Růžička: Xenophobia against Romani children rising among Czech students
Your Eminence, Dear Guests,
Another year has passed, and once again I have the precious opportunity to welcome you here. We are standing at a site of inexpressible suffering endured by members of the Romani nation. Today all of you are connected with us survivors through your participation in this profound event. You have come here to honor the dead, to commiserate with us, and there is no end to our appreciation. In a few moments we will lay flowers at the resting place of the victims, those whose dreams of a better life never came true.
Can it be that what happened to the Jewish and the Romani nations, here and in the wider European area, was the act of a higher power, or an unfortunate accident of some kind? No, it was the phantasmagoric ideology of racial purity, the vision of privilege for the elect that Hitler forced, without much difficulty, on the German nation. It is sad that the other nations who also wanted to get rid of Jews and Roma willingly seconded his motion.
A comparison with today unwillingly occurs to me. What else can the shouting of the slogans “The nation above all” or “Bohemia for the Czechs” represent, other than that phantasmagoric ideology of racial purity? I recall the following statesmanlike words spoken here last year by Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas: "We must never allow racist phantoms to dominate our life. We have a bond with the memory of the dead who lie in this burial place. We have a bond with their survivors as well, our Romani fellow citizens with whom we share the same democratic values. This sacred site must always remain a bond and a warning.” All I can add to that is that it is a shame this bond and this warning have not yet resulted in the removal of the structure that desecrates the site where the victims whom we honor today, died.
At last year’s ceremony I emphasized the essential need for more targeted education, especially in this country's primary and secondary schools, about the genocide of the Jews and Roma. I also mentioned the issue of the inefficient use, and sometimes the abuse, of EU subsidies intended to improve the position of Romani families. I must recall those words once more. In the relations between non-Romani and Romani children I am seeing xenophobic behavior by pupils and students grow and intensify. I am also seeing that educators do not pay sufficient attention to this phenomenon, which is happening in the context of the Education Ministry’s intention to educate Romani children in mainstream schools.
You certainly all recall the petition against that initiative, initiated by educators, that almost 70 000 people have signed. Families are now discussing the pressure to educate Romani children in mainstream classes, and a decisive portion of majority-society parents are commenting on these matters inappropriately in the presence of children, inciting their own children against Romani people. All of the effort and money we expend to improve interpersonal relationships will be useless if yet another generation afflicted with xenophobia is secretly being raised here. I would like to intercede here, to ask all teachers to avail themselves of the information available and to pay attention to this phenomenon in a more targeted way.
In this context I must also draw attention to the public institution here called the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes (Ústav pro studium totalitních režimů). This institution should, given the nature of its research activity, dedicate itself to invetigating the genocide of the Roma and Sinti. Unfortunately, that has not happened yet, which I do not understand. It is precisely in that institution that I see a great deficit when it comes to much-needed educational activities and information about that genocide.
When Mr Daniel Herman, who is here with us today, wanted to devote resources to that problem, he was fired from his position as director of that institute. I therefore have no other choice than to demand of the institute's new leadership that they pay attention to this issue in a targeted way. It would be brilliant if a project along those lines were to be financially supported by EU institutions.
This brings me to yet another problem, and that is the deteriorating position of Romani people in society, media reports of how much money has been allocated to this by EU institutions notwithstanding. I must say this openly: Romani people do not believe that those finances are being used for their stated purpose. EU subsidies are supposed to help us and we have the right to know how they are being spent. Those of us who care about how Romani people live in this country, and who are involved in assisting them, receive very uncertain information about the volume of those subsidies. We can look for such information online, but it is not specific. Very often it is hidden in clever projects purporting to help Romani people.
If the EU institutions really want to improve the position of Romani people in Europe, it is absolutely essential that the finances needed for that improvement be strictly allocated to a Romani agenda so that the efficiency of the projects can be measured in a comprehensible way. Here I must add that projects outlining how such efforts might target the Romani issue were once sent to the EU from the Czech Republic for support. However, once it was discovered that the institutions wanted to release enormous sums of money, those anointed to address the Romani issue took refuge in addressing the problems of socially vulnerable people in general. It is a shame that we allowed that game to be played. Naturally, I am not saying that cooperation between Europe and this state to address social problems should not be supported – it should, and it’s good that it is.
However, there is a need for the Romani issue to have its own independent agenda in Europe, given the inconsistencies in how these subsidies are used. It seems the European Commission is aware of the complexity of the situation, as is evident from its recent statement that it wants to support Romani social inclusion during the seven-year programming period starting in 2014, when it intends to support initiatives from the Romani nonprofit sector.
The non-Romani people working for pro-Romani organizations generally believe that their work, which can figuratively be called “for Roma without Roma”, will manage to get our people out of their lethargy and give them hope. It won’t. Things can only move forward if Romani people are actually involved in solving their own problems, not just involved "on paper". Of this I am convinced.
I also very much want to draw attention to an important aspect that shows us the extent of the problem we are addressing, and that is the data included in the materials used to run the Czech Government’s concept for a solution to these problems, and indirectly used by its Agency for Social Inclusion. This data is also used at the European Commission. The official data of the Czech Government says there are between 200 000 and 250 000 Roma in our country. The adopted conceptual documents mention more than 300 Romani ghettos inhabited by 80 000 Roma. Precisely those ghettos are what lie in the field of vision of the Agency and of the organizations pushing forward this argument to a degree that is not healthy.
While the statewide unemployment average is 8 %, almost 80 % of the breadwinners in all Romani families are without a real job. I ask you: What will we do with those who do not yet live in ghettos below the poverty line, especially when we know what negative phenomena poverty entails? Do they not also need help? Do we want people on welfare in this country to live in worse conditions than people in the Third World?
Communication with the Roma takes place through the state administration. The state has selected its own Romani representatives to serve its own needs and, as we can see, its concept isn’t working.
We need to mobilize natural Romani authorities in the regions. They must be chosen by the Roma themselves and be involved in this communication, and the Roma must organize this process on their own. No one else can do it for us. However, we necessarily need support in order to do this. The responsible selection of such individuals is a prerequisite for success, of that I am convinced.
Dear guests, those of you who drove through the woods from the main road to get here cannot have helped noticing the pig farm complex by the road. That is the very place where the victims we are honoring and paying tribute to today perished. I must strongly reiterate the demand we have been making for years: Pig farms should not be built on concentration camp sites.
Friends, some day I would really like to express the sentiment that time heals all wounds. Unfortunately, I cannot view the resuscitation of Nazi theories in some parts of today’s world in such a nostalgic light. Sometimes I feel I don’t really understand what is happening today. Nevertheless, I believe in the cathartic power of the moral values of Christianity. I believe in the cathartic power of the message left for us by the tens of millions of victims of racially motivated rampages and wars.
In conclusion, I would like to let you know that for the first time today, the public has the opportunity here to read the so-called “Residential Code” authored by the sadistic commander of the Lety camp, Josef Janovský, who ran the life of prisoners there. A copy of that code and other information has been posted on one of the replicas of the housing exhibited here.
We thank you for your participation and for your flowers, and we hope we will meet here again next year under more fortunate circumstances. Thank you all.
Čeněk Růžička, chair, Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust (Výbor pro odškodnění romského holocaust)
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