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Czech PM to attend Gypsy Spirit 2010 awards

Prague, 7.12.2010 19:01, (ROMEA)

On International Human Rights Day, 10 December 2010, the second year of the Gypsy Spirit awards ceremony will take place at the Prague Crossroads center starting at 19:00. Czech PM Petr Nečas has given his auspices to this year's event and will give the opening remarks. Other persons who have given their auspices to the ceremony are the Chair of the Subcommittee on Human Rights at the European Parliament Heidi Hautala, former Czech President Václav Havel, and former Czech Human Rights and Minorities Minister Michael Kocáb.

The evening will feature performances by Monika Bagárová, the band Cigánski Diabli, and the dance group Salut Roma. The evening will be moderated by Lejla Abbasová. The event will be broadcast live on Czech Radio 2 in Prague starting at 19:00, and Czech Television's ČT24 station will broadcast a recording of the ceremony on 11 December 2010 at 20:05.

The ROMEA civic association has been nominated in the category of NGOs.

As of 20 October 2010, 68 nominations had been received. The nominating committee made its selection on the basis of the following criteria: How long the activities in question had been underway; whether measurable results had been achieved; the motivational influence of the activities on other projects and on the surrounding area; creativity, originality and uniqueness of design - whether the contribution was exceptional; and positive public reception of the activities. More information about the nominees can be found on the web page www.gypsyspirit.eu/cz.

Nominations were made in the following categories:

1. Award for a non-governmental organization – For implementing a specific project aimed at the development and support of the Roma minority and achieving results

ROMEA, o. s.

The ROMEA association is a volunteer non-profit association of individuals and organizations who have come together to fight racism, develop and uphold human rights, and assist the development of democracy and tolerance in society. For several years ROMEA has been reporting about the Roma world to Roma and to others. The organization's most exemplary project is the internet news server Romea.cz, where news articles and audio and video broadcasts are constantly updated. During the neo-Nazi demonstrations of 2009 and 2010, Romea.cz was always on the scene, delivering journalism of a quality equivalent to any mainstream professional news server.

IQ Roma servis, o. s.

This non-state non-profit organization is in its 13th year of professional work on social inclusion. The organization provides educational, employment, legal, recreational, and social work services to those at risk of social exclusion in the South Moravian region, primarily Roma. In the area of conceptual work, the organization often partners with the public administration, other non-profit organizations, schools, labor offices and employers throughout the entire Czech Republic. IQ Roma servis organizes trainings of other organizations, provides methodological support, successfully implements public campaigns and discussion meetings, and supports the principles of Roma participation.

Ester, o. s., Zálesí

The Ester civic association has long performed exceptional professional work in the area of social integration of Roma into society in the Jeseník district. The association's staff have made extraordinary efforts above and beyond the call of duty and have found their mission in helping the hundreds of families who are their clients. The association implements innovative projects in the areas of employment and social activation of families in collaboration with child welfare authorities, as well as projects on half-way houses and supported housing.

2. Award for a company/firm - For supporting projects aimed at social assistance to and support of the Roma community or the creation of a heterogeneous environment

Czech Radio

Czech Radio has been broadcasting Roma programming since 1992. The program "O Roma vakeren" ("Roma Speak") reports weekly on news from the life of Roma in the Czech Republic and abroad, including segments on Roma culture, history, language, traditions, Roma celebrities and contacts to organizations involved with Roma. In 1997, Czech Radio established the www.romove.cz website in four languages, probably the longest continually existing web page about Roma in the Czech Republic. The aim of these various projects is to support the Roma minority, to raise awareness about Roma among the general public, to improve the image of Roma in the media, and to contribute to good mutual co-existence between the Roma and the rest of society.

RPG Real Estate

This real estate firm is implementing the Liščina project in socially excluded localities. The aim of the project is to gradually socially include such localities and their residents into mainstream society (building a positive ethnic identity, improving the localities' reputations, investing into building repairs, developing security, eliminating asocial and criminal phenomena, building platforms for integration). Thanks to the nature of the localities involved (micro-localities of 200 residents) the firm is able to pilot its social projects before applying them to other socially excluded localities on a larger scale (such as Ostrava-Kunčičky, Karviná-Nové město, Havířov-Šumbark, Horní Suchá, Orlová Poruba, etc.). The idea of directly involving residents in improving the quality of the environments in which they live is completely innovative (through the Self-Help program in which residents are given materials free of charge with which to perform various repairs.)

Evangelical Academy of the Higher Professional School of Social Work and the Middle Professional School, Prague 4 (Evangelická akademie Vyšší odborná škola sociální práce a střední odborná škola, Praha 4

This academy trains specialized staff to perform professional field social work with clients living in socially excluded localities or localities at risk of exclusion in particular. This professional education strengthens the position of individuals who go on to contribute to their locality or region and who improve relations between the Roma and the majority society. The target group is persons over 18; in the beginning the academy was intended mainly for Roma students, but now it includes non-Roma students, some from other minorities in the Czech Republic. Distance studies are made available to students from various regions around the country. Graduates have applied themselves very well in practice and the school is a good training for higher education; many graduates have gone on to complete their studies at a college or university.

3. Award for extracurricular educational activities targeting Roma children and youth

Masarykova Elementary School, Valašské Meziříčí

The Masarykova Elementary School is one of six in Valašské Meziříčí. The school is located in Krásna, which means all of the school-aged Roma children from the surrounding housing estates are within its catchment area. For non-Roma parents, the high population of Roma at the school was initially an insurmountable barrier, and non-Roma parents transferred their children to other schools in town. The situation (which was reported on by the media) has since calmed down and life at the school has become normal. In terms of results, statewide reviews show the school continues to be successful, and Roma are instructed there together with everyone else. This is thanks to a system developed by the school management and educators. The largest number of children from socially disadvantaged families attends first grade (10 Roma children and four children from the majority society) and they are instructed by both a teacher and a teaching assistant who helps the teacher with instruction, does individual work with the slower students, and also works with parents. Assistants work in all of the lower primary classes. In order to hire an assistant, the school has to design a project, request funding, make sure funding comes through - and mainly, find qualified people for the job. The school has enrolled six Roma children in the second grade, seven in the third grade, 10 in the fourth grade, and three in the fifth grade.

At the upper primary level there are six Roma children attending 6th grade, three Roma children in seventh grade and only one Roma boy in the 8th grade, who will become a pupil of the Integrated Middle School in Valašské Meziříčí this year. There are a total of 10 children from socially disadvantaged families attending upper primary education at the school. At this level the pupils are already more independent and their achievement in their primary subjects is sufficient, for the most part, as there is minimal preparation required for instruction. Masarykova Elementary is an example of how an inclusive educational system might operate. Once again, this has to do with personal commitment - there must be cooperation between the Roma, the school, and the town.

Klub Archa, Šluknov Children's Center

Klub Archa focuses on extracurricular education, including programs for supporting social competencies, personality development, and instruction in dance, music and sports. The club serves children and youth from socially excluded localities. Its activities are free of charge and supervised by volunteers who teach children the basics of ethics and social behavior and help them participate in arts and crafts circles. In cooperation with the Social Welfare Department of the Šluknov Town Hall, the club organized a summer camp this past June for 32 children from excluded localities. The work of this local club is very important and unique, as no one else is providing similar activities in Šluknov.

The Nursery and Elementary School at Praha 5-Smíchov, Grafická 13

The Praha 5-Smíchov Nursery and Elementary School has been nominated for its brilliant ongoing work for the Roma minority. Located in the center of Prague, this Roma community is not isolated in a ghetto, but is in immediate contact with the surrounding majority community. Meetings between schoolchildren and the older ladies and gentlemen who visit the school's Seniors Club have been particularly appreciated. The school is known for its unusually diverse array of after-school activities, which are offered not only to enrolled pupils, but also to children from the neighborhood, and thanks to which the staff have gained invaluable experience in organizing hobby activities. The school has established a "Laundromat Community Center" which has quickly became a natural part of events at the school and after school. Hobby activities and arts and craft circles are now part of the "Laundromat", and the school dance ensembles AMARE ČHAVE and CIGÁNI JDOU DO NEBE, the theater ensemble, the school's music group ZAKAML´OM, Brazilian drumming instruction, choirs, and other activities have found an environment there for their activities that that also features above-standard equipment.

4. Individual awards – For long-term work contributing to improving the position of Roma

Lýdia Poláčková Bc.

Ms Poláčková comes from a traditional Roma family. Her work as Roma Coordinator for the city of Ostrava is her life's mission, and her relationship with the Roma minority is justifiably "godmotherly". She has established a functioning network of field social workers, teaching assistants and health/social work aides in Ostrava which now consists of 70 people, all of them Roma who are continuing their education. She designed the "Health/Social Work Aide", "Roma Caregiver to Seniors" and "Transparent Housing" projects for the city and has also been actively involved in the Community Planning of Social Services, where for several years she was the manager of the "Ethnic Roma" working group. Thanks to the Community Planning scheme, the needs of the ethnic Roma in Ostrava have been specifically defined and measures have been designed to achieve the desired aims leading to their integration. Ms Poláčková cooperates with many organizations throughout the Czech Republic (not just pro-Roma or Roma ones), such as the Drom Roma Center, AJAK Karviná, the University of Ostrava, Charles University in Prague, regional authorities, civic associations, the Ostrava Labor Office, etc. She has designed a cycle of lectures and presentations on the topic of the Roma, how to work with the Roma community, Roma traditions and values, how to communicate with Roma clients, Roma symbolism, etc. These lectures, conducted in a positive atmosphere, have received a very positive response. Ms Poláčková has had the opportunity to lecture throughout the country to social workers, legally appointed guardians of Roma minors, university students, nurses, elementary school pupils, police officers, and many others. Her greatest success has been the "Health/Social Work Aide" project, because it has been included in the Czech Government's Roma Integration Concept.

Sri Khumar Vishwanathan

Mr Vishwanathan has devoted himself to the Roma minority in the Czech Republic since 1997, when he worked with Roma flood victims as a community worker and street worker in Slezská Ostrava. He has contributed to designing and introducing field social work methods in the Roma community in the Czech Republic, to reforming elementary schools, and to reforming the psychological testing of children. He is one of the initiators and implementers of the "Co-existence Village" project, which helped 30 Roma and non-Roma families rebuild after losing their previous housing during the floods.

In 1998, together with students from the University of Ostrava and from Masaryk University in Brno, Mr Vishwanathan founded the civic association Vzájemné soužití (Life Together), of which he is the chair and the director. One year later he was appointed a civil society member of the Czech Government Human Rights Council (in both 2003 and 2005) and a member of Bridge People - UNHCR Prague, which consults with EU Member State embassies on questions of inter-ethnic co-existence in the Czech Republic. Since the 1990s he has systematically devoted himself to human rights and social questions, to community, educational and field social work, to education reform, to the issue of institutional child-rearing, and to the development of the Roma community in Ostrava.

Mr Vishwanathan has received many awards, including the Charter 77 František Kriegl Prize in 1998 for personal engagement in reconciliation and understanding between Roma and non-Roma, the Prix Irene in 2003, awarded by o. s. Tolerance for his contributions to improving inter-ethnic co-existence, and the Alice Garrigue Masaryk Prize in 2005, awarded by US Ambassador to the Czech Republic William Cabaniss for developing human rights and supporting social justice. In 2007 he became an Ashoka Fellow.

Karel Holomek

Mr Holomek is a political commentator, the chair of the Roma NGO "Society of Roma in Moravia", a founding member of the Museum of Roma Culture, a Roma consultant on the accession of the Czech Republic to the European Union as part of the "EU Consultative Bodies", a construction contractor who exclusively employs Roma, and Editor-in-Chief of the Roma biweekly newspaper Romano hangos, which for 13 years has been serving a readership of Roma and non-Roma. During the 1990s, Mr Holomek was a member of the Czech Government Human Rights Council, the Czech Government Council on National Minorities, and the Czech Government Council on the Roma Minority. He comes from a very old family of Czech Roma which was decimated at Auschwitz. Mr Holomek has been striving to achieve the integration of Roma into society and has led organizations which have been doing their best for the past 20 years to realize Roma integration through a wide variety of projects. He considers himself to be a politician operating at national, regional and local levels, because he knows politics determines everything. In the course of his work he has done his best to contribute to the achievement of systemic solutions to the issue of co-existence between the Roma minority and the majority society, solutions which have not yet come to pass.

5. Action of the Year – For a contribution to saving a life or improving the quality of life of an individual

Projekt Ptáčata

Thi project was designed and directed by Kamila Zlatušková and produced and directed by Ladislav Cmíral. It was inspired by a petition through which the parents of non-Roma children refused to enroll their children into the same class as Roma children. The authors decided to film a 16-part documentary serial about children who have been marginalized by prejudice. The children were equipped with small video cameras and became the co-creators of this reportage about their lives which provides the majority society with the opportunity to see the world from a different perspective. The hope does exist that this long-term project might become a much-needed step forward on the road to a better, more colorful and more flexible image of minorities in the Czech Republic. This improved image could help break down the stereotypes (negative and positive) governing all of our perceptions. For more, see www.ptacata.cz.

Reclamation of the memorial site at Lety by Písek

Even though several Czech governments have attempted to honor the memory of the Roma Holocaust and to take responsibility for reclaiming the memorial site at Lety by Písek, those attempts have always failed due to insufficient political will and a lack of financing for the purchase and removal of the industrial pig farm currently located on the site. The government of Czech PM Mirek Topolánek agreed to a proposal made by the then-Human Rights and Minorities Minister to divide the reclamation of the memorial site at Lety by Písek into two phases. The first phase would be the reclamation of the site itself, including assigning a permanent caretaker for it, while the second phase would address the pig farm. Proposed when the global financial crisis was beginning, this proved to be the only clear strategy possible. The decision was confirmed and implemented by the government of Czech PM Jan Fischer, namely by the Culture Minister, Finance Minister, and Human Rights and Minorities Minister (who had served both governments). The reclamation of the Lety monument and ongoing maintenance of the site was entrusted to the management of the Lidice memorial, which has performed its task extremely well. Both governments sent a clear signal to society that the memory of the victims of the Roma Holocaust would be honored with dignity. The debt owed in this regard by Czech society to the Roma has been at least partially paid. These efforts are already bearing fruit, as more than 3 000 visitors have been visiting the Lety Memorial every month. The aim of the government resolution has been fulfilled, namely, to make the former camp accessible and promote visits to it so the larger public might learn more about what happened there.

Dissolution of the Workers' Party (Dělnická strana)

The 17 February 2010 verdict of the Supreme Administrative Court to dissolve the Workers' Party was a breakthrough, primarily because it has clearly and precisely established the limits beyond which public entities, in particular political parties, may not go in their activities and in public discourse. The court did not abolish the party only because of its repugnant xenophobic program, but on the basis of causal connections between the ideology and speeches of the party's officials and specific incidents of organized hatred and violence. Such connections pose a danger to democracy and human rights in the Czech Republic and would be a reason to dissolve any kind of political group. The verdict has given voice to the efforts of countless civil rights activists, non-profit organizations, and representatives of the public administration that the activities of the Workers' Party and of similar groups posing a threat to democracy and to the life and health of individuals and groups living on Czech territory should be restricted.

Verdict in the Vítkov arson case

The 20 October 2010 verdict of the Ostrava Regional Court in the Vítkov arson case and the length of the sentences handed down represents a clear signal to all of society that hateful attacks on groups of people performed on the basis of an ideology that opposes the democratic order are not and will never be acceptable and deserve the highest possible punishment.

Gwendolyn Albert, Zdeněk Ryšavý, ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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