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Romani activists called on Czech mayors to fly the Romani flag for 2 August, some of their refusals were textbook racism

31.7.2020 15:38
On 31 July 2020, the town of Nová Ves u Mělníka flew the Romani flag ahead of 2 August, European Roma Holocaust Memorial Day. (PHOTO:  Facebook page of the municipality)
On 31 July 2020, the town of Nová Ves u Mělníka flew the Romani flag ahead of 2 August, European Roma Holocaust Memorial Day. (PHOTO: Facebook page of the municipality)

Activists from the Dikhas group have contacted all of the mayors in the Czech Republic with a call to join them in honoring the memory of the Holocaust victims of Romani origin on 2 August by flying the Romani flag or engaging in some other form of remembrance. Reactions from some mayors startled the activists because they were about as close to racism as it is possible to get.

Other mayors promised to join the action, though. František Lacko and Libuše Martínková informed news server Romea.cz of the effort.

During the night of 2 August and early morning of 3 August 1944, the Nazis murdered the remaining prisoners in the so-called "Gypsy Family Camp" at Auschwitz-Birkenau. More than 4 200 Roma and Sinti were murdered in one evening.

Mayor of the small Central Bohemian community of Libomyšl. "I do not see the slightest reason to call the murder of the gypsy community by the Nazis the 'Romani Holocaust'. A Romani man - a citizen of the 20th century - does not work, commits crimes, lives off of welfare at the expense of the working white man."

For that reason, members of these communities all over Europe commemorate 2 August. "We would be glad if you would join the commemoration of these events - while they may have happened long ago, their legacy remains current. You can join our honoring the memory of the Holocaust victims of Romani origin on the anniversary by flying the Romani flag or through any other form of remembrance," the activists wrote to the mayors.

"As leading politicians and representatives of the public, you are among those who are able to tear down the many years of barriers in our society and, through your approach, to combat well-worn prejudices and stereotypes of all kinds. This is especially so in our current times, which are marked by ethnic and racial unrest, and not just in the United States of America, but in many other countries worldwide," the activists' letter reads.

"We sent our call to more than 6 000 addresses for the email accounts of towns and villages. The immediate reactions from some of the mayors we reached out to are startling and not far rom racism, but despite that, we believe a bigger number of towns and villages will join the action this year, many of them have decided to join symbolically," Martínková told news server Romea.cz.

A response of refusal was sent, for example, by Václav Červenka, mayor of the small Central Bohemian community of Libomyšl. "I do not see the slightest reason to call the murder of the gypsy community by the Nazis the 'Romani Holocaust'. A Romani man - a citizen of the 20th century - does not work, commits crimes, lives off of welfare at the expense of the working white man. He has nothing to do with a gypsy - maybe his color," the mayor wrote by return e-mail.

The mayor of Doudleby nad Orlicí, Ivan Kerta, also refused to join the action, saying that municipalities regularly honor the memory of all victims of the Second World War and the genocide associated with it. "We approach honoring the memories of all these victims without any ethnic or racial prejudices or preferences for chosen groups of victims. It is possible to say that honoring the memory of the Holocaust of the Roma is also a component of that remembrance," he wrote to the activists.

Other mayors, however, responded positively. For example, Nová Ves u Mělníka already has their Romani flag up.

"Each person is unique, and we should be assessed just on the basis of our actions, not condemned for some alleged collective guilt because of our race, nationality, religion or anything else. Nobody chooses their place of birth, their parents, or their skin color, and for that reason it is embarrassing to brag about such things or to judge others for them. Let's be proud of and/or judged by others on the basis of what we ourselves have actually done. For that reason, I have flown the Romani flag at the local authority this weekend," Mayor Martin Exner of Nová Ves u Mělníka wrote.

The Prague 10 Municipal Department will also fly the Romani flag. "I believe that by taking this step, we are, as the town hall for what is the sixth-largest municipality in the Czech Republic, making it clear that our thinking is free of the prejudices and stereotypes that have been experienced here for years, and also that as the Prague 10 Municipal Department we are heading toward being an interconnected, modern, relevant society of people of any and all origins, orientations and religions," wrote Martin Bahenský, head of the secretariat of the Office of the Mayor of the Prague 10 Municipal Department.

Plans to fly the Romani flag on 2 August to commemorate the Holocaust and its Romani victims have been announced by representatives of Český Krumlov, Jihlava, and the Prague Municipal Department of Řeporyje as well as by other towns. A traditional commemorative ceremony is happening at Auschwitz and this year a featured guest will be, for example, the President of the Slovak Republic, Zuzana Čaputová.

Romani figures and others will also gather for 2 August at Lety u Písku in the Czech Republic, the site of one of the concentration camps in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia from which prisoners were transported to Auschwitz. On 2 August in the evening, an event called "Leperiben: My nezapomínáme" (We Do Not Forget) will be held on náměstí Míru (Peace Square) in Prague.

Zdeněk Ryšavý, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Druhá světová válka, Fascism, Holocaust, Nazism



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