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Roma News December 2020

Here are some stories regarding Roma human rights from the Czech Republic from late November and December. All the stories are taken from romea.cz/en

ROMEA gives 94 Romani students at Czech colleges and high schools scholarships, program is in its fifth year

Romea.cz/en reported that at the close of October and beginning of November the ROMEA organization had disbursed 94 scholarships to Romani students attending Czech higher vocational schools, high schools, and for the first time, universities. It was noted that the students were, in “diverse fields of study all over the Czech Republic and do well academically, but their socioeconomic situations are such that they risk being unable to complete secondary school or university - or even to begin such study.”

It was further reported that the first half of the scholarship had just been sent to the 94 new beneficiaries, who would receive the second half after submitting their mid-semester report cards or transcripts in March 2021.

 

Romani Kickboxers do well in Wako K-1 Grand prix 2020

Romea.cz/en informed us that Václav Sivák (21), a Romani kickboxer from the Czech Republic, had given his rival no chance during the finals of the WAKO K-1 WORLD GRAND PRIX 2020 and had indeed defeated him with a fast, hard knockout. The event on Saturday night 28th November had featured another Romani competitor as well, Douglas Daňo, who had won in the weight category of up to 63.5 kilograms.

 

Czech millionaire goes undercover as part of new reality show, volunteers at Romani boxing club, then surprises them with a donation

Romea.cz/en reported that the commercial Prima television channel in the Czech Republic had launched a new reality show based on a formula that had found millions of viewers elsewhere in the world. In "The Millionaire Among Us", seven millionaires agreed to enter social situations that are far removed from their everyday lives from one day to the next and to spend a week there.

It was further reported that, “under assumed identities, the millionaires find themselves on the outskirts of society, not just in problematic localities, but also visiting organizations that concentrate on aiding the needy in seven Czech towns. Thanks to the project associated with the show, the public will also be able to get involved in providing such assistance.”  

Readers were told that during their week-long missions, the millionaires would hear hard stories from people's lives, encountering not just drudgery and suffering, but also people's determination to live and enjoy life despite the adversity of fate. The first Czech millionaire to leave his firm for a week had been the owner of the country's biggest amusement park, Jiří Antoš.   

 

In the first episode, Antoš had gone to Ostrava to work as a volunteer in the Mens Sana nonprofit organization, where he got to know the family of a man who suffered a workplace injury resulting in brain damage for life. He had also got involved in activities in the Bedřiška neighborhood and volunteered at the Boxing King Klub, which is a Romani-run club full of talented boxers that Antoš said was his most intense experience.

 

European Committee of Social Rights: Czech Republic overinstitutionalizes Romani children and children living with disabilities

 

It was reported by Romea.cz/en that the Council of Europe's Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) had criticized the Czech Republic for its "discriminatory and extensive" placement of children living with disabilities and Romani children into residential nursery institutions or centres designed for very young children. According to Anna Hofschneiderová of the NGO Forum for Human Rights (Fórum pro lidská práva), this problem affected hundreds of children age three and younger who predominantly come from impoverished families.  

The Committee's press release read as follows: "The Committee is criticizing the Czech Republic for having failed to adopt and incorporate into its regulations a corresponding... strategy". According to the Committee, the Czech Republic was violating the rights of children, above all those three years of age and younger who were either living with disabilities or who are Romani, rights guaranteed by the European Social Charter of 1961. 

It was further noted that the conclusions of the Committee were the consequence of a three-year-long investigation instigated by three NGOs. The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), the Forum for Human Rights (based in Prague) and the Validity Foundation (formerly the Mental Disability Advocacy Centre), jointly filed a collective complaint three years ago and had provided evidence proving children's rights are being violated.   

 

COMMENTARY: Czech TV show portrays Roma as nothing but criminals

A commentary piece on Romea.cz/en noted that a Czech tv show "Krimi zprávy"  was portraying Romani people as nothing but criminals.

The commentator claimed that, “the tragedy is that the people appearing on the program are actually police officers, either currently on duty or retired, or maybe they are members of municipal patrols - which is why I understand the screenwriters even less, who have turned the program's reconstructions of police interventions into a mixture of comedy and embarrassment. Nevertheless, this awkwardness is all based on situations in which viewers can find all the "proof" they need to shore up their convictions that Romani people are all thieves, screaming lowlifes, thugs and abductors of children.”  

It was further noted that the stereotypes on the programme came at you from all sides and the gadje [non-Roma] consumer of them would chuckle with glee, because he had known this long ago, it was just being confirmed for him now.

 

 

Despite COVID-19 state of emergency, landlord summarily evicts five Romani families in Czech town

Romea.cz/en reported that five Romani families living on Kovářská Street in the Czech town of Varnsdorf had recently been evicted. The town hall was attempting to provide aid to four of the families by offering them temporary accommodation in the TGM residential hotel, which it owned and managed, a facility considered the worst in the country. 

The fifth family, whose members work for the town's groundskeeping services, had been promised the opportunity to rent a different apartment, according to information communicated to news server Romea.cz. Mayor Roland Solloch also confirmed that to the news server on 30 November.

It was further reported that Romani tenants in the Hotel Sport and TGM residential hotels were then moved to Kovářská Street and soon afterward, the town had declared Kovářská Street a zone where new residents would not qualify for state housing benefits, and the then-owners began getting rid of most of their units.  

Several dozen units were bought from the previous owners by the town of Varnsdorf itself, which has a concrete plan for the street. It was reported that currently the town owned more than 40 units of the approximately 200 there. 

 

Commentary: Czech Social Democrats sink to the level of ultra-nationalists with proposal to cut funding to NGOs working with minorities

It was argued in a commentary piece on romea.cz, that the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) was continuing its “free-fall further and further in the direction of the extreme right.”  It was claimed that after the departure of the pro-Putin, xenophobic MP Jaroslav Foldyna from the party, it had seemed the Social Democrats might be returning to their normal positions, but instead their lack of values was leading them further into the depths of racism and xenophobia. 

It was argued that, “currently the ČSSD has baldly joined the ranks of Czech MP Tomio Okamura ("Freedom and Direct Democracy - SPD"), who has been doing this kind of politics for a long time. At first the Social Democrats refused to support the Government's draft budget, but changed their mind to say they would agree to it on one condition - and then exploited the populist shouting about ending financing for those nonprofit organizations that they claim are currently unnecessary.”    

It was further claimed that during the negotiations on the budget in the Chamber of Deputies, the ČSSD was now echoing Okamura's SPD, saying it wanted to take money away from all nonprofit organizations that were a) not involved with sports and b) not aiding victims of the novel coronavirus pandemic, apparently believing these criteria would cut funding to the organizations assisting different minority groups or advocating for their interests.

It was also argued that Nonprofit oragnisations, whose experts expressed opposition to politicians would also be deprived of funding.

 

Commentary: Senator infamous for antigypsyist remarks about the "cikánská question" joins regional party in the Czech Republic

Romea.cz reported that the "Mayors for the Liberec Region" (Starostové pro Liberecký kraj - SLK) political party had recently accepted Jaroslav Zeman as a member, a man who is an antigypsyist as well as an entrepreneur, as mayor and senator. The party had bragged about their new acquisition on their website, where they had written practically everything there was to know about him except the fact that he has been pushing anti-Romani stereotypes for many years.

It was further reported that despite his new membership in the SLK, Zeman was still caucusing with the ODS in the Senate and his campaign slogan had been "Whoever isn't working shouldn't be eating". 

 

Czech Republic: Further action needed to integrate Roma children in schools and prevent discrimination against LGBTI persons

Romea.cz noted that in a report on the Czech Republic published on 8th December, the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) called on the authorities, as a matter of priority, to ensure that all forms of segregation of Roma children by schools in the country be ended, and to execute a national strategy to identify areas in which LGBTI persons are discriminated against. 

Romea.cz noted that the, “ECRI welcomes a number of positive developments, such as the continued work of the Public Defender of Rights in promoting equality and combatting racism. It praises the conversion of the site of the former concentration camp for Roma at Lety into a documentation and information centre on the Roma genocide during World War II”.

It was further reported that the report also highlighted promising practices in the field of inclusive education – such as those in the Trmice primary school near Ústí nad Labem - and in supporting municipalities to improve the situation of socially excluded localities, often inhabited by Roma. However, it was additionally noted that the report also identified shortcomings in several areas.

 

Two more volunteer civil society members of Czech Govt Roma Council resign, civil vice chair post currently empty

Romea.cz reported that the Czech Government Council for Romani Minority Affairs had recently undergone further personnel changes among its volunteer civil society members. It was noted that Jan Husák had stepped down as vice-chair, while Edita Stejskalová and Petr Torák had resigned altogether.   

It was further reported that the Czech Government Council on Romani Minority Affairs had experienced many personnel changes on the civil society side during the last year and a half. Nine civil society members in total had left during that time. 

 

Edita Stejskalová on resigning as a volunteer civil society member of the Czech Govt Roma Council: We should advise ministers, not lower-level officials

Romea.cz reported on the following statement by Edita Stejskalova on her resignation from the Czech Government Council for Roma Minority Affairs:

“After five years of work on the Council I am reviewing what I have done there, and my conclusion is that I have done an honest job. I believe I have been constructive and to the point.   

There are many things I have done well in this role. Five years ago, for example, I raised the subject of racially-motivated bullying in the schools.

That issue was then taken up by the Chamber of Deputies' Committee for Science, Culture, Education, Youth and Sport as a crucial subject. I communicated that racial discrimination or racial hatred in schools, whether committed by children or teachers, is actually very stressful and influences the educational careers and success of Romani children.  

That this is so was confirmed by field research I had conducted in 2008 through the Zvůle práva organization, and I used that data in my arguments and received a positive response both from the Education Ministry and from the Committee for Education, which developed the subject further. A methodological handbook was then published for teachers featuring terms such as "ethnic intolerance" or "racial hatred" and describing what that looks like in the schools. 

I was very glad about that result. The subject was also discussed by the National Institute for Education, which I considered quite important. 

I appealed to the Czech School Inspectorate to investigate this phenomenon and to research it directly in the schools. That was my first contribution as part of my work on the Council. 

In February 2019 I assessed the Roma Integration Strategy that has been in effect through 2020, including the tasks the Governments were obligated to fulfill, according to the resolution, within the framework of integration policies. I came to the unequivocal conclusion that the Strategy is not effective and must be revised, along with the tasks the ministries set themselves with respect to integrating Romani people. 

The current tasks are rather soft and no significant progress has been made. This brings us to what is crucial, the creation of the Committee for Fulfilling the Roma Integration Strategy, which is basically a Committee that is meant to follow all strategic documents from a broader perspective that are adopted by the Czech Republic, or its Government. 

I drew attention to the fact that within the ministries themselves, these strategic documents are not being interconnected, and the issue of social inclusion, or of increasing Romani people's exercise of their civil rights is, on the contrary, being very strongly suppressed as long as the measures proposed for the inclusion or integration of Roma are based in the perspective that if we just resolve social problems, some kind of equality will result. That same old perspective has applied here from 1997 until this very day. 

It is clear that addressing social problems is not enough, and that this must actually be connected to Romani people exercising their civil rights and their national minority rights. This cannot just be addressed from the perspective of Romani people exercising their social rights. 

For example, Romani unemployment remains high, access by Romani children to education on the basis of inclusive measures has changed by just 1.5 % during the last six years after the representation of Romani children in the "special schools" was reduced - and I could continue, for example, with examples from the area of access to housing. Romani people in the Czech Republic have been and still are being concentrated into certain localities and are not being given the room in which to normally function. 

Even those Romani families who, under normal circumstances, would get an opportunity and would function in an absolutely normal way are no longer being given that room. That is why I believe the Committee for Fulfilling the Romani Integration Strategy is one of the most important committees and should monitor not just the adopted measures for the 2021-2030 timeframe, but should use its mechanisms for controlling and evaluating the Strategy itself. 

The Committee should also make recommendations for how to revise and transform the Strategy. Here the crucial question arises as to what the definitive Strategy for the next 10 years will look like and what the tasks for the Government of the Czech Republic and its ministries will look like.

Which proposals will make it through the next interministerial commenting procedure? Whether those measures fulfill their purpose is a second basic question, for me. 

Again, there is currently a very strong accent on the social problem instead of on the human rights problem, which is not exactly fortunate. I personally am in favor of using liberal, very strongly pro-democratic rhetoric in the materials dedicated to the integration of Roma. 

I am an advocate of the European vocabulary that has yet to be mastered here, and not just by the Romani civil society sector, but also by Government bureaucrats. People here will never know how to deal with the phenomenon of antigypsyism, how to explain its causes in their own words, without perceiving the context of the discourse in the rest of Europe. 

Last year I spoke to a ROMEA TV program about the fact that there must be more Romani participation in preparing the new Strategy. The communications strategy adopted for explaining why participation by Romani people should be increased in this process has been one of economic pressure, because the Strategy is a thematic condition for the country to draw on EU funds. 

That approach has proven very effective and was supported both by members of the Council and by the broader Romani nonprofit sector. Romani participation in preparing the Strategy for 2021-2030 has been more visible, compared to the previous degree of Romani participation, and it has been systematic. 

I assess all of this as part of the very good-quality work that I have done for the Council. When I look back on this time a year from now, I will be able to say that I was not just a passive Council member, and that I enjoyed many successes before leaving. 

For example, for the last three years I have also advocated for the creation of the position of a Czech Government Commissioner for Romani Affairs. The creation of that position has been anchored in the new Strategy. 

I am glad that I ultimately managed to negotiate support for this position across the ministries with the aid of Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Helena Válková, and I believe that measure will be fulfilled. Similarly, I have also advocated for the Czech Republic to make use of Article 4, specific aim VIII a), of the agreement on partnership between the Czech Republic and European Union, to combat discrimination of marginalized communities such as Romani people and to support their socioeconomic integration. 

This matter is quite crucial to the design of the tenders announced during the next budget period. If that condition manages to be fulfilled, then that will actually be a significant deed with respect to the Strategy and I will be glad to have contributed to it through my work. 

I have never believed that being a member of an advisory body is a lifelong matter, and I would not be glad if membership were seen that way. I believe that after five years I must structure my time better and realize what is even possible to achieve within the framework of an advisory body. 

I think that as a Council member I have exhausted all the opportunities available and it is necessary that I try different platforms, and one needs more time to do that. My volunteer work on the Council took me at least 20 hours a week to complete. 

I was also briefly employed to work for the Council half-time. I believe I have actually done all I could as a member to advocate for good ideas. 

I also do believe my advocacy has succeeded. At the same time, I also learned many things.

I was able to test the proposition that if you have a plan, a vision, and values, then you can advocate for anything, but currently it is important to also do such advocacy politically. This work is about political commitment. 

We cannot just perceive the Strategy as a formal condition for drawing on EU funds, because those funds will only be here for a limited time. My idea is that an unequivocal political commitment to Roma must exist. 

That political will must be demonstrated by actually fulfilling the measures adopted. The tasks chosen must actually be effective and feasible.

The human rights level must be accented, because Romani people are very limited in their exercise of their civil rights. This does not mean I am alleging there is no room here whatsoever for equal opportunity. 

All of the Czech Government's documents declare that there is equal opportunity. The problem is in how citizens actually access that opportunity.

That is where our paths part ways, and one cannot do much about that as a Council member, or from the position of an advisory body. This problem is quite enormous and persistent, and the powers of the Council, defined by its statutes, are small. 

This can best be seen in how the Government receives the recommendations made by its own Council for Roma Minority Affairs. It is really no longer possible to keep holding these negotiations at the level of mere discussions between the bureaucrats working for the Office of the Council and the volunteer civil society members of the Council, the negotiations must be elevated to the level of the ministers who have executive power. 

The ministers are the ones who say what the Government will and will not implement. The problem is that the Strategy places too little of an accent on the Government's and the Prime Minister's political commitments. 

In my opinion, these commitments cannot just be about measures financed from the EU Structural Funds, which are limited in time. Today the Czech Republic is economically well off, we are among the wealthier states in the European Union, and the allocations of EU funding within the framework of some of the operational programmes here will be reflecting that, such as the allocations to Operational Programme Employment or the Jan Amos Comenius Operational Programme of the Education Ministry.

We must aim for Roma integration policy to be financed from the state's own budget and for it to be a priority embodied by the Government's program declaration. If we achieve that, it will be a success. 

Combating antigypsyism must be at the center, supporting the emancipation of Romani people, supporting Roma with espousing their nationality. If the way in which politicians communicate the problem of discrimination or segregation never changes, then not much will be achieved. 

It is necessary to ensure institutionally the way in which the Strategy will be fulfilled. I have done all that I could for those three points, my work was done well, and I have concrete results to show for it. 

I actually undertook a strategy that was rational, to the point, and constructive. My strategy has proven effective, and I will be glad if that way of thinking were to remain part of the Council even after I am no longer there.

I have not yet officially given notice of my resignation. I plan to submit my proposal for the next civil vice-chair of the Council, and then I will officially resign.”

 

 

Czech Govt Human Rights Commissioner expects new Roma strategy to be adopted by the end of January

It was reported on 9th December by Romea.cz that the Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Helena Válková would be sending a working version of the country's Roma strategy for 2021-2030 to Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš to sign the following day, and if he did, the material would be submitted to the interministerial commenting process and the Government should approve it at the end of January. Válková had announced the news in an interview for ROMEA TV. 

It was further reported that several volunteer civil society members of the Czech Government Council for Roma Minority Affairs, nonprofit organizations, and representatives of various ministries had been working since June on the new strategy for the next 10 years; it is comprised of an analytical part accompanied by logistical frameworks describing the specific tasks for each ministry. The measures and tasks described there concern, for example, the areas of combating antigypsyism, education, emancipation of Romani people, employment, health care, housing, and the implementation of the Strategy itself.

 

Czech/Romani NGO tells Public Defender of Rights his remarks on Human Rights Day are a disgrace

Romea.cz reported that the organisation Vzájemné soužití (Life Together), led by Kumar Vishwanathan, had published an open letter to the Czech Public Defender of Rights (the ombudsman), Stanislav Křeček, indirectly calling for his resignation. The letter was a reaction to remarks the ombudsman posted to social media on Human Rights Day and included the following section:    

"The rhetoric you espouse gives us the impression of the complex of being a well-to-do, white, heterosexual man of a respectable age who lives inside a lair of certainties created by the majority society and who does not show the slightest generosity of spirit when it comes to looking beyond the borders of that lair at the people whom you will never consider part of 'us'..." and stated elsewhere that "We believe you will get the support you seek on Facebook and other social media platforms, but human rights are not based on Facebook 'likes', human rights are a given. If the honourable gentleman does not comprehend these matters then he should not remain in an office that is based on understanding that fact."  

 

Romani kickboxer becomes Czech champion in classical boxing as well, will the big promoters notice?

Romea.cz reported that the Romani kickboxer Václav Sivák had won the title of champion in the national classical boxing championship in the Czech Republic. After the 21-year-old had scored an international success in the finals of the WAKO K-1 WORLD GRAND PRIX 2020, he had won yet another title on the domestic boxing scene

 

In the V-4, COVID-19 pandemic exploited for ultra-right hoaxes, calls for authoritarianism

Romea.cz reported that during the first wave of the novel coronavirus pandemic this year, attacks on the European Union and the West had been the main subject of the entire ultra-right scene in Central Europe, including in the Czech Republic. Such radicals, it was said, had made no secret of their admiration for the authoritarian regimes in China and Russia when spreading their propaganda. 

It was argued that the critique of the EU had resonated, for example, in the Czech Republic among the followers of the "Freedom and Direct Democracy" (SPD) party, while in Hungary, traditional invective against migrants in the context of the pandemic had found an audience and unfounded, conspiratorial concerns about vaccines predominated in Poland. The EU had been described by right-wing radicals as an incompetent, weak organization incapable of providing aid to its Member States.  

It was further reported that, “the conclusions of a research project into the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on far-right propaganda efforts in the V4 reveal that favourite theses among the ultra-right included declaring that the West and the era of its alleged hegemony is over and that democratic systems are coming to an end. The role of nation-states has also been emphasized.”  

It was noted that along with invective against the EU, eastern powers such as China and Russia had been highlighted as having allegedly managed to cope with the pandemic, according to the ultra-right scene. The aid that both countries had delivered to Europe has been celebrated and their authoritarian regimes had been praised as effective in combating the pandemic.   

 

Romani politicians: Slovak court's judgment in case of police abuse of children is unacceptable

Romea.cz/en reported that many saw a Slovak court’s judgement in a case of police abuse of children was unacceptable as follows: “It's unacceptable, we all know what the truth is, we will not stand for this - those were the reactions from politicians of Romani origin in Slovakia after the media reported last week that a court handed down a scandalous decision in a case of police officers torturing Romani children. On 10 December 2020 the Regional Court in Košice announced in open court that it had rejected the prosecutor's appeal of the latest acquittal decision from the District Court Košice II on 4 December 2019 in the case of the abuse of six Romani boys residing at the Luník IX housing estate”. 

It was also reported that MEP Peter Pollák of Slovakia, who is also of Romani origin, shared the opinion of the domestic politicians who had responded to the decision. "We all saw what the truth is, we cannot close our eyes to justice," he said.

 

Czech Health Ministry to refute disinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic next year

On 15th December, Romea.cz.en reported that the Czech Health Ministry had recently announced it was planning to regularly inform the public about the most frequent forms of disinformation being disseminated about the novel coronavirus pandemic. Czech Health Minister Jan Blatný (for ANO) had announced the new move at a press conference held after an extraordinary cabinet session. 

It was further notes that a comprehensive communications campaign explaining the Government's to prevent the novel coronavirus from spreading would not begin until 2021 because the tender process would not be done before year-end. It was said that the Government had approved CZK 50 million [EUR 1.9 million] at the close of October for the campaign

 

 

Bulgarian COVID-19 pandemic measures have closed Romani neighbourhoods, causing job losses and food shortages

In mid-December, Romea.cz reported that News server Politico had reported that Bulgaria's measures against the novel coronavirus pandemic were imposing enormous obstacles on many Romani people in particular because the closure of Romani settlements, cutting their residents off from employment opportunities, had frequently devastated their, finances and had made it harder for them to procure food.  It was also said that even before the pandemic, many Romani families in such settlements had already been living on the edge of poverty. During the lockdown their situations had deteriorated and many had had to limit all aspects of their daily lives. 

It was noted that Politico had given the example of Romani community member Krasimira Alexandrova, who lives on the outskirts of Sofia in the Fakulteta quarter and is a caregiver for her grandson, who is autistic.   It was reported on Politico that, "when Alexandrova took him for a routine psychological assessment in early March, before the coronavirus lockdown, the doctor claimed she and her son — Krasimir’s father... had been faking the child’s disability and downgraded his assessment of the severity of his disorder, cutting off access to funding". 

As a result, Alexandrova's pay from her job as a cleaning woman in the capital was her only reliable income and several weeks later, a colleague of hers had tested positive for COVID-19 and Alexandrova's employer had then laid off the entire staff. 

It was further reported that the authorities had then begun gradually closing Bulgaria's Romani neighbourhoods and settlements off from the outside world. For example, the Fakulteta neighbourhood had been in total lockdown and its residents forbidden to leave, with military police standing guard at every route leading out of the quarter.

 

German Government Commissioner on Antisemitism: COVID-19 denial now a pretext for Holocaust revisionism

Also in mid-December, Romea.cz reported that Antisemitic sentiment was intensifying in German society because of the COVID-19 pandemic and demonstrations against compulsory quarantine measures had become fertile ground for it, according to a recent press conference in Berlin given by the German Government's Commissioner on Combating Antisemitism, Felix Klein, who had said advocating conspiracy theories and denying the existence of the novel coronavirus had become another way to engage in Holocaust revisionism. "A central motif of those who hold antisemitic attitudes always has been to call themselves persecuted victims, and it still is," he said.

Romea.cz also noted that, “this motif, in the Commissioner's view, is the main pillar around which the current demonstrations against quarantine measures are currently revolving. "These demonstrations are being exploited by radicals from the 'Reich citizens' subculture [those who refuse to recognize the existence of the Federal Republic of Germany] and the ultra-right for use as their own forum," Klein said.”

 

Older Romani woman recounts how security guards in Czech shop saved her from violent racist thug

It was reported by Romea.cz that in the magazine Romani vod’i, an older Romani woman had recounted how security guards in Czech shop saved her from violent racist thug.  The Roma lady ahd  said this:

“Just about anybody who is Romani has experienced it in the Czech Republic from time to time. You walk into a shop and the salespeople follow your every move.

All you have to do is spend a slightly longer amount of time looking at the items on display and you are Suspect Number One. God forbid you take clothing into a changing room to try on! 

For most retailers here, we Roma are not considered shoppers spending our money on what they have to offer, but first and foremost we are considered potential thieves. For that reason we prefer to shop regularly at retailers where the salespeople and the security guards know us.

My family and I live on the main street in town. The apartments here are more expensive, but that's the price of a good address.

We have a cinema, a library, a swimming pool, a bus station, and a big shopping mall with a ground-floor supermarket in our neighborhood. When my daughter and I began shopping there, we were spotted by each security team, but over time nobody suspected us of anything anymore and we felt fine shopping there. 

My daughter and I used to buy something there practically every day, and sometimes we'd chat with the delicatessan saleswoman, sometimes with the cashier. Two Romani women were employed there as saleswomen.

Each time we came in they'd say hello, and sometimes they would even draw our attention to whatever was on sale. One day I began to feel unwell during my shopping trip there.  

At the time I was almost 62 and I had already begun to have health problems. I wanted to get the shopping over with and go home to unwind.

I shuffled my way slowly to the shop, took a small shopping basket, and headed straight to the baked goods section. My head began to spin a bit, so I grabbed onto the counter. 

After a brief moment one of the saleswomen came up to me. "What's wrong with you? Don't you feel well?" she asked with concern. 

"Well... my head was spinning," I managed to say. "It's the air in here," the lady said, and ran to get me some water.

After a couple of sips I felt better and I was on my way to the drugstore section when I realized I hadn't bought any pastry yet. I turned around and standing in my way was an enormous guy with a shaved head, a long beard, a bloated figure and a face so red it looked like he had fallen asleep under the full sun.   

"Well, well, you're not going to get one over on me...," he menacingly thundered while towering over me. I just stared at him.

Why was he speaking to me like that, for God's sake? I thought about it and I didn't want to give in to him. 

"Well who do you think you are, get out of my way," I said and tried to get around him. He had a shopping cart in front of him and he slammed it into me with such force that I fell against the shelves behind me. 

"Ow! Have you lost your mind?" I shouted.

The man laughed at me and took off into the next aisle. I was trembling all over like an aspen, but I collected myself.  

There was nobody around to stand up for me. Back at the baked goods section tears blurted out of my eyes.

What was wrong with me? I must be getting old, because a couple of years ago I'd have used my purse to hit the guy on the head. 

The saleswoman who had brought me water before came over again to ask "What's wrong?" I swallowed a gasp and told her what had just happened to me. 

Her eyes widened and she went to inform the security guards. I joined the checkout line. 

"Hey this cigna is stealing from my cart!" I heard behind me, and I understood, as he made his way to the basket in front of me, that my harasser was back. "Leave me alone! If my husband were here you wouldn't pretend to be such a big guy," I said angrily. 

"What do you think, you black thieving mug? My taxes pay for your living, so I can say what I want to you, you stinking cigoška," he shouted at me, hatred flashing from his eyes. 

"Leave that lady alone right now!" one of the saleswomen called out. "What do you think you're doing?" she continued and approached him.

I began to seriously fear for the saleswoman's safety. "This is a cigoška! I'll slap her right here if I want to!" he said, raising his hand. 

I was so overwhelmed I couldn't defend myself. That's when it happened.

His swinging right hand was stopped by another, smaller hand. A young man twisted my harasser's arm behind his back and forced him to his knees. 

"You won't do anything to our customers! You're never coming back here!" my rescuer shouted into the man's face.

Other guys from security ran up and pushed my harasser to the ground. I was so out of it that I didn't even realize at the time that the other people standing in line were beginning to applaud them.

The bearded guy was taken away by the police who had been called, and I finally could breathe again. I still couldn't comprehend what had just happened to me. 

The young man from the security team snapped me out of my reverie. "I saw it on the security camera, when he ran into you with the cart. I ran down, but I lost him among the shelves," he said to me in the tone one would use with one's own grandmother or mother. 

"Thank you so much for standing up for me," I said in a shaking voice, and I was genuinely grateful to him. "Any normal person would," he answered. 

"Come, I'll walk you home. I told my boss I'd need a 10-minute break," he said with a smile, and offered me his arm in a gentlemanly way.  

He walked me to the entrance of my building and I realized that what I'd just experienced would haunt me a while longer. On the other hand, I'd just met a good person who was not afraid to stand up for somebody who is weaker”.  

 

 

Slovak MP of Romani origin Peter Pollák, Jr.: COVID-19 isn't racist

Romea.cz reported that Peter Pollák had been talking in blog.sme.sk

about the Covid-18 virus saying, “during the nationwide testing here in the spring, the Internet exaggerated things too much, and one of the news items that caught my attention claimed that "Romani settlements are hatcheries for spreading COVID". From the comments posted in response to that article I had the feeling that people (and various trolls) share posts of this kind, featuring horrifying hatred, with a kind of smirk on their faces”.

The data, the numbers, and the statistics from the testing have confirmed that Romani communities are similar to other parts of towns and villages when it comes to the pandemic and that Romani men and women have been just as disciplined and responsible as the majority population during this time. People's inability to fact-check and their tendency to believe conspiracies just spreads hatred in society. 

It has been confirmed that it is a good idea to verify information and to improve our media literacy. It has also been confirmed that COVID is not racist!”

 

Racists in Czech capital assault non-white family, call the father "Cikán", give the Nazi salute, try to take their baby

On 17th December, it was reported by Romea.ca that a racist attack on a family with an infant in a pram had taken place in the late night hours of 13 December and early morning hours of 14 December on a bus in Prague heading from the I. P. Pavlova station to the Háje station.  It was reported that when two men aged 46 and 47 were said to have spotted the dark-skinned family with an infant in a pram, the assailants were said to have shouted racist slogans at the family, to have raised their right arms in the Nazi salute, to have made threats and to have even attempted to harm the baby.

It was further reported that a press release by the Prague Municipal Police on the incident had stated that, "at 12:30 AM, shouting and the sound of huge blows coming from the Brechtova bus stop drew the attention of a beat patrol monitoring the final metro stop, Háje. Two men exited a bus with their right arms extended shouting 'Sieg Heil', a typical Nazi greeting."

"The bus driver said the men had got on just before midnight at I. P. Pavlova and rode the bus to the final stop," the police press release relates. "During the journey they concentrated on a family, a man and woman of swarthy complexion with a baby in a pram."

"The men verbally insulted the baby's parents and attempted to remove the child from the pram," states the press release. "When the father opposed that, both men threatened him with physical harm."

"At the same time the men were repeatedly giving the Nazi salute," the police press release describes the incident. According to reporting by news server Romea.cz, the assailants insulted the father in racist terms, shouting at him: "Cikán, do you want a punch in the face?" 

Romea.cz also noted that, “according to the bus driver, the men exited at the final stop and continued on their way with their right arms raised, shouting "Sieg Heil". At least five eyewitnesses followed the entire incident on the bus and confirmed the attackers' racist behaviour”. 

 

EU Commissioner for Values: EU money is meant to help the Roma too, data collection is important so we aren't flying blind

Romea.cz reported that the European Union would be financially supporting the fight against socially excluded localities during the next budget period, and that one target group for that financing was meant to be Romani people.   It was claimed that the EU wanted to support their economic and social integration. 

Romea.cz noted that, “European Commissioner for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová has delivered that message in an interview for ROMEA TV. "We want to continue financing projects, but in the past that aid did not always make its way to the places where it is needed. Impoverished people live in areas where they have less of a chance of applying themseves on the labor market, the children living in such areas have limited opportunities, from the very beginning of their lives, to get a good-quality job when they grow up and to enjoy a better quality of life. For that reason, we want this financing to target the places that need it," she said in an interview with journalist and Romani community member Richard Samko.”    

It was also noted that a European Social Fund document even expressly mentioned Romani people, but that this financial aid was not exclusively intended just for them. It was argued that, “just as under the previous European Commission, strategies for such investment, impoverished people will be targeted generally during the next budget period”.  

Romani people are given as an example of a group endangered by poverty toward whom the aid is meant to be targeted.  The Commissioner had said that, "this is meant to assist people endangered by social exclusion, such as Romani people. We have never said, and we are not saying now, that this money is meant to be exclusively aimed at Romani people. We are especially concerned about the children whom we would like to see enjoy a better quality of life than their parents have experienced, and we want to help achieve that with this money. Romani people have been named as one of the groups who should be supported.”

 

Is Czech compensation for forced sterilizations in sight?

Romea.cz reported that women who had been sterilized without their informed choice and consent, many of them Romani, had been fighting since 2005 for the Czech state to compensate them and that this year had seen them come closer to that goal than ever before.

It was noted that, “a bill currently exists in the lower house that would institute a procedure through which to make such claims for compensation. It has been waiting for a first reading for more than a year, and to remind lawmakers of its importance, the small coalition of volunteers who have been advocating for its adoption recently organized an open letter and petition that garnered a great deal of support, especially from those who care about how human rights are upheld here in the Czech Republic. The Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe contacted the Czech legislature to reiterate support for these women being compensated as well. By the time this commentary is published we will know whether that effort has succeeded or experienced yet another setback.”

It was also noted that the women themselves had been a crucial part of this advocacy, demonstrating in September outside of a hospital in Ostrava, presenting the petition to Czech MP Helena Válková (ANO) in Prague, and later visiting Czech Finance Minister Alena Schillerová (ANO) to explain their situations to her and asking for her support, which they had received. It was also said that they had also been sending letters to various lawmakers and to the Prime Minister seeking his support as well, to which they had received positive responses.

Romea.cz went on to say that, “the fact is that most of the victims of these human rights abuses fall into the category of those older people who are most at risk during these unprecedented times, which makes it all the more imperative that the bill be passed as soon as possible, before any more victims pass away without ever getting justice. Even if this law were to pass in record time, it will also take time to institute the procedure itself.

More disturbingly, some of the women involved in seeking compensation for having been sterilized without their informed choice and consent in the past have recently reported to us that they have heard of even more recent instances of forced sterilization among members of their extended families. If those alleging such treatment manage to secure legal representation and sue before the statute of limitations elapses in their cases (three years) we may yet see this issue ruled on again by the Czech courts. The bigger question, of course, is whether this serious human rights abuse has once again been committed and if so, what is the medical profession going to do about that?

Those who are interested in the history of how such human rights abuses came to be committed throughout the former Czechoslovakia and present-day Czech Republic and Slovakia can look forward to a special edition of Romano džaniben dedicated to this issue, slated to be released by the end of this strangest of years. In the meantime, it is very important that we continue to press for redress for all the victims as a matter of priority. When a wrong is committed, there must be clear acknowledgment of that wrong and redress for it must be made. That is the most important part of the justice these women are seeking.”

 

Czech ultra-right oppose vaccinations against COVID-19 with antisemitic caricature

Romea.cz reported that the news server Forum24.cz had reported that the youth organization of the ultra-right Workers Social Justice Party (DSSS) had tweeted an antisemitic caricature as part of its effort to deter people from undergoing vaccination against COVID-19. "We will not allow ourselves to be vaccinated against COVID-19! Those globalizing bastards can blackmail us all they like!" the group had tweeted along with an image that is unequivocally an anti-Jewish caricature.  

It was further noted that the group has previously released posters exploiting graphic design elements of Nazi propaganda and that other promotional items for the group featured a blonde girl with braids reminiscent of the blonde girls in Nazi propaganda posters.  It was said that, “the "Workers Youth" (DM) is a society of people between the ages of 15 and 35 who are sympathizers of the DSSS or directly contribute to party activity. The party and the youth organization share the same registered address.”

 

 

Romani kickboxer from Czech Republic keeps winning with "Gitano" on his back and the Romani flag on his shorts

Romea.cz continued to report on the progress of Romani kickboxer Václav Sivák, notring that he had “crushed one rival after another to rack up what are 15 professional victories so far - during the "Night of Warriors" gala evening at Parkhotelu Smržovka on Saturday he defeated Ali-El Saleha of Germany. During the first seconds of the match it was clear he was dominating and Saleha bowed out before the first round even ended after going down for the count twice”.     

It was also noted that the kickboxer from the Czech Republic openly espouses his Romani origin. And during the match on Saturday 19th December, the word "Gitano" could be seen on his back and he had worn both the Czech and Romani flags on his shorts.

 

Scandalous fourth acquittal by Czech court of racist football fans accused of assaulting Black man on tram

On 23rd December Romea.cz reported that the District Court for Prague 10 had ruled the previous day, in a verdict that had yet to take effect, that it was the local municipal department, not the courts, that should, “adjudicate the behaviour of three football fans accused of assaulting a dark-skinned man on a Prague tram because the judge is convinced the prosecutor has not proven who attacked the victim and therefore believes it possible that the three Olomouc football fans can at most be charged with misdemeanours for their behaviour on the tram. The attorney for the injured party has called the court's decision scandalous.” 

It was noted that this was the fourth time the court had been instructed by the supervising appeals venue to review the case. Judge Ivana Hynková had repeatedly acquitted the three young defendants, stating that while the attack did happen, the indictment had not proven by whom. 

 

Czech court gives suspended sentence to adults who assaulted young Romani children physically and verbally in a park last year

Two days before Christmas Day, Romea.cz reported that Petra and Stanislav Pumprla, the married couple from Přerov, Czech Republic who had brutally assaulted a group of Romani children last year in the park of a chateau in Lipník nad Bečvou, had been sentenced on Monday by a court in Přerov to suspended prison sentences of 12 and 14 months, respectively, for having “physically and verbally attacked seven children, some of whom had to be treated in hospital as a consequence. The court ruled that the couple committed felony rioting, battery, and defamation of an ethnic, national, racial or other group.”

It was noted that Stanislav had been given a 14-month sentence with a probationary suspension of three years, while Petra had received a milder, 12-month sentence suspended for two years.

Judge Jan Rektor said the following:

"We have here the testimony of seven children who gave their testimonies promptly; the testimonies corroborate each other and also take account of various secondary details,"

"None of these children are problematic, I myself have never encountered any of them before now as part of my agenda," the judge said during the sentencing.

 

Czech racists hated Vodafone Christmas ad featuring non-white children, the company objects to their online comments

Shortly after Christmas Rome.cz reported that Vodafone was “thoroughly rejecting the comments of hatred and racism that began appearing on Czech social media in response to the company's advertising campaign for Christmas featuring two brothers, Sam and Max Budiman, whose father was Indonesian and whose mother is white”  It was noted that this was a big problem for some Czech social media users.

It was written that General Director of Vodafone Petr Dvořák tweeted the following in a video at the close of November:

"A couple of days ago we launched our Christmas advertisements, and unfortunately they have been met on social media with hateful and vulgar reactions to the family appearing in them,"

"We cast a family who may not be absolutely typical for the campaign, their father is Indonesian, and unfortunately he is no longer alive. However, this is a family who lives here with us [in the Czech Republic],".

"For us as a company, it's terribly important that we bring people together. We do so irrespective of their opinions, skin colour, sexual orientation, sex, or the culture they come from,"

"Let's value respect and love, and let's combat hatred"We thank all those who see things this same way."

 

Romani community members debate the Czech Govt Strategy on Roma for 2021-2030

It was reported by Romea.cz on 27th December that during the last six months intensive work had been underway to draft the Czech Government Strategy on Romani Integration for 2021-2030, which had been drafted by the staff of the Czech Government Council for Romani Minority Affairs in collaboration with nonprofit organizations.

Romea.cz asked the following question: “What did its drafting involve?”

Its own answer as follows: 

“That process was the topic of a discussion held recently between the director of the RomanoNet organization Michal Miko, the director of the Romodrom organization Nikola Taragoš, and two volunteer civil society members of the Czech Government Council for Romani Minority Affairs, Jan Husák and Čeněk Růžička, filmed and then broadcast on Romea.cz. Růžička and Taragoš agreed during the debate that the drafting was a unique example of a collaboration among bureaucrats, nonprofit organizations and Romani community members.” 

 

Once persecuted, the Salesians have run programs unlike any others for Romani children for 30 years in third-largest Czech city

On 28th December, Romea.cz reported that Romano voďi magazine had been showing that in Ostrava, Czech Republic, the Salesians knew that their belief in God could aid others with living good, useful lives, and for three decades the monks had been serving both non-Romani and Romani children there, including visiting those who live in residential hotels. Their efforts, it was noted, were yielding fruit. 

Romea.cz stated that, “Father Jiří Caha SDB, director of the local Salesian community that runs today's center with its "oratory" (the Salesian term for a drop-in center for youth), "Don Bosco Ostrava", is an educator and priest, and he told Romani vod'i magazine that when the center first opened, "Three hundred boys a day came to the local oratory!" 

“In 1950, however, the communist powers halted all activity by male monastic orders, confiscated their buildings and property, and sent the Salesians and members of other orders to camps where they were imprisoned. The Salesians were not able to return to their work in Ostrava until the 1990s. 

“Today their 50-member team works with children there, comprising four monks, civilian employees, various collaborators and volunteer youth. Together they produce a range of activities unlike anything else available to Romani children, at least, in Ostrava. 

“"We're not aimed just at Romani children, but I estimate that three-fourths of the children who attend our Center in their free time are Romani," Caha explained. The centre offers floorball, football and ping pong, and girls especially love to use the space for dance; there is also a climbing wall, arts activities, theatre facilities and computer access.” 

 

 

Slovakia closes Romani settlement because of COVID-19, police and soldiers deployed

On 29th December, Romea.cz reported that the Romani settlement of Ratnovce u Piešťan in Slovakia had been guarded by police officers and soldiers since Saturday, 19 December, the strict security measures being introduced there because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was noted that, “residents of the settlement are in quarantine there after 28 people tested positive for the virus, including a three-year-old. The testing was ordered by the regional public health authority and a crisis staff has been set up in the settlement.”   

It was further reported that a 25-year-old man had passed away in the settlement on Friday, 18 December and an autopsy would eventually reveal whether COVID-19 was the cause of death. It was said that there are 97 people registered as permanent residents in Ratnovce, but the actual number of residents is about 200.

Romea.cz stated that, “TVnoviny.sk has reported that despite the strict measures, some infected people are attempting to leave the settlement. Police officers and soldiers are posted on guard around the entire perimeter.”

 

Slovak quarantine measures in Romani settlement are over, police and soldiers no longer on guard there

On 30th December, Romea.cz reported that the Regional Public Health Authority in Trnava, Slovakia had overturned the movement restrictions that were in effect for Ratnovce in Piešťany District as of Monday, 28 December and, given the expiration of the 10-day quarantine period, had stopped monitoring whether home isolation and other quarantine measures are being upheld by residents there. The measures had been instituted on the basis of COVID-19 testing results in the Romani settlement.  

It was further reported that, “Of 88 people tested there earlier this month, 28 were found to be positive for the virus. Police officers and soldiers arranged 24-hour checkpoints surrounding the settlement to prevent residents leaving and unauthorized entries. Since residents were unable to travel into the community to shop, municipal officials arranged for food delivery to them. The situation became exacerbated two days after the quarantine measures were imposed, when a 25-year-old man passed away in the settlement.” 

 

 

Fundraiser underway in Czech Republic for Romani taxi driver who was one of the country's first serious COVID-19 patients

Romea.cz has reported that Robert Markovič, one of the first patients to fight for his life against the COVID-19 virus in the Czech Republic, had written a poem of gratitude to all the doctors and other people who took such brilliant care of him earlier this year and saved his life. It was said that, “according to Martin Balík, the head physician at Charles University's Clinic for Anesthesiology, Resuscitation and Intensive Medicine, part of both the General Teaching Hospital and the First Faculty of Medicine, Markovič was afflicted by the largest-ever dosage of the virus that medical personnel had measured in any patient at that time.”

Balík was reported saying that it was apparent Markovič had been infected more than once by more than one of the clients whom he had unwittingly driven over the course of a couple of weeks. Despite not having a big chance of recovering, Markovič was said to be doing his best today to return to normal life.

You can read the poem here:   Fundraiser underway in Czech Republic for Romani taxi driver who was one of the country's first serious COVID-19 patients - Romea.cz

 

 

Collated by Peter Sagar, A Living Tradition CIC, December 2020

 

 

Here are some stories regarding Roma human rights from the Czech Republic from late November and December. All the stories are taken from romea.cz/en

ROMEA gives 94 Romani students at Czech colleges and high schools scholarships, program is in its fifth year

Romea.cz/en reported that at the close of October and beginning of November the ROMEA organization had disbursed 94 scholarships to Romani students attending Czech higher vocational schools, high schools, and for the first time, universities. It was noted that the students were, in “diverse fields of study all over the Czech Republic and do well academically, but their socioeconomic situations are such that they risk being unable to complete secondary school or university - or even to begin such study.”

It was further reported that the first half of the scholarship had just been sent to the 94 new beneficiaries, who would receive the second half after submitting their mid-semester report cards or transcripts in March 2021.

 

Romani Kickboxers do well in Wako K-1 Grand prix 2020

Romea.cz/en informed us that Václav Sivák (21), a Romani kickboxer from the Czech Republic, had given his rival no chance during the finals of the WAKO K-1 WORLD GRAND PRIX 2020 and had indeed defeated him with a fast, hard knockout. The event on Saturday night 28th November had featured another Romani competitor as well, Douglas Daňo, who had won in the weight category of up to 63.5 kilograms.

 

Czech millionaire goes undercover as part of new reality show, volunteers at Romani boxing club, then surprises them with a donation

Romea.cz/en reported that the commercial Prima television channel in the Czech Republic had launched a new reality show based on a formula that had found millions of viewers elsewhere in the world. In "The Millionaire Among Us", seven millionaires agreed to enter social situations that are far removed from their everyday lives from one day to the next and to spend a week there.

It was further reported that, “under assumed identities, the millionaires find themselves on the outskirts of society, not just in problematic localities, but also visiting organizations that concentrate on aiding the needy in seven Czech towns. Thanks to the project associated with the show, the public will also be able to get involved in providing such assistance.”  

Readers were told that during their week-long missions, the millionaires would hear hard stories from people's lives, encountering not just drudgery and suffering, but also people's determination to live and enjoy life despite the adversity of fate. The first Czech millionaire to leave his firm for a week had been the owner of the country's biggest amusement park, Jiří Antoš.   

 

In the first episode, Antoš had gone to Ostrava to work as a volunteer in the Mens Sana nonprofit organization, where he got to know the family of a man who suffered a workplace injury resulting in brain damage for life. He had also got involved in activities in the Bedřiška neighborhood and volunteered at the Boxing King Klub, which is a Romani-run club full of talented boxers that Antoš said was his most intense experience.

 

European Committee of Social Rights: Czech Republic overinstitutionalizes Romani children and children living with disabilities

 

It was reported by Romea.cz/en that the Council of Europe's Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) had criticized the Czech Republic for its "discriminatory and extensive" placement of children living with disabilities and Romani children into residential nursery institutions or centres designed for very young children. According to Anna Hofschneiderová of the NGO Forum for Human Rights (Fórum pro lidská práva), this problem affected hundreds of children age three and younger who predominantly come from impoverished families.  

The Committee's press release read as follows: "The Committee is criticizing the Czech Republic for having failed to adopt and incorporate into its regulations a corresponding... strategy". According to the Committee, the Czech Republic was violating the rights of children, above all those three years of age and younger who were either living with disabilities or who are Romani, rights guaranteed by the European Social Charter of 1961. 

It was further noted that the conclusions of the Committee were the consequence of a three-year-long investigation instigated by three NGOs. The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), the Forum for Human Rights (based in Prague) and the Validity Foundation (formerly the Mental Disability Advocacy Centre), jointly filed a collective complaint three years ago and had provided evidence proving children's rights are being violated.   

 

COMMENTARY: Czech TV show portrays Roma as nothing but criminals

A commentary piece on Romea.cz/en noted that a Czech tv show "Krimi zprávy"  was portraying Romani people as nothing but criminals.

The commentator claimed that, “the tragedy is that the people appearing on the program are actually police officers, either currently on duty or retired, or maybe they are members of municipal patrols - which is why I understand the screenwriters even less, who have turned the program's reconstructions of police interventions into a mixture of comedy and embarrassment. Nevertheless, this awkwardness is all based on situations in which viewers can find all the "proof" they need to shore up their convictions that Romani people are all thieves, screaming lowlifes, thugs and abductors of children.”  

It was further noted that the stereotypes on the programme came at you from all sides and the gadje [non-Roma] consumer of them would chuckle with glee, because he had known this long ago, it was just being confirmed for him now.

 

 

Despite COVID-19 state of emergency, landlord summarily evicts five Romani families in Czech town

Romea.cz/en reported that five Romani families living on Kovářská Street in the Czech town of Varnsdorf had recently been evicted. The town hall was attempting to provide aid to four of the families by offering them temporary accommodation in the TGM residential hotel, which it owned and managed, a facility considered the worst in the country. 

The fifth family, whose members work for the town's groundskeeping services, had been promised the opportunity to rent a different apartment, according to information communicated to news server Romea.cz. Mayor Roland Solloch also confirmed that to the news server on 30 November.

It was further reported that Romani tenants in the Hotel Sport and TGM residential hotels were then moved to Kovářská Street and soon afterward, the town had declared Kovářská Street a zone where new residents would not qualify for state housing benefits, and the then-owners began getting rid of most of their units.  

Several dozen units were bought from the previous owners by the town of Varnsdorf itself, which has a concrete plan for the street. It was reported that currently the town owned more than 40 units of the approximately 200 there. 

 

Commentary: Czech Social Democrats sink to the level of ultra-nationalists with proposal to cut funding to NGOs working with minorities

It was argued in a commentary piece on romea.cz, that the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) was continuing its “free-fall further and further in the direction of the extreme right.”  It was claimed that after the departure of the pro-Putin, xenophobic MP Jaroslav Foldyna from the party, it had seemed the Social Democrats might be returning to their normal positions, but instead their lack of values was leading them further into the depths of racism and xenophobia. 

It was argued that, “currently the ČSSD has baldly joined the ranks of Czech MP Tomio Okamura ("Freedom and Direct Democracy - SPD"), who has been doing this kind of politics for a long time. At first the Social Democrats refused to support the Government's draft budget, but changed their mind to say they would agree to it on one condition - and then exploited the populist shouting about ending financing for those nonprofit organizations that they claim are currently unnecessary.”    

It was further claimed that during the negotiations on the budget in the Chamber of Deputies, the ČSSD was now echoing Okamura's SPD, saying it wanted to take money away from all nonprofit organizations that were a) not involved with sports and b) not aiding victims of the novel coronavirus pandemic, apparently believing these criteria would cut funding to the organizations assisting different minority groups or advocating for their interests.

It was also argued that Nonprofit oragnisations, whose experts expressed opposition to politicians would also be deprived of funding.

 

Commentary: Senator infamous for antigypsyist remarks about the "cikánská question" joins regional party in the Czech Republic

Romea.cz reported that the "Mayors for the Liberec Region" (Starostové pro Liberecký kraj - SLK) political party had recently accepted Jaroslav Zeman as a member, a man who is an antigypsyist as well as an entrepreneur, as mayor and senator. The party had bragged about their new acquisition on their website, where they had written practically everything there was to know about him except the fact that he has been pushing anti-Romani stereotypes for many years.

It was further reported that despite his new membership in the SLK, Zeman was still caucusing with the ODS in the Senate and his campaign slogan had been "Whoever isn't working shouldn't be eating". 

 

Czech Republic: Further action needed to integrate Roma children in schools and prevent discrimination against LGBTI persons

Romea.cz noted that in a report on the Czech Republic published on 8th December, the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) called on the authorities, as a matter of priority, to ensure that all forms of segregation of Roma children by schools in the country be ended, and to execute a national strategy to identify areas in which LGBTI persons are discriminated against. 

Romea.cz noted that the, “ECRI welcomes a number of positive developments, such as the continued work of the Public Defender of Rights in promoting equality and combatting racism. It praises the conversion of the site of the former concentration camp for Roma at Lety into a documentation and information centre on the Roma genocide during World War II”.

It was further reported that the report also highlighted promising practices in the field of inclusive education – such as those in the Trmice primary school near Ústí nad Labem - and in supporting municipalities to improve the situation of socially excluded localities, often inhabited by Roma. However, it was additionally noted that the report also identified shortcomings in several areas.

 

Two more volunteer civil society members of Czech Govt Roma Council resign, civil vice chair post currently empty

Romea.cz reported that the Czech Government Council for Romani Minority Affairs had recently undergone further personnel changes among its volunteer civil society members. It was noted that Jan Husák had stepped down as vice-chair, while Edita Stejskalová and Petr Torák had resigned altogether.   

It was further reported that the Czech Government Council on Romani Minority Affairs had experienced many personnel changes on the civil society side during the last year and a half. Nine civil society members in total had left during that time. 

 

Edita Stejskalová on resigning as a volunteer civil society member of the Czech Govt Roma Council: We should advise ministers, not lower-level officials

Romea.cz reported on the following statement by Edita Stejskalova on her resignation from the Czech Government Council for Roma Minority Affairs:

“After five years of work on the Council I am reviewing what I have done there, and my conclusion is that I have done an honest job. I believe I have been constructive and to the point.   

There are many things I have done well in this role. Five years ago, for example, I raised the subject of racially-motivated bullying in the schools.

That issue was then taken up by the Chamber of Deputies' Committee for Science, Culture, Education, Youth and Sport as a crucial subject. I communicated that racial discrimination or racial hatred in schools, whether committed by children or teachers, is actually very stressful and influences the educational careers and success of Romani children.  

That this is so was confirmed by field research I had conducted in 2008 through the Zvůle práva organization, and I used that data in my arguments and received a positive response both from the Education Ministry and from the Committee for Education, which developed the subject further. A methodological handbook was then published for teachers featuring terms such as "ethnic intolerance" or "racial hatred" and describing what that looks like in the schools. 

I was very glad about that result. The subject was also discussed by the National Institute for Education, which I considered quite important. 

I appealed to the Czech School Inspectorate to investigate this phenomenon and to research it directly in the schools. That was my first contribution as part of my work on the Council. 

In February 2019 I assessed the Roma Integration Strategy that has been in effect through 2020, including the tasks the Governments were obligated to fulfill, according to the resolution, within the framework of integration policies. I came to the unequivocal conclusion that the Strategy is not effective and must be revised, along with the tasks the ministries set themselves with respect to integrating Romani people. 

The current tasks are rather soft and no significant progress has been made. This brings us to what is crucial, the creation of the Committee for Fulfilling the Roma Integration Strategy, which is basically a Committee that is meant to follow all strategic documents from a broader perspective that are adopted by the Czech Republic, or its Government. 

I drew attention to the fact that within the ministries themselves, these strategic documents are not being interconnected, and the issue of social inclusion, or of increasing Romani people's exercise of their civil rights is, on the contrary, being very strongly suppressed as long as the measures proposed for the inclusion or integration of Roma are based in the perspective that if we just resolve social problems, some kind of equality will result. That same old perspective has applied here from 1997 until this very day. 

It is clear that addressing social problems is not enough, and that this must actually be connected to Romani people exercising their civil rights and their national minority rights. This cannot just be addressed from the perspective of Romani people exercising their social rights. 

For example, Romani unemployment remains high, access by Romani children to education on the basis of inclusive measures has changed by just 1.5 % during the last six years after the representation of Romani children in the "special schools" was reduced - and I could continue, for example, with examples from the area of access to housing. Romani people in the Czech Republic have been and still are being concentrated into certain localities and are not being given the room in which to normally function. 

Even those Romani families who, under normal circumstances, would get an opportunity and would function in an absolutely normal way are no longer being given that room. That is why I believe the Committee for Fulfilling the Romani Integration Strategy is one of the most important committees and should monitor not just the adopted measures for the 2021-2030 timeframe, but should use its mechanisms for controlling and evaluating the Strategy itself. 

The Committee should also make recommendations for how to revise and transform the Strategy. Here the crucial question arises as to what the definitive Strategy for the next 10 years will look like and what the tasks for the Government of the Czech Republic and its ministries will look like.

Which proposals will make it through the next interministerial commenting procedure? Whether those measures fulfill their purpose is a second basic question, for me. 

Again, there is currently a very strong accent on the social problem instead of on the human rights problem, which is not exactly fortunate. I personally am in favor of using liberal, very strongly pro-democratic rhetoric in the materials dedicated to the integration of Roma. 

I am an advocate of the European vocabulary that has yet to be mastered here, and not just by the Romani civil society sector, but also by Government bureaucrats. People here will never know how to deal with the phenomenon of antigypsyism, how to explain its causes in their own words, without perceiving the context of the discourse in the rest of Europe. 

Last year I spoke to a ROMEA TV program about the fact that there must be more Romani participation in preparing the new Strategy. The communications strategy adopted for explaining why participation by Romani people should be increased in this process has been one of economic pressure, because the Strategy is a thematic condition for the country to draw on EU funds. 

That approach has proven very effective and was supported both by members of the Council and by the broader Romani nonprofit sector. Romani participation in preparing the Strategy for 2021-2030 has been more visible, compared to the previous degree of Romani participation, and it has been systematic. 

I assess all of this as part of the very good-quality work that I have done for the Council. When I look back on this time a year from now, I will be able to say that I was not just a passive Council member, and that I enjoyed many successes before leaving. 

For example, for the last three years I have also advocated for the creation of the position of a Czech Government Commissioner for Romani Affairs. The creation of that position has been anchored in the new Strategy. 

I am glad that I ultimately managed to negotiate support for this position across the ministries with the aid of Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Helena Válková, and I believe that measure will be fulfilled. Similarly, I have also advocated for the Czech Republic to make use of Article 4, specific aim VIII a), of the agreement on partnership between the Czech Republic and European Union, to combat discrimination of marginalized communities such as Romani people and to support their socioeconomic integration. 

This matter is quite crucial to the design of the tenders announced during the next budget period. If that condition manages to be fulfilled, then that will actually be a significant deed with respect to the Strategy and I will be glad to have contributed to it through my work. 

I have never believed that being a member of an advisory body is a lifelong matter, and I would not be glad if membership were seen that way. I believe that after five years I must structure my time better and realize what is even possible to achieve within the framework of an advisory body. 

I think that as a Council member I have exhausted all the opportunities available and it is necessary that I try different platforms, and one needs more time to do that. My volunteer work on the Council took me at least 20 hours a week to complete. 

I was also briefly employed to work for the Council half-time. I believe I have actually done all I could as a member to advocate for good ideas. 

I also do believe my advocacy has succeeded. At the same time, I also learned many things.

I was able to test the proposition that if you have a plan, a vision, and values, then you can advocate for anything, but currently it is important to also do such advocacy politically. This work is about political commitment. 

We cannot just perceive the Strategy as a formal condition for drawing on EU funds, because those funds will only be here for a limited time. My idea is that an unequivocal political commitment to Roma must exist. 

That political will must be demonstrated by actually fulfilling the measures adopted. The tasks chosen must actually be effective and feasible.

The human rights level must be accented, because Romani people are very limited in their exercise of their civil rights. This does not mean I am alleging there is no room here whatsoever for equal opportunity. 

All of the Czech Government's documents declare that there is equal opportunity. The problem is in how citizens actually access that opportunity.

That is where our paths part ways, and one cannot do much about that as a Council member, or from the position of an advisory body. This problem is quite enormous and persistent, and the powers of the Council, defined by its statutes, are small. 

This can best be seen in how the Government receives the recommendations made by its own Council for Roma Minority Affairs. It is really no longer possible to keep holding these negotiations at the level of mere discussions between the bureaucrats working for the Office of the Council and the volunteer civil society members of the Council, the negotiations must be elevated to the level of the ministers who have executive power. 

The ministers are the ones who say what the Government will and will not implement. The problem is that the Strategy places too little of an accent on the Government's and the Prime Minister's political commitments. 

In my opinion, these commitments cannot just be about measures financed from the EU Structural Funds, which are limited in time. Today the Czech Republic is economically well off, we are among the wealthier states in the European Union, and the allocations of EU funding within the framework of some of the operational programmes here will be reflecting that, such as the allocations to Operational Programme Employment or the Jan Amos Comenius Operational Programme of the Education Ministry.

We must aim for Roma integration policy to be financed from the state's own budget and for it to be a priority embodied by the Government's program declaration. If we achieve that, it will be a success. 

Combating antigypsyism must be at the center, supporting the emancipation of Romani people, supporting Roma with espousing their nationality. If the way in which politicians communicate the problem of discrimination or segregation never changes, then not much will be achieved. 

It is necessary to ensure institutionally the way in which the Strategy will be fulfilled. I have done all that I could for those three points, my work was done well, and I have concrete results to show for it. 

I actually undertook a strategy that was rational, to the point, and constructive. My strategy has proven effective, and I will be glad if that way of thinking were to remain part of the Council even after I am no longer there.

I have not yet officially given notice of my resignation. I plan to submit my proposal for the next civil vice-chair of the Council, and then I will officially resign.”

 

 

Czech Govt Human Rights Commissioner expects new Roma strategy to be adopted by the end of January

It was reported on 9th December by Romea.cz that the Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Helena Válková would be sending a working version of the country's Roma strategy for 2021-2030 to Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš to sign the following day, and if he did, the material would be submitted to the interministerial commenting process and the Government should approve it at the end of January. Válková had announced the news in an interview for ROMEA TV. 

It was further reported that several volunteer civil society members of the Czech Government Council for Roma Minority Affairs, nonprofit organizations, and representatives of various ministries had been working since June on the new strategy for the next 10 years; it is comprised of an analytical part accompanied by logistical frameworks describing the specific tasks for each ministry. The measures and tasks described there concern, for example, the areas of combating antigypsyism, education, emancipation of Romani people, employment, health care, housing, and the implementation of the Strategy itself.

 

Czech/Romani NGO tells Public Defender of Rights his remarks on Human Rights Day are a disgrace

Romea.cz reported that the organisation Vzájemné soužití (Life Together), led by Kumar Vishwanathan, had published an open letter to the Czech Public Defender of Rights (the ombudsman), Stanislav Křeček, indirectly calling for his resignation. The letter was a reaction to remarks the ombudsman posted to social media on Human Rights Day and included the following section:    

"The rhetoric you espouse gives us the impression of the complex of being a well-to-do, white, heterosexual man of a respectable age who lives inside a lair of certainties created by the majority society and who does not show the slightest generosity of spirit when it comes to looking beyond the borders of that lair at the people whom you will never consider part of 'us'..." and stated elsewhere that "We believe you will get the support you seek on Facebook and other social media platforms, but human rights are not based on Facebook 'likes', human rights are a given. If the honourable gentleman does not comprehend these matters then he should not remain in an office that is based on understanding that fact."  

 

Romani kickboxer becomes Czech champion in classical boxing as well, will the big promoters notice?

Romea.cz reported that the Romani kickboxer Václav Sivák had won the title of champion in the national classical boxing championship in the Czech Republic. After the 21-year-old had scored an international success in the finals of the WAKO K-1 WORLD GRAND PRIX 2020, he had won yet another title on the domestic boxing scene

 

In the V-4, COVID-19 pandemic exploited for ultra-right hoaxes, calls for authoritarianism

Romea.cz reported that during the first wave of the novel coronavirus pandemic this year, attacks on the European Union and the West had been the main subject of the entire ultra-right scene in Central Europe, including in the Czech Republic. Such radicals, it was said, had made no secret of their admiration for the authoritarian regimes in China and Russia when spreading their propaganda. 

It was argued that the critique of the EU had resonated, for example, in the Czech Republic among the followers of the "Freedom and Direct Democracy" (SPD) party, while in Hungary, traditional invective against migrants in the context of the pandemic had found an audience and unfounded, conspiratorial concerns about vaccines predominated in Poland. The EU had been described by right-wing radicals as an incompetent, weak organization incapable of providing aid to its Member States.  

It was further reported that, “the conclusions of a research project into the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on far-right propaganda efforts in the V4 reveal that favourite theses among the ultra-right included declaring that the West and the era of its alleged hegemony is over and that democratic systems are coming to an end. The role of nation-states has also been emphasized.”  

It was noted that along with invective against the EU, eastern powers such as China and Russia had been highlighted as having allegedly managed to cope with the pandemic, according to the ultra-right scene. The aid that both countries had delivered to Europe has been celebrated and their authoritarian regimes had been praised as effective in combating the pandemic.   

 

Romani politicians: Slovak court's judgment in case of police abuse of children is unacceptable

Romea.cz/en reported that many saw a Slovak court’s judgement in a case of police abuse of children was unacceptable as follows: “It's unacceptable, we all know what the truth is, we will not stand for this - those were the reactions from politicians of Romani origin in Slovakia after the media reported last week that a court handed down a scandalous decision in a case of police officers torturing Romani children. On 10 December 2020 the Regional Court in Košice announced in open court that it had rejected the prosecutor's appeal of the latest acquittal decision from the District Court Košice II on 4 December 2019 in the case of the abuse of six Romani boys residing at the Luník IX housing estate”. 

It was also reported that MEP Peter Pollák of Slovakia, who is also of Romani origin, shared the opinion of the domestic politicians who had responded to the decision. "We all saw what the truth is, we cannot close our eyes to justice," he said.

 

Czech Health Ministry to refute disinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic next year

On 15th December, Romea.cz.en reported that the Czech Health Ministry had recently announced it was planning to regularly inform the public about the most frequent forms of disinformation being disseminated about the novel coronavirus pandemic. Czech Health Minister Jan Blatný (for ANO) had announced the new move at a press conference held after an extraordinary cabinet session. 

It was further notes that a comprehensive communications campaign explaining the Government's to prevent the novel coronavirus from spreading would not begin until 2021 because the tender process would not be done before year-end. It was said that the Government had approved CZK 50 million [EUR 1.9 million] at the close of October for the campaign

 

 

Bulgarian COVID-19 pandemic measures have closed Romani neighbourhoods, causing job losses and food shortages

In mid-December, Romea.cz reported that News server Politico had reported that Bulgaria's measures against the novel coronavirus pandemic were imposing enormous obstacles on many Romani people in particular because the closure of Romani settlements, cutting their residents off from employment opportunities, had frequently devastated their, finances and had made it harder for them to procure food.  It was also said that even before the pandemic, many Romani families in such settlements had already been living on the edge of poverty. During the lockdown their situations had deteriorated and many had had to limit all aspects of their daily lives. 

It was noted that Politico had given the example of Romani community member Krasimira Alexandrova, who lives on the outskirts of Sofia in the Fakulteta quarter and is a caregiver for her grandson, who is autistic.   It was reported on Politico that, "when Alexandrova took him for a routine psychological assessment in early March, before the coronavirus lockdown, the doctor claimed she and her son — Krasimir’s father... had been faking the child’s disability and downgraded his assessment of the severity of his disorder, cutting off access to funding". 

As a result, Alexandrova's pay from her job as a cleaning woman in the capital was her only reliable income and several weeks later, a colleague of hers had tested positive for COVID-19 and Alexandrova's employer had then laid off the entire staff. 

It was further reported that the authorities had then begun gradually closing Bulgaria's Romani neighbourhoods and settlements off from the outside world. For example, the Fakulteta neighbourhood had been in total lockdown and its residents forbidden to leave, with military police standing guard at every route leading out of the quarter.

 

German Government Commissioner on Antisemitism: COVID-19 denial now a pretext for Holocaust revisionism

Also in mid-December, Romea.cz reported that Antisemitic sentiment was intensifying in German society because of the COVID-19 pandemic and demonstrations against compulsory quarantine measures had become fertile ground for it, according to a recent press conference in Berlin given by the German Government's Commissioner on Combating Antisemitism, Felix Klein, who had said advocating conspiracy theories and denying the existence of the novel coronavirus had become another way to engage in Holocaust revisionism. "A central motif of those who hold antisemitic attitudes always has been to call themselves persecuted victims, and it still is," he said.

Romea.cz also noted that, “this motif, in the Commissioner's view, is the main pillar around which the current demonstrations against quarantine measures are currently revolving. "These demonstrations are being exploited by radicals from the 'Reich citizens' subculture [those who refuse to recognize the existence of the Federal Republic of Germany] and the ultra-right for use as their own forum," Klein said.”

 

Older Romani woman recounts how security guards in Czech shop saved her from violent racist thug

It was reported by Romea.cz that in the magazine Romani vod’i, an older Romani woman had recounted how security guards in Czech shop saved her from violent racist thug.  The Roma lady ahd  said this:

“Just about anybody who is Romani has experienced it in the Czech Republic from time to time. You walk into a shop and the salespeople follow your every move.

All you have to do is spend a slightly longer amount of time looking at the items on display and you are Suspect Number One. God forbid you take clothing into a changing room to try on! 

For most retailers here, we Roma are not considered shoppers spending our money on what they have to offer, but first and foremost we are considered potential thieves. For that reason we prefer to shop regularly at retailers where the salespeople and the security guards know us.

My family and I live on the main street in town. The apartments here are more expensive, but that's the price of a good address.

We have a cinema, a library, a swimming pool, a bus station, and a big shopping mall with a ground-floor supermarket in our neighborhood. When my daughter and I began shopping there, we were spotted by each security team, but over time nobody suspected us of anything anymore and we felt fine shopping there. 

My daughter and I used to buy something there practically every day, and sometimes we'd chat with the delicatessan saleswoman, sometimes with the cashier. Two Romani women were employed there as saleswomen.

Each time we came in they'd say hello, and sometimes they would even draw our attention to whatever was on sale. One day I began to feel unwell during my shopping trip there.  

At the time I was almost 62 and I had already begun to have health problems. I wanted to get the shopping over with and go home to unwind.

I shuffled my way slowly to the shop, took a small shopping basket, and headed straight to the baked goods section. My head began to spin a bit, so I grabbed onto the counter. 

After a brief moment one of the saleswomen came up to me. "What's wrong with you? Don't you feel well?" she asked with concern. 

"Well... my head was spinning," I managed to say. "It's the air in here," the lady said, and ran to get me some water.

After a couple of sips I felt better and I was on my way to the drugstore section when I realized I hadn't bought any pastry yet. I turned around and standing in my way was an enormous guy with a shaved head, a long beard, a bloated figure and a face so red it looked like he had fallen asleep under the full sun.   

"Well, well, you're not going to get one over on me...," he menacingly thundered while towering over me. I just stared at him.

Why was he speaking to me like that, for God's sake? I thought about it and I didn't want to give in to him. 

"Well who do you think you are, get out of my way," I said and tried to get around him. He had a shopping cart in front of him and he slammed it into me with such force that I fell against the shelves behind me. 

"Ow! Have you lost your mind?" I shouted.

The man laughed at me and took off into the next aisle. I was trembling all over like an aspen, but I collected myself.  

There was nobody around to stand up for me. Back at the baked goods section tears blurted out of my eyes.

What was wrong with me? I must be getting old, because a couple of years ago I'd have used my purse to hit the guy on the head. 

The saleswoman who had brought me water before came over again to ask "What's wrong?" I swallowed a gasp and told her what had just happened to me. 

Her eyes widened and she went to inform the security guards. I joined the checkout line. 

"Hey this cigna is stealing from my cart!" I heard behind me, and I understood, as he made his way to the basket in front of me, that my harasser was back. "Leave me alone! If my husband were here you wouldn't pretend to be such a big guy," I said angrily. 

"What do you think, you black thieving mug? My taxes pay for your living, so I can say what I want to you, you stinking cigoška," he shouted at me, hatred flashing from his eyes. 

"Leave that lady alone right now!" one of the saleswomen called out. "What do you think you're doing?" she continued and approached him.

I began to seriously fear for the saleswoman's safety. "This is a cigoška! I'll slap her right here if I want to!" he said, raising his hand. 

I was so overwhelmed I couldn't defend myself. That's when it happened.

His swinging right hand was stopped by another, smaller hand. A young man twisted my harasser's arm behind his back and forced him to his knees. 

"You won't do anything to our customers! You're never coming back here!" my rescuer shouted into the man's face.

Other guys from security ran up and pushed my harasser to the ground. I was so out of it that I didn't even realize at the time that the other people standing in line were beginning to applaud them.

The bearded guy was taken away by the police who had been called, and I finally could breathe again. I still couldn't comprehend what had just happened to me. 

The young man from the security team snapped me out of my reverie. "I saw it on the security camera, when he ran into you with the cart. I ran down, but I lost him among the shelves," he said to me in the tone one would use with one's own grandmother or mother. 

"Thank you so much for standing up for me," I said in a shaking voice, and I was genuinely grateful to him. "Any normal person would," he answered. 

"Come, I'll walk you home. I told my boss I'd need a 10-minute break," he said with a smile, and offered me his arm in a gentlemanly way.  

He walked me to the entrance of my building and I realized that what I'd just experienced would haunt me a while longer. On the other hand, I'd just met a good person who was not afraid to stand up for somebody who is weaker”.  

 

 

Slovak MP of Romani origin Peter Pollák, Jr.: COVID-19 isn't racist

Romea.cz reported that Peter Pollák had been talking in blog.sme.sk

about the Covid-18 virus saying, “during the nationwide testing here in the spring, the Internet exaggerated things too much, and one of the news items that caught my attention claimed that "Romani settlements are hatcheries for spreading COVID". From the comments posted in response to that article I had the feeling that people (and various trolls) share posts of this kind, featuring horrifying hatred, with a kind of smirk on their faces”.

The data, the numbers, and the statistics from the testing have confirmed that Romani communities are similar to other parts of towns and villages when it comes to the pandemic and that Romani men and women have been just as disciplined and responsible as the majority population during this time. People's inability to fact-check and their tendency to believe conspiracies just spreads hatred in society. 

It has been confirmed that it is a good idea to verify information and to improve our media literacy. It has also been confirmed that COVID is not racist!”

 

Racists in Czech capital assault non-white family, call the father "Cikán", give the Nazi salute, try to take their baby

On 17th December, it was reported by Romea.ca that a racist attack on a family with an infant in a pram had taken place in the late night hours of 13 December and early morning hours of 14 December on a bus in Prague heading from the I. P. Pavlova station to the Háje station.  It was reported that when two men aged 46 and 47 were said to have spotted the dark-skinned family with an infant in a pram, the assailants were said to have shouted racist slogans at the family, to have raised their right arms in the Nazi salute, to have made threats and to have even attempted to harm the baby.

It was further reported that a press release by the Prague Municipal Police on the incident had stated that, "at 12:30 AM, shouting and the sound of huge blows coming from the Brechtova bus stop drew the attention of a beat patrol monitoring the final metro stop, Háje. Two men exited a bus with their right arms extended shouting 'Sieg Heil', a typical Nazi greeting."

"The bus driver said the men had got on just before midnight at I. P. Pavlova and rode the bus to the final stop," the police press release relates. "During the journey they concentrated on a family, a man and woman of swarthy complexion with a baby in a pram."

"The men verbally insulted the baby's parents and attempted to remove the child from the pram," states the press release. "When the father opposed that, both men threatened him with physical harm."

"At the same time the men were repeatedly giving the Nazi salute," the police press release describes the incident. According to reporting by news server Romea.cz, the assailants insulted the father in racist terms, shouting at him: "Cikán, do you want a punch in the face?" 

Romea.cz also noted that, “according to the bus driver, the men exited at the final stop and continued on their way with their right arms raised, shouting "Sieg Heil". At least five eyewitnesses followed the entire incident on the bus and confirmed the attackers' racist behaviour”. 

 

EU Commissioner for Values: EU money is meant to help the Roma too, data collection is important so we aren't flying blind

Romea.cz reported that the European Union would be financially supporting the fight against socially excluded localities during the next budget period, and that one target group for that financing was meant to be Romani people.   It was claimed that the EU wanted to support their economic and social integration. 

Romea.cz noted that, “European Commissioner for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová has delivered that message in an interview for ROMEA TV. "We want to continue financing projects, but in the past that aid did not always make its way to the places where it is needed. Impoverished people live in areas where they have less of a chance of applying themseves on the labor market, the children living in such areas have limited opportunities, from the very beginning of their lives, to get a good-quality job when they grow up and to enjoy a better quality of life. For that reason, we want this financing to target the places that need it," she said in an interview with journalist and Romani community member Richard Samko.”    

It was also noted that a European Social Fund document even expressly mentioned Romani people, but that this financial aid was not exclusively intended just for them. It was argued that, “just as under the previous European Commission, strategies for such investment, impoverished people will be targeted generally during the next budget period”.  

Romani people are given as an example of a group endangered by poverty toward whom the aid is meant to be targeted.  The Commissioner had said that, "this is meant to assist people endangered by social exclusion, such as Romani people. We have never said, and we are not saying now, that this money is meant to be exclusively aimed at Romani people. We are especially concerned about the children whom we would like to see enjoy a better quality of life than their parents have experienced, and we want to help achieve that with this money. Romani people have been named as one of the groups who should be supported.”

 

Is Czech compensation for forced sterilizations in sight?

Romea.cz reported that women who had been sterilized without their informed choice and consent, many of them Romani, had been fighting since 2005 for the Czech state to compensate them and that this year had seen them come closer to that goal than ever before.

It was noted that, “a bill currently exists in the lower house that would institute a procedure through which to make such claims for compensation. It has been waiting for a first reading for more than a year, and to remind lawmakers of its importance, the small coalition of volunteers who have been advocating for its adoption recently organized an open letter and petition that garnered a great deal of support, especially from those who care about how human rights are upheld here in the Czech Republic. The Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe contacted the Czech legislature to reiterate support for these women being compensated as well. By the time this commentary is published we will know whether that effort has succeeded or experienced yet another setback.”

It was also noted that the women themselves had been a crucial part of this advocacy, demonstrating in September outside of a hospital in Ostrava, presenting the petition to Czech MP Helena Válková (ANO) in Prague, and later visiting Czech Finance Minister Alena Schillerová (ANO) to explain their situations to her and asking for her support, which they had received. It was also said that they had also been sending letters to various lawmakers and to the Prime Minister seeking his support as well, to which they had received positive responses.

Romea.cz went on to say that, “the fact is that most of the victims of these human rights abuses fall into the category of those older people who are most at risk during these unprecedented times, which makes it all the more imperative that the bill be passed as soon as possible, before any more victims pass away without ever getting justice. Even if this law were to pass in record time, it will also take time to institute the procedure itself.

More disturbingly, some of the women involved in seeking compensation for having been sterilized without their informed choice and consent in the past have recently reported to us that they have heard of even more recent instances of forced sterilization among members of their extended families. If those alleging such treatment manage to secure legal representation and sue before the statute of limitations elapses in their cases (three years) we may yet see this issue ruled on again by the Czech courts. The bigger question, of course, is whether this serious human rights abuse has once again been committed and if so, what is the medical profession going to do about that?

Those who are interested in the history of how such human rights abuses came to be committed throughout the former Czechoslovakia and present-day Czech Republic and Slovakia can look forward to a special edition of Romano džaniben dedicated to this issue, slated to be released by the end of this strangest of years. In the meantime, it is very important that we continue to press for redress for all the victims as a matter of priority. When a wrong is committed, there must be clear acknowledgment of that wrong and redress for it must be made. That is the most important part of the justice these women are seeking.”

 

Czech ultra-right oppose vaccinations against COVID-19 with antisemitic caricature

Romea.cz reported that the news server Forum24.cz had reported that the youth organization of the ultra-right Workers Social Justice Party (DSSS) had tweeted an antisemitic caricature as part of its effort to deter people from undergoing vaccination against COVID-19. "We will not allow ourselves to be vaccinated against COVID-19! Those globalizing bastards can blackmail us all they like!" the group had tweeted along with an image that is unequivocally an anti-Jewish caricature.  

It was further noted that the group has previously released posters exploiting graphic design elements of Nazi propaganda and that other promotional items for the group featured a blonde girl with braids reminiscent of the blonde girls in Nazi propaganda posters.  It was said that, “the "Workers Youth" (DM) is a society of people between the ages of 15 and 35 who are sympathizers of the DSSS or directly contribute to party activity. The party and the youth organization share the same registered address.”

 

 

Romani kickboxer from Czech Republic keeps winning with "Gitano" on his back and the Romani flag on his shorts

Romea.cz continued to report on the progress of Romani kickboxer Václav Sivák, notring that he had “crushed one rival after another to rack up what are 15 professional victories so far - during the "Night of Warriors" gala evening at Parkhotelu Smržovka on Saturday he defeated Ali-El Saleha of Germany. During the first seconds of the match it was clear he was dominating and Saleha bowed out before the first round even ended after going down for the count twice”.     

It was also noted that the kickboxer from the Czech Republic openly espouses his Romani origin. And during the match on Saturday 19th December, the word "Gitano" could be seen on his back and he had worn both the Czech and Romani flags on his shorts.

 

Scandalous fourth acquittal by Czech court of racist football fans accused of assaulting Black man on tram

On 23rd December Romea.cz reported that the District Court for Prague 10 had ruled the previous day, in a verdict that had yet to take effect, that it was the local municipal department, not the courts, that should, “adjudicate the behaviour of three football fans accused of assaulting a dark-skinned man on a Prague tram because the judge is convinced the prosecutor has not proven who attacked the victim and therefore believes it possible that the three Olomouc football fans can at most be charged with misdemeanours for their behaviour on the tram. The attorney for the injured party has called the court's decision scandalous.” 

It was noted that this was the fourth time the court had been instructed by the supervising appeals venue to review the case. Judge Ivana Hynková had repeatedly acquitted the three young defendants, stating that while the attack did happen, the indictment had not proven by whom. 

 

Czech court gives suspended sentence to adults who assaulted young Romani children physically and verbally in a park last year

Two days before Christmas Day, Romea.cz reported that Petra and Stanislav Pumprla, the married couple from Přerov, Czech Republic who had brutally assaulted a group of Romani children last year in the park of a chateau in Lipník nad Bečvou, had been sentenced on Monday by a court in Přerov to suspended prison sentences of 12 and 14 months, respectively, for having “physically and verbally attacked seven children, some of whom had to be treated in hospital as a consequence. The court ruled that the couple committed felony rioting, battery, and defamation of an ethnic, national, racial or other group.”

It was noted that Stanislav had been given a 14-month sentence with a probationary suspension of three years, while Petra had received a milder, 12-month sentence suspended for two years.

Judge Jan Rektor said the following:

"We have here the testimony of seven children who gave their testimonies promptly; the testimonies corroborate each other and also take account of various secondary details,"

"None of these children are problematic, I myself have never encountered any of them before now as part of my agenda," the judge said during the sentencing.

 

Czech racists hated Vodafone Christmas ad featuring non-white children, the company objects to their online comments

Shortly after Christmas Rome.cz reported that Vodafone was “thoroughly rejecting the comments of hatred and racism that began appearing on Czech social media in response to the company's advertising campaign for Christmas featuring two brothers, Sam and Max Budiman, whose father was Indonesian and whose mother is white”  It was noted that this was a big problem for some Czech social media users.

It was written that General Director of Vodafone Petr Dvořák tweeted the following in a video at the close of November:

"A couple of days ago we launched our Christmas advertisements, and unfortunately they have been met on social media with hateful and vulgar reactions to the family appearing in them,"

"We cast a family who may not be absolutely typical for the campaign, their father is Indonesian, and unfortunately he is no longer alive. However, this is a family who lives here with us [in the Czech Republic],".

"For us as a company, it's terribly important that we bring people together. We do so irrespective of their opinions, skin colour, sexual orientation, sex, or the culture they come from,"

"Let's value respect and love, and let's combat hatred"We thank all those who see things this same way."

 

Romani community members debate the Czech Govt Strategy on Roma for 2021-2030

It was reported by Romea.cz on 27th December that during the last six months intensive work had been underway to draft the Czech Government Strategy on Romani Integration for 2021-2030, which had been drafted by the staff of the Czech Government Council for Romani Minority Affairs in collaboration with nonprofit organizations.

Romea.cz asked the following question: “What did its drafting involve?”

Its own answer as follows: 

“That process was the topic of a discussion held recently between the director of the RomanoNet organization Michal Miko, the director of the Romodrom organization Nikola Taragoš, and two volunteer civil society members of the Czech Government Council for Romani Minority Affairs, Jan Husák and Čeněk Růžička, filmed and then broadcast on Romea.cz. Růžička and Taragoš agreed during the debate that the drafting was a unique example of a collaboration among bureaucrats, nonprofit organizations and Romani community members.” 

 

Once persecuted, the Salesians have run programs unlike any others for Romani children for 30 years in third-largest Czech city

On 28th December, Romea.cz reported that Romano voďi magazine had been showing that in Ostrava, Czech Republic, the Salesians knew that their belief in God could aid others with living good, useful lives, and for three decades the monks had been serving both non-Romani and Romani children there, including visiting those who live in residential hotels. Their efforts, it was noted, were yielding fruit. 

Romea.cz stated that, “Father Jiří Caha SDB, director of the local Salesian community that runs today's center with its "oratory" (the Salesian term for a drop-in center for youth), "Don Bosco Ostrava", is an educator and priest, and he told Romani vod'i magazine that when the center first opened, "Three hundred boys a day came to the local oratory!" 

“In 1950, however, the communist powers halted all activity by male monastic orders, confiscated their buildings and property, and sent the Salesians and members of other orders to camps where they were imprisoned. The Salesians were not able to return to their work in Ostrava until the 1990s. 

“Today their 50-member team works with children there, comprising four monks, civilian employees, various collaborators and volunteer youth. Together they produce a range of activities unlike anything else available to Romani children, at least, in Ostrava. 

“"We're not aimed just at Romani children, but I estimate that three-fourths of the children who attend our Center in their free time are Romani," Caha explained. The centre offers floorball, football and ping pong, and girls especially love to use the space for dance; there is also a climbing wall, arts activities, theatre facilities and computer access.” 

 

 

Slovakia closes Romani settlement because of COVID-19, police and soldiers deployed

On 29th December, Romea.cz reported that the Romani settlement of Ratnovce u Piešťan in Slovakia had been guarded by police officers and soldiers since Saturday, 19 December, the strict security measures being introduced there because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was noted that, “residents of the settlement are in quarantine there after 28 people tested positive for the virus, including a three-year-old. The testing was ordered by the regional public health authority and a crisis staff has been set up in the settlement.”   

It was further reported that a 25-year-old man had passed away in the settlement on Friday, 18 December and an autopsy would eventually reveal whether COVID-19 was the cause of death. It was said that there are 97 people registered as permanent residents in Ratnovce, but the actual number of residents is about 200.

Romea.cz stated that, “TVnoviny.sk has reported that despite the strict measures, some infected people are attempting to leave the settlement. Police officers and soldiers are posted on guard around the entire perimeter.”

 

Slovak quarantine measures in Romani settlement are over, police and soldiers no longer on guard there

On 30th December, Romea.cz reported that the Regional Public Health Authority in Trnava, Slovakia had overturned the movement restrictions that were in effect for Ratnovce in Piešťany District as of Monday, 28 December and, given the expiration of the 10-day quarantine period, had stopped monitoring whether home isolation and other quarantine measures are being upheld by residents there. The measures had been instituted on the basis of COVID-19 testing results in the Romani settlement.  

It was further reported that, “Of 88 people tested there earlier this month, 28 were found to be positive for the virus. Police officers and soldiers arranged 24-hour checkpoints surrounding the settlement to prevent residents leaving and unauthorized entries. Since residents were unable to travel into the community to shop, municipal officials arranged for food delivery to them. The situation became exacerbated two days after the quarantine measures were imposed, when a 25-year-old man passed away in the settlement.” 

 

 

Fundraiser underway in Czech Republic for Romani taxi driver who was one of the country's first serious COVID-19 patients

Romea.cz has reported that Robert Markovič, one of the first patients to fight for his life against the COVID-19 virus in the Czech Republic, had written a poem of gratitude to all the doctors and other people who took such brilliant care of him earlier this year and saved his life. It was said that, “according to Martin Balík, the head physician at Charles University's Clinic for Anesthesiology, Resuscitation and Intensive Medicine, part of both the General Teaching Hospital and the First Faculty of Medicine, Markovič was afflicted by the largest-ever dosage of the virus that medical personnel had measured in any patient at that time.”

Balík was reported saying that it was apparent Markovič had been infected more than once by more than one of the clients whom he had unwittingly driven over the course of a couple of weeks. Despite not having a big chance of recovering, Markovič was said to be doing his best today to return to normal life.

You can read the poem here:   Fundraiser underway in Czech Republic for Romani taxi driver who was one of the country's first serious COVID-19 patients - Romea.cz

 

 

Collated by Peter Sagar, A Living Tradition CIC, December 2020

 

 

 

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