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Gypsy Spirit 2009 prizes awarded in Czech Republic

Prague, 2.12.2009 12:50, (ROMEA)

Yesterday in Prague, physicians from the Pediatric Intensive and Resuscitation Care Unit of the Teaching Hospital in Ostrava were awarded the Gypsy Spirit prize for Activity of the Year in Prague. Other prizewinners were the non-governmental organization Český západ, the Museum of Roma Culture, and an Elementary School in Svitav-Lačnova. The prize for lifetime achievement was awarded to the founder of Roma studies at Charles University in Prague, Ladislav Goral. The three nominees in the NGO category included the civic association ROMEA, nominated for its news server Romea.cz, its print journal Romano voďi, and its internet television station, ROMEA TV.

The prizes were announced this year for the first time ever by Czech Human Rights and Minorities Minister Michael Kocáb. The physicians from Ostrava received the award for their care of little Natálka, the Romani girl who almost burned to death during an April arson attack committed by neo-Nazis in Vítkov. She is expected to be released from hospital soon after almost eight months of treatment.

The Ostrava physicians were nominated in the category of Activity of the Year for actions which have saved lives. Two of the nominees in this category were representatives of different departments at Teaching Hospital in Ostrava, the Pediatric Unit and the Burn Center. A hospital representative was given the prize at the Prague Crossroads cultural center in Prague’s Old Town by Cardinal Miloslav Vlk. The jury for this particular prize was comprised of Romani jurors.

"I have decided to award my own prize, a ministry one. I would add the ROMEA association to the list of winners. ROMEA deserves an award for the significant way in which it has reduced tensions in society and performed its very praiseworthy work. That’s my personal winner,” Kocáb said at the start of the press conference after the Gypsy Spirit 2009 prizes were awarded.

Kocáb announced the Gypsy Spirit prizes in five categories of support for integrating the Roma minority into mainstream society. An international jury decided on the winners. Jurors included Kocáb, former Czech President Václav Havel and the Slovak actress and politician Magdalena Vášáryová.

"This can improve the atmosphere in society, but I definitely don’t want to overestimate its impact,” Karel Holomek, chair of the Society of Roma in Moravia, told ČTK after receiving the award for founding the Museum of Roma Culture. Holomek views Czech society, of which he considers himself a part, as often petit-bourgeois in outlook and therefore intolerant. "Unfortunately, this is true of Czech society and will be true for some time to come,” he said.

The gala evening began with speeches by Havel and Kocáb and included musical performances by the Romani bands Gipsy.cz and Kale. During the final musical number - Gipsy.cz’s hit “Romano Hip Hop” - almost the entire audience in the packed hall danced along with singer Radoslav "Gipsy" Banga. Havel joined in as well, dancing next to one of little Natálka’s older sisters; the children attended the event with their father.

Kocáb was inspired to announce the new prize after a visit to Slovakia and hopes other states will add themselves to the list. Vášáryová told ČTK that the prize has already had an effect in Slovakia. "We are doing our best to select cases in which a Romani man or woman helps a non-Romani, and this is having great success,” she said. "Other projects are starting as a result of this, and because a large part of the award-winners are Roma, we are strengthening their community.”

The winners

Prize for Activity of the Year: The Pediatric Unit of Intensive and Resuscitation Care of the Teaching Hospital in Ostrava, under the leadership of Michal Hladík, won the prize for exemplary medical care provided to little Natálka, who suffered burns over most of her body during an arson attack on her parents’ home. The team of physicians has cared for Natálka with the maximum possible devotion, going above and beyond their usual obligations.

Prize for an individual whose long-term work has contributed to improved standing on the part of the Roma: Ladislav Goral was one of the first people to devote themselves to social work with the Roma in the 1970s. He was behind the creation of the Roma Studies program at Charles University, contributed to the publication of a Czech-Romany dictionary, worked for the Secretariat of the Government Council for Nationalities during the 1990s, and has been mapping Roma ancestry his entire life. He founded one of the oldest and longest-lasting civic associations concerned with the Roma, R-Mosty.

Prize for a non-governmental organization: The Český západ civic association has been implementing many projects in the town of Dobrá Voda and its environs aimed at building up civil society in the Toužim locality. The association offers activities for children, youth and the community as whole; their main target group is the local socially excluded Roma community. Members of the majority community from the locality are actively involved in the projects.

Prize for a corporation: The Museum of Roma Culture was nominated for its many years of activity in the field of culture. Since its inception the museum has done its best to build up a collection documenting the culture and history of the Roma. Today it administers collections on traditional crafts and professions, historical types of residences, interior decoration, clothing and jewelry, the fine arts, written materials, posters of and invitations to Roma cultural events, and audio, photo and video documentation. The museum has established a library and also maps the influence of Roma culture on the majority culture.

Prize for extracurricular education activities focused on Roma youngsters and youth: The Elementary School in Svitavy – Lačnova has a school population that is one-third Roma. The school devotes itself to organizing after-school activities aimed at the cultural and social bonding of the local excluded Roma community and the majority. Every month the school holds a cultural event for the public, runs hobby circles, makes active use of Romani school assistants, and does it best, through various projects, to guarantee financing for children from socially deprived families to participate in school camping trips and excursions.

ČTK, Gwendolyn Albert, ROMEA, ROMEA, ČTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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