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Richard Samko on receiving the 2016 Roma Spirit Award: Give Romani people a chance!

15.12.2016 20:18
Richard Samko and his son at the 2016 gala celebration of the Roma Spirit Awards. (PHOTO:  Eva Kořínková, Roma Spirit v České republice)
Richard Samko and his son at the 2016 gala celebration of the Roma Spirit Awards. (PHOTO: Eva Kořínková, Roma Spirit v České republice)

On Saturday 10 December 2016, Human Rights Day, I received the Roma Spirit Award in the category of Media. I would like to once again thank everybody who nominated me.

I also thank all those who have sent their congratulations and expressed their support. I appreciate it very much. Paľikerav!

In the speech I gave I did not manage to say everything that was on my mind. The exceptional Roma Spirit event this year was influenced by the events around the tragedy in Žatec during which a young Romani man died in a local pizzeria under circumstances that have yet to be clarified.

That case provoked the extraordinary Romani figure Mr Gejza Horváth to refuse to participate in the Roma Spirit ceremony. I vastly respect his position.

Mr Horváth was not taking a stance against the Roma Spirit event per se. He took a stand to express his uneasiness over the fact that a significant part of society and leading Government representatives have long stayed silent and tolerated a great deal of lawlessness here.

In Žatec and elsewhere, the situation vis-à-vis Romani people is rather tense. I perceived Mr Horváth's reaction to be an effort to make it clear how important it is NOT TO STAY SILENT.

It is important for precisely the authority figures of our nation to be able, together with politicians, to calm a tense situation and show the people that they are taking an interest in them. Why this is important has since been demonstrated by the case of Radek Banga.

The death threats Mr Banga has received for protesting the awarding of the "Czech Nightingale" music award to the Ortel band are proof that Mr Horváth's protest gesture actually was appropriate. Permit me to draw two comparisons here.

If a tragedy happens on the rail lines, the ministers and professionals immediately make an appearance, calm the situation, and assure the citizens that they are arranging for a proper investigation and that the appropriate measures will be taken. In the USA, for example, if there is a clash between a member of the African-American community and police officers, the President makes an appearance and calms the situaiton.

Why can't this happen in our country too, I ask myself? When I gave my speech at Roma Spirit, I said that for mutual tolerance and understanding it is essential that we get to know each other and that we have enough opportunities to do so.

Nineteen years go, as a beginning journalist, I got the opportunity to work in the most prestigious Czech media outlet there is. The news director of Czech Television, Zdeněk Šámal, took a leap of faith back then.

He gave me a job and told me:  "Show us what you can do!" I am greatly appreciative that he did so.

I have never abused that opportunity and I never will. Because of it, I have become a television moderator and reporter.

That's what this is all about. I am convinced that if Romani people get the chance to show what they are capable of, then they won't compromise themselves.

Anybody who does compromise themselves in such circumstances is just an idiot! What I am trying to say is that it is important for society to give Romani people the opportunity to get adequate jobs, not just to work "under the table", to live in adequate housing, not just in the rotten residential hotels, to make friends, not opponents.

I also want to tell all Romani people that it is important to stand your ground, to follow your dreams, to be persistent, not to be discouraged by the first barrier you encounter. Do not become an unwholesome part of society.

In conclusion, I would like to thank the Roma Spirit Awards. When I received this award I became aware of the great purpose of this event.

The people who organize it - and they are predominanlty non-Roma - do not have to go to all that trouble. Romale, these people take us seriously.

We should express our support for them. Once again, I express my great thanks to Michael Kocáb and his team.

sam, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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