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Czech Republic: Romani community lights candles to honor their Holocaust victims

Prague, 6.4.2013 19:29, (ROMEA)
On the occasion of International Romani Day, which falls on 8 April, 30 Romani individuals and representatives of Romani organizations gathered on 5 April in the courtyard of the Lichtenstein Palace in Prague to light candles in memory of the victims of the Romani Holocaust. (PHOTO:  ROMEA TV)
On the occasion of International Romani Day, which falls on 8 April, 30 Romani individuals and representatives of Romani organizations gathered on 5 April in the courtyard of the Lichtenstein Palace in Prague to light candles in memory of the victims of the Romani Holocaust. (PHOTO: ROMEA TV)

A total of 30 Romani individuals and representatives of Romani organizations met yesterday in the courtyard of Prague’s Lichtenstein Palace to light candles in memory of their Holocaust victims. The commemoration was attended by the Czech Foreign Minister and the Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner on the occasion of International Romani Day, which falls on 8 April.

Romani people are Europe’s largest minority group. Between 10 and 12 million Romani people are estimated to live in continental Europe, around a quarter of a million of them in the Czech Republic. During the most recent census in that country, only 13 150 people declared their Romani nationality.

"My sister and I were supposed to be part of a transport, but in the hamlet in the Slovácko district where we lived, no one ever gave us up. The policeman always warned our mother when the Nazis were coming and she took us away. Praise be to the tolerance of Czech society,” said Karel Holomek, chair of the Roma Association of Moravia (Společenství Romů na Moravě).

Holomek said that he viewed Romani people as having been well-integrated into Czechoslovak society during the interwar period. They worked in agriculture, as blacksmiths, and as door-to-door salespeople. "That group was well-accepted," Holomek said.

Holomek believes the integration process was “brought to nothing by the genocide”. Of the several thousand Romani people indigenous to Bohemia and Moravia, only about one-tenth survived the wartime persecution and slaughter. The postwar socialist regime then relocated Romani people from settlements in East Slovakia to the industrial areas of the Czech part of Czechoslovakia.

"The group of Bohemian and Moravian Roma, of whom only a few dozen survived, was gradually replaced by this [incoming] group. That was the essential problem with the fruitfulness of integrating Romani people into this society, and we are experiencing it even today,” Holomek said.

According to Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková, Romni people faced discrimination under all regimes and began to newly emancipate themselves after the fall of communism, gaining seats in Parliament and creating many Romani organizations. "In parallel with these positive developments, the economic decline of a large proportion of Romani people took off at that time,” Šimůnková said. In her view these problems are “a consequence of the previous regime” and the Government is doing its best to address them.

According to many activists, however, there have been too few results. Romani boys and girls continue to end up enrolled into “practical primary schools” for children with light mental disability, while Romani adults find it difficult to get work and Romani families have a hard time finding housing. The number of ghettos in the Czech Republic is increasing. Relations between Romani people and the rest of the country are tense.

"Today, to be Romani means you are a member of the least-liked minority,” said the head of the Romea association, Jarmila Balážová. In her view, many politicians are contributing to this through their statements.

According to a survey published last year, the Romani minority is indeed the least-liked national minority in the Czech Republic, with only 7 % of respondents saying they like them and almost four-fifths of Czechs (men and women) saying they dislike them. A similar survey in 2011 found that three-fourths of respondents disliked Romani people and 12 % liked them.

For video of the commemorative ceremony, please see http://www.romea.cz/cz/zpravodajstvi/domaci/romove-zapalili-svicky-na-pamatku-obeti-romskeho-holokaustu

ČTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Aktuality, CEE, Evropa, Holocaust, Monika Šimůnková, Osobnosti, Praha, ROMEA, Šimůnková Monika, zprávy, dějiny, národnostní menšina, Romové, Romská reprezentace, Romské ženy, Czech republic, Events, genocide, History, International Roma Day, memorial, news, Praktické školy, Roma



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