Interview with Fedor Gál: It took me years to get that "solving the Romani problem" is nonsense
When, eight years ago, we entered into the story of Natálka, the Romani infant who suffered burns during a neo-Nazi arson attack on her home in Vítkov, we had a messianic complex, Slovak sociologist Fedor Gál says in an interview for HlídacíPes.org, excerpted in translation below. A group of people from various professions got together to "supervise" how the family was managing to cope with the tragedy.
"Today I know - and not just me, many of us have been involved with this - that there is a limit to when you can intervene. If you intervene in a soulless way, and without knowledge of the matters involved, you will turn such people into social invalids. That's one limitation. The other is that you must comprehend that these people are not your clients in a psychiatric counseling center. Either you see them as your equals, your friends, or you should not get involved," Gál said.
Q: I'd like to return to the question from the first part of our interview about the position of Romani people in the Czech Republic. Is it just an illusion, or has the migration crisis (albeit with non-existing migrants) somehow dampened the acutely poor relations between the majority society and the Romani minority? How has the situation of Romani people changed during the past two or three years?
A: Nothing at all has changed about the situation of Romani people, their actual situation. A great deal has changed about their media image, because migrants are being written about 10 times more. I don't want to imagine, not even in my wildest dreams, that the Roma might one day adopt the mentality of the Kurds, for example, and that they might say to themselves "Go fuck yourselves, that's enough". In practice, the seeds of such a response are being continually planted in them.
Q: The situation in the most frightful localities into which they have been pushed is already critical. It's actually already hit rock bottom, it can't fall any further. It is practically impossible for them to extract themselves from it. From my perspective, the previous leadership of the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion and serveral NGOs deserve credit for the fact that we at least began to discuss the problem of trafficking in poverty, even though relations between Romani people and those groups also have not been ideal. Is there a critical line that we are about to cross here?
A: Naturally, we do not know where that critical line lies. I do not know at all what will happen once we cross it. However, because this upsets me, because I think about this problem, because I feel that it is a problem, then I say to myself: "Well, I don't know about [Czech Labor and Social Affairs Minister] Marksová, I don't know about [Czech Prime Minister] Sobotka, I don't know about the Government." I ask myself: "What about me, what can I do?" My answer to that question is to participate in a story that is concrete, in sight, within reach.
Q: Do you mean the story of Natálka, who was burned during the neo-Nazi arson attack in Vítkov?
A: For many years I have been a participant in her story. I have been in touch with that concrete story for many years now. I am not capable of beginning - and it's not even within my competence to do so - to develop a vision of a macrosocietal solution, and I don't even believe in such things. I have arrived at the stage where, when I hear somebody say the phrase "solution to the Romani problem", then I ask myself: "Who is this cock? Is this somebody corrupt? Is this somebody who corrupts others? Is he saying this to me, somebody who knows that a plumber won't fix a toilet without payment? Without receiving cash just for coming to my house?" I am a component of that larger environment. All of these campaigns are useless, and the rules are also worthless if they only exist so we can learn how to get around them. The rule of law is useless to me when all the attorneys, lawyers, and smart people are building a system on the basis of how to avoid principles and rules.
Q: The rule of law ends primarily when the state avoids following its own rules.
A: Certainly. The question of my individual life, and of the people like me (and there are many of them), consists of keeping to some kind of moral ethos in our own, everyday lives. I'm not indifferent to how Ukrainian immigrants are living here, I'm not indifferent to how Natálka is living here, I'm not indifferent to what's going on in my neighborhood.
Q: What is her family's life like now? How have they managed to cope with this tragedy?
A: Well, it's unbelievable. When we entered into her story in 2009, I think we had a messianic complex. We were a bunch of people who were not organized at all, we just told each other that we would aid them.
Q: With what would happen next?
A: And with what had already happened. They had nothing, they could not buy the medicines, they had nowhere to live, they had a problem going out in public. I comprehended an absolutely basic, crucial thing after several years of participation: That term, "to aid" somebody, is already perverse. Either you develop a relationship with those people and they are your friends and partners, we either do all of it together with them, or it's just a "top-down" approach - we over here will aid you over there, we will pay your electric bill, we will arrange for them to take Natálka off your hands and put her somewhere. It took me years to comprehend that the phrase "solving the Romani problem" is nonsense. Today I know - and not just me, many of us have been involved with this - that there is a limit to when you can intervene. If you intervene in a soulless way, and without knowledge of the matters involved, you will turn such people into social invalids. That's one limitation. The other is that you must comprehend that these people are not your clients in a psychiatric counseling center. Either you see them as your equals, your friends, or you should not get involved.
Q: How are they living today?
A: The family is prospering, it's absolutely unbelievable how they are doing. We must acknowledge that they did not divorce each other under that insane pressure, they didn't start beating each other up under that insane pressure, we must take into consideratoin that their oldest daughter, Kačka, is now normally studying at high school. Natálka attends school and works there even though she has lost fingers and toes, even with her horribly devastated little body. They are an integrated family, and if I had to explain to you why, then I would say: "Goddamn it, they love each other!" That is something we frequently do not have in our so-called "majority" society families.
This interview was first published in Czech for the Institute of Independent Journalism.
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