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Roma News February 2021

Here are some stories regarding Roma human rights from the Czech Republic from February. All the stories are taken from romea.cz/en

Czech Police charge two men for publishing racist content about mass killing last year, Pirate Party and ROMEA filed reports against them

It was reported on 1st February that Czech Police had charged two men with making racist remarks in association with last year's tragic arson in Bohumín. Czech MP Olga Richterová (Pirates) and the ROMEA organization had already jointly filed a criminal report against them. 

It was further noted that officers in Prague had charged a 43-year-old man there with posting racist comments online about the incident. After arson had been committed inside an apartment building on 8 August 2020, 11 people died, including several children.

Eva Kropáčová, spokesperson for the police in Prague, was reported as saying that the accused man had produced and had then posted a comment that was of a hateful, racist character about the people living in the apartment that had been attacked. It was reported that detectives had charged the man with defamation of an ethnic, national, racial or other group and with approving of a felony.

It was also commented that if convicted, the man from Prague could spend as long as three years in prison. A 41-year-old man from Ostrava had also been charged for authoring a racist article about the incident.

 

Legendary Romani musician Rudolf Bagár has passed away

It was reported on 2nd February that on 24 January, the Museum of Romani Culture in Brno, Czech Republic had posted to its official Facebook profile that the legendary musician Rudolf Bagár, a longtime collaborator of the museum, had passed away. "Today we received with great sorrow the news of the death of an extraordinary human being and legendary Romani musician, Rudolf 'Rudka' Bagár," the announcement read. 

It was further reported that Mr Bagár is featured in the book Amendar, published by the museum, as one of the eminent Romani figures profiled there. As a schoolchild he used to perform in his family's band at parties and weddings; he mastered the viola, but as was the custom, like most Romani musicians he managed to play other instruments too, such as the accordion or double bass. 

It was noted that the family had performed in a 1964 documentary, capturing folk music produced by Slovak Television, "Zem spieva" ("The Earth Sings"). When Mr Bagár was 16 his family moved to Brno. 

It was also noted that along with his brothers Jan, Josef, Milan "Beňo" and his cousin, Gejza Horváth, he established the Bagár Family Band there and that that ensemble had successfully performed a modern repertoire all over Czechoslovakia. 

 

 

Memory of the Roma: Mária Lendelová speaks about her life

On 3rd February, it was reported that as part of the Memory of the Roma (Paměť Romů) project, the testimony of Ms Mária Lendelová had been recorded by Jan Ort.

It was further noted that the project endeavours to map the life stories of the Romani people currently living on the territory of the Czech Republic and to present the history of the Romani people from the Second World War until today through their eyes. It was said to be being implemented by ROMEA, o.p.s. with financial support from Bader Philanthropies.

Romea.cz/en reported that Ms Lendelová's narrative develops here along three main lines: the events of the Second World War, personal events from her own life (her postwar migration to Bohemia for work, her life during socialism, and the Union of Gypsies-Roma, which lasted from 1969-1973), and her comparison of life here today with life in previous times, which runs throughout her recollections. Lendelová was born in January 1944 into the Romani musical family of Julius Harvan in the municipality of Telgárt in central Slovakia.

 

EU Commission: States have to show improvement for Roma if they expect to draw funding

It was reported on 4th February that the European Commission (EC) had adopted a new 10-year plan including proposed recommendations to the Member States on improving the lives of Romani people in the European Union. According to the EC, it is necessary to concentrate on seven key areas in that regard:  equality, inclusion, participation, education, employment, health care and housing.

It was further reported that moderator Jarmila Balážová had interviewed the Vice President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová, about why the plan has come about and how the EC will now proceed. "Many problems that we wanted to solve have not been solved. The situation has not improved. On the contrary, the atmosphere has deteriorated in society, the hatred against Romani people that we are seeing on social media has increased. Not enough is being done to combat crime that targets Romani people because they are an ethnic minority. It's a big disappointment and rather a big source of frustration. For that reason, I wanted the new strategy to be concentrated on practicalities, to a great degree. It must take more into account what I have long been saying - that everything we will be planning that will affect Romani people must not just be about Romani people and for Romani people, but planned together with Romani people," Jourová told ROMEA TV.

 

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

It was reported on 5th February that the Czechoslovak National Assembly had adopted a law on the permanent settlement of traveling persons on 17 October 1958 that took effect on 11 November of that year but had not begun to be fully enforced until February of 1959, when Romani people began to be forced by the state to stop living on the road and to permanently settle in designated locations. 

 

 

 

Czech Public Defender of Rights meets Romani community member Štěpán Kavur of the Buči association

It was noted on 6th February that Czech Public Defender of Rights (ombudsman) Stanislav Křeček had met the previous week with the chair of the Buči assocation, Romani community member Štěpán Kavur, who said he wanted to establish closer collaboration with the ombudsman. It was also noted that Kavur had announced that he was arranging a meeting with the ombudsman and other representatives of the state administration for representatives from chosen Romani organizations.

Křeček had recently found himself a public dispute with Deputy Public Defender of Rights Monika Šimůnková, several volunteer civil society members of the Czech Government Council for Romani Minority Affairs, and some nonprofit organizations over his critique of the country's draft Roma Strategy for the next decade, as well as his longstanding belittling of the discrimination experienced by Romani people. For his part, Kavurn had said he and Křeček are considering the option of establishing what he called a "Romani ombudsman" (in Romanes, Romano Čačipen, which translates as "Romani rights" or "Romani truth") to review the problems of Romani people within the Romani community.

It was further reported that Kavur's association wanted, as part of that effort, to organize a meeting with other Romani organizations and, as part of their activities, to work more closely with the Public Defender of Rights, which the ombudsman has reportedly promised to do. "We want to establish a collaboration, for example, by creating the position of an adviser to the Public Defender of Rights with respect to Romani communities," Kavur told news server Romea.cz.

 

Czech nonprofits find schools not in touch with one-fifth of disadvantaged parents surveyed

It was reported on 7th February that one fifth of the children living in social disadvantage today in the Czech Republic, had not had their parents in contact with their children's schools about the current distance learning that is underway. It was noted that that fact had been demonstrated by a questionnaire survey conducted by the People in Need (Člověk v tísni) organization and 15 other nonprofits in the country.  

It was noted that the findings also revealed that more than a quarter of such children did not understand the material being taught today and just half of their teachers were providing pupils with feedback about that comprehension. One-third of parents surveyed had a problem aiding their children with homework because the material being covered is complex. 

Moreover, a quarter of schools, according to this investigation, were not even asking parents whether the children enrolled had a computer at home that would be appropriate to use for online instruction. According to the head of educational services at People in Need, Zuzana Ramajzlová, the situation of disadvantaged children with respect to accessing distance instruction had improved since last spring, but differences remained among schools nevertheless.    

"It depends what kind of school the children attend. The time spent on teaching, the communication method, or the degree of support provided depends directly on the specific schools and teachers," she summarized.

 

Volunteer civil society members of Czech Govt Roma Council: Proposed welfare amendment violates guaranteed rights

It was reported on 8th February that an amendment to the law on aid to those in material distress that was currently awaiting a second reading in the Czech lower house did not respect the fundamental principles and rights that such welfare benefits are meant to guarantee, according to some of the volunteer civil society members of the Czech Government Council on Romani Minority Affairs. Romani community members and others on the Council pointed out that during the last six years, seven such amendments to the law on aid to those in material distress had been submitted to the legislature for consideration.

 

"... all the bills that involve such sanctions have been based on the conviction that this law can be bent to the will of those submitting such amendments," reads the declaration by the volunteer civil society members of the Roma Council, who believe this law cannot under any circumstances be repurposed as an instrument for "re-educating" benefit recipients. These Council members were reported as believing that if this amendment were to be adopted, it would once again make the situation worse.

 

Elena Gorolová, spokeswoman for the illegally sterilized, calls on Czech MPs to support first reading of bill to compensate them

It was reported on 9th February that Elena Gorolová, the Romani community member who is the spokeswoman for the Group of Women Harmed by Forced Sterilization, had called on members of the Czech Chamber of Deputies to schedule a first reading of a bill to provide financial compensation to those who had been illegally sterilized and to adopt it; several votes had been previously held in recent months on scheduling a first reading, none of which have succeeded yet. It was also noted that the bill to compensate those who had been sterilized unlawfully had been waiting to be read in the lower house for more than one year. 

 

Commentary: Czech amendment to tighten welfare restrictions is just more salt in the wound

It was reported on 10th February that the previous day the programme in the Czech lower house that had been meant to include discussion of the strictest-ever conditions being added to the law on aid to those in material distress, and the organizations that provided aid to the impoverished in this country were shocked by the absolute lack of shame among the submitters of this amendment, who were doing so at a time of an economic and public health crisis, as well as by the degree of irrationality in the amendment proposed. The reported had asked colleagues for some actual stories from their work in the field to illustrated how the social welfare system is already in the process of being disrupted here. 

 

Commentary: Czech right-wing populists close to destroying lifesaving social protections

On 11th February, it was reported that during that week the Chamber of Deputies was being given yet another opportunity to complete the corruption of the social protection system in the Czech Republic. If bills no. 290 and 652 are adopted, they will set in motion the destabilization of the sole functioning pillar supporting access to housing in the Czech Republic, the allowance for housing.   

It was further noted that this was not the first time that this fundamental welfare payment, thanks to which hundreds of thousands of households in the lower middle class are housed (senior citizens, single parents, low-income families with children, people living with disabilities) had been pressured politically. It was argued that however, this was the first time that the attack on this benefit has gone so far as to become dangerously close to becoming reality.  

Jan Dužda: Vaccination is the most effective weapon against COVID-19, Czech authorities need to campaign about its effects and importance

It was noted by Romea.cz/en on 12th February that according to Jan Dužda, the Regional Coordinator of the Effective Health Support program who works for the National Institute of Public Health in the Czech Republic, vaccination is the most effective method for stopping the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic in the long run both domestically and worldwide. Dužda discussed the issue during an interview for public broadcaster Czech Radio and its program "O Roma Vakeren" ("The Roma are Speaking").   

 

Štefan Oláh: It's very important Roma identify themselves as such during the Czech census

It was noted on 13th February that Štefan Oláh, a volunteer civil society member of the Czech Government Council for Roma Minority Affairs had claimed that,  "it's quite important that Romani people declare their nationality this year". It was further noted that the census in the Czech Republic will take place in March, April and May, both online and in paper form.  

It was noted that it will be possible for those participating to list two nationalities, for example, Czech and Romani. Oláh explained that, "the data you write into the form is protected by the law on confidentiality, so it is not possible that the name of the person and his or her statement of nationality might be abused.  Such concerns do exist among members of the Romani community. However, there is no need to be concerned, these data will just exist for the sake of generating general information," he added

 

Czech analyst warns that if welfare restrictions are adopted, societal tension will increase

It was reported on 14th February that according to the director of the Institute for Social Inclusion, Martin Šimáček the Czech Republic was on the brink of seeing its social welfare system destroyed. 

It was further noted that the proposed changes submitted in the lower house by legislators from the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) and the "Freedom and Direct Democracy" (SPD) movement in their bill amending the law on aid to those in material distress could initiate this, if adopted, and that Czech Labor and Social Affairs Minister Jana Maláčová (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSDD) was not taking a clear stand against them.

It was reported that Jarmila Balážová had spoken with Šimáček about these developments in an interview for ROMEA TV, explaining that, "the system of aid to those in material distress is the most basic system of social protection in the Czech Republic".

"That means it should be fully functional exactly in the situations we are speaking of now. That's whether this has to do with long-term impoverishment, or long-term social exclusion, or the acute poverty that is frequently happening with COVID-19 now, during the time of this epidemic, when people are simply losing their employment or their incomes are reduced," he told ROMEA TV.

 

Slovak Statistical Office: People can list two nationalities in census, which begins today online only

It was reported on 15th February that, as in the Czech Republic, a census of the inhabitants of Slovakia is happening this year, and according to Slovak media reports, a dispute had srisen there recently about the opportunity to list two nationalities, as is common in the Czech Republic. The questionnaire in Slovakia had first been published using the traditional question "What is your nationality?", followed by the new question "Are you also reporting another nationality?", which had caused some agitation. 

 

 

Czech court hears defamation case against man who insulted a member of the Govt's Roma Council in the media

On 16th February it was reported that five days previously, the District Court in Most, Czech Republic had begun hearing the case of a disgraceful remark that had been made two and a half years earlier by the director of the Krušnohor Housing Construction Cooperative, František Ryba, against Iveta Theuserová, who is a volunteer civil society member of the Czech Government Council for Romani Minority Affairs. It was noted that Ryba had been quoted by the RESPEKT weekly in a report describing critics of the cooperative and its involvement in a controversial political campaign against local residents being labeled "riffraff".     

It was further reported that the report quoted Ryba's reaction when asked about Theuserová's criticism:  "That lying cikánka? Do you mean the cikánka that has the IQ of bubbling mud?" 

It was noted that Theuserová had been insulted by being described in such a way and had filed a lawsuit against Ryba for protection of her good name. Through her legal representative, David Strupek, she is demanding an apology and CZK 50 000 [EUR 2 000] in damages.

 

Czech organizations insist the lower house and Prime Minister reject the anti-Romani remarks of the ombudsman

 

It was reported on 17th February that representatives of Czech organizations working to promote human rights, people facing adversity and the Romani minority had called on Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (ANO) and members of the lower house to distance themselves from the remarks of the Czech Public Defender of Rights (the ombudsman), Stanislav Křeček, about Romani people. It was said that in their view, the ombudsman was denigrating the office by stirring up hatred and strengthening anti-Romani biases in society.    

It was further noted that representatives of 16 organizations, four volunteer civil society members of the Czech Government Council for Romani Minority Affairs and one volunteer civil society member of the Czech Government Council for National Minorities had made the claims in an open letter and that Křeček was chosen for the office a year ago by the Chamber of Deputies. 

 

Deadline for applications to Romani Studies at Charles University is the end of February

Helena Sadílková, head of the Romani Studies Seminar at the Faculty of Arts at Charles University in Prague, was reported on 18th February as saying in an interview for ROMEA TV that, "the Romani people cannot be reduced to just dance, music or social problems. We defend ourselves against such a stereotypical view of them in Romani Studies and we try to pass that on to our students”.

It was further noted that for 30 years now, students had been able to study the rules of the Romanes language, including the basics of Vlax Romanes, and the history of Romani people in Czechoslovakia and Europe at the oldest university in the Czech Republic through the Romani Studies Seminar, a unique field of university study being taught in the Czech Republic and worldwide that had been established at Charles in 1991 by the late Milena Hübschmannová. It was reported that this field was open to applicants this year as well, and those interested could submit their applications by the end of February.

 

Renáta Plachetková: EU citizens without settled status as of 30 June in the UK will be deported

It was reported by Romea.cz/en on 19th February that about 47 000 citizens of the Czech Republic had requested settled status in Great Britain recently, but that authorities estimated that approximately 120 000 Czech citizens total now lived on British territory, around 70 000 of whom are Roma, and the Czech Labor and Social Affairs Ministry had sent Romani community member Renáta Plachetková to Great Britain to provide Czech nationals aid in dealing with the paperwork to acquire settled status, working as a ministerial adviser based in Leeds. She was now warning, in an interview for ROMEA TV, that if Czech citizens living on British territory were not granted settled status by 30 June 2021, they would be deported.

 

Slovak organization wins international award for aid to Roma during the COVID-19 crisis

On 20th February, it was reported that the Slovak NGO "Človek v ohrození" ["People in Need"] had been awarded the Civil Solidarity Prize of the European Economic and Social Committee [EESC] for their project targeting aid to the Romani community during the novel coronavirus pandemic. The group had been one of 23 initiatives from EU Member States and Britain to be honoured in an online ceremony and given EUR 10 000 in prize money.  

It was further noted that the NGO project "Their Health is Our Health" had been chosen by the assessment commission as the best candidate from Slovakia for its exceptional initiative arranging deliveries of aid and food to 10 000 Romani people during the pandemic, according to the EESC. That advisory body to the European Commission had called the work of the Slovak organization an example of remarkable solidarity. 

 

Czech census: Online form will be in Romanes too, listing nationality is important

It was reported by Romea.cz/en on 21st February that representatives of national minorities in the Czech Republic would soon be receiving instructions about this year's census and that the instructions would be delivered to minority organizations for redistribution to their members.

Additionally, it was noted that this year the online census form would be published in seven languages besides Czech. Including Romanes and that listing one’s nationality was important and that it would also be possible to obtain translations in those languages to accompany the paper forms, which would be in Czech.

 

Czech NGO director tells ombudsman he should resign for refusing to acknowledge discrimination against Roma

It was reported on 22nd February that according to the director of the Open Society (Otevřená společnost) organization, Marta Smolíková, the Czech Public Defender of Rights (ombudsman), Stanislav Křeček, should resign for refusing to acknowledge the existence of discrimination against Romani people. She told him so on a program broadcast by the Proglas 13+ radio station. 

It was noted that an open letter signed by representatives of organizations that promote human rights, people facing adversity and the Romani minority had called on Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (ANO) and members of the lower house to distance themselves from the anti-Romani remarks made by the ombudsman and had been raised as a topic of discussion.

The ombudsman responded, when asked to comment on the open letter, by saying that, "during the 30 years that we have been doing the integration of Roma, nothing has changed. The situation keeps getting worse - more Romani children dropping out of school, many not preparing themselves for future employment, unemployment growing, excluded localities increasing. However, when I critically mention that we must not continue this, that we have to change the situation, it's considered an anti-Romani attack. That is an example of where the discourse on the integration of Romani people finds itself at this time".   

Smolíková argued in return that, "the ombudsman is denying the causes that lead some Romani people into difficult situations. Those include their poor access to education, poor access to housing, poor access to health care services - which is associated with the stereotypes about Romani people wrecking apartments, being lazy, not wanting to learn. If those are perpetuated, then even a person who has no personal experience of Romani people will see them through that lens”.

 

Chess player, age 11, is a Romani talent from Slovakia who is defeating adult competitors

It was reported by Romea.cz/en on 23rd February that news server Dobrénoviny.sk was reporting that 11-year-old chess player Agáta Berková, a Roma girl, was achieving unprecedented success in competition and had even played Russian chess grandmaster Anatoly Karpov to a draw after being trained by her father who, along with his chess team called "Hrochotskské jezdci" ("The Hippopotamus Riders"), has broken the stereotypical belief that Roma cannot play chess. Berková is a native of the Slovak town of Poltár, and her love of chess had reportedly dated to the first time she had sat behind a chessboard at the age of a year and a half.

 

 

Romani experts say Czech Government should supply for free the respirators it has made compulsory

It was noted on 25th February that during that week the Czech Health Ministry had issued exceptional measures imposing a stricter obligation on people to protect their respiratory tracts because of the COVID-19 epidemic. Czech Health Minister Jan Blatný (for ANO) had announced the decree would take effect on Tuesday, 23 February and would apply to all public places with higher concentrations of people.   

It was noted that wearing a cloth mask would no longer be enough in such places now and people would have to wear either a respirator, a face mask made of nanofiber, or two surgical masks at once. It was added that according to several opposition politicians, the Government should give the citizens respirators for free.

 

ROMEA TV interviews Czech doctor about vaccines against COVID-19 - how are they made and how do they work?

It was reported on 26th February that the willingness of citizens of the Czech Republic to allow themselves to be vaccinated against COVID-19 had grown slightly since the close of 2020 - at the end of January 2021, 54 % of adults surveyed in the Czech Republic said they would be interested in a free vaccine. As polls from abroad demonstrated, however, the willingness to be vaccinated is lower among the ethnic minorities of various societies. 

This is apparently also the case among Romani people in the Czech Republic. Several opinions and questions about the vaccine are being repeated in the community comparatively frequently. 

One such question is about what the vaccines are made of. The vaccines were also developed quite quickly - so does that mean they are of poor quality? To what extent are the vaccines effective? It was noted that ROMEA TV is broadcasting a series of video interviews online where Dr Marie Nejedlá of the National Institute of Public Health (Státní zdravotní ústav) answers these questions. 

 

Romani kickboxer wins quarter-final of cage match on Czech-Slovak OKTAGON MMA show, withdraws after injury

On 28th February, it was reported by Romewa.cz/en that  Václav Sivák, the Romani community member who has represented the Czech Republic to become the amateur kickbox world champion, had made his first appearance the previous evening in a cage match organized the mixed martial arts (MMA) show produced by the OKTAGON pay per view channel in a show called "UNDERGROUND: Last man standing". Eight fighters competed for victory in what the show calls a pyramid.

It was noted that although Sivák had won the quarter-final, he had had to withdraw from the rest of the competition due to injuries. 

 

Collated by Peter Sagar, A Living Tradition CIC, March 2021

 

 

 

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