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Czech Human Rights Minister on Int'l Romani Day: Let's address the situation seriously

Prague, 8.4.2014 19:49, (ROMEA)
Czech Minister for Human Rights, Equal Opportuntities and Legislation Jiří Dienstbier (PHOTO: Petr Vilgus, Wikimedia)
Czech Minister for Human Rights, Equal Opportuntities and Legislation Jiří Dienstbier (PHOTO: Petr Vilgus, Wikimedia)

Czech Minister for Human Rights, Equal Opportunities and Legislation Jiří Dientsbier has issued a press release on the occasion of International Romani Day. News server Romea.cz publishes it in full translation here.

Press release of the Minister for Human Rights, Equal Opportunities and Legislation on the occasion of International Romani Day

Here in the Czech Republic we have been commemorating International Romani Day since 1990. That decision was as a result of the fourth World Congress of the International Romani Union in Poland.

The date of 8 April, however, refers to a history that reaches back to the start of the 1970s, when Romani representatives gathered for the first time ever for such a congress in 1971 in Chelsfield, near London. That meeting was also attended by a group of Romani people from the former Czechoslovakia.  

That meeting marked a first common effort to define both their identity and the need to participate in addressing the issues and problems affecting them. The congress resulted in a unification of opinions on the form of Romani emancipation efforts, their flag, their worldwide anthem, the use of "Roma" as their official name based on the Romanes language, the establishment of a basis for codifying the Romanes language, and the eventual creation of a Romani museum - which, by the way, we in the Czech Republic are the only country to have.

Of course, Romani people from Central and Eastern Europe, the part of Europe where they are most numerously represented, were then not able to participate in any other such congresses until the year 1990. Today, International Romani Day is supposed to remind both Romani people themselves and the societies in which they live of the importance of Romani values, of Romani identity - "romipen" ("Romani-ness"), of Romani culture, and, in this recent decade, of the fact that it is only together that we can create room for coexistence and mutual understanding.  

As Minister for Human Rights, Equal Opportunities and Legislation, I am well aware of the situation in which Romani people find themselves in the Czech Republic and in Europe, whether that has to do with discrimination on the labor market, in the area of employment and housing, or equal access to education,  which, as a result of generalizations and prejudice (and sometimes as a result of bad personal experiences with individuals) affects those Romani people who live completely integrated lives and who should be considered a benefit to this country. I am not deaf to the various arguments and complaints about coexistence here, but I fundamentally reject extremist, populist gestures towards any group as a whole, gestures that just deteriorate the situation instead of improving it.

This is about restoring our dignity, our mutual trust, and our willingness to know one another. That is precisely why I invited Romani representatives to a common discussion on 3 April about ideas for the direction to be taken when integrating this minority in the Czech Republic, and on 4 April, at the Third EU Roma Summit in Brussels, I met with several leading politicians and representatives of this minority from all over Europe.

As Human Rights Minister, I perceive today's most important task as opening up room for mutual collaboration with Romani people, with representatives of the nonprofit sector, with local governments and with communities. Together, we must attempt to find the right way to liberate the impoverished from their social exclusion, the marginalized from their discrimination, and to support education, emancipation and employment as well as to improve the everyday coexistence that has been so much discussed.

That is the reason I would like to open up discussion of the Government's approaches to Romani integration. Currently, through the Office of the Czech Government Inter-ministerial Commission on Roma Community Affairs, we are preparing a Romani Integration Strategy and we would like to submit it for comment to all stakeholders. 

I am currently reviving the activity of the Inter-ministerial Commission and its committees so as to lead them toward discussion of the legislative and practical steps that could improve the position and situation of Romani people in the Czech Republic. However, these will not be rapid steps that will be negotiable from one day to the next - we must realize that only long-term, pragmatic, responsible and systematic work can lead to improving our whole society, ultimately to the benefit of all. 

The greatest power for influencing public opinion is naturally held by the media. Some media outlets, of course, tend to simplify their reporting and to give room to extremists and populists for whom the so-called issue of coexistence with minorities is just a cheap, rapid way to get into newspaper headlines, online news coverage, and prime-time programs on radio and television.

I view International Romani Day, in the context of my new job as Minister for Human Rights, Equal Opportunities and Legislation, as a chance to responsibly, seriously address this situation, not to further escalate it or to contribute towards more dangerous marches and protests in the streets. Such incidents cost us all, and both our own history and the experiences of other countries warn us not to underestimate them.  

press release of the Czech Minister for Human Rights, Equal Opportunities and Legislation, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Jiří Dienstbier, International Roma Day, Soužití, Vláda



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