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August 9, 2022



Czech commemoration of Holocaust at Terezín Memorial will again not feature the Romani flag

18.5.2018 17:58
The National Cemetery at Terezín. (PHOTO:  Ladislav Faigl, Wikimedia Commons)
The National Cemetery at Terezín. (PHOTO: Ladislav Faigl, Wikimedia Commons)

The traditional commemorative ceremony held by the Terezín Memorial will be held on Sunday at the National Cemetery in front of the Small Fortress, and several Romani activists will again have a bitter taste in their mouths about it. On the basis of an initiative by the Konexe association two years ago, 14 pro-Roma and Roma nonprofit organizations including ARA ART, ROMEA and Slovo 21 pointed out that the Romani flag is not flown at the memorial during the annual commemoration ceremony alongside the flags of the other nations whose members fell victim to Nazi persecution.

In an open letter, the organizations called on the Commission for the Preparation of the Terezín Commemoration to redress the situation. Jan Munk, the chair of the Commission for the Preparation of the Terezín Commemoration and director of the Terezín Memorial at the time, responded as follows:  "The flags mentioned in the letter are not the flags of the nations whose members were the victims of Nazi persecution, but flags of states that were part of the coalition of countries fighting Nazism and countries whose citizens were imprisoned and murdered in the repressive facilities in Terezín and in nearby Litoměřice."

The same justification, albeit expressed in different words, has now been given to news server by the current director of the Terezín Memorial, Jan Roubínek:  "At Terezín, during the commemoration, the flags of the states from whence came the prisoners who were imprisoned and persecuted there during the Second World War are presented. This case is purely a matter of a protocol that has applied at the Terezín Memorial for many decades."

"We can disagree about this and we can argue about whether the states that existed at the end of the war belong in the past or whether they have somehow been preserved into the present," Roubínek said. During the Terezín Commemoration, the memory of the Czech Roma who perished at the concentration and labor camps is, therefore, meant to be honored by the state flag of the Czech Republic as an official state body.

Miroslav Brož, chair of the Konexe association, disagrees with this approach:  "Romani people may not have a state, just as Jewish people also did not have a state until relatively recently - but that did not prevent the Jewish flag from being flown at Terezín in the years 1946 and 1947. Romani people are Europe's biggest minority, they are the biggest minority in the Czech Republic - moreover, they face massive discrimination to this day in almost all areas of their lives."

"The current practice must be changed and the Romani flag should be flown there to honor the memory of the Romani victims," the Konexe chair said. Another alleged complication that former director Munk mentioned two years ago is the limited number of flagpoles installed at the memorial.

In that context, Brož has offered to finance a flagpole and install it with the aid of Romani volunteers. The current Terezín Memorial director, of course, does not know anything about a lack of flagpoles: "I never heard about this position of my predecessor's, Dr Munk, and for that reason I can't comment on it - I don't even want to."

"I would rather add to this discussion how it is that I am defending my own position," Roubínek said. "Even if each minority or group who was persecuted during the Second World War era by the Nazis actually wanted to have their own banner or flag among the flags of the states to represent all of their hardship and suffering, it has been and it is immeasurably difficult, as a human matter, to express what it was that they suffered, and I have sympathy for them - but no number of flagpoles at the cemetery will genuinely ever be enough."

"The cemetery itself isn't even big enough, to say nothing of a flagpole, or more than one," the current director said. According to him it is, therefore, impossible under the current protocol to fly the Romani flag, as it does not represent a state.

Roubínek has a different proposal:  "Romani people suffered immeasurably during the war. Personally I do not have anything at all against placing the Romani flag in another dignified place where it can be a subject of further dialogue, and I am also open to new ideas, but I will be glad if the initiative comes from the Romani side and not from me."

"Unfortunately," the current director said, "dialogue with the Romani association of activists has not yet been possible, as they conditioned holding a dialogue on their terms being fulfilled and on the flag being flown side by side with the flags of the states, and while I am very sorry about it, I cannot do that." Brož of the Konexe association responded to that offer as follows:  "I believe placing the flag off to the side of the rank of state flags that are in the place of honor is a disgrace, and it is sad and degrading that we even have to hold such a debate."

"It makes it look like Romani people are second-class victims," Brož said. "Romani people were also imprisoned at Terezín, as the photographs from the Small Fortress show."

The Terezín Commemoration is an annual, regular ceremony of mourning and remembrance held on the third Sunday in May at the National Cemetery in Terezín to honor the memories of the victims of Nazi persecution there during the Second World War. The ceremony is convened by the Terezín Memorial, the City of Terezín, the Ústecký Regional Authority, the Czech Culture Ministry, and other associations and social institutions.

During the ceremony for invited participants, the grounds of the Small Fortress are not open to the public. After the ceremony ends, public entry into the Small Fortress is free of charge.

Vojtěch Lavička, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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