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May 21, 2022



Czech Republic: Romani women forced to undergo sterilization tell their stories through theater

3.6.2016 18:00
"Stories That (Never) Began", a performance in Ostrava about survivors of forced sterilization on 9 June 2016. (PHOTO: League of Human Rights)

A theatrical production called "Stories That (Never) Began" ("Příběhy, které (ne)začaly") telling the stories of several women who were forced to undergo sterilization will be created at the Cooltour multifunctional space in Ostrava next week. Women who have survived such abuses will create the performance under the direction of theatrical professionals.

The premiere will be on the evening of Thursday, 9 June. Kateřina Červená of the League of Human Rights, the main organizer of the event, informed the Czech News Agency of the upcoming performance.

When:  9 June at 18:30
Where:  Cultural Center Cooltour (Černá louka 3118, Ostrava)
How much:  Voluntary contribution

"We are working with five Romani women between the ages of 50 and 60 from the towns of Krnov and Ostrava. Some were forcibly sterilized prior to 1989, others in the 1990s," Červená said.

All of the women will meet in Ostrava to discuss their life stories over the course of one week. On the basis of those authentic testimonies, the performance will be created under the direction of theatrical producers Petra Drahanská and Simona Trávničková.

"Nothing about this has been planned in advance. There is no script, all of it will arise as improvisation," Červená said.

One of the performers will be Elena Gorolová. "I am really looking forward to this. At this moment I cannot imagine what the performance will be like," she told the Czech News Agency.

Gorolová said she was disappointed by the number of women who ultimately are available to participate. "There should be more of us. It's a pity it can't be managed. Some of the women have work obligations, others are too ill. I was looking forward to there being more of us involved," she said.

Červená said it is not yet clear which story the performance will portray during this first staging. No reprises are planned yet.

"We want to wait and see how the premiere turns out. Then we will decide," she said.

The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) first raised the suspicion that primarily Romani women were being forcibly sterilized in the Czech Republic in 2004. Dozens of women then applied to the ombudsperson for assistance and several also sued in court.

The Czech Government's Committee against Torture first proposed financial compensation for the women in 2006. The Czech Government's Human Rights Council received a proposal to compensate the women in 2007.

Two years later the cabinet expressed regret over the illegally-performed sterilizations. According to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, however, a mere apology is not sufficient redress.

A bill drafted by the Human Rights Minister to compensate the survivors of these harms was not adopted last autumn, when other ministers in the cabinet rejected it. "The Government has not reviewed the proposal to compensate these women since then. The efforts of the five women involved in this project are aimed in that direction as well. Through this performance we want to convince the Government to address the issue of compensation again," Červená said.

There are no precise statistics in the Czech Republic about how many women may have been subjected to forced sterilization. Červená estimates that there probably have been hundreds.

The issue of forced sterilization was revisited on Wednesday, 1 June in Prague during a daylong conference convened by the OSCE. MEP Soraya Post of Sweden opened the conference with an emotional remembrance of her own mother's experience of such obstetric violence.

On the issue of forced sterilization, Post told news server she hoped the conference, attended by experts from all over Europe and including local survivors of forced sterilization, would reinvigorate efforts to address the issue:  “I hope they will have more energy to address the question, to share good practices, to get inspired, get new ideas and strategies on how to deal with this.” The refusal to address the forced sterilization of Roma is part of a larger context, she explained.

“It’s one symptom of antigypsyism, along with segregated schools, unemployment, hate speech and hate crime, and politicians who use Roma before elections to get votes,” the MEP said. “The Roma are kept in a socially excluded environment to justify how they are treated,” she asserted, adding that the larger society is “causing the failures, and then blaming the Roma for the failures.”

According to the MEP, this process of blaming the victim serves to legitimize anti-Roma sentiment. “It’s a way for decent people to still feel decent,” when expressing racism toward Roma, she said.

When it comes to expressing hatred of Roma, Post told that "There is no shame.” While people might feel bad about expressing other hateful attitudes, “when it comes to Roma, they don’t have to feel shame.” 

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