Czech Republic: Gypsy Spirit prize being revived by private foundations
After a three-year hiatus, the Gypsy Spirit prize will be awarded once more for contributions to Romani integration in the Czech Republic. The award, which former Czech Human Rights and Minorities Minister Michael Kocáb modeled on one in Slovakia, will be revived by Mr Kocáb's foundation together with the Open Society (Otevřená společnost) organization.
Organizers of the award want to draw attention to good examples of inter-ethnic coexistence and change "the image of this troubled minority." Candidates in six categories must be nominated by the end of this month.
"The most important thing is to show that there are examples of good coexistence here. We constantly hear about people fighting, letting each other down, where the extremists are marching. Improving this situation is very often prevented by a certain cynicism, a lack of political will, and laxity," Kocáb said.
The prize has been awarded only twice in the Czech Republic so far, in 2009 and 2010. It was originally announced by the Human Rights Section at the Office of the Government of the Czech Republic.
After the cabinet of former Prime Minister Nečas took power, the project, which highlights entrepreneurs, individuals and municipalities involved in good examples of inclusion, was stopped. Kocáb said earlier this month that the "series will start up once more" now.
Should the Czech Culture Ministry, the Human Rights Section, or any other state body wish to resume awarding the prize, the organizers said they would give it back. If not, they will continue to organize it on their own.
Those interested can nominate a nonprofit organization for the award for its projects that have produced tangible results. The prize can also be won by a firm that has long supported programs to aid Romani people.
Towns and villages can earn the Gypsy Spirit award for their efforts to improve the lives of Romani people and others. The "Action of the Year" prize awaits a person who has saved someone else's life.
Zdeňka Almerová of the Open Society Fund said a special award has also been prepared for a journalist who reports objectively about Romani issues. The Gypsy Spirit nomination form is available at www.gypsyspirit.eu/cz and www.otevrenaspolečnost.cz.
The awards ceremony will be held on 10 December, International Human Rights Day, at the Prague Crossroads (Pražská křižovatka) center. An estimated 250 000 Romani people live in the Czech Republic.
Roughly one-third of that population lives in ghettos. Most adults living in such circumstances are unemployed, their families are dependent on welfare, and loan-sharking abounds.
Romani children from such circumstances end up in "special schools", which practically close off their access to better education and jobs. According to an analysis published several years ago, there were 300 such impoverished building complexes and neighborhoods in the Czech Republic, and experts say roughly another 100 have been created in the interim.
According to Jarmila Balážová, head of the ROMEA association, the perception of the Romani minority in the Czech Republic has "deteriorated extremely". Right-wing extremists continue to convene anti-Romani marches more and more frequently and ordinary citizens have joined them.
Balážová says Czech politicians have been making populist proposals for rapid solutions as a result of this pressure. "Gypsy Spirit is not just about Romani people. I am glad that non-Romani people are coming forward here who are bothered by the attacks on the [Romani] quintuplets and by the extremist marches," she said.
The ROMEA association chair also emphasized that Romani people do not live solely in ghettos and that most members of the Romani minority have long been integrated into Czech society. Karel Holomek, chair of the Society of Roma in Moravia (Společenství Romů na Moravě) said earlier this month that Czech society continues to perceive Romani people negatively and does not consider them to be a part of the country as a whole.
According to a survey conducted this year by the Center for Public Opinion Research (Centrum pro výzkum veřejného mínění), 87 % of respondents evaluated relations between non-Romani and Romani people in the Czech Republic as bad. This is the worst result since surveys began asking this question in 1997.
The Gypsy Spirit award is given to a firm, individual, municipality or NGO in the following categories:
- NGO award for implementing a specific project and achieving results
- Business award for long-term support of projects targeting social assistance and support for the Romani community
- Town/Village award for programs focused on integrating members of the Romani minority into society and for activities benefiting the Romani community
- Individual award for a person whose long-term work has contributed toward improving the position of Romani people
- Action of the Year for a person who has saved someone's life or improved the quality of someone's life
- Special Jury Award – Gypsy Spirit Media – a special prize for a journalist who has reported objectively and/or positively about Romani issues in the Czech Republic
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