ROMEA association's open letter to the non-extremist anti-Romani demonstrators in the Czech Republic
The people working at the ROMEA civic association have decided to reach out to those who have participated in the recent anti-Roma demonstrations and who are not extremists. The association hopes to start a dialogue with at least some of you, which might lead to specific proposals for solutions and therefore to greater calm in our coexistence.
ROMEA will compile the ideas and proposals received in response to this open letter and will then turn to politicians at the highest level and ask them to communicate to all of us whether they intend to make use of your ideas when forming decrees, legislation, and other regulations or when benefiting the cause of improving relations in some other way. The ROMEA association thanks everyone in advance for your constructive comments and responses.
The ROMEA association also thanks everyone for their patience, as it will not be possible to respond to all of the letters received immediately. Of course, we will not respond at all to letters that are not constructive or respectful.
Open Letter to the Non-Extremist Anti-Romani Demonstrators in the Czech Republic
To Whom It May Concern:
We are turning to you with questions to which we ourselves do not know the answers. We hope to be able to reflect on these questions together with you, without mutual recriminations and constructively, if possible, in the interest of understanding one another and helping to resolve these matters without maligning one another.
In the discussions posted beneath our articles about the anti-Romani demonstrations in Rumburk and Varnsdorf in the fall of 2011, as well as our articles about such events this year in České Budějovice and Duchcov, the opinion has been expressed that news server Romea.cz tars all anti-Roma demonstrators with the same brush and labels them either neo-Nazis or racists. This is, of course, a mistaken impression. We do not believe any such thing and we have always been careful to distinguish in our reporting between the various kinds of people who are demonstrating.
We condemn the generalizations that are made about Romani people from all corners of this society, and that is why we do our best to avoid generalizing ourselves. That does not mean we are always successful, at least from the perspective of others, but we are holding a discussion inside the ROMEA association about this and are really, honestly trying to do our best.
We have spoken with many of you who have demonstrated against Romani people in various towns around the country, and we have learned that among you are people who are friends with (some) Roma in your daily lives. We have also learned that some of you are frustrated by the deteriorating social situation in the country - for example, you may have been without work yourselves for some time. Of course, we have also run into the racists and xenophobes who have led these protests of hate against the Romani ethnicity as a whole.
There is a difference between how people behave in their everyday lives and how they behave during these demonstrations. In Břeclav, České Budějovice, Duchcov, Krupka, Nový Bydžov, Rumburk and Varnsdorf (or at least during one demonstration there), some of you have marched side by side with extremists - nationalist chauvinists, Nazis, racists and xenophobes.
In Varnsdorf, you marched on the Sport residential hotel, where the extremists kicked off a street conflict and then retreated while the rest of you bore the brunt of the police intervention. Maybe you learned from that and refused to allow extremists on the podium at your subsequent protests.
In other places, of course, it's been different - not only were you not ashamed to participate in an action together with extremists, some of you even accommodated them, whether you were aware of it or not. These are people who are known for the ideological motivation of their primitive behavior and violence, and many are recidivists (and not just of this kind of crime).
A large number of these extremists do not work, they are often less educated, and their behavior shows signs of aggression and sociopathological tendencies. They criticize minorities and Romani people for being what they are themselves, to a large degree: Troubled, uneducated, and unemployed.
These people are exploiting you for their own aims and purposes. They are manipulating your dissatisfaction with what is going on in our country. They are manipulating you also because everything to do with coexistence - ghettos, social housing, unemployment, etc. - has long gone unresolved here.
The extremists do not offer any solutions. They offer conflict, hatred that leads to brutal aggression against anyone and everyone (e.g., against police officers).
In the final analysis, the police interventions in these places cost an immense amount of money which the police could be using instead to beef up everyday patrols to keep citizens safe. The municipalities could be using that money to finance platforms where all citizens could meet, irrespective of their differences, to talk with one another and enjoy some shared experiences. Maybe you have the feeling that no one but the extremists is interested in your problems, but do you realize where this all might lead?
In Rumburk and other places, you have shouted racist slogans together with the extremists and heard them call for violence against other people. The same thing played itself out in Duchcov, where two neo-Nazis organized an anti-Romani action that subsequently openly praised the murder of Romani people.
In České Budějovice, you chanted the racist cry of "black swine" on the square against Romani people. Then you marched with the neo-Nazis who were giving the Nazi salute along the way (shouting "Heil Hitler" and raising their right arms in the Nazi salute), and you shouted other racist slogans.
In all of these cases, the situation risked growing into physical violence against Romani people. It was aimed at all Romani people, because the collective blame you are ascribing to them, in combination with the psychosis of the mob, commands you to make no distinctions among those you have chosen as your target.
We want to ask the following questions and attempt a constructive dialogue with you. We will be very glad to hear your responses:
We understand that you are bothered by problems with some people, some of whom are Romani. What can we do together to get those responsible for resolving these problems to take real action?
What exactly is bothering you, and where, specifically? Please describe your specific problems - we won't get anywhere by making generalizations and we will only be playing into the hands of extremists by making them.
Do you believe it is possible to prevent individuals - any individual, whether from the majority society or the minority - from committing violence against others? Can any man, for example, the President of the Czech Republic, prevent another man from brutally beating and raping a woman? Can any woman, for example, Mother Teresa, keep a woman from murdering her own child? Most Romani people do not approve of the actions of specific wrong-doers who share their nationality, but are unable to stop them.
We can discuss whether and why impoverished Romani people from the ghettos are, to a greater degree than is customary in society, uneducated, unemployed, and unqualified. We can also discuss how these people have to square up to the problems that a culture of poverty causes. We can seek solutions together, but not hatred or revenge against an entire minority.
We are forgetting our history. What do the horrors of Nazism and World War II, which the Nazis unleashed, mean to you today?
Are these "problems with the Roma" that are causing you to demonstrate less acceptable to you than the methods the Nazis once used against members of the Czech nation?
Some of you say you have had bad personal experiences with Romani people. Were those experiences with all Romani people, or just with some of them? Are you really only protesting about your own bad experiences? Do the fabrications, lies, prejudices and stereotypes making the rounds on the internet play any role in your decision?
Wouldn't it be more reasonable to do your best to resolve these problems with coexistence peacefully, for example, by patiently negotiating with local Romani authorities, through community work, by helping to tutor children, etc.?
In your view, is it better to resolve coexistence problems through street protests? What result are you expecting? Do you believe the Romani people will pack up and move away? If you approve of expelling other people this way, do you call that a method for "resolving problems"? How else will these street protests contribute to genuinely resolving coexistence problems, can you describe how?
Are you willing to use violence against your Roman neighbors? Imagine the following situation, please: You and some extremists break into your neighbors' apartment and a frightened family is crouching in the corner. What will you do, will you participate in mistreating those people?
Do you believe the extremists would not have attacked some Romani people recently even if the police had not blocked your marches? Do you believe the Roma would not have attempted to defend their families against attack?
Do you realize that it was by proclaiming the principle of collective blame that the Nazis de facto began the Holocaust?
You are marching with extremists, and very often you are shouting racist slogans with them.
You are marching with extremists, and it doesn't bother you that they are calling for violence, committing violence against police officers, or that violence against Romani people might result. You are not bothered by Nazi salutes or any other manifestations of extremism... Or are you? Why haven't you distanced yourselves from the extremists?
You are not extremists, but have you thought about what you are endorsing and what you really want in this context? Can you achieve it by marching with the extremists?
We are interested in your constructive proposals for resolving these situations. We will try to review them and find an answer or a partner in your particular area to discuss these matters with you.
the ROMEA civic association
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