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October 21, 2021



Czech journalist says Roma posting selfies of themselves at work was one of the year's best pieces of news

1.1.2019 15:15
Czech journalist Jindřich Šídlo (PHOTO: Archive of Jindřich Šídlo)
Czech journalist Jindřich Šídlo (PHOTO: Archive of Jindřich Šídlo)

Besides the final match between Arsenal and Tottenham, and besides seeing John Oliver live, one of the best things I saw in 2018 was THOSE photos - you know the ones I mean. The photos of Romani men and women greeting Czech President Miloš Zeman with an elegant, absolutely proud and understandable gesture:  "We go to work every day. Do you have a problem with that?"

When I first saw those photos responding to the head of state's unbelievable remarks about "90 % Roma unemployment", I was convinced it was the work of a very clever PR agency. It wasn't - and basically, that doesn't matter, it was just brilliant, funny, and self-confident.

It's probably also true that in and of itself, it doesn't much solve the problems that do exist. The situations in excluded localities, the relationship of the white majority toward Romani people - which is based on the slogan "we used to have one gypsy in the building, but he was a decent one" - and then the trafficking in poverty.

Solving those problems is not the task of the Romani men and women who shared photos of themselves on Facebook, the ones who have already defended themselves to their white neighbors and performed this odd civic duty of proving that, surprisingly, they live the same lives as everybody else. Those people did something they did not have to do, and it's good they decided to do it.

They became, voluntarily, the faces of a Romani middle class who are not willing to let themselves be so easily pushed around and shouted at anymore - because while the Romani middle class may still be weaker than I believed and hoped 20 years ago that it would be by now, they are here, and nobody will be sending their children to the "special schools" again. This is exceptionally important, because even though the subject of migration is being kept alive in the public arena through some politicians' sheer force of will, it is also apparent that as it weakens over time, those politicians will find it necessary to return to some of the old certainties and threats if they are to keep the mob stirred up to a functional temperature.

That means returning to our "Gypsies". Three years ago my friend and onetime colleague Richard Samko [a public broadcast journalist from the Roma community] said to me: "Right now, it's the Muslims. However, in the end, it will be us again all the same."

Naturally, he was absolutely correct, because for a certain kind of politician, the existence of an unmistakable target is a necessity. While people like [Czech MP] Okamura are still surfing the wave of hysteria over the burly young men armed with iPhones and the Quran who never made it here (but who still might!), Okamura is more and more visibly returning to what he grew up with and knows:  Anti-Roma, folksy, pure racism, in which bad experiences with inter-ethnic coexistence are blown up into cries of a forbidding neo-Nazism, openly, such as remarks casting doubt on the Holocaust's Romani victims.

Yes, I know Okamura's remarks were investigated by police and found to have not crossed the line. However, anybody with a memory and at least a certain knowledge of history knows exactly what Okamura was talking about.

We experienced this before, in the depths of the 1990s, when a certain Dr Sládek traveled the country and promised to give his Alfa Romeo to the "village that evicts the most gypsies", and who said on the floor of the lower house that "gypsies should be held criminally liable from birth, because that's their biggest crime". Sládek was a bizarre figure on the fringes of politics and society, although he did get 8 % of the vote in 1996.

Today we are obviously much further down the road he was traveling. Okamura is vice-chair of the lower house and the Czech President is an honored guest at his party's conventions, a President who insults Romani people while speaking into a microphone held by a Romani reporter for public broadcast television while standing right in front of a polling place.

Such people need an enemy, and they know how to create one and keep one alive. To be honest, if once again it's just going to be we, the traditional group of "pseudo-humanists" (or whatever they're calling us these days) who invest into this battle, then that will just have the same kind of effect that it has had for all these years.

That's why those photos of Roma at work also aided us, the tired veterans of all these battles that have now moved onto the online social networks. Thanks for doing that.

You all don't need me for anything anymore, because I could never have managed to come up with something as effective and strong as your own demonstration of pride and self-confidence. For me, that was one of the best, most important pieces of news in 2018.

First published in Romano vod'i magazine.


Jindřich Šídlo, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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