Czech Republic: Romani students honor their role models
International Romani Day was celebrated at the MeetFactory club in Prague yesterday. In addition to a rich musical program during which representatives of the younger generation of Romani musicians met with their older colleagues onstage, Romani students also symbolically paid their respects to those they consider their role models, people whose life and work serve to aid Romani people and improve their relationships with the majority society.
At the start of the year, the Ara Art association, in collaboration with the Slovo 21 NGO, undertook a survey in which 200 Romani students were able to nominate figures from their communities and vote for them. The students chose their role models from the areas of politics, culture, social work, education, sports, and the media, as well as selecting a figure to honor In Memoriam.
The honored figures were:
Politics: Oto Váradi - for many years a successful local politician in the Ralsko district as a town councilor, commander with the municipal police and, since 2012, Vice-Mayor of the town of Ralsko.
Education: Hilda Pášová – a teacher of the Czech language who has helped many Romani people successfully pass their final examinations, graduate examinations and entrance examinations in that subject, some of whom are now college graduates.During the 1990s she also worked as a spokesperson for the Romani Civic Initiative (Romská občanská iniciativa - ROI), as the coordinator of the Romani Advisors to the City of Prague, an editor of Romani television programs and an author.
Sports: Stanislav Tišer – for many years he was a successful representative of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic in boxing and then established the Žižkov Boxing Club after his career as a fighter was over, providing a safe space for youth suffering from social exclusion and striving to train them in the sport. He was awarded the Fair Play prize in the year 2000 by the Czech Olympic Committee.
Social Work: Jarmila Kuchárová – after beginning her career in difficult circumstances as a crane operator, she continued her education so she could professionally assist the needy to get out of oppressive living situations. She was a social worker for the district office Chomutov, for the People In Need NGO, and for the district Caritas organization. Even though we will not read her name in the newspapers or see her on television, she has left an indelible trace in the hearts and on the lives of many people.
Media: Karel Holomek - a Moravian Romani man, the son of the first Romani man to graduate from college in Czechoslovakia, originally a construction engineer. For his open disagreement with the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Soviet forces he was fired from the university. He had to end his academic career and spent many years in various manual labor professions. At that time he established and led a samizdat publishing house. After 1989 he entered politics and became an MP. Currently he is the chair of the Moravian Romani Society (Společenství Romů na Moravě), honorary chair of the Society of Experts and Friends of the Museum of Romani Culture, director of the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly's International Romani Center, member of the Czech Government Human Rights Council, and Editor-in-Chief of the magazine Romano hangos.
Culture: Ida Kelarová - as a young student at the Conservatory in Brno she began her career at the renowned Divadlo Husa na provázku theater. In 1982 she emigrated with her husband to live, create, work, perform and teach Romani songs in Wales, Denmark and Norway. In 1995 she returned to the Czech Republic where she established the International School for the Human Voice, the Miret (International Initiative for Development for Ethnic Art) association, the Čhavorenge choir, and the Romano Rat group. She organizes international workshops, multi-ethnic projects and festivals, teaches, and brings the worlds of her charges together with those of other musicians. She also composes and performs at home and abroad.
In Memoriam: Josef Fečo - a composer, lyricist and brilliant musician. In his youth he dedicated himself primarily to classical music, but because of the prejudice of the faculty at the Prague Conservatory, he was not given the opportunity to study and had to give up his dream of a career as a classical violin virtuoso. However, he fortunately did not close himself off to music. He achieved concert and studio recording successes first with his guitar band, Romano Štar, and during the 1970s began to dedicate himself to folklore music as the leader of the renowned folklore ensemble Raidž. He also composed music and wrote lyrics - not just songs, but several entire musicals on Romani themes and the opera "Géňa a Béla". He passed away at the end of 2013. Ms Olga Fečová received the award on behalf of her husband.
The student award is symbolically shaped like a record with the wheel from the Romani flag in the center. "Records used to be called LPs, or 'long playing'. In our view, the voices of these honored figures have resounded long enough to inspire those of us in the younger generation," says Denisa Hatinová, a student at the Education Faculty of Charles University in Prague.
The student awards are not just another annual prize. They were uniquely the theme of this year's International Romani Day celebration, which was primarily dedicated to the younger generation of Romani people.
"Our aim is to establish the tradition of a dignified celebration of International Romani Day together. If we succeed, next year will be dedicated to different themes, different figures and different groups," says David Tišer, director of the Ara Art association, which convened this year's celebrations together with its partners Hate Free Culture, the Museum of Romani Culture, ROMEA and Slovo 21.
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