like to say more about this, but there are others here who want to address you. As a Rom whose family members lie here, I thank you sincerely for the flowers, and I would truly prefer that we meet under happier circumstances.

Ačen devleha (God be with you).

Gwendolyn Albert, Čeněk Růžička, chair, Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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