Commentary: What Roma Pride is about, and why it's not working
At the start of this month, the third annual Roma Pride took place in the Czech Republic and many other European countries. This event is coordinated by the European Grassroots Anti-Racist Movement (EGAM) as an attempt to create a Europe-wide platform for civil rights on the model of the North American civil rights movement once led by figures such as Martin Luther King.
For the time being, these actions maximally attract just a few hundred people of various skin colors in any country. The number of participants is not increasing significantly as the years proceed and the events are remaining a fringe phenomenon.
After this year's Roma Pride in the Czech Republic, the organizers faced harsh criticism from some Romani people. They were charged with just wanting publicity, or even with wanting to separate society at a time when many Romani people are already successfully integrated.
According to the Prague-based musician Gyulla Banga, Roma Pride was an event organized by Romani people from outside of Prague, and Prague Roma allegedly had good reason not to attend it. The march was mostly ignored by the statewide media.
The media outlets that did report on Roma Pride did not mention the demonstrators' clear demands. Some media reports gave the impression that those attending the event were mainly celebrating themselves.
To understand why this is, I will try to explain a specific case which, at first glance, may seem as if it is unrelated to this kind of event. Currently there is a campaign underway to reopen the trial of Vlastimil Pechanec, who has allegedly been unjustly convicted of racially motivated murder.
This summer Pechanec was released from prison on probation after serving 13 years of a 17-year sentence for the racially motivated murder of Otto Absolon, a Romani man, in Svitavy in 2001. Mr Absolon's children soon became orphans when their mother passed away shortly thereafter.
Recently Pechanec attended a non-violent blockade of the Prague Pride march in support of LGBT rights and neo-Nazis have been holding benefit concerts for him as a "victim of the system". The Czech Justice Minister is currently evaluating his request that his trial be reopened.
Connoisseurs of Romani music will definitely recall the Svitavy-based band Točkolotoč, who enjoyed great success both abroad and at home during the 1990s. One of its members, Ladislav P., was stabbed in 1997 in front of the post office in Svitavy by this very same Vlastimil Pechanec.
A court in Svitavy sentenced Pechanec in that case to two years in prison for grievous bodily harm when he was still a juvenile. After being sentenced by the courts for a fourth violent crime, he advanced to committing murder in 2001.
Solidarity with the victims
Today Pechanec is publicly claiming that he just "scratched" Ladislav P. - his first victim - with a knife on his shoulder. The verdict in that case, however, refers to medical evaluations proving the victim suffered a stab wound to the chest near his heart that endangered his life.
In a democracy, freedom of speech applies, and a person can even publicly tell a lie. However, if Pechanec wants to convince the court that he spent 13 years in prison when he was innocent, he should be more careful about what he says.
Back to Roma Pride: Until the organizers manage to communicate their clear demands for societal change through the media, it is not surprising that the Czech public will continue to perceive these events as some sort of fair in the center of the capital. However, if even people like Gyulla Banga don't understand that benefit concerts for a racist murderer are of existential concern to every Romani musician in this country, then the necessary societal change will remain just the dream of a few individuals.
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