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October 17, 2021



Czech Decade Ambassador Holomek: Impotent democracies and the Roma

Brno, 4.9.2010 16:59, (Lidové noviny)

The deportations of Roma – most recently, once again, from France – are proof of how fragile the democracies of various societies in Europe actually are, how they founder at the first sign of a more serious problem. Are the Roma, once again, the cause of this? Without their realizing it, the Roma are becoming a touchstone for how these democracies operate - including the traditional ones. The Roma hold a mirror up to these societies, revealing to their members what they really look like. This should be appreciated rather than censured. History will certainly appreciate it!

So much has been written about the deportations of Roma from France that I do not intend to repeat any of it. I want to take a look at these difficulties from a different angle, one that has not yet been mentioned with respect to these dire circumstances which are so impossible to ignore.

Let’s put our own house in order first! Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg criticized the approach of the French authorities, including French President Sarkozy, with unexpected directness and force. Czech PM Nečas also criticized it in a more sober vein. My hat is off to them for that, both because they were right and because they made no secret of their opinions. However, I must also be critical – caustically critical – because neither of these politicians has a completely clean conscience.

Schwarzenberg is an exception in Czech politics. He has always empathized with the Roma and has done good, practical things for them. With Nečas it’s a bit different. His restrictions on the human rights agenda and choice of advisors (and I mean all his advisors, not just Roman Joch) sends a clear signal. Are we going to try and put a pretty face on this? It is the effective enforcement of the human rights agenda that will create the framework and fertile ground for the successful integration of Roma into society. For the time being that has not succeeded very well in this country, and the Premier has played a rather important role in this matter in the past and is playing one again today.

It is no surprise that, in the international analyses of the situation in France, Czechs are being mentioned in addition to Bulgarians and Romanians. I quote: “The Roma are leaving Romania, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic because they suffer discrimination in those countries and have difficulty accessing education, health care, housing and other services.” This is the response of the Canadian media to the deportation of Bulgarian and Romanian Roma from France.

What do we make of this? Let’s put our own house in order! We have a good opportunity to do so now. The Czech Republic is currently presiding over the Decade of Roma Inclusion (2005-2015) project in Europe. I have not noted a friendly response from the government as to how it intends to handle this obligation, since it has taken it up – in fact I have not noticed any response at all. For the uninformed I will simply note that the principle of the Decade is to create programs to include Roma into societal structures, in other words, to fulfill the program of integrating Roma into society.

France cannot be denied the rightful objection that if the countries from which the Roma are now migrating to France would implement such programs, these problems would not exist. The Decade is in its fifth year – and what is the result? I would rather not discuss it - not only as regards the Czech Republic, but all the Decade countries. If the completely reasonable proposals it has made were to be fulfilled, everything might be a little different at least.

Clearly the issue of integrating Roma into society is a difficult matter which will take a long time. I do not intend to be implacably critical here. Let’s just be aware that France’s problem is our shared European problem and that we are no better at it than France is.

I am taking aim at my own here as well, because the participation of Roma in all of this is essential – and to tell the truth it is not exactly encouraging. It is a fact that there are as many as 600 000 French Roma and/or Travellers (locally called gens du voyage, which has no ethnic connotation) who have lived in France for several generations. The Roma arriving in France from Romania (and to a lesser extent from Bulgaria) number 12 000 – 15 000 (2.5 %). What kind of problem can they represent to the huge country of France? Of these, 8 500 Roma have already been deported – although it is true that many simply return. The French Travellers and French Roma do not lend a helping hand to those Roma coming from elsewhere, from where their ancestors came long ago. They are in a good position to do so, they can still communicate well with the newcomers, they could play a good role there, but they do not – rather the opposite.

I am embarrassed to admit this, but it’s true. The French situation is similar to that of the Czech Republic. I come from the original Bohemian and Moravian Roma who have lived here for centuries. Today Roma also live here who are originally from Slovakia, because the original Bohemian and Moravian Roma were exterminated in the concentration camps of the Third Reich. I know the members of my family feel superior to the Slovak Roma and consider themselves better than they are. I am ashamed of it, but that’s how it is. The situation in France is the same. It is a problem of competition, of the difficulties that even the integrated Roma bring with them. Unacceptable generalizations about them have been repeated so many times – even in France. So now all of the migrant Roma are being deported, not just those who have committed some offence.

I view this lack of solidarity with bitterness. My criticism applies to the Roma usurers (the loan sharks) and the Roma bosses who benefit from this situation and get rich while the police watch and do nothing.

In conclusion, I would like to add that representatives of the Roma in Europe have spoken out on this matter in all its complexity on European soil, including recognizing our own handicaps. You won’t hear their voices in this country, but they do exist. The Decade of Roma Inclusion has a unique opportunity to face this matter openly, critically, to finally rid itself of the formalism that has accompanied it from the start. I observe that the office of the current Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner, Michael Kocáb, is taking a stand on this issue and is making proposals to the government. Those proposals are also not being heard. Unfortunately.

Gwendolyn Albert, Karel Holomek, Karel Holomek, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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