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August 14, 2022



February marks the 62nd anniversary of communist Czechoslovakia forcibly sedentarizing Romani people

5.2.2021 10:08
(PHOTO:  Pixabay)
(PHOTO: Pixabay)

For a Romanes-language version of this article, scroll down.

The Czechoslovak National Assembly adopted a law on the permanent settlement of traveling persons on 17 October 1958 that took effect on 11 November of that year but did not begin to be fully enforced until February of 1959. Romani people were forced by the state to stop living on the road and to permanently settle in designated locations. 

While this fact of history is relatively well-known, ideas about the "ban on living on the road", i.e., how the law was adopted and enforced for those who were settled on its basis, have been presented in a one-sided way in the media to date. This article introduces some lesser-known aspects and impacts of Act No. 74/1958 and the "inventory" of the "nomadic" and "semi-nomadic" persons that it entailed. 

Displeasure of bureaucrats and others with the postwar migrations

By the 1950s, the vast majority of Romani people in Czechoslovakia had long been living settled lives. However, massive migrations from Slovakia to the Czech lands by Roma looking for jobs happened during the immediate postwar years, comings and goings that were of a quasi-temporary or seasonal character and supported the idea among non-Roma that the Roma were becoming "nomads".

The only Romani group who were actually living on the road at that time to a more significant extent were the Vlax Roma. Of course, even within that group just a few extended families lived fully on the road, i.e., without ever settling at all. 

Many Vlax Roma, just like tens of thousands of other Romani people in Slovakia, traveled not by horse-drawn wagon, but by train to the Czech Republic for work during the decade that followed the end of the war. Slovakia was the starting point for the Vlax Roma who re-arrived in the Czech Republic after the war; they had settled in Slovakia during the interwar period, although in some locations there the Roma had even been settled since the second half of the 19th century.  

The events of the Second World War, however, deprived Romani people in some communities of their dwellings, so they were forced to leave those municipalities and set out in search of a new life, frequently heading straight for the Czech Republic. František Stojka (born 1939 in the Topoľčany district of Slovakia) was from a family who lost everything during the war and described those events as follows: "After the war it was complicated. All that we had was destroyed. The buildings were broken down, there were no jobs, we'd lost everything. The Germans had taken our horses, our wagons, our gold jewelry and my mother's ducat coins during the war. It took Dad forever to get the money together to buy horses again, but then they confiscated them during the 1950s, more than once. The last time they confiscated his horses was when that law was published."    

The small group of Romani people who still traveled the Czech lands by horse and wagon during the 1950s were considered an eyesore by the local inhabitants and politicians. Archival records reveal that appeals were sent "from below" to the Czechoslovak Interior Ministry to bring this way of life on the road to an end.   

In different announcements (and also in the press of the time), bureaucrats defined these "nomadic" Romani people as "the main mess that must be cleaned up as soon as possible. Groups of these people like to congregate and are then a direct source of terror for the population," reads one such announcement by the staff of the Prague Regional National Committee.   

The Plzeň Regional National Committee in West Bohemia took the initiative in 1952 to call on its local committees to arrange immediately for the permanent settlement of persons living on the road:  "It is recommend that for the time being they use their own wagons for accommodation, from which the wheels can be removed. [...] The wagons can be set up on logs in an appropriate location, and it is best to do so near the place where the cikáni will be working in future. The wagon covers will be confiscated from the cikáni and sold."   

Drafting of the law and its consequences

Although the Czechoslovak Interior Ministry did condemn the 1952 initiative of the Plzeň Regional National Committee to forcibly sedentarize (settle) these people as too repressive and "in contravention of our fundamental laws", at the local level the broadest possible range of repressive measures preventing people from living on the road were repeatedly undertaken during the 1950s. Berci Stojka, born in 1949 and living today in Louny, Czech Republic, recalls those days as follows:  "The aftermath of the war was evil. We rode all over Bohemia and the non-Roma expelled us everywhere we went. The moment they saw us they yelled at us: 'Jews, Cikáni, be gone! Go away! We'll send Hitler after you once more!' They kicked us out of everywhere. They'd say to us: 'Cikáni, pack up and get out of here.' "      

The locals confiscated horses from the groups living on the road, or pushed them from district to district and from region to region. Sometimes they were also conveyed by train to and fro across all of Czechoslovakia like hot potatoes whom no district wanted to accept. 

The sedentarization of Romani people was not achieved until 1958 and Act No. 74 on the permanent settlement of "nomadic" persons. While there is no direct mention of Romani people in the law, it is absolutely apparent who the target of the legislation was.   

However, the idea that this law resulted in the permanent settlement of Vlax Roma who had been a group living on the road until then is a considerably simplistic one. In addition to the Vlax Roma, who comprised about one-tenth of the overall number of Romani people on Czechoslovak territory at the time, the legislation and the "inventory" that followed its enactment also affected Romani people who had long been settled in a comparatively drastic way.  

In the eyes of the bureaucrats who made the decisions about assigning people to certain categories, the settled Roma represented "inadaptable citizens" - to speak in the vocabulary that is currently in use in the Czech Republic. The law was meant to "aid" the Roma with settling permanently, finding employment, and becoming "proper working citizens."

This was all done under the threat of being sentenced to prison for anywhere between six months to three years. At the beginning of February 1959, on the basis of this law, what was called an "inventory" was undertaken throughout the entire territory of Czechoslovakia and Act No. 74/1958 was thereby implemented in practice.    

Štefan Stojka (born 1940) of Ostrava, Czech Republic, recalled what the "inventory" was like as follows:  "Then came the year '59, and there was that inventory. Cops arrived and surrounded us all. They confiscated our horses and wagons. 'You must not travel! And you have to be in one place!' they said, and did an inventory of us. After that we were not allowed to go anywhere, we had to remain in one place. We were given jobs at that location, but if somebody found us in another district, they turned us into the cops. They took our horses and wagons, and after that we didn't even want to go anywhere, we were afraid. After all, they would lock us up. Each of us had it recorded in our identification. 'You're in the inventory, why are you wandering around?' - 'I'm going to work!' - "Well go back or we'll lock you up!' " 

Mária Lakatošová (born 1951) describes what she witnessed of how the "inventory", and therefore the forced settlement, was undertaken:  "They brought us here to Pečky [in Bohemia] and put us all in one place at the end of town. We had been riding with our wagons somewhere nearby here. They took our horses and sent them all to the slaughterhouse. Such good horses! They didn't give us a crown for them. They gave us old discarded train wagons to live in. Some people still lived in their own caravans or wagons. I remember the cops brought us there. People from social services arrived along with the cops and they wrote us all down. They wrote down the old and the young, the women and the men, the children, each of us separately. Each person who belonged there. How many children he had. That was called the inventory."     

However, the implementation of this "inventory" varied widely at the local level, as did checking compliance with and exerting control over whether those who had been settled were staying at their location of permanent residence. In the Bohemian and Moravian regions, this was generally of a repressive character, while in some parts of Slovakia, where Romani groups were frequently connected to the local economy, the approach to their "nomadic life" was generally much more benevolent. 

Many of the Vlax witnesses to these events who were living in Slovakia at the time, therefore, have no memory whatsoever of the 1959 inventory, or don't comprehend it has having been groundbreaking. "Yes, they took our horses, but Dad acquired more. He rode with the horses again. I still recall how we drove our wagons and spent the night in a meadow near the woods. Dad still had his horses in the '70s. Some Roma have horses where we live to this day, for pleasure," recalled Tuta Lakatoš (born 1956) of Veľké Lovce, Slovakia.  

Driving wagons from village to village, frequently under the heading of an enterprise collecting scrap metal or some other format that was legal at the time, was still done by some Vlax Romani families from different parts of Slovakia for decades after the "inventory". By then however, all Vlax Roma were settled and engaged in such activities on an increasingly occasional basis.

"We always had horses and a wagon, Granddad always hitched them up in the summer and we would drive out, the entire family, to the pilgrimages and the fairs. Later in life I drove my son and wife around that way," recalled Tibor Biháry (born 1961) of Tvrdošovce, Slovakia, whose grandfather, previously a traveling blade-grinder, had settled in that community in the interwar period.       

Act No. 74/1958 criminalized life on the road until a democratic Czechoslovakia was instituted in 1990, and it was not formally deleted from the legal code until 1998. The law, aimed originally against groups living on the road in particular, affected many different Romani families, especially labor migrants and the hundreds of so-called "carnival" families and other persons engaged in mobile professions. 


E migracija pal o dujto baro mariben the e bibacht pro amti the avre manušendar

Andro pendata berša bešenas maj savore Roma pre jekh than. Kajča pal o dujto baro mariben chudle o Roma pal e Slovensko te rodel e buťi pro Čechi u varekana avle ča pre varesave ďivesa, pre sezona, u paľis oda has dikhlo sar „kočování“. Čačes akor phirenas le verdanenca jekhbuter ča o Vlachi. Na savore, varesave tiš bešenas pre jekh than. But vlachika Roma avle avka sar aver Roma pal e Slovensko pal o dujto baro mariben pro Čechi la mašinaha, na pro verdan le grajenca. Pre Slovensko, khatar pro Čechi o Vlachi avle, imar maškar o duj maribena tiš bešenas pre jekh than. Varesave zabešle imar, sar has jepaš deštheeňato šelberš. Sar has o mariben, ta varesave Romenge andro gava čhide tele o khera, vaš oda pal o mariben rodenas aver than, džanas het u rodenas nevo dživipen, nekhbuter džanas pro Čechi. O František Stojka (1939, okres Topoľčany) hino khatar e fameľija, savi andro mariben sa našaďa: „Pal o mariben, oda has pharo. Savoro amenge has rozpejlo. O khera rozmarde, e buťi na has, na ačhiľa amenge ňič. O Ňemci amenge tel o mariben ile amare grajen, o verdana, somnakaj the o somnakune love – o dukata, so has la da. O dad delas o love pre sera but ďivesa, kim amenge šaj cinďam avre grajes, no jon leske ole gres andro berša, so avle, ile. Agorutnes leske ile, sar dine avri oda ľil/zakonos.“

Paru manuša, so phirenas jekhetanes le verdanenanca the le grajenca, na has pre dzeka le manušenge andro lokaliti (gava abo fora) the tiš le manušenge andre poľitika. Andro archivos hin o ľila, save avenas „telal“ pro Ministerstvo vnitra te keren vareso kajse manušenca, save phiren than thanestar. Andro reporti /hlášení (tiš andro novinki, žurnála) o manuša khatar o amti pal o Roma, so phirenas le verdanenca, phenen: „hin angluno vareso oleha te kerel, te hin oleske imar o agor. Kajse manuša pen ľikeren jekhetanes the aver manuša lendar daran“ (reportos le manušendar, save kerenas pre KNV Praha). O Krajský Národní výbor Plzňate imar andro berš 1952 iľa savoro andre pengere vasta u phenďa, te o vibori pro gava, o fori musaj kajse manušen te thoven te bešel pre jekh than „Šaj len mukhen te bešel andre lengere verdena bijal o kereki. (...) O verdana pen thovena pro kaštune kotora pre ajso than, te hin oda pašes kaj o" Cikáni " phirena andre buťi. O verdana lenge kampel te lel the te bikenel.“

Sar kerde o zakonos/rajarengero ľil, the sar oda paľis has

The te o Ministerstvo vnitra mek andro berš 1952 phenďa, hoj o Plzňakero KNV oda na kerďa mišto, hoj e sedentarizace (bešťipen pro jekh than) has igen zoraľi –the džalas mujal le manušengere čačipena, bo phenďa, kaj „oda amare zakoni na domuken“ andre lokalna thana oda kerenas dureder andre cale pandžvardešte berša. O Berci Stojka 1949, akana dživel andro Louny, pal kada časos/vrama leperel: “Pal o mariben has bari bibacht. Phirahas le verdaneha pal o Čechi the kaj avľam, tradenas amen o gadže het. Sar amen dikhle, takoj chudle te vičinel: ‚Čhinde, Cikáni, pratinen tumen! Het! Mek jekhvar pre tumende bičhavaha le Hitleris!‘. Kaj avľam tradenas amen het. Phenennas amenge: ‚Cikáni, pratinen tumen adari džan het. ‘“

Le manušenge, save phirenas le verdanenca, lenas le grajen, abo len ispidenas jekhe okresistar andro aver, jekhe koterestar andre aver. Varekana len thovenas andre mašina the phirenas lenca pal calo Československo, sar keraďa gruľaha, savi ňiko na kamelas. E sedantarizacija, te džal pal o Roma, kerďa o zakonos N.74 andro berš 1958 u o zakonos phenelas hoj o manuša na troman te phirel than thanestar.

Andro zakonos na has irimen pal o Roma, no sakoneske avľa pre goďi, soske has kerdo. Te duminas, hoj paľis imar o Vlachi le verdanenca na phirenas, nane oda čačipen. Le zakonoha has marde na ča o Vlachi, save has vaj deš percenta savore Romendar andre Československo, o zakonos the paľis o „soupis“ – o ľil, kaj sas o manuša irinde, zorales marelas the ajse Romen, so bešenas imar čirla pro jekh than. Pre ajse Roma o manuša khatar o amti, save le Romen thovenas andro kategoriji, dikhenas kavka, te phenaha avka sar das duma andre ala ďivesa, sar pro „na-adaptabilna“ džene. O zakonos kampelas le romenge te „del o vast“, sar rodena o bešťipen, e buťi the paľis šaj lendar ačhon “manuša lačhe buťakere dživipneha“. Te oda na kerdehas, ta len šaj phandenas andre bertena pro šov čhon, abo pro trin berš.

Pro agor andro februaris 1959 has kerdo andre Československo sar phenenas o soupis, u akorestar imar o Roma čačes kample te bešel pre jekh than, avka, sar has irimen andro zakonos N.74/1958. O Štefan Stojka (1940), so hin Ostravatar, pal o soupis phenel: „Paľis avľa o berš 1959, oda has oda soupis. Avle o šingune the terďile pašal amende. Ile amenge le grajen the o verdana. ‚Na troman te phirel than thanestar! Kampel tumenge te avel pre jekh than! ‘, phende the kerde o soupis. Paľis imar ňikhaj našťi džahas, kampľa amenge te ačhol pre jekh than. Pre oda than amen dine e buťi u te amen rakhle andre aver okresis, phenenas pre amende avri le šingunenge. Ile amenge le grajen, o verdana the amen imar na kamahas ňikhaj te phirel, darahas. Sem amen phandlehas. Sakoneske oda has irimen andre občanka. Hin tumen o soupis, sar oda, hoj phiren upre tele? Me džav andre buťi! - Ta, džan pale, bo tumen phandaha andre bertena!“

E manušňi savi tiš kada leperel, e Mária Lakatošová (1951), phenel pal o soupis, pal oda, sar kampelas te bešel pre jekh than: „Ande amen kadaj andro Pečky the thode amen pro jekh than pro agor andro foros. Tradahas akor le verdanenca kadaj pašes. Ile amenge le grajen the bičhade len pro jatki. Ajse lačhe graja! Na dine amen vaše mek ča koruna. Thode amen te bešel andro purane vagoni. Vareko mek bešelas andre peskeri maringotka, abo andro verdan. Leperav, hoj amen ande o šingune. Le šingunenca avle the o manuša pal e socijalka the savoren irinde ke peste. Irinenas, keci hin o phure, o terne, o džuvľija the o murša, o čhavore, savoro ekstra. Sakones odoj, kaj kampelas. Keci les has čhavore. Ta kada vičinenas soupis.“

O soupis the oda, či o manuša čačes hine andro than, kaj lenge hin irimen o trvalý pobyt, na has andre savore lokaliti jekh. Pro Čechi the pre Morava les zorales ľikerenas, aľe andre varesave thana pre Slovensko, kaj o Roma phirenas/tradenas pal e buťi, o amta avka zorales o zakonos na ľikerenas. Buter Vlachi, so bešenas pre Slovensko, phenen, hoj o „soupis“ andro berš 1959 na leperen, abo hoj na has ajso zoralo. „He, ile amenge le grajen, no o dad peske cinďa pale le grajen. The pale phirelas le grajenca. Mek me leperav, sar phirahas le verdaneha the sovahas avri paš o veš. Le dades has o graja mek andro eftavardešta berša.Varesave Romen hin o graja mek akana, bo len kamen,“ leperel e Tuta Lakatoš khatar o Velké Lovce (1956).

Le verdanenca phirenas pal o gava romane vlachika fameľiji pre Slovensko mek but berša pal o soupis, bo len has o ľila, hoj keren tel o sběrné podniky, abo aver kajsi legalno buťi. Akor imar savore Vlachi bešenas pre jekh than u kajsi buťi kerenas ča varekana. „Amen has furt o graja the o verdan, o papus les phandelas ľinaje the tradahas calo fameľija pro jarmarki the o puťi. Me kavka paľis phiravas mire čhaha the la romňaha,“ leperel o Tibor Bihári khatar o Tvrdošovce (1961), bo leskero papus varekana kerlas le šlajfiris the andre kada than ačhiľa te bešel.

O zakonos numeros 74/1958 phenelas, hoj le manušen šaj thoven andre bertena dži andro berš 1990 the andro trestní řád has dži andro berš 1998. O zakonos mujal o manuša, save phirenas than thanester, marďa but romane fameľiji, anglunes le manušen, so phirenas pal e buťi the but šel fameľiji sar phenas světský the mek avre manušen, save kerenas o buťa, paš save kampelas te phirel than thanestar.

First published in Romano voďi magazine. 

Renata Berkyová, Markéta Hajská, translated into English from the Czech by Gwendolyn Albert
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