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Roma activists discuss Czech Police, forced sterilization with US Embassy representatives

Prague, 15.5.2011 16:48, (ROMEA)
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Roma activists Patrik Banga and Drahomír Radek Horváth have met twice recently with representatives of the Embassy of the United States of America in Prague. The first meeting took place immediately after the brutal intervention by the Czech Police against a religious gathering in Krupka. The second meeting took place last Wednesday. News server Romea.cz interviewed the activists about what they discussed.

Q: Who initiated the meeting with representatives of the US Embassy? How did it come about that you two in particular found yourselves at these meeitngs?

D.R.H.: I have been engaged in a lively correspondence and telephone contact with the US Embassy in Prague for some time. I am in contact with the Public Affairs Section and with diplomats from the human rights and economic/political sections. I don't recall the exact names of the diplomats. I respond to the annual Human Rights Report issued by the US Congress. I am a proud citizen of the Czech Republic and I take the unflattering results of those reports as my personal shame. I follow the mood in the Roma community quite thoroughly, the whole range of opinion, from the most moderate to the radical, and I do my best to objectively present that mood to the American side. I am not a spokesperson for the Roma people, I don't have a mandate to speak for the community as a whole, I merely interpret to them how Roma people are feeling in this country. I sketch possible developments for them and consult them on their findings and observations. Understandably, I am not only there to submit possible proposals for measures as to how the Czech state should approach its relations toward citizens of Roma nationality, but also to discuss what Roma citizens could or should do for the state. However, there are certain international treaties the Czech Republic has ratified which must be taken as fundamental and the Czech Republic has a certain handicap there, because it just doesn't fulfill those treaties as it should….

The range of my activities is extensive, but I specialize in the extremist scene, and as an active co-organizer of the events in Nový Bydžov and Krupka I was invited to meet in person at the Embassy to submit evidence to them and make my own observations about those two demonstrations. Right away I contacted my friend, the very competent journalist Patrik Banga, and asked him to participate in these interviews also, for several reasons. In the first place, he was personally present at both demonstrations and followed the Czech Police interventions and behavior at both gatherings, and last but not least he was mentioned in the most recent US Annual Human Rights Report. Patrik undoubtedly can comment on his own case better and in more detail than I can.

P.B.: I basically don't have anything to add. I took advantage of the opportunity to clarify my standpoint to US diplomatic representatives on the topics concerning me.

Q: What did you expect from the meetings?

D.R.H.: I personally consider the direct engagement of the American side to be pivotal, and I was also interested in their overview of the situation. A lot has already been absorbed about the police interventions and there will doubtless be more information to come, so there is no point in getting bogged down in the details of the demonstrations in Nový Bydžov and Krupka. Understandably, I know how the USA stands on the phenomenon of freedom of speech and on that question there was mutual agreement. We discussed the restriction of the freedoms of one group at the expense of another, all with the assistance of the Czech Police. I believe the right to assembly is holy until it starts to negatively impact other rights, and that is what happened in Krupka and Nový Bydžov. Understandably, the American diplomats have their own legal interpretation and are very sensitized to the facts, we discussed them for a long time. I brought to the meeting a legal analysis of Law No. 84/1990 Coll. elaborated by lawyers from the "We Don't Want Neo-Nazis in Ústí" Initiative, of which I am a member. The outcome of that meeting was a promise that the Embassy would become engaged in Brno. I know they intervened at a high level with people from the Czech Interior Ministry's Security Policy Department, etc.

P.B.: I expected an exchange of approaches, information, and perspectives. I was sure US diplomacy was attentively following the events they describe in their report.

Q: What were the meetings about specifically? What did you say and what opinions were presented by Embassy representatives?

D.R.H.: I have already partially answered that. I should add my own invention of public opinion research inside the Roma community. After the intervention I spoke with local Roma from both towns for a very long time and came to the conclusion that the community is evidently radicalizing as a result of the unprofessional approach taken by the state toward protecting everyone irrespective of nationality. I told the diplomats directly that the results of these two actions are alarming and that a lot would depend on how the Brno demonstration turned out. Roma people will not just pray and nonviolently protest forever if brute force is used against them. Sooner or later instead of prayer, they will erect barricades and defend their dignity, their health, and their property with weapons in their hands. I said that in all seriousness a few days after the religious service in Krupka was brutally dispersed and I was just interpreting the mood among Roma people at that time. Understandably, we also mentioned standard procedures to take, like filing complaints against the police interventions with the Czech Interior Minister's Inspectorate and mainly the Constitutional Complaint that has been filed.

P.B.: The Americans understand the situation very well, they have had their own experiences with this. They are very aware that we have a different legal system here.

Q: What were the results of these meetings? Did you agree on something specific?

D.R.H.: The result of the meeting (Editor's Note: Of the first meeting on 19 April 2011) was the direct participation of people from the Embassy at the demonstration on 1 May in Brno. The diplomats were there together with people from the Czech Interior Ministry at the main police command center where specific orders were being given, and the commander of the intervention, people from the police directorate, and people from the City of Brno were there too. However, I didn't want these interviews to only concern events involving the extremist scene. During the last visit, for example, I submitted certain materials to them on the sterilization of women, Roma women in particular, but not just them. This phenomenon has not yet been addressed by an independent law, and therefore the courts cannot rely on existing law to compensate these violations. I gave them a very extensive document with many specific examples and proposals for addressing this issue, created by a certain Working Group and by people from one NNO. The American diplomat will take it to Washington, D.C. and submit it to the US Congress and it will be the main news in their upcoming annual Human Rights Report. This lengthy procedure has been dragging out since 2007 and it is still not clear how sterilization is being handled here. The apology by the Czech Government of 2009 won't address it, that's clear.

It would be absurd to perceive the engagement of the USA in these matters as some sort of impulse or invitation to leave this country. Understand, the USA is a guarantor of democratic principles and a country that advocates democracy everywhere in the world and in the Czech Republic in particular, as the Czech Republic has been an ally and partner of the US for many years. It is necessary to work so that all citizens of the Czech Republic enjoy bearable living standards in this country. It is not good to support fleeing from problems, we should support the effort to solve these problems.

P.B.: At the first meeting we put together several questions for the Czech authorities, and we only got an answer to them when the Americans asked the questions. The results aren't so essential, what is essential is that someone is focusing on the Roma problem.

Q: Various representatives of various organizations here, or just individuals, are negotiating Roma affairs at various levels. It seems a bit uncoordinated to me. Do you believe some sort of Roma representation should be created, or maybe an umbrella organization that could negotiate these matters? There have been previous efforts to create such an organization, but they failed. Do you believe the creation of such representation is realistic?

D.R.H.: A pragmatic question. I believe coordination is important. The question is whether individuals, without the mandate of the community, have sufficient competency and potential to negotiate. I believe past efforts here have always been destroyed by the grudges against one another held by those who are the potential candidates for such a position. In my opinion, it's not an unrealistic idea, but it's important to realize who should be approached about it. I am concerned that a certain generation of Roma activists has been at their posts for so long that they are simply not able to collaborate with other individuals, even with their peers who share their views. They very often view each other as poachers, not partners. That's why I see the only potential as being the current generation of 30-year-olds, for example. People who are not bound to the system by conventions or ties, who won't do their best to maintain some sort of dubious status quo. I know many competent young people who would be appropriate candidates for such a position. The question is whether these people will receive the support they are due. We'll never know whether something might work unless we try it. That is why I have decided to organize, within the framework of one enormous conference, an independent forum where this matter can be raised and discussed. It's clear that all groups must be represented among the delegates, not only those who have been visible for years and have consistent approaches and opinions, but also more radical groups and, understandably, the younger generation. The list of delegates is forming and the panelists and their lectures are also clear. Now we just have to accomplish one little thing: To get everyone who should be there into one room, even if this or that person maybe won't want to be there if this or that other person is there too. This is a complicated negotiation, but I have promises to attend from the main stars of this country's Roma heaven. The main thing is the hall is rented and the refreshments are also ordered. Don't ask me for specific names now. I will give them to you in time, but it is necessary that they all first officially confirm their participation and accept this invitation as binding. For the time being these are just verbal agreements and it's precarious. However, I can tell you when it will be, it will be at the end of September 2011 in Ústí nad Labem. We hope it will be an historic gathering. By the way, I would personally prefer moderating this meeting to running for office.

P. B.: Organization, yes, if it will be a political party. As far as unifying the Roma goes... I am skeptical. I have been on this "scene" for many years... even though I am young I have had a lot of experience over the past decade and one of those experiences is that there will always be something about one Gypsy that another Gypsy doesn't like. However, at the same time I have to say there has been enough of the gadje [non-Romas] solving "our problem". I look forward to the day when a charismatic, energetic, intelligent, young Rom comes forward to take this into his hands. Even though I am a skeptic, I am hoping for a miracle. However, as far as all those parliaments of Roma go, the associations, the "figures" who want to go to the Vatican or censor Mikeš [Translator's Note: A character in Czech literature]... they can go you know where… they have done enough damage.

Gwendolyn Albert, Zdeněk Ryšavý, Zdeněk Ryšavý, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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