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May 17, 2022



Commentary: Czech ombudsman's racist remarks reveal his ignorance of Roma and of history

12.7.2020 9:03
In this cartoon, Czech ombudsman Stanislav Křeček is saying
In this cartoon, Czech ombudsman Stanislav Křeček is saying "Europeans should have enslaved Roma", and a Czech TV character is saying "He's a racist and a moron". In fact, Romani people were enslaved in what is now Romania beginning in the 14th century and ending in 1860. (Collage:]

In the Czech Television serial "MOST!", the character of a Romani cleaning woman, Žaneta (played by the excellent Klaudia Dudová) says the following memorable words about the non-Romani character Luďan, who has just made a racist remark about Romani people: "He's not a racist, he's just a moron." The character of Luďan does actually prove to be a moron, as he himself at least partially realizes because life teaches him that lesson.

Czech Ombudsman Stanislav Křeček is currently in a different situation than that character, and the fictional cleaning woman, to be true to her choice of words, would have to say of him: "He is a racist and a moron." Křeček is not just ineducable, he is directly erecting barriers out of sheer incompetence.

The reasons for his incorrigibility most probably include a hatred of Romani people, because he is constantly condescending to them and speaking out against them. In a recent commentary published in the daily Právo, the ombudsman alleges, in addition to other embarrassments, that Black people in America contributed to creating the wealth of that society when they were slaves, but Romani people in Europe have "never" contributed to creating anything.

"The legal position of Romani people is, without exception, absolutely equal, and despite that fact, day in and day out, we hear about their being discriminated against, both abroad and here at home," the ombudsman declares with incredulity, as if such a state of affairs should be considered impossible. Yes, we are hearing these allegations because discrimination against Romani people exists, and the Czech ombudsman himself is making an abundant contribution to it.

"Honor goes to the exceptions, but if you claim nobody wants to employ you, then why don't you employ yourselves? Why don't you establish firms contributing to, for example, the beautification of housing in excluded localities? Do they not want to rent to you? Why not build your own houses and apartments like thousands of other non-Romani cooperative housing owners in this country? Why do you just keep waiting for somebody to give you something? Enough resources for the financing of such activities could certainly be found in the state and in the nonprofit sector, where currently hundreds of millions are being used for this absolutely apparently ineffective 'integration'," the ombudsman's commentary continues.

The ombudsman probably regrets that Europeans didn't enslave Romani people because then they could have "created the wealth of society", but in reality, Romani people have contributed to European society for centuries, in all seriousness, including through their skills in traditional crafts. [Translator's Note: Romani people were in fact enslaved in what is today Romania beginning in the 14th century, a situation that lasted until 1860]. Romani people have been blacksmiths, wire makers, boilermakers, leatherworkers, grooms, horse traders, musicians, snake and bear trainers, potters, basket makers, launderers, bricklayers, trough makers, etc.

The transition to the modern era, from traveling to a different way of life, has been difficult, but nobody judicious would ever allow themselves to say Romani people have made no contribution to society. Even when all of us were enslaved by the communist regime, Romani people made a contribution here.

If the ombudsman were to criticize the state for doing its best to integrate Romani people in the wrong way - if he were to say the money being received by state and non-state organizations should go directly into Romani hands if they want to begin a firm or build their own house or apartment building - that opinion would still be ignorant, but at least it would not sound racist. Romani people here do not have the power to convince the state to do any such thing, while the ombudsman could actually seek to do so.

Above all, though, this is not about "exceptions" - the vast majority of Czech citizens who are Romani people work, maintain housing, and live like everybody else, they establish firms or are employed, they own their own apartments or rent them. Most of the Romani people living in excluded localities are doing their best to achieve this as well.

Some people living in such places may destroy apartment buildings, for example, by stripping them of metal and taking it to scrapyards because they have no money to live on, but others fix up the buildings they live in, organize the community, and create things that are commonly useful. Speaking of the city of Most, where the Czech TV serial is set, at the Chanov housing estate Romani people wanted to fix up the prefabricated housing units that were in disrepair themselves, but the city instead will be building them "container housing" for a pretty penny.

In a ghetto in the Havířov area, Šumbark, Romani people took up a collection among themselves, painted the corridors of their apartment building together, fixed the street door to the building, installed a new lock and gave each tenant a set of keys. There are many such examples of Romani mutual aid and self-help in this country.

There is also countless evidence of employers or landlords rejecting Romani applicants. Yes, among Romani people there are also those alongside whom nobody, including other Romani people, wants to live.

However, such experiences cannot be and must not be generalized to apply to all Roma. Our approach to each individual should be an individual one, otherwise we are playing with racism as an acceptable societal mechanism.

The institution of the ombudsman exists to review individual cases of possible mistreatment by authorities. The ombudsman's task is to aid people whom the established system either cannot assist or does not want to help, and the work consists of drawing attention to loopholes in the law or in the regimes in which bureaucrats work, as well as to the behavior of state officials, police officers, etc.

Křeček refuses to advocate for Romani people because, in his view, they are not discriminated against, but are responsbile for their own situations. This means, for example, that the Antidiscrimination Act for him, in the case of the Roma, exists only on paper.

"It is absolutely the same as if the ombudsman were to defend a ban on Romani people entering restaurants by alleging that, after all, they are also able to open their own restaurants. Křeček's directions do nothing less than point the way toward the racial segregation of society. If we admit a logic that requires Romani men and women to stop 'bothering' white employers and landlords for jobs and housing, then on what basis would we deny a pub owner the right to refuse them service?" Jan Moláček accurately writes in Deník N.

Křeček could also aid those Romani people who are not being active in the way that he demands because their lives fell apart long ago - for example, he could advocate for the ending of segregation in the schools here. Instead, he behaves like a mentally deficient racist, as Žaneta of "MOST!" would say.

František Kostlán, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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