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May 20, 2022



Patrik Banga: Social media is depriving us of context and driving us all crazy

10.10.2019 8:27
Roman Zach performed a song by the Gipsy Kings on the TV NOVA show
Roman Zach performed a song by the Gipsy Kings on the TV NOVA show "Your Face has a Famous Voice" (Tvoje tvář má známý hlas) (2019). (PHOTO: TV NOVA)

There are moments when I really dislike the fact that we have social media. It's true that now one can express oneself immediately about anything and can even choose the format.

Do you want to record a video of yourself speaking? There will be a video.

Do you want to write a powerful text? There will be a text!

Social media has its negative aspects, though. For example, the dissemination of inaccurate news.

Different interpretations of one and the same situation can be shared as well. Social insanity can then result.

I don't follow commercial television programs and I also don't keep track of contemporary hits in pop music. Facebook campaigns about such matters, however, cannot be avoided.

The actor Roman Zach has been featured on a show where celebrities are asked to perform pop songs, and the karaoke lottery chose the band Gipsy Kings for him - and in response, Zach used an unfortunate Czech slang term for Romani people ("cigoši") and shook his shoulders. When I saw the footage, I thought he was just trying to be funny.

Others took what he said to be an insult to Romani people and the band Gipsy Kings. Just to be clear, the name of that band is not "Roma Kings".

The band calls itself Gipsy Kings. And the person talking about "cigoši" was not Czech MP Okamura on a public broadcasting program, but Zach on a popular music show on the commercial broadcaster TV Nova.

What was the outcome? A complaint about Zach has been filed with the Council on Radio and Television Broadcasting, a campaign against him has been unleashed on social media, and people have responded in ways I cannot bring myself to repeat here.

Romani celebrities have joined the campaign, such as Ida Kelarová and the excellent musician Tibor Žida. My own aunt even joined in.

They all believe Romani people have been insulted by Zach. They also believe the Gipsy Kings have been insulted.

They also believe Zach is a racist. Most of the people responding, however, are unaware that this supposed "racist" was one of only a very few figures who publicly supported my twin brother Radoslav when he decided to fight back against all those who stayed silent as the neo-Nazi band Ortel was given an audience appreciation prize a few years ago.

Zach supported my brother live on television, saying: "I want to send a shout out to Radek Banga, because I'm with him, I want to really applaud what he did because it's necessary and important." The man is not the dyed-in-the wool Nazi that some are now suggesting.

By standing with my brother, Zach attracted the anger of that part of this nation who had already been sending Radoslav death threats. I'm willing to bet Zach got a few unkind messages himself after that.

Czechs react to social media in similar ways. We Roma keep on warning about this.

We share printscreens of online discussions and curse the fact that the Roma are all tarred with the same brush in them. Now we Roma are doing the same ourselves.

A guy who was not afraid to publicly say he supported a Romani man has now been instantly condemned as a racist for saying a single word on television. As a joke.

He said it on a pop music show. He feels bad about it, he has literally written to me that he is "gutted by the fact that it sounded like that".

We all have to learn how to perceive the context of somebody's remarks. For example, right before Zach made his appearance, the show's moderator, Sokol, told this little story:

"Now it's the Gipsy Kings. In translation, that means Cikánští králové. I heard the parents of these guys in the band actually lived in caravans and traveled all over France and all over Europe, but then they learned that in France, children can only go to school if they have a permanent address, right? So their Dad figured out that he had to buy a house. Do you know what he did? He bought a house, right? That's exactly the difference between Romani people in France and Romani people here in our country, right? In France, when they find out they have to buy a house, they just do it. In our country, if they find out they have to buy a house, they buy Roman Zach singing Gipsy Kings."

No complaint has been filed against Sokol, but his remarks seem far more problematic to me than Zach's. It was Sokol's remarks that gave me mixed feelings when I watched the clip.

It's not so much what he said, though. For me, it's more about what kind of gesture he was making.

Is it seriously necessary for the moderator of a program that has such a big audience (and a relatively normal moderator, to boot) to send a dog whistle like that to the less intelligent minority in the audience who have slightly racist tendencies? Zach's response was spontaneous - and essentially it was pretty funny, overall.

That was unfortunate for him. Sokol was not responding to a surprise of some kind, though.

The moderator said what he did in order to cultivate the kind of audience I have described above. However, this was all still just happening on a pop music show, where such matters actually cannot be taken absolutely seriously.

This was not being said on the floor of the Chamber of Deputies, after all. Now, I do know that we Roma still want to be considered as rightful members of this society.

That's fine. I want that too.

We should be glad, then, that Romani motifs are appearing at all in programs of this kind. Let's try to take this incident in the opposite spirit.

Would a song by Věra Bílá be featured on such a program if it weren't considered good? Would the band Gipsy Kings be there at all if they weren't considered good?

Are they a Romani band? Then what's the problem?

Isn't it, on the contrary, an expression of recognition for Roma that alongside a hit by Janet Jackson there's a hit by Romani musicians - and a gadje performer is doing his best to imitate them? And don't people make fun of each other once in a while?

I'm sorry, but that's just part of entertainment. Do you know how many Czechs make fun of the typical elements of the Czech character?

Patrik Banga, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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