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March 8, 2021



Julius Zajac: Czechs and Romani people don't like each other

5.6.2017 9:55
Julius Zajac (PHOTO:  Personal archive of Julius Zajac)
Julius Zajac (PHOTO: Personal archive of Julius Zajac)

Czechs and Romani people have not liked each other for generations (generally speaking) and is is clear to see that future generations will not like each other either. While the situation is gradually improving, that fact is not visible, for the most part, because the tempo of improvement is too slow.

It is true that the number of Romani students is growing and that our integration in that sense is better than it was 50 years ago. The Czechs love to claim that there is no racism in our state, or that if there is racism, it comes from the Romani people towards everybody else. 

Those claims seem very demagogic and paradoxical to me. Czech people would certainly be surprised if they could experience what it's like to be dark-skinned here.

Recently published an interview with the psychologist and Romani community member Andrea Tibenská, who recalled her childhood here. What she described was a childhood full of racsim and xenophobia.

I personally know a great deal about this, as I have experienced it myself. Even though I enrolled into first grade as a member of a very respectable family, for my fellow pupils I was, with few exceptions, the "gyppo flippo greasy hippo", the "Gyp", etc.

Those insults mainly came from pupils who were not in my same class. I can recall how one of my own classmates defended me to them: "Julek isn't a Gypsy, he has a suntan."

That kind of thing basically continued my entire life. Not that anybody non-Romani would stand up for me, but that my non-Romani friends would never consider me Romani.

Why do I say "Roma" and not "Gypsy"? Because the term "Roma" comes from our Romanes language, and Romani people from all over the world have agreed on this term.

There are absurd rumors going around here Romani people refuse to be called "Gypsy" just because it is disparaging. I also consider it the height of absurdity when I hear claims from non-Roma who tell me, with cynical expressions on their faces, that they have a "Gypsy" friend and that the term "Roma" is insulting to that friend, who calls herself/himself a "Gypsy" (Cikán).

I have never encountered Romani people in the Czech Republic who call each other "Gypsies" (Cikán). I have heard them use the [Slovak-language] term "Cigán", though.

The term sounds better to us here in Slovak, for some reason. I accept all of these terms - the main thing is in what context such words are used.

"Romani people just keep crying about racism"

This is an opinion that I frequently hear and read, and I think this fact is connected with Romani people's history.  Romani people have experienced being driven out of their homes and forced to hide in the forests, they have lived through being forbidden from entering municipal territories, they have been persecuted, they have been maimed by having their ears cut off (even children), they have been abused, genocide has been perpetrated against them, they have been murdered - and during the Second World War this was done not just by the German Nazis, but by the Austrians, Czechs, Hungarians, Latvians and Slovaks.

All of this, unfortunately, has left its mark on the Romani people. The Holocaust impacted future generations too.

Ivan Rektor, a neurologist who heads the Neuroscience Center at Masaryk University in Brno, has published research into such claims. We should reflect on that.

How to hold a discussion

When I was getting ready to write this piece, I told myself that I would create a table where I would cite all the discussions posted online, just the responses by non-Roma and Roma alike to reporting by the public broadcast media here, because if I were to do that, it would be clear that actually nobody here can claim the moral high ground. I don't want to copy all that crap, though - examples of it are:  "When will we be able to shoot the gypsies dead with impunity?", "Gypsies to the gas chambers", or "Czech whore", "Czech fucker", etc.

We all know this is going on. People are publicly expressing themselves this way.

They are not ashamed of it, and they have no fear that by doing this they could be breaking the law. I am old enough to recall when the Internet first made it into the households of the Czech Republic.

I was very glad to join the online discussions then. Once my interlocutors ascertained that I am Romani, they would begin to tighten up, asking "Where did you steal that computer from, gyppo?"

Thanks to my correct spelling, most non-Roma refused to believe I am of Romani origin. Today the majority society is accustomed to Romani people using computers and being connected to the Internet.

When I began to write my first blogs, though, I received ugly messages from Romani people too. I was accused of trying to ingratiate myself with the majority, or even of betraying my own ethnic group.

This was because I had dared to criticize some Romani people, to point out problems, to write my own opinions. Later on I think most Romani people began to comprehend what I was doing.

Because I have lived in Czech society from childhood, I express myself based on that experience, and I know very well what bothers the majority about Romani people here, what they think about us. Actually I wrote most of my blogs just because of one idea I wanted to communicate to other Romani people, and I will dare to do it once again here, for the last time:  Romale, education is what can put some restrictions on all this racism and xenophobia.

Why don't we create an educated future generation who will occupy a better position in this society? There would not be so much of a difference between the majority society and Romani people in that case.

When people are educated, they are also employed, and where people are employed, they are able to afford dignified housing of their own and a good life. Believe me, once most Romani people are educated, the Czechs will change their approach toward them and their opinions about them.

Julius Zajac, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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