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May 17, 2022



Thirty years ago, Czechoslovak President Havel spoke on the right of Romani people to their national self-awareness

30.7.2020 10:36
Czechoslovak President Václav Havel giving a speech on 27 July 1990 at Romfest in Brno.
Czechoslovak President Václav Havel giving a speech on 27 July 1990 at Romfest in Brno.

Thirty years ago, from 27 July to 29 July 1990, the First World Romani Festival ROMFEST 1990 was held in the city of Brno, in the Líšeň quarter's Mariánské údolí nature preserve, produced by the organization ROMART. Dozens of dance ensembles and music groups assembled for a musical marathon on four stages and different spontaneous performaces as well.

The Václav Havel Facebook page, the official profile of the late president which is exclusively run by the VIZE 97 Foundation, has reminded the public of the speech given on that occasion by Czechoslovakia's last president. News server is publishing this translated excerpt below and a brief excerpt from video footage of the speech as well.

Speech by the President of the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic, Václav Havel, at the First World Romani Festival, 1990

The system of totalitarianism that domineered our country for the last 40 years also behaved in its own particular way toward Romani people. Behind a facade of lofty speeches were hidden indifference, misunderstanding and contempt, as is evidenced by the different, insensitive administrative measures taken and by the suppression of Romani culture, the Romanes language, and all national specifics of this group.

The communist powers may have created different Government commissions and developed various conceptual documents, but Romani people were just the objects of these different social experiments and had no say in what their own fate should be. They suffered what we all suffered: The existential necessity of the system to make everything uniform, to exert centralized control, and to force upon all citizens the exact same banal way of life.

Romani people - just like anybody else - have a right to their own national self-awareness and to respect for their ethnic identity. They should enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as all other citizens of our state and they should also enjoy - just like other national or cultural minorities - certain collective rights, and the principles of collective blame or collective liability are not allowed to be applied against them.

The democratic state we are building must be established on the idea of human rights. That is the only way it can take its place in the family of civilized states. Human rights include the right to equality before the law, to a dignified life, and to a national or ethnic identity.

People are not good or bad merely because they belong to this or that race or to this or that nation. Anybody who does not acknowledge this basic truth is a racist.

Many different races, nations, ethnic groups and tribes live in this world. They differ from each other when it comes to history, religion, traditions, social customs, and sometimes they also differ in terms of the way they think, their behavior and temperament.

However, they are all human beings, all are equal before God, and as individuals they bear responsibility for both their good and their bad deeds. They should create one great society whose members mutually respect each other and who also respect their differences.

During my military service, as well as when I was in prison, I got to know many brilliant people - and many who had no character. Many people aided me, and many people turned me in to the authorities.

The dividing line between those two groups had nothing to do with anybody's national origin, and it did not even depend on the level of their education. For me, that experience just strengthened my opposition to all displays of racism.

Brno, 27 July 1990


ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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