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Commentary: Czech media ignore International Romani Day

Prague, 11.4.2012 19:46, (ROMEA)

On 8 April, International Romani Day passed without any media interest in the Czech Republic. If Jan Fischer had not issued a statement of congratulations, it would not have been written about at all. The media are apparently concerned with much more important topics than ones which might assist social cohesion.

"On the occasion of 8 April, International Romani Day, I wish for all Romani people that the quality of their lives will continually improve, as I hope they will for society as a whole. I hope Romani people will not have to witness marches by extremists and neo-Nazis demonstrating against their presence in our country. I hope Romani children will have the opportunity to receive an education of the same quality as the one received by their fellow citizens. I hope Romani people will become a self-assured component of Czech society, and that Czech society will appreciate their contributions," Fischer's statement began.

The ROMEA association and the Cross Club in the Holešovice district of Prague celebrated International Romani Day with an event called "Ethnic friendly ghettolege", featuring video projections of documentary films on this topic, debates with representatives of the Romani community, and musical performances by Romani artists. In Brno, International Romani Day was celebrated by people tying ribbons onto a Tree of Tolerance and listening to Romani songs.

Celebrations of International Romani Day are continuing this week. The Prague 14 Social Affairs Department traditionally organizes celebrations of 8 April. David Beňák, head of the department, said: "Many Romani people live in our district, as do members of other minorities. Because we are aware of this, we contribute to mutual dialogue between these minorities and most of all between them and the majority part of society every year."

On Thursday, 12 April, a two-hour workshop on flamenco dance will be held at the National House in the Vinohrady neighborhood of Prague. The week's program will end on Friday, 13 April with a "happening" starting at 14:00 on "Cultural Encounters" at the "Rajská zahrada" metro station on the B line, featuring a diverse musical program, dance performances, tarot card readings, Vietnamese food, and a performance by the Hanoi Vietnamese Club.

However, the Czech media is not taking much interest in this or in any of the other Romani events scheduled throughout the country. After all, reporting on such events does not lend itself to using today's favorite code word, "inadaptables". Journalists would have to write at least something positive about the coexistence of the majority society with our largest minority. At this moment, that message simply is not part of our social currency.

Due to the poverty of the government's policies and the rise in corruption scandals here, the right-wing media has its work cut out for it trying to make mafia capitalism look good. The left-wing media, for a change, is happy to adore itself in the mirror as it muckrakes among today's politicians. Neither side is interested in people, in the quality of their lives - or only exceptionally so. Ideology - and witch hunts against opposing ideologies - is more their primary concern.

This country lacks a normal, regular media outlet. However, in addition to the right and left-wing mouthpieces, we have an even rarer species: The chameleon media. These news outlets change their colors according to the momentarily prevailing mood of society and are led by its populism. The most glaring example of this kind of media outlet is the daily Právo and its affiliated online news server, Novinky.cz, which features a mixture of a Klausian-left xenophobia. This past weekend they confirmed their chameleon nature once again.

Interestingly, the media have unintentionally assisted in impugning Václav Bělohradský's brilliantly invented marketing phrase, "fluid anger". In the Czech Republic, as has been confirmed time and time again, unrest is not usually the subject of a general anger of the kind that overflows elsewhere in the world (for similar reasons everywhere). On the contrary, such unrest is very often the product of an anger that is intentionally directed against Romani people and the members of other minorities.

Anger is not always "fluid" in other EU Member States either. Elsewhere in Europe it is also often aimed against minorities in general. Sarkozy aimed it against Romani people, Merkel against Turkish people (or rather, against multiculturalism, which in Germany is symbolized by coexistence with Turkish people), to say nothing of the populists in Austria, the Netherlands and Poland. Targeted anger is quite strongly apparent in Hungary, where Romani people are almost an official enemy of the state, and in Slovakia, where according to some media outlets, Romani people are responsible for everything negative in life - just as the media portrays them in our country.

Certainly there is anger in the EU that is targeted against the system, but that anger runs in parallel, both de facto and symbolically, without "overflowing." However, the system is far from the only target for this anger, as it might seem to those who have uncritically taken up Bělohradský's slogan. Romani people and members of other minorities are starting to play the unwanted role of the "domestic enemy" in the EU. In the Czech Republic, this role is used to distract attention from the babbling of the lord of Prague Castle, from the very serious errors of government policy, from the empty values of the left-wing parties that form an integral part of Czech mafia capitalism. In other states the motivation is similar. Most of the reporting on the "enemy within" is also linked to the need to deflect attention elsewhere, away from the economic, financial, political and moral crises in their societies.

"Your search for 'International Romani Day' did not produce any results. Please check the spelling of the item you are searching for." That was the answer I got from news server Novinky.cz and others when I tried to find out what they had communicated to the public on this topic.

Of course, Novinky.cz published an article from Právo that concerns the alleged abuse of welfare - or rather, it enlarged this problem to unbelievable dimensions without a single piece of evidence other than claims asserted by various people. The vocabulary of the piece would have done the fascist Vlajka (Flag) organization proud. If you don't believe me, take a look for yourself at "Even wealthy Romani families are abusing welfare" ("Sociální dávky zneužívají i majetné romské rodiny" - in Czech only at http://www.novinky.cz/finance/264171-socialni-davky-zneuzivaji-i-majetne-romske-rodiny.html). I am not trying to say that Romani people are not the prey of loan sharks, some of whom are also Romani. Rather, I am discussing the way in which the daily Právo has latched onto this subject.

Novinky.cz celebrated International Romani Day with another very strange article, "Radicals protest police officer being thrown from a window at Chanov" ("Radikálové v Chanově protestovali kvůli policistovi vyhozenému z okna" - in Czech only at http://www.novinky.cz/krimi/264185-radikalove-v-chanove-protestovali-kvuli-policistovi-vyhozenemu-z-okna.html). The only people who were "given the floor" in this article are right-wing extremists from the Workers' Social Justice Party (Dělnická strana sociální spravedlnosti - DSSS). Novinky.cz quotes directly from that party's website the alleged reasons for their march through the Chanov housing estate, i.e., the incident of a police officer being thrown from a window there. However, in this case, according to the available information, the Romani person who threw the officer from the window was not Romani, but has been identified as a drug addict. The ethnicity of the perpetrator is not essential, it has no bearing on the case. Novinky.cz not only fell into using the right-wing extremists' rhetoric in their own reporting, the did not inform their readers about the most basic facts of what actually took place at Chanov last Saturday (unlike other media, which did report what occurred).

During the right-wing extremists' march through the Chanov housing estate, Romani people maintained order themselves. Romani organizers wearing yellow vests created a cordon, calmed the Romani people who were present on their own, and kept an eye on them so they would not run out among the unthinking herd of clods marching down the street in front of them. Some Romani leaders and police officers prepared local Romani residents for the event for a week. Of course, it also must be said that it was only possible to achieve this result because there were relatively very few right-wing extremists -only about 50 - marching. If there had been 200 of them, the lack of a police presence would have been an enormous disaster.

Romani people were enthused once the event was over. They felt like the moral victors, and justifiably so. They did not go hide in their apartments when the right-wing extremists came, but showed them what they thought of them in a dignified manner. They did not provoke any conflict or allow themselves to be provoked. After the haters had left, Romani residents gathered in the main hall of the local community center. There they were thanked by recognized Romani personality Iveta Millerová, who had come all the way from Berlin to support their counter-protest. Last but not least, the local Romani residents were satisfied that people from non-profit initiatives had also come to support them. It was an enormous moment full of positive emotions.

The press weren't there. Too bad - it's their loss.

František Kostlán, Gwendolyn Albert, František Kostlán, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
Views: 5367x

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