Czech Museum of Roma Culture could merge with another, community is against it
The Museum of Roma Culture is threatened with the prospect of being merged with the Moravian Museum in Brno on the basis of the first phase of saving measures approved by the Czech Government at its meeting on 16 January 2013. At its most recent session this past Monday, the Inter-ministerial Commission on Roma Community Affairs has expressed its disagreement with this plan.
The proposal for savings measures to simplify agendas and get rid of duplicity in the state administration for 2014 specifically mentions merging these two institutions in order to ensure their thriftier operation. Another such merger is also proposed, that of the Puppetry Museum in Chrudim and the National Museum. These two mergers will supposedly save the state CZK 15 million.
The Museum of Roma Culture was established in 1991 by Romani intellectuals as a non-governmental, nonprofit organization. It has been a state-funded organization since 1 January 2005. Now this unique institution is at risk of merger.
"No definitive decision has yet been made about the merger," ethnologist and historian Jana Poláková, who runs the museum, told news server Romea.cz. "I understand that from the economic point of view there is an opportunity here to save money, but there are also moral and social reasons for keeping it in place that should predominate over the economic ones. We completely reject a merger, we cannot imagine it and we are doing our best to negotiate so that it doesn't take place. The museum's collections are not just of an ethnographic character. In addition to the everyday activities of an institution preserving memory, what is important here is our educational and social activity in the socially excluded locality where the museum is headquartered. Even if the museum's operations were preserved after the merger, its 'non-museum' activities could be limited. I am personally convinced that any merger will be very negatively perceived by Romani society."
Disagreement with the plan to end the museum's independent existence was expressed by the Inter-ministerial Commission on Roma Community Affairs, which adopted a resolution on it during Monday's session. Commission member David Beňák is resolutely against ending the independent existence of the museum.
"This is the same thing as if we were to say we were closing some part of the National Museum. Naturally many experts would say it's absurd, that it's out of the realm of possibility because it's about the preservation of Czech culture and traditions. The Museum of Roma Culture is our heritage and we have a right to it, not just those of us in the Czech Republic, but Romani people from all over Europe," Beňák told Romea.cz. He defended the museum's independence at Monday's session of the Commission.
"We voted on this Government plan and most people were against it merging with the Moravian Museum," Commission member Jan Balog told news server Romea.cz. "The Commission has asked the Ministry of Culture to take steps to revoke the Government's resolution with respect to this merger. I personally wish the museum to remain in its current form as an independent museum, not merged with any other institution. The reasons for this have to do with our emancipation and our history. From a historical perspective, we do not want our collections to be scattered throughout a different museum. The Museum of Roma Culture is something unique, perhaps even in the entire world."
"This is the only museum of its kind in the Czech Republic and in Europe. Merging it with another would be a great mistake. The museum leadership and its staff have done a great deal of work and the museum deserves support from the state for its further development, not suppression of its activities," said Cyril Koky, the Roma Coordinator for the Central Bohemian Region.
Another member of the Commission, David Tišer, expressed similar views to news server Romea.cz: "I am naturally against this merger for several reasons. The Museum of Roma Culture is one of a kind, a unique institution presenting the culture and history of Romani people in international context. It's not just about Bohemian and Moravian Roma. The existence of this museum is also somehow a partial compensation for and recognition of the wrongs that have been committed against Romani people in the past."
Tišer is planning to respond through the Crisis Committee of Romani Intellectuals and Students to express disagreement with the museum's merger. "We are planning to express our disagreement in the form of an open letter or petition to the Ministry of Culture," Tišer said.
According to the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic (Ministerstvo kultury ČR - MK ČR), however, it is not yet clear whether the two museums will be merged after all. "Yes, as part of the relevant Government resolution, one of the measures adopted was the option, introduced by the Ministry of Culture, of merging the Museum of Roma Culture with the Moravian Museum. MK ČR is bound by this Government resolution with respect to the amount of financing it receives, i.e., in this case there must be a savings of CZK 15 million, but it is possible to modify the plan for achieving those savings. Currently at the MK ČR a re-evaluation is taking place of the forms these possible savings measures might take, and no final decision has been made as to how precisely to achieve those savings," Markéta Ševčíková, director of the minister's cabinet and the press spokesperson for the Ministry of Culture told news server Romea.cz.
What does the Museum of Roma Culture do today?
From the beginning the museum has done its best to primarily build up a collection documenting the culture and history of Romani people. Today it administers collections on traditional crafts and professions, types of housing, interior decoration, clothing and jewelry, fine arts, written materials, posters and invitations, audio recordings, photographs and video documentation, a library, echoes of Romani culture in majority-society culture, and the museum's documentation of its own existence. This stock is expanded in particular through fresh collections in the field and documentation.
At the end of 2005 the museum held its grand opening of the two halls of a permanent exhibition (out of a total of six). In addition to this, all of the collections and the library are open to researchers.
The museum goes above and beyond to offer the broader public a wide range of short-term exhibitions and to hold many other public events. For children in the neighborhood a diverse program has been designed that runs on weekdays in the Children's Club. School-age children and youth can take advantage of animated programs about the exhibitions and the public can attend Romanes language courses there.
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