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Romani activist Miroslav Kováč comments on Patrik Banga's "Hyde Park" appearance

Czech Republic, 24.3.2012 18:12, (ROMEA)
Activist Miroslav Kováč

On Wednesday, 21 March, Patrik Banga, the web administrator for news server iDNES.cz, was a guest on Czech Television's Hyde Park discussion program on channel ČT24. I watched a recording of the program and was unpleasantly surprised. I had expected to hear some insight from a well-grounded person with years of practical experience, and instead I got the incompetent, rambling point of view of a frustrated Romani man who was not able to answer the questions given him and essentially preferred to avoid some altogether. I personally have very great respect for Patrik, but this presentation did the rest of us more harm than good. That's why I have decided to answer some of those questions here myself.

First of all, society should realize (Romani people in particular) that at the World Congress of Romani people in London in 1971 a resolution was adopted on the international name for members of our nation, "Roma" (an autonym). Even though we are a spurned nation, we are still a nation with roots extending far into the past in most of the states where we live. Even though we live in various parts of the globe as a minority nation, we still have, like other nations, our flag and our national anthem. From this it is evident that even though we have been labeled as a nation with the exonym "gypsy" in the past, that term died on the day the representatives of our nation announced they had adopted our flag and national anthem. We should be referred to by our autonym, even though racists and other unsavory people understandably don't like it.

This is comparable, for example, to labeling the Czech nation "Bohemians", or even to the recent past of Czechoslovaks. Is it correct today to call Czechs "Czechoslovaks"? After all, most citizens here still disagree with the division of Czechoslovakia. Why should other nations respect what was agreed to only by a narrow group of politicians? What would it sound like in the world championships of ice hockey if the organizer were to announce: "The final match today is played by Sweden versus Czechoslovakia"? Why ask of other nations something you don't uphold yourself? How can you ask for respect if you don't show respect to others? I find it ridiculous that there are Romani people who spit on everyone else today by using the word "gypsy" - and then shamelessly wave the Romani flag to gain publicity.

Romani people allegedly don't want to work. I know Patrik Banga: For him it would be best if every day had 48 hours. He often works 18 hours a day. There are, of course, countless Romani people like him, but they don't get into the news. On the other hand, how many non-Romani people are sitting in the pubs drinking beer instead of working? Has anyone counted? The problem rather has to do with work under the table, not with Romani people not wanting to work. Simply put, wages are so miserably low and corruption is so high that it does not pay Romani people to be legally employed. Romani people are merely adjusting their behavior to their environment, which includes a market economy and yes, they are better off taking this route.

What is the solution? Eliminate corruption, prosecute work under the table to the fullest extent of the law, protect this country's labor market, employ Romani people, and adjust wages to the EU average. We are already a country with above-standard wealth in terms of household incomes. Unemployment is not just a problem of each individual. All of society suffers from unemployment, and society should take an adequate stance on it. The level of unemployment is essentially a reflection of society as a whole and it should be addressed both by the unemployed themselves and by all of society. It is narrow-minded to discuss unemployment without offering solutions.

In this context, discussing how Romani people hold parties is really somewhat infantile. I am not claiming that they do not hold parties, but I also know that such events are not the domain of Romani people only - and are they happening on Wenceslas Square in Prague? Romani people predominantly live in ghettos, where the maximum number of unemployed people reside, both Romani and people from the majority. The Praguers have only heard about such things. I live in a ghetto and I can count about 10 parties a year here. If people are bothered by a party going on, they can anonymously call the police, who have legal sanctions available to them. The question is whether the municipal authorities and police always act in the sense the law intends. When the police themselves make it possible to collect bribes, is that going to deter anyone else from taking them?

As far as welfare goes, all of society must realize that if we want to introduce a law on "parasitism", then we will have to create jobs, otherwise we will simply have to take measures to enhance public safety. Any reduction in welfare to the socially needy, including the creation of ceilings, increases the risk that various sociopathological phenomena will grow and reduce public safety. Romani people are not to blame for unemployment. The government is to blame for not creating the conditions and motivational programs for small and medium enterprises. The government has reduced this country's competitiveness, inefficiently financing infrastructure, regional governments, and various subsidy programs instead.

The government is also neglecting competitiveness in the area of education, where it is vehemently defending itself against the creation of a new concept. Moreover, the vast majority of Romani people are constantly enrolled into schools for pupils with light mental disability. What is interesting is that we now know that these same children, after emigrating to England, are successfully handling mainstream studies there. Today a generation of educated Romani people is growing up abroad and finding work there. Why that is not happening in this country is a question for the Education Ministry and for teachers. Adaptability and education together create the path to stabilizing public financing and increasing our competitiveness and standard of living. Will the day come when the Romani people growing up in England view Romani people in the Czech Republic the same way Romani people in the Czech Republic view Romani people in Slovakia?

Let's not intensify our problems. Let's seek solutions. Let's seek to walk the kind of path on which we can be examples to the next generation. Let's not get left in the ditches of history. Let's build a stabilized order and state together. Let's not look for enemies where there are none. We are our own worst enemies.

Gwendolyn Albert, Miroslav Kováč, Miroslav Kováč, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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