Commentary: The Czech and Slovak Romani community on the battlefield that is Facebook
If you are a basic user of Facebook, you might not suspect what its "LIVE" feature is all about - and I also had no idea until I began following the live broadcasts of Josef Kmeťo from Slovakia, who is able, in the course of one minute, to become enraged, then to weep, and then to calm himself down so as to end the broadcast in laughter. By now, of course, I am an experienced Facebook user and consumer of this content, and it gives all the Czech tabloids a run for their money in terms of its sensationalism.
Who are the protagonists of the live broadcasts I have in mind? That would be Romani people.
Who are the actors delivering these soliloquies? Those are Romani people too.
Who is in the audience? Once again, Romani people are watching this content - and, theoretically, a bunch of Nazis online who must be on their knees with laughter.
What is this all about? These live Facebook broadcasts are currently the channel that has the most stable Romani community viewership on the Czech and Slovak-speaking Internet.
Thanks to these Romani broadcasters, I have learned some new words. These are terms such as "poverty" and "aid".
No, I'm not retarded, and I'm not writing this from first grade. What I mean is that in their use on this part of the Internet, these simple words have acquired a different meaning.
"Poverty" means the Romani inhabitants of settlements in eastern Slovakia, and representatives of different groups travel there to deliver "aid". In this sense, "aid" essentially means organizing a collection whereby a wealthier group of Romani people donates clothing and groceries to those who have neither.
In principle, this is something ideal - the question is whether these collections are legally registered - and the idea is super. What is not super is everything else around the idea.
It is difficult to describe what is happening in this part of the Internet if you do not follow the "scene" regularly. Different speakers alternate, and the level of their IQs fluctuates just as much as the stability of their Internet connections does.
Little groups are then created. One such group, for example, has been created around the Czechoslovak Romani Union (Československá unie Romů) and another around somebody calling himself "Romano Rašaj".
Does that name mean nothing to you? Well, it should.
Romano Rašaj (real name Jan Gábor) has 5 000 Facebook friends, thousands of Facebook followers, and thousands who actually watch his broadcasts - almost 10 000. The content is mostly him driving his truch, Romani cajdák songs, and a lot of foul language.
None of that seems to matter. Thousands of people tune in.
Rašaj can't speak either Czech or English properly and expresses himself like a graduate of the "school" in Valdice Prison. That doesn't seem to matter either.
He claims to be organizing collections and "aid" (see above). Of course, this bothers another Romani Facebook broadcaster, Štefan Pongo, who has fewer followers and posts videos with names like "Ratter Rašaj" in which he warns that Rašaj is blackmailing women.
Does any of this do our Romani community any good? Are we doing ourselves any good with the vulgarisms Mr Pongo shares on his Facebook profile, the author of which is another "star" on the Facebook battlefield, Norbert Hmilanský?
As that classic author would put it, "Everything I read there is so fucked up." Such unbelievable vulgarity is definitely a phenomenon of this particular corner of the Internet.
Anybody who follows Rašaj knows what I am talking about. I am also one of his followers.
I do this purely for the purposes of research. It boosts my self-confidence.
Whenever I listen to Mr Gábor, aka Romano Rašaj, I feel more intelligent and respectable by comparison. What's worse is that he is an influencer.
Most people enthusiastically agree with him when he says how super it would be if each Romani person were to send him one British pound or 30 Czech crowns to (his personal) transparent account. They agree how super it would be if, from (his personal) transparent account, he were to finance the building of enough houses for 20 families (per week).
He has even calculated that if all of the allegedly 300 000 Romani living outside the Czech Republic and Slovakia (I have no idea whether he means all Romani people, or just those originally from Czecho-Slovakia) were to contribute, then it would make a solid package of funding that something could be done with. What is apparent from the broadcasts is that some are actually sending him money to "aid poverty".
If that money is being genuinely invested into impoverished Romani families, then all honor to him. If these public fundraising drives are legally registered, then he should say that somewhere.
I have not seen that in any of his broadcasts, though. Instead, I've heard broadcasts with the following kind of content: "Come to England if you want to fight! I guarantee you won't leave here alive!"
That was his threat to a "competitor" who was also raising money, allegedly for the same purposes, through Facebook, and that video got 6 400 views and 833 commentaries. "Pongo, I will kick you in the teeth, you fucker, you just keep making money off of poverty," was another of Rašaj's messages.
The video that accusation was featured in got 7 300 views and 299 commentaries. What is the most frequent word being used in all these broadcasts?
"War." Rašaj threatens to wage "war" on all kinds of people, and those commenting on his broadcasts support him.
The virtual support gives him the feeling that he can speak for an entire community. He therefore makes threats, issues bans, or tells people what they should or should not do.
"You will not take any photos!" he broadcasts. "You will not got anywhere or I will declare the Third World War against you!"
Again, consumers enthusiastically click on this content, which supports this sensationalism, and this makes me wonder: For whom are Rašaj (and the others) broadcasting when 1 300 people are watching him live at 1 AM? Are his followers seriously unable to recognize that he is living in his own, virtual world where he is believes he is a king who can declare war on others?
To make matters worse, Rašaj broadcasts these videos as publicly available content. It is going to be difficult to explain to others that this person, who is able to utter 36 of the crudest vulgarities per minute during a live broadcast (while driving a truck), is not actually a public representative of the Romani community.
It is especially going to be difficult to explain that when he has more followers here than actual politicians do (to say nothing of Romani politicians). The question therefore arises: Where are the administrators on Facebook who are supposed to be deleting hateful content?
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