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Czech Republic: Academic appointment sparks international protest

Prague, 10.10.2014 23:12, (ROMEA)
Marek Jakoubek (Collage: Romea.cz)
Marek Jakoubek (Collage: Romea.cz)

As of 1 October, Doc., PhDr. Marek Jakoubek, PhD, an anthropologist and internal instructor at the Anthropology Department of the Philosophy Faculty of the University of West Bohemia in Plzeň, has taken the helm of the Institute of Ethnology at the Philosophy Faculty of Charles University in Prague. Docent Jakoubek was named to the position by the Dean of the Philosophy Faculty of Charles University in Prague, Doc. Mirjam Friedová, at the recommendation of an independent commission.    

Friedová's decision has sparked a wave of displeasure among some anthropologists abroad, at least one employee of the Institute and the interdisciplinarily-affiliated Romani studies scholars with whom Docent Jakoubek has previously been in dispute both academically and on a personal level. News server Romea.cz asked Dean Friedová for a statement on the issue and also asked whether it was true that no faculty members were seated on the commission deciding on the new managing staffer of the Institute.

Dean Friedová sent the following response:  "The selection procedure for the director of the Institute of Ethnology at the Philosophy Faculty of Charles University fully corresponded not only to all the rules, but also to all established practices. At the Philosophy Faculty it is far from always the case that a representative of a particular department or institute is a member of the selection commission. I appointed Doc. Marek Jakoubek director of the Institute of Ethnology on the basis of the unanimous support for him expressed by the selection commission and I welcome him to the Philosophy Faculty of Charles University. I was sufficiently informed in advance of the personal and professional disputes that previously took place between Romani studies in Prague and the Anthropology Department in Plzeň. Nevertheless, I expect both parties to behave professionally and to put those past disagreements behind them. For your information, I would like to clarify that Doc. Jakoubek is no longer focusing on Romani studies research and that his arrival at the Philosophy Faculty of Charles University has no direct impact on the Romani Studies Seminar, as that is not part of the Institute of Ethnology."    

The current president of the Gypsy Lore Society, Professor Elena Marushiakova, has also contacted Dean Friedová with her own complaint regarding Jakoubek's appointment, as she had previously been involved in disputes with Docent Jakoubek that resulted, as she said in her complaint, in her moving the Gypsy Lore Society's annual meeting away from Plzeň, where Jakoubek had invited it to take place. "I am convinced that the appointment of Docent Jakoubek as head of the Institute of Ethnology will have a strongly negative impact not only within the academic community in the Czech Republic and in relationships with your faculty and university... but that this choice essentially contributes to further deteriorating the relationship between the public representatives of Romani people in the Czech Republic and the academic community there," Marushiakova writes in her letter.    

The Institute of Ethnology of the Slovak Academy of Sciences has also written to Dean Friedová about Jakoubek's appointment. That letter, signed by director Tatiana Podolinská and employees Tomáš Hrustič and Arne Mann, reads in part as follows:  "His candidacy disturbed us because, as far as we have evaluated his scientific production in the field of Romani studies, his work has been questionable not just methodologically, but primarily ethically; not only has the academic and scientific community distanced itself from his work, but the lay public has as well. The fact that his work is highly appreciated by and used in the discourse of extremist political parties in particular is, in our opinion, telling in and of itself."  

Several days prior to Docent Jakoubek taking office, Zdeněk Ryšavý, the director of the ROMEA organization, received a letter anonymously signed by a "Collective of Ethnology Employees". The subject heading of the email is:  "Antigypsyist, plagiarist and racist to become new director of the Institute of Ethnology at the Philosophy Faculty of Charles University in Prague", and it contained an urgent appeal to Romea.cz to "actively help us draw the public's attention to this shocking fact, as this is the only way left to alter this choice."

After verifying the source of the email more closely among the department's educators, as well as by directly responding to the email address, the message turned out to be a forgery - or rather, it is (most probably) the solitary act of a writer who is remaining anonymous. Jakoubek himself, whom we contacted regarding the issue, resolutely rejected the existence of any such appeals for him to be removed.  

"That's absurd. If a letter isn't signed by a specific author, I don't understand why you're even spending time on it. You do recognize that if that letter is speaking on behalf of the Institute of Ethnology, of which I am currently the head, it would de facto mean I am in conflict with myself, which I definitely am not," Jakoubek told news server Romea.cz.

According to yesterday's reporting on news server iHNED.cz, Jakoubek responded in a similar spirit of rejection to the conflicting responses that greeted the news of his selection, responses that referenced the scandals previously linked to his person. "There is absolutely no doubt that this is an incorrect interpretation. I spent a significant part of my life among Romani people, many of my friends are from Romani families, and believe me, it is not my intention to harm them in any way," he was quoted as saying.  

Docent Jakoubek is a controversial figure in the Czech academic sphere. In 2008 he engaged in an extensive polemic with his opponents from the ranks of ethnologists and Romani studies scholars in the journal Český lid (The Czech People).

Romani studies scholars in the Czech Republic hold a different opinion from Jakoubek on the question of Romani ethnicity in particular. He is also linked to the scandal surrounding Professor Ivo T. Budil, who faced charges of plagiarism in 2007.  

Both Tomáš Hirt, PhD, and Docent Jakoubek publicly stood up for Professor Budil prior to his resignation. Some of Jakoubek's hypotheses and statements were also used by Czech politician Jiří Čunek in a campaign, but Jakoubek considers that to have been an abuse and has unequivocally distanced himself from it.    

Adéla Gálová, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Etnologie, Marek Jakoubek, Romistika, Romové



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