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September 18, 2021



Commentary: Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day in the Czech Republic after still-unexplained death of Romani man

14.11.2016 18:53
Dana Moree
Dana Moree

After the incident in Žatec it is hard for me to write, for many reasons. Thanks to my work with the "theater of the oppressed" I have relatively a lot of friends in the Romani community linked to my Facebook profile, so from afar I am following what is going on with them, and I must say it is not light reading.

Posts by Romani community members who have somehow been assaulted somewhere just because they are Romani are growing like mushrooms after it rains. The situation is becoming complicated on in the shops and on the streets.

These attacks may even be happening the same way they always have, but something now is different - the victims are not talking it any more and are speaking up about the reality of their lives. In this miserable situation, that is a brilliant development.

There is another reason my blood is freezing in my veins, though. From all of these status posts the emotion is palpable that Romani people feel they are not welcome here, that they were born in a country where nobody wants them.

That, at least, is the way Romani people are talking on Facebook after Žatec. I am looking for a way to connect what they are saying to the perspective taken by representatives of the majority population.

Personally, I am very glad we are all here together, and I am happiest now in environments where we can experience absolutely ordinary joy over the fact that we live in the same country - when we are planning a new theatrical production involving not just Czechs and Roma, but Vietnamese people and others, and where it is, at the same time, absolutely not important how different we are. What is important is that we succeed in finding a plot line we can spend a whole afternoon fooling around with and laughing about.

At the same time, I feel that this is somehow not enough after Žatec. That's why it is hard for me to write about this now.

For years I have been asking myself how all of this connects to the post-November 1989 development of our society. Again another year has passed and the anniversary of 17 Novembe - "Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day" - is approaching, and I cannot view the post-Žatec events outside of that framework.

I remember my shock when several years ago I found one of the first documents published by Charter 77 about the situation of national minorities in Czechoslovakia. It is unbelievable that already at that time the authors were mentioning parameters that have become the main topics in this are after 1989 - housing, education, removal of Romani children from their families into state care, and sterilizations.

In many respects we have managed - after almost 30 years! - to work toward some positive changes in that the sterilizations have been revealed and subsided, while positive changes have occurred in the areas of education and institutional care. All of these matters concern the social order.

However, it seems that one matter still awaits us, and that is connected with the ramifications of what Charter 77 was writing about, ones I also perceive as the basis of this post-Žatec hangover on Facebook. Allow me to quote a Charter 77 document from 1978 directly:

"Only the Romani people themselves can decided whether they should coalesce with the majority population, accepting without reserve its civilizational values and thereby losing their own ethnic identity. Only they themselves can decide about the degree of integration and whether they will accept it. The Romani population is constantly subjected to this decision-making, each of them, every day of their lives, and it is up to the majority population and the state authorities to create dignified conditions for that decision-making and to contribute to an atmosphere of mutual understanding. Without the true revelation of the severity of this problem, without basic legislation, and with actual participation by Romani people themselves in their decision-making about the matters concerning them, attempts to resolve questions of the Romani minority in our country are illusory. This question is no longer just one of this minority, or an economic or social one, but is becoming more and more a question of the conscience of this entire society." (From Information about Charter 77, 1978, 1, 15: 3 and 9).

There is a golden rule that applies to any group endeavor, such as traveling in the mountains together to go hiking:  The group must follow the tempo of the slowest person, otherwise it will not stay together. A society does only as well as its weakest link, whether that be children, people who are being beaten up because of their skin color, or anybody else.

The question that was asked by Charter 77 back then is an easy one. How can we, together, create the kind of conditions so that the most vulnerable can decide about their own lives?

How can we live together so that our society has a clear conscience? Maybe these are the questions that we can ask this 17 November, now that Žatec has happened.

Dana Moree, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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