Gwendolyn Albert: "I believe the illegally sterilized women will be compensated"
ROMEA TV's "10 Minute Talk Show" program has interviewed Gwendolyn Albert, a human rights activist who has been fighting for illegally sterilized women in the Czech Republic to be compensated. She spoke with interviewer Jarmila Balážová about why she ended up settling in the Czech Republic in 1994, how she got involved in the subject of human rights, why she took an interest in the Czech state removing the pig farm from the site of the Protectorate-era concentration camp for Romani people at Lety, and why she has been advocating for compensation for the women who have been forcibly sterilized.
On 2 August 2020, Gwendolyn Albert received the award "For Humanity" from the Committee for the Redress of the Romani Holocaust, an organization that brings together the descendants of victims of the Lety camp, for her longtime activity defending human rights, especially with respect to the forced sterilization of Romani women, as part of this year's commemorative ceremony there. "That was a really overwheming experience for me. The first time I had ever been to Lety was in 1995, when President Václav Havel first unveiled the memorial that is still there today. By then I knew that Romani people existed. In those days situations were transpiring in which human rights were being violated. Ultra-right violence against Romani people was happening here again. I began to take in interest in it because I had always been active in the human rights field," she told ROMEA TV.
Removing the pig farm from the site of the former concentration camp at Lety u Písku was a demanding, protracted journey. Gwendolyn never gave up, never lost hope, and always believed the grounds of the former concentration camp would become a dignified place of remembrance someday.
"I always hoped it would turn out like this. I recall what it was like to realize we had been fighting to remove the pig farm for 10 years. At that time I couldn't believe that we hadn't achieved it yet. However, we have lived to see it happen, and it's not just that the pigs are no longer there. The entire process of designing the new memorial, of depicting how things actually were there, all of the organization done by the Museum [of Romani Culture] and the plan for the new memorial was very inclusive, and as a start it's genuinely very good," she said.
Gwendolyn is of Czech descent on her mother's side, but that was not the main reason she decided to visit the Czech Republic. The first time she came to what was then Czechoslovakia was in 1988, for a summer course in the Czech language, after which she returned on a Fulbright grant in the 1989-1990 academic year to study linguistics.
"I was very interested in life behind the Iron Curtain. I actually wanted to see it for myself. At the University of California, where I was studying, they offered Czech, which was rare, and I realized that. I wanted to take advantage of that rare opportunity, and it changed my entire life. I don't regret it at all," she said about her decision to come to Czechoslovakia as a student.
In 1990 she returned to California. Four years later, she returned to what had become the Czech Republic with her future husband and they decided to settle here.
"I was living in South Bohemia, which is how I got interested in Lety. When we were living in Tábor, I noticed that Romani people lived there, but that their social interaction with other people was practically zero. I noticed it immediately because people warned me not to go the part of town where the Roma lived, they warned me against interacting with them. It was an open aversion. Even though at that time the concept didn't really exist in this context yet, I'd say that it was antigypsyist behavior," she told ROMEA TV.
The subject of compensating women who have been forcibly sterilized is another big theme of her work as an activist. Right now she is waiting for the bill legislating that compensation process to undergo a first reading in the lower house.
"At this moment it's all up to the lawmakers and how they will explain and interpret this law to their voters. This country knows how to compensate people for wrongdoing in the past, this is not a foreign concept. At this moment we are all very focused on the health care system and how it works. People could very well understand that if something goes wrong there, which in this case involves an egregioius violation of human rights, then there should be redress. In such a case it's not enough to say 'Yes, we know it was awful, too bad.' That kind of response, when human rights are violated, is not possible, it's not good enough. I believe people know this. At this moment we are closer to achieving our aim than we ever have been, the lower house is deciding now when the first reading of the bill will be," she told ROMEA TV.
- Czech Deputy Public Defender of Rights: I hope the law to compensate victims of forced sterilization will soon be adopted
- Forced sterilizations in Europe and the USA and their consequences for today
- Czech state may finally compensate forced sterilization victims
- Elena Gorolová: Some of the forced sterilization victims have died, but we are still fighting for compensation
- Elena Gorolová, who campaigns for compensation for forced sterilization, featured on Czech talk show
- Commentary: Czech Republic, Slovakia must compensate the victims of forced sterilization while they are still alive
- ROMEA to Czech President: Romani life in communist Czechoslovakia included forced assimilation, forced sterilization of women, segregated education
- Czech PM meets with forced sterilization victims and their representatives about compensation
- Czech Republic: Forced sterilization will be focus of academic and public discussions
- Czech and Slovak Victims of Coercive Sterilization Await Justice
- Czech researcher at Romani genocide commemoration: Compensate the victims of illegal sterilizations
- Report on the coerced sterilization of Romani women in the Czech Republic describes last 50 years through testimony
- UN Human Rights Committee asks Slovak Government for independent body to investigate the forced sterilizations of Romani women
- Czech Govt Roma Council reviews Romani Holocaust sites, victim database, and compensation for involuntary sterilizations
- Analysis: Swiss Parliament approves law on "solidarity aid" to victims of forced sterilization
- Elena Gorolová on forced sterilizations: We seek compensation, nobody will ever restore our motherhood
- Czech Republic: Romani women forced to undergo sterilization tell their stories through theater
- OSCE/ODIHR Event to Focus on Justice and Redress to Roma Victims of Forced Sterilization in the Czech Republic
- Is Czech compensation for forced sterilizations in sight?
- Edita Stejskalová on resigning as a volunteer civil society member of the Czech Govt Roma Council: We should advise ministers, not lower-level officials
- Romani film festival in Berlin gives special recognition to film about removing pig farm from WWII-era concentration camp site in Czech Republic
- Documentary on WWII-era concentration camp for Roma in Czech Republic screening TONIGHT ONLINE
- Pope supports registered partnership for same-sex couples, Romani community member in the Czech Republic calls it progress
- Czech Finance Minister supports bill to compensate illegally sterilized women
- Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights calls on Czech lower house to adopt law to compensate illegally sterilized people, first reading scheduled for today
- Petition seeking first reading for bill to compensate forcibly sterilized women delivered to Czech lower house
- Czech library to exhibit all designs submitted for the future Lety u Písku Memorial to the Holocaust of the Roma and Sinti
- Czech demolition of pig farm on former WWII-era concentration camp for Roma delayed one year, future new memorial said to be unaffected
- Romani women call on Czech MPs to take the first step toward compensating forcibly, illegally sterilized persons, 150 figures support them
- VIDEO: Commemoration at former concentration camp in Czech Republic remembers Romani victims of Auschwitz, Human Rights Commissioner expresses support for a Romani Commissioner