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May 24, 2022

 

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Renata Berkyová at Lety u Písku: How is the current Romani society living in the Czech Republic to comprehend the open racism toward Romani refugees from Ukraine?

9.5.2022 10:32
Renata Berkyová 8 May 2022 speaking at the commemorative ceremony at Lety u Písku (PHOTO: Petr Zewlakk Vrabec)
Renata Berkyová 8 May 2022 speaking at the commemorative ceremony at Lety u Písku (PHOTO: Petr Zewlakk Vrabec)

Romani refugees from Ukraine are being openly rejected today by Czech society because of their skin color and associated prejudices, the historian Renata Berkyová said yesterday in her speech during the commemorative ceremony honoring Holocaust victims at Lety u Písku. The ceremony began at noon at the site of the burial ground for some of the prisoners who died in the nearby concentration camp.

"In many cases, the Roma fleeing their country are being forced to live with their children in undignified conditions, to sleep in the premises of railway stations, parks or bus stops," Berkyová said, adding that attention needs to be drawn to Czech society's xenophobic excesses. News server Romea.cz publishes her speech below in full translation.

Dear Ladies, Dear Gentlemen,

Allow me to say a few words here today. We have a great deal of knowledge about the history behind the sites at Lety u Písku and Hodonín, the tragic fates of the people imprisoned here, and the tragic fates of the other persecuted Roma and Sinti during the Protectorate, thanks to Romani Studies scholars, historians and most recently, even archaeologists.

I am grateful for that. We no longer have to speak of this as the "unknown Holocaust" today, and I firmly believe that a newly-built monument at Lety, as well as the Centre for the Roma and Sinti in Prague, will lead society to a deeper understanding and to clearly condemn all belittling or denial of the Holocaust of the Roma and Sinti.

Although the interest of some historians in the history of the Roma is increasing slightly, for a broader range of researchers the history of the Roma is at most a marginal subject that is still not perceived as an integral part of today's historical research. The Prague Forum for Romani Histories, which was created six years ago at the Institute for Contemporary History of the Academy of Sciences, seeks to change such perceptions and to point out that research on the history of the Roma is of fundamental importance to comprehending and grasping pan-European history and to understanding the contemporary society living here.

In addition, we are preparing a database of Romani and Sinti testimonies about World War II, which we will be able to introduce to you at the next commemorative ceremony. Today, though, I would like to highlight the current events that touch all of us as a society.

We find ourselves in a situation where Romani refugees from Ukraine are openly rejected by Czech society for their skin color and associated prejudices. In many cases, the Romani refugees fleeing their country are forced to live with their children in undignified conditions, to sleep in the premises of railway stations, parks or bus stops.

Last night 500 Romani refugees from Ukraine had to sleep at the main railway station in Prague. To the applause of other passengers, the conductor of a Czech train denied transport to Romani refugee children and women even though they have the opportunity, as refugees, to travel here free of charge.

In Benešov, local authority management openly rejected what it called "less adaptable citizens" with the absurd, incomprehensible argument that a nursery school and primary school were in the neighborhood of the accommodation planned for Romani refugee Ukrainians. How should the current Romani society living in the Czech Republic comprehend this?

How do the current descendants of the surviving Roma and Sinti understand this, those whose trauma from World War II has never completely faded from their family memory? I have the honor of knowing some such families very personally, and I believe that for other Roma and Sinti living in the Czech Republic it's also not easy to hear how some politicians do not hesitate to call the Romani refugees from Ukraine "inadaptables".

It is as if today's society has forgotten how the Roma and Sinti were referred to during World War II. It is as if we have forgotten how  restrictions against the Roma and Sinti were raised, first in direct contradiction of human solidarity, then in direct contradication of the Czechoslovak Constitution, and then eventually allowing the Roma and Sinti to be sent to their deaths.

Today we have no choice but to draw attention to these xenophobic excesses in Czech society and to act against such treatment together. Each of us, not just in our personal life, but also from our offices, political positions or social influence, can publicly condemn actions that are biased, that flout solidarity, and that are hateful.

In addition to aiding directly, that is the very least each of us present here can do. It is only by the non-Romani part of society standing against treatment that is unequal, against human dignity being trampled in specific cases, only from such support can a healthily self-confident, trusting society grow from part of this society that is Romani, people who will no longer have to prove themselves respectable, who will no longer have to fight for their place in our society, people who will be able to rely safely on the fact that in cases of hate, inhumane treatment and racism, not just the state, including its security forces, but also the non-Roma living around us, will have our back.

Thank you for your attention.

Renata Berkyová, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Lety u Písku, Pietní akce, pietní místo, Speech



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