ROMEA acceptance speeches at Alice Garrigue Masaryk Award ceremony
Today US Ambassador Norman Eisen gave the 2012 Alice Garrigue Masaryk Award to representatives of the ROMEA civic association at the American Center in Prague on the occasion of International Human Rights Day.
The Embassy gave the Alice Garrigue Masaryk Award for 2012 to the ROMEA association for its longtime advocacy of human rights questions concerning Romani people in the Czech Republic. ROMEA contributes to a balanced depiction of Romani people in the media by focusing on the stories of individuals from Romani communities and describing events that would otherwise go unnoticed. It does so through its printed monthly journal, Romano voďi (Romani Soul), through the country's most-visited website on this topic, Romea.cz, and through its systematic collaboration with majority-society media. ROMEA also publishes articles in Czech and English that raise awareness of these topics. Through its work, the civic association supports tolerance and understanding among Romani people and the rest of society and also contributes to balance in the Czech media
Awardees Jarmila Balážová, the chair of the ROMEA civic association, and Zdeněk Ryšavý, the executive director of the association, both spoke on this occasion. Romea.cz presents their remarks in full translation below:
Acceptance speech by Jarmila Balážová
"Your Excellency, ladies and gentlemen, dear and esteemed friends,
It is our honor to receive the Alice Garrigue Masaryk Award today, which is named after a woman who was significantly engaged in the area of human rights and aid to the needy.
We value this award because it is not an isolated instance of the US interest in the topic of human rights, which the position of Romani people in Europe is of course a part of. The US is a country which paradoxically, given the small number of members of this minority there, has never had much experience with or even much of a need to address coexistence with the Romani minority, but which has nevertheless been systematically expressing itself on this matter for many years.
We appreciate the fact that Madame Hillary Clinton has never forgotten about this topic, which is not popular. Both when she was First Lady, and more recently as Secretary of State, she has not forgotten this easily harmed minority with no country of its own behind it, with no economic influence or power. Attacks against members of this minority do not prompt the kind of response that attacks against other minorities do. Madame Clinton has many times, including on International Roma Day, regularly expressed how necessary equality is for Romani people worldwide, and she has not been alone.
We know the USA has its own rich experience of coexistence with minorities, which has evolved from banning people from riding on buses and other kinds of segregation to the fact that Mr Barack Obama is serving a second term as President. We feel that there is much to draw on and learn from your experiences, to compare and contrast what can't be measured in the human rights area.
We appreciate that you have done your best, truly, for many years, to very carefully facilitate a dialogue between Romani people living in the Czech Republic and the USA, just as you desire to contribute to a better coexistence between the majority and the Romani minority living in the Czech Republic. We at ROMEA are also making our best efforts for those same goals through our work.
For the reasons I have spoken of - little education, little economic power, little power of any kind - Romani people today are becoming the targets of attack more and more frequently, particularly at this time of economic crisis. These attacks come not just from extremist groups, but from ordinary citizens and politicians. Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more acceptable in society to be anti-Romani."
Acceptance speech by Zdeněk Ryšavý
"Your Excellency, ladies and gentlemen, dear and esteemed friends,
Permit me to also thank the Embassy of the United States of America for giving us this important award. Permit me to thank you not only in the name of all of our employees and coworkers, but also on behalf of our donors and sponsors. This award is an appreciation for the work of the many people who have worked with us since 2002 and who still work with us today. Allow me to thank all of those who have contributed to the work of the ROMEA association from the very first. Thank you all.
ROMEA is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year and I must say this 10th year has truly been a hectic one. Jarmila Balážová already mentioned the deteriorating position of Romani people at a time of ongoing economic crisis. Unfortunately, I must say this position and the mutual ill-feeling between the Czech majority and the Romani minority is also being worsened by some media outlets. It is an open question to what extent this is through ignorance, through intention, or through a lack of professionalism on the part of individual journalists.
ROMEA has long focused on working in the media field. We run the news server Romea.cz and we publish the magazine Romano voďi. We believe the media are an important element in how majority-minority relations are formed. However, primarily during the last two years, the media have made many more serious mistakes than usual, mistakes which resulted in increasing what was already heightened anti-Romani sentiment.
Let's recall, for example, the case of a political tabloid news server which published a mendacious report alleging that the Romani treasurer of a supposedly existing party - the "European Romani Party" - had robbed it of funds. Most of the statewide media reprinted that report without bothering to verify it. When we pointed out that this report was false, some media outlets apologized for publishing it, but it had already gone on to live a life of its own.
One more straw adding to the mutual ill-feeling piling up on the proverbial camel's back was the scandal of the invented claim that Romani people had committed an attack on a boy in Břeclav. It's probably not worth recalling the media massage that led to almost 2 000 people marching against Romani people in that town, or any of the other completely fabricated accounts of Romani assaults that keep occurring since.
We don't want to just criticize the media - we do our best to collaborate with them. We want to be a partner for journalists. We want to be the ones that help them find their way to Romani people, primarily to those who have achieved something, and we are glad to advise them on how to best orient themselves in this sensitive topic. As a result, together we can all improve the objectivity and the quality of the reporting about Romani people in the Czech Republic.
In conclusion, permit me once more to thank you for giving us this human rights award in honor of Alice Garrigue Masaryk. It is a great honor and inspiration for our future work. Thank you."
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