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Commentary: Romani activists rush attempts to start party in Czech Republic

Brno, 24.10.2011 11:35, (ROMEA)
Pavel Pečinka, Editor-in Chief, Romano hangos

Three initiatives have recently attempted to influence Romani affairs here the Czech Republic: The founding of a new Romani political party, a meeting of former MPs from the now-defunct Romani Civic Initiative (ROI), and the statewide Romani conference in Brno. In the raw atmosphere occasioned by the demonstrations and unrest in the north, some groups of Romani activists want to intervene in the national discussion and make themselves known. Their aims and motivation vary. The work of some activists has sparked organization by other, rival activists. Naturally, these initiatives cannot be prevented and they should not be condemned or dismissed out of hand. Many Romani people showing a definite interest in politics will now be testing in practice what politics actually involves - making contacts, getting media coverage, etc.

I am glad the South Moravian branch of the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) has gone so far as to take the risk of losing some of their gadje voters. Even though the current atmosphere in the country is extremely anti-Roma, the party hosted the statewide Romani conference in Brno - also at the risk of dissatisfaction with the outcome.

I don't want to jinx the results of all of these efforts, but the course of all three initiatives so far reminds me of previous attempts. Everything is phrased as demands in a hot-headed rush of slogans, strong words and a certain pomposity. Behind this lies the effort to quickly outdo and overtake "the other" activists. Behind the scenes, the overarching motif is: "put this in our hands at last."

At a time when a right-wing government is cutting and disparaging everything they can label problematic, uncertain, unnecessary or unprofitable, it is difficult for me formulate my critique of these Romani efforts. Nevertheless, I believe the organizers of these actions have not learned from the past and do not perceive the fact that political activities - movements, parties, etc. - must be based on results achieved, on the long-term support of a certain circle of people, on the ability to negotiate and agree to compromises, to uphold the agreements that are reached, to handle the media, and on organizational capability.

If the Romani initiatives that are getting politicized now haven't tested all of this, if their methods haven't been backed up over the long term on a local, small scale, it will be very hard for them to replace that lack of experience with strong declarations. Rather, the eventual collapse of these hot-headed projects could just further discredit Romani political activities. Critics will say: "Look at them, how can they want to tell us how it should be done when once again they are arguing among themselves for the 150th time." I believe that in such a case it is better not to attempt "high politics" and to stick to a level commensurate to the strengths of the activists involved.

I am among those who believe it is first necessary to achieve a transformation in the way the government acts with respect to the educational and social position of people in the ghettos, with the partial cooperation and involvement of those people themselves. This can be done through different measures than those of communist policy, which were "command" measures that sparked recalcitrance among the Roma. Those measures can also be different from today's capitalist logic of "take care of yourself and survive as best you know how"....

Only once the people living in these layers of society have been set free from the everyday fight for survival, from the model of a parasitic lifestyle, from the traditions that are so hard for society to accept, from their organization into clan groups, from their addictions to drugs and gambling, from being worn down by loan sharks - only then will they themselves show greater interest in their own language and in the positive, supportive aspects of their culture and traditions. In my opinion, Romani nationality or national awareness should be a secondary priority for the movement, but I also do not want to see the top-down assimilation of Romani people into society.

I believe the declaration recently made by the former Romani MPs gets this backwards. For them, the nation comes first, and then they themselves as the directors of the "Romani nation", and then the social uplift of the Roma will result. I consider that approach manipulative and unrealistic. I consider their demands regarding the transformation of the Agency for Social Inclusion in Romani Localities, the introduction of the Romani language into schools, and their presumptuous use of the slogan "The Roma are a Nation" to be both impracticable and impractical. That slogan only mobilizes and points out the existence of Romani representatives. Most of all, these former MPs have not credibly said how they are going to overcome the strongly rooted fixation on the Romani clan groups which does exist for many Romani people and which results in complications for any sort of more extensive, long-term cooperation on anything. They themselves know this very well and I believe some of them even make use of that fixation.

However, all of these activities are fully legitimate. The Romani representatives can test various approaches and evaluate them. They may even prove that their understanding of developments is the superior one and that the concerns of the skeptics are baseless. That is all part of democracy.

Personally, I am betting on a young, educated generation of Romani people who will not assimilate, who will retain at least some of the supportive elements of the diverse culture of the diverse sub-groups of the Romani/Gypsy population, but who will uncompromisingly divorce themselves from some Romani traditions (discrimination against homosexuals, resistance to the education of women, subservience to elders, etc.). At the same time, that generation will also have absorbed a large part of the cultural capital of Western civilization. Naturally, I would be glad if they were primarily absorbing that part of Western civilization that includes left-liberal approaches and ideas.

Gwendolyn Albert, Pavel Pečínka, Pavel Pečinka, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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