Together We Can: Patrik Grundza
Last month, Romea.cz began publishing interviews on a weekly basis with people who are doing interesting things to aid all of us in getting along here. When we were looking for a name for this column, the motto of this year's International Romani Day, "Together We Can", inspired me, so the organizers and I have decided to call this column "Together We Can" as well.
Interview with Patrik Grundza
Patrik is primarily an unbelievably modest person. I learned from his friends that in 2001 he became the Czech Republic's number one competitor in karate, and if I had not explictly asked about his ranking in the European championship (fourth place) and his nomination to the world championship in that sport, I never would have been able to tell you about his accomplishments.
After a serious illness, however, he had to abandon both his artistic and athletic careers. Today he works as a makeup artist and collaborates with the ARA ART association, where he performs in their theater productions.
I was very interested in interviewing him because of his ability to perceive the smallest of everyday incidents. Once he told the story of traveling on the metro in Prague and being seated across from a gentleman who ostentatiously pulled up his shirt sleeve and stuck out his forearm so Patrik could see his Nazi swastika tattoo.
Patrik said it was clear to him that the situation was bad. The man was staring at him fixedly and looking for any excuse to escalate their interaction.
An elderly lady then sat down next to Patrik, grabbed him by the hand and said "You'll walk me there, right?" She exited with him at the next stop.
Patrik told me back then that "If everybody had as much bravery and presence of mind as that elderly lady, life would be better here." I asked him what else, besides more such elderly grandmothers, would aid our coexistence.
Q: What, in your view, needs to be done so we can get along well here together?
A: That's a difficult question, especially today, but my perspective on it is that these are crazily fast times, people are chasing after everything, each thinking just about his or her career or position, and hatred is growing generally. It seems to me that people should respect each other more, they should love each other, talk to each other, tell each other their problems, and mainly, they should be merciful towards each other. They should respect each other even, for example, if they are of different religions.
Q: Can you recall a situation that you might call merciful?
A: I have experienced mercy my entire life, somehow [laughs]. Even though I am as black as the ace of spades, when people get to know me personally, they have a good opinion of me. Those who don't know me have all of their biases and prejudices, but just until they get to know me. People should not condemn each other on the basis of prejudices or rumors, but they should always get to know somebody first.
Q: Can you recall a specific situation of that?
A: Many such situations at school, my first feelings at school, when I was the new kid, or at work - for example, I worked in a perfume store, and it was not easy in the beginning as far as either the colleagues or the customers were concerned. After a time, I left - and the customers were still asking for me even a year and half later. As far as my colleagues went, one of them really aided me - her name is Táňa and she behaved very nicely towards me there. The others saw how she approached me and then it was easier for them. We are still friends to this day.
Q: Do you have a strategy for approaching such situations? How do you proceed when you know that when you go somewhere you will be judged just according to your looks?
A: One must never let oneself be deterred - ever. All of this can easily deter you. One can easily become tired of having to explain to anybody and everybody that, for example, one did normally graduate from high school. However, one should not let oneself be deterred. One should do all one can to imagine what kind of position the other person is in. I treat people the way I want them to treat me. That's a special rule that creates goodness. That has aided me. If I treat people well and use the rules my parents taught me, then it will work well, and in my opinion it does work well.
Q: Have you experienced friendships between majority-society people and Romani people?
A: I do experience them. When I was a little boy, I was the only Romani person at my primary school and my best friends were always gadje. I even had a problem with being a Rom then. At conservatory we had history class, and we studied Romani people too, and I didn't even want to be in the classroom for that part because I was ashamed of being Romani. Then I traveled to an international summer school where I met normal Romani people. Before that my ideas about Romani people were also biased, but I met educated Romani people there - from doctors to lawyers - and ever since I have changed, it turned me around. Then I was proud to say I am a Rom - and otherwise I am the same as anybody else and I just want to have a good life.
Q: Many people are somehow engaged in these efforts - what is your perspective? Do you have the feeling that we have to do something for our coexistence or is it supposed to come about on its own somehow?
A: I am employed with L'Oreal as a beauty consultant and I... never wanted to get involved in the issue of our coexistence at my job. However, I believe that if each of us works on ourselves, that is one positive way to aid our better coexistence. When people begin with themselves, and when they create a good reputation for themselves, that aids just as much as if you do some action and organize a demonstration or a meeting.
Q: What are your dreams? If you had a magic wand, what would you conjure up?
A: Those are terribly difficult questions. I don't want anybody to suffer, I want everybody on the planet to love one another and respect each other. I would like there to be goodness and mutual respect. The one thing I would like to say, though, is that people are unaware of how close we are to danger. Two years ago I was in Poland at a program about the Holocaust where they had mapped all of Europe as far as racism and Romani issues go, and we left that program absolutely terrified. People don't know where they are rushing along to, each of us is concerned only with ourselves and our own comfort, to the detriment of others, and that's dangerous, I am afraid another war might happen. When I imagine a magic wand, it would greatly help if we all looked the same, if there were just one skin color.
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