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October 20, 2020



Jana Hejkrlíková, Romani doctoral candidate: We must see each other as fellow human beings

7.5.2018 11:31
Jana Hejkrlíková (PHOTO: Jan Mihaliček)
Jana Hejkrlíková (PHOTO: Jan Mihaliček)

Jana Hejkrlíková is studying in the Modern History Department at the Faculty of Arts at West Bohemian University, where she leads a Scouting division in her free time. While she may not appear to be a Romani woman, she was bullied in primary school because the children there knew her mother, who does appear Romani.

"Children who are bullied because of their ethnic affiliation hear barbed comments, curse words and defamation from all sides. It's a marathon, because obviously the person will hear remarks like that for his or her entire life," she says in an interview, adding that everybody must learn to see the people around them as their fellow human beings, not just as members of a different ethnic group.

Q: What are you focusing on in your post-graduate studies in history at the Faculty of Arts at West Bohemian University?

A: I am studying in the Modern History Department, which begins from the great French Revolution. My primary interest is Tibetan history during the Maoist era from 1950-1976. Tibet is still a current issue today. There is still not enough awareness about the conditions there during that time period and what's more, the information has been obscured by a significant amount of propaganda and untruths. I am most interested in the Tibetan resistance and the engagement of the CIA in Tibet. I would like to support the refutation of the stereotypical view of Tibetans, because they were not just passive victims. An extensive resistance movement arose on Tibetan territory.


Jana Hejkrlíková has received financial support from the Scholarship Program for Romani College and Secondary School Students run by the ROMEA organization, the aim of which is to aid students with realizing their academic and professional dreams.

Last month ROMEA launched another campaign to support these students in collaboration with Bader Philanthropies. The campaign is called "MÁM SEN! I HAVE A DREAM!" and clearly references the strong message of human rights defender Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, who was a central representative of the movement for the equality of African-American people in the USA.

If the ROMEA organization manages to raise CZK 300 000 [EUR 12 000] from donors by 15 June 2018, Bader Philanthrophies will give a matching donation . For this campaign we have created a special website through which people can contribute to the program. You can make a one-time contribution or set up a monthly donation. 

Besides Tibet, I am also interested in Romani history, primarily the period of the Second World War. Naturally, I am interested in that subject to a great degree because it is about some of my personal roots. There are still blank spots in that area when it comes to high-quality historiography. In future I'd like to focus on Romani people who actively fought against the Nazi regime, as very little is actually known about them.

Q:  In what kind of an environment did you grow up? Do you come from an educated family? How did your parents and other relatives view your efforts to study?

A: I grew up with both my parents. My father graduated from secondary school with a school-leaving examination and Mom originally was an apprentice, but she completed her secondary school education when I was attending primary school and then she went to college. She had to interrupt her studies before she could complete them because Dad got seriously ill and Mom and I had to take care of him. I have three siblings who are much older than me. One brother graduated from secondary school with a school-leaving examination, my sister graduated from a vocational school, and my other brother has a Bachelor's degree. My family was always very supportive of my studies. My extended family, who are less educated, appreciated my studies and I dare say they have always been very proud of what I have achieved.

Q: Are you of the opinion that your path to higher education was more difficult for you as a Romani woman than it would be for a Czech woman?

A: I do not appear Romani at first glance, so at college, which is essentially a very anonymous environment, most people do not know about my origins. During the first part of primary school, naturally my fellow pupils knew who my Mom was. For that reason, they knew I am Romani, and so I had to experience their bullying. Many children have experienced bullying here for various reasons. Those who are bullied because of their ethnic affiliation hear barbed comments, curse words and defamation from all sides. It's a marathon, because obviously the person will hear remarks like that for his or her entire life. Fortunately, Mom was working at that time as a social worker, so it was not a problem for her to properly address and resolve the bullying. Without that, it's obvious that those experiences would have absolutely made school an offensive environment for me and would have destroyed my appetite to keep studying. I did not have such problems in upper primary or secondary school. I attended a Waldorf Primary School and a Waldorf High School, which actively do their best to make sure such excesses do not happen and that children come to know about cultures other than their own. Nevertheless, it is unpleasant for me - frequently it brings me to tears - to hear others abusing Romani people when they do not know that I am a Romani woman, and when most of them know nothing about Romani people. At such a moment, most of the time, I decide I will avoid those people. Children who hear such things at primary school are not able to do that, though...

Q: What, in your view, should Czech and Romani people do to improve their relationships with each other?

A: Unfortunately there is no easy answer to that question. I don't what to talk about what the state should do, but what about we ourselves can do. People from both groups must learn to see the people around them as their fellow human beings, not just as members of different ethnic groups. Our cultures and even our mentalities, if you will, differ from each other in some aspects, but the same applies among Romani people themselves and among the members of other nations. After we see somebody else as human, then it is necessary to get to know "the other". The most important thing of all is to have the appetite and the will to improve the relationship.

Q: How, in your view, does Romani culture enrich Czech culture?

A: Very frequently we encounter the claim that the main thing Romani people have to offer Czechs or other majority ethnicities is their Romani music. This claim is made about traditional Romani music and also about "Gypsy jazz", which I really love. Personally, however, I believe Romani culture offers much more than that. For example, it has enriched the Czech language through different neologisms. What's more, I am observing an interesting phenomenon around me: Many non-Romani people, after encountering Romani culture in the sense of Romani dance, music or traditions, discover an interest in getting to know more about their own culture. As far as mentality goes, Romani culture can enrich Czech culture through its sense of humor. Romani people know how society sees them and are able to make fun of very hot topics.

Q: What are your hobbies?

A: I have many hobbies. One of my main hobbies is music. Both my parents were and still are musicians. I play transverse flute, I sing, and I am a member of two bands. Mom and I also annually organize the "Příbramský huntík Zdeňka Hejkrlíka", a folk music festival in Příbram. I also work as a volunteer with a small group of children who have different kinds of problems in the Totem inter-generational center in Plzeň. Last but not least, scouting takes up a lot of my free time. In Příbram I lead a co-educational Scouting division of children who are of primary-school age. Whenever I have time, I also love to travel.

Q: What would you like to focus on after you complete your studies?

A: That is a question that nobody studying history likes to hear! I would decidedly like to focus on history into the future, whether at a university or in a secondary school environment, or somewhere in a museum or research institute. I would also love to work with non-professionals interested in history, because many forms of instruction can be used in this field. Nevertheless, all history students know that their futures after completing their studies are very uncertain, so I will let myself be surprised.

Jindřich Fiala, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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