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Roma News January 2021

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

 

Best of the Romani musicians program BAŠAVEL in 2020, broadcast online by Czech NGO ROMEA

It was reported on 4th January that the online Romani musicians program BAŠAVEL on ROMEA TV was offering unique guests and clips from the best performances of 2020 in the closing episode of the series. It was further reported that in addition to performances, “the program features an interview with Miro Bartoš, a Romani opera singer who spent part of his childhood in a children's home in the Czech Republic and is now a professional soloist with a theater ensemble in Plzeň.”

 

Czech Pirates criticize Govt report on education of Romani children for not reflecting COVID-19 impact and lack of access to distance learning

It was reported on Romea.cz on 5th January that the day before,  the Czech Government had received the annual "Report on Fulfilling the Measures of the Action Plan for Execution of the Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the Matter of D. H. and Others versus the Czech Republic for 2020" from Czech Education Minister Robert Plaga; for 13 years now the Czech Republic has been attempting, unsuccessfully, to fulfill that judgment from the European Court of Human Rights, which found that Romani children do not have the same opportunities to access education as non-Romani children do here. It was further noted that according to the Pirate Party, “the report does not at all reflect the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has intensified the already significant differences in access to education, above all with respect to insufficient backup for distance learning, such as an absence of technology or of parental support.” 

It was also reported that in an open letter to Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, “the Pirates are demanding the Government rework the document. The report submitted, according to the Pirate Party, does acknowledge there is ongoing segregation of Romani pupils, above all because the system for including pupils into the educational process is poor, as the European Court of Human Rights has indicated.”

 

Czech Pirate Party chair: Emancipation, not "integration", for the Roma

On 6th January, Romea .cz reported that the chair of the Czech Pirate Party, Ivan Bartoš, in an interview for Romano vod'i magazine had noted that "Romani people who enter politics should be involved in the agenda of solving the problems of the entire society. We have to learn to begin doing things together,".

The Czech Pirate Party is currently the second-strongest party in the Chamber of Deputies.  

 

Czech capital sees demonstration in support of Trump and against COVID-19 pandemic suppression measures by the same extremists who march against the Roma

On the 9th January Romea.cz reported that dozens of people had assembled the previous afternoon for a bizarre demonstration in Prague protesting against the Czech Government's measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, expressing their support for outgoing US President Donald Trump, to cast doubt on the outcome of the American presidential elections, and casting doubt on the circumstances around the death of former Slovak Police President Milan Lučanský. Their march had proceeded down Wenceslas Square to the American Embassy in the Lesser Quarter before ending in front of the Embassy of Slovakia in the Bubeneč neighbourhood.

It was noted that roughly 50 people had assembled.  They first listened to more than an hour of speeches on Wenceslas Square during which the speakers criticized the Government restrictions introduced against the COVID-19 pandemic, in which they criticized vaccinations against the disease, and in which some doubted whether the novel coronavirus even exists. Several demonstrators wore yellow Stars of David like those used by the Nazis to label Jews, onto which they had inscribed the word "Unvaccinated".

It was also noted that wholly inappropriate comparisons of the current measures against the novel coronavirus to the situation during the Second World War had also been made in Germany, where Anetta Kahane, head of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, which advocated against antisemitism, racism and right-wing extremism, had called such comparisons a dangerous abuse of the memory of the Holocaust. The chair of the TOP 09 party, Markéta Adamová Pekarová, criticized the use of the Jewish star at the demonstration in Prague.

"I don't understand what is going through the mind of a person who wears such a Star of David to a demonstration. I took my sister, who is 13 years younger than me, to the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial to show her how far human hatred can go. These 'heroes' should be made to go there, and whoever doesn't understand it at that place is beyond help,"

 

Czech Federation of Jewish Communities: Yellow Star of David at Prague demonstration is textbook abuse and relativization of a Holocaust symbol

Romea.cz reported on 10th January that he Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic had condemned Friday's march against the Government measures to address the COVID-19 pandemic during which several participants had worn yellow stars with the inscription "Unvaccinated".  It was also noted that several Czech politicians had already condemned the demonstrators' behaviour before the Federation issued its statement.

Romea.cz further reported that the demonstration, “was also attended by extremists who have previously been fighting against receiving refugees, against the religion of Islam, and against Romani people. "The Federation of Jewish Communities and the Foundation for Holocaust Victims are condemning the textbook abuse and relativizing of a Holocaust symbol that is associated with the suffering of millions of people. It is evident that it is necessary to constantly educate our society and to recommend that all who resort to such base displays visit the locations associated with the Nazi genocide both at home and abroad. We thank all who publicly condemned these displays during the Sabbath today," the Federation posted to Facebook.”

 

Czech churches condemn those wearing yellow Stars of David at anti-vaxxer events, call on them to apologize

On 12th January, Rome,cz continued the dtroyu of the demonstration in Oargue by noting that representatives of churches in the Czech Republic had condemned the wearing of Jewish stars at events by those opposed to vaccination. It was reported that the wearing of the yellow six-pointed stars, which had been used by the Nazis during the Second World War to label Jewish inhabitants, was considered by the churches to be an abuse of the symbol and an example of cynicism.

It was further reported that the religious authorities had called on those who wore the yellow stars at demonstrations last week to apologize. It was said that, “representatives of the Czech Bishops' Conference (ČBK), the Ecumenical Council of Churches in the Czech Republic (ERC) and the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic (FŽO) all signed the statement, published yesterday”

 

Czech town provides no aid as Romani families are made homeless during COVID-19 pandemic

On 13th January, it was reported by Rome.cz that the very last Romani family still living at the housing estate on Kovářská Street in the Czech town of Varnsdorf had now ended up homeless. The owner of the apartment units where they had been living had evicted them at the beginning of January. 

It was also noted that. “the family of five will not be allowed to lease a municipally-owned apartment despite previous promises by Mayor Roland Solloch (ANO) to rent them one, even though both the father and mother of the family have been employed by the town itself for several years and cannot be considered rent defaulters by any stretch of the imagination. Some of the units on Kovářská Street, which has a bad reputation among locals, were bought during the second half of 2020 by the entrepreneur Lukáš Rak, who reportedly wants to reconstruct the prefabricated apartment buildings.”

 

Czech MP publishes collage comparing vaccinations against COVID-19 to the Holocaust and using imagery of the gate at Auschwitz

It was reported on 15th January that the abuse of the memory of Holocaust victims as part of rejecting vaccination against COVID-19 in the Czech Republic was continuing. After several demonstrators against the vaccination rollout had worn yellow Jewish stars to public events inscribed with the term "Unvaccinated", Czech MP Lubomír Volný (Jednotní), who had initially been elected to the Chamber of Deputies on the list of "Freedom and Direct Democracy" (SPD) party, had published a distasteful collage in which the message of the sign that hung over the Auschwitz concentration camp, "Arbeit macht frei", has been changed to read "Vaccine macht Frei".

It was further reported that, “the collage was not produced by the MP but republished from servers abroad”. 

 

Czech Police assess incident where man pointed a gun at a seven-year-old Romani boy as a misdemeanour

On 16th January it was reported by Romea.cz that a serious incident had recently occurred in the Czech town of Bílina. It was noted that. “Romani community member Bartoloměj Girga, a singer-songwriter, was standing in front of a local retailer with his seven-year-old son when a man unknown to him threatened them with a pistol.”  

It was further reported that Girga was better known to the public by his nickname, Bertík. A police officer who had intervened at the scene was reported to have said that the weapon was a gas pistol; Bertík said that he did not know what kind of weapon was actually used, but did say that the officer told him it had been converted to fire ball bearings.  

The incident had taken place in the parking lot in front of the Penny Market in Bílina. It was noted that, “police eventually assessed it as a misdemeanour and the Girgas will be testifying about the October incident to the local authority next month.” 

 

Lucie Lucassen, Romani community member in the Czech Republic, plans to adopt a Romani orphan - like she once was herself

It was reported on 19th January how Lucie Lucassen had been raised by foster parents and had not wanted to acknowledge her Romani heritage for a long time, but when she had begun working for one of the biggest Romani non-profit organizations in the Czech Republic helping the socially vulnerable and got to know other Romani community members up close, she had come to grips with her own identity and had begun to take an interest in the history of the Romani people. Lucassen was reported as saying, "I have not been working long for the Brno office of IQ Roma Service, but working in the social field is fulfilling to me," 

It was further reported that Lucassen had said that, "what I like the most is the diversity of the projects we offer to those in need - a preschool club, a drop-in club, scholarships, and tutoring for Romani pupils and students, The head of a project called Symbios, where I'm something like a participant in shared housing for college students and young adults aging out of children's homes or other forms of insititutional care, told me about the opportunity to work at IQ Roma Service."

 

Czech ombudsman criticizes draft Roma Strategy, rejects idea of updating information about compensation for forced sterilizations

It was reported by Romea.cz on 19th January that Stanislav Křeček, the Public Defender of Rights (ombudsman) in the Czech Republic, had published the full wording of his comments on the Czech Government's draft Roma Strategy for 2021-2030 the previous week after non-profit organizations had criticized a press release issued by his office about the Strategy. It was also noted that unlike his official press release, his full comments once again made light of discrimination against Romani people, above all in the housing sector, and criticized the Strategy's claim that there is a lack of data available. 

It was further reported that the ombudsman's comments, which filled two A4 sheets of paper, also rejected the idea of his office contributing to the aim of securing redress for women who had been illegally sterilized.

The Rome.cz piece went on to say that, “the ombudsman alleges that it is the Government's own agencies and committees, as well as nonprofit organizations, that are to blame for the fact that not enough data about Roma exists. "My first reservation is about the submitters' statement that there is not enough data available to assess the situation, when not only is there a whole series of nonprofit organizations paid from the state budget to be involved with the questions under discussion, but there are also several GovernmentThe rome.cz piece went on to say that, “committees and agencies that are following the same thing. Where are the results of their work?" he asked.” 

 

Volunteer civil society members of Czech Govt Roma Council: ombudsman intentionally undermining the dignity of Romani people

Also on 19th January, it was reported that several volunteer civil society members of the Czech Government Council for Romani Minority Affairs had issued a statement the previous day criticizing the current Public Defender of Rights (ombudsman) in the Czech Republic, Stanislav Křeček, for his publicized remarks about the Government's draft Roma Strategy for 2021-2030. The civil society members observed that the ombudsman did not seem to understand the extent of his own powers when he alleged that the production of a report reflecting new findings in relation to the issue of illegally-performed sterilizations would not be part of his purview.

 

Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion informs ombudsman that 82 % of communities where they work are satisfied

Again on the issue of the ombudsman’s remarks, it was reported on 19th January by Rome.cz that the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion had objected to the remarks made publicly the previous week by Czech Public Defender of Rights (ombudsman) Stanislav Křeček as part of his critique of the draft Roma Strategy for 2021-2030. It was noted that the ombudsman had said that he considered the Agency to be "absolutely dysfunctional".   

 

Romani people in the Czech Republic complain to retailers of security guards stalking them when they shop

Another story of discrimination came to light on 20th January, when Romea.cz reported that security guards in several retail chains were reportedly specialising in keeping track of visibly Romani customers. It was noted that. “being closely followed all over a shop is undignified and unpleasant for such customers and has been experienced by Romani community members such as the journalist Patrik Banga, former Czech MP Monika Mihaličková, chair of the Khamoro association Emil Voráč, and others - and Romani people who work as security guards also confirm these unpleasant experiences.”

 

Czech ombudsman removes his deputy from Govt councils after she disagrees with his official comments on the Roma Strategy

The row over the ombudsman resumed on 20th January when it was reported that Deputy Public Defender of Rights Monika Šimůnková had objected to the official comments sent by Public Defender of Rights (ombudsman) Stanislav Křeček on the Czech Government's Roma Strategy for 2021-2030. She felt she could not remain silent and informed the ombudsman of her fundamental disagreement with the official comments by internal e-mail.  

It was reported that in response, the ombudsman had removed her from three councils advising the Czech Government, including the Czech Government Council on Romani Minority Affairs, where she had been representing the Office of the Public Defender of Rights. She revealed that information in an interview for ROMEA TV.

 

Czech ombudsman claims his deputy was not appointed to Govt councils, Romea.cz has proof that is not true

The ombudsman row continued to rumble on, when on 21st January Romea.cz noted that Czech Public Defender of Rights (ombudsman) Stanislav Křeček had posted to his Facebook profile when he shared an article published by the Czech daily Deník N reporting, just as news server Romea.cz has, that "Křeček dismissed his deputy from three Government councils".saying of the story:    "This is absurd and a lie, of course. I cannot dismiss somebody who is not now and never has been a member of those councils..." 

News server Romea.cz reported that it had seen the credentials issued by the ombudsman in April 2020 to Deputy Public Defender of Rights Monika Šimůnková to represent the Office of the Public Defender of Rights on the Government Council for Human Rights, the Government Council for Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, and the Government Council for Romani Minority Affairs, and the website for the Office of the Government (www.vlada.cz) lists Šimůnková as a member of the Government Council for Romani Minority Affairs and the Government Council for Equal Opportunities for Women and Men; although the ombudsman had signed credentials for her to represent the institution at the Government Council for Human Rights as well, the Government's website listed the ombudsman himself as a member. Šimůnková had recently objected to the official comments made by the ombudsman on the Government's draft Roma Strategy for 2021-2030. 

 

 

Romani doctor in Czech Republic will get vaccinated and is disturbed by COVID-19 disinformation

On 23rd January Romea.cz reported that Jakub Jarý, a doctor in the Infectious Diseases Department of Masaryk Hospital in Ústí nad Labem, Czech Republic who ids also a member of the Romani community, had given an online interview to ROMEA TV. As the novel coronavirus pandemic continued to spread, his profession is among the most necessary to society.

It was noted that, “along with other physicians, Jarý examines dozens of people suspected of having COVID-19 every day. He has been providing aid on the frontlines since the beginning of the novel coronavirus pandemic”.  a

It was further reported that, “ccording to Jarý, the situation in the Czech Republic has not changed much since last March, but doctors are now clearer on what their job is, as procedures and safeguards have now been established that function. "The difference is that it is no longer such a new thing or new threat we know nothing about. We didn't know how to stand up to it before. We didn't know how it would develop in future. I dare say that now we have a bit more of an idea about the future," he told ROMEA TV about the development of the pandemic.”  

 

 

Romani singer Věra Gondolánová has passed away

Sad news was reported on 24th January when Romea.cz stated that after a long and difficult illness, the singer Věra Gondolánová had passed away at the age of 66. It was noted that her nephew Filip Gondolán had announced the news through the Facebook social network.

He ahd posted that, "she has passed away after a long illness. She was as I have always known her... beautiful, proud, brave and to my mind the most talented member of our entire family"..

Iy was further reported that Ms Gondolánová had been born in 1954 and her family was from the Brutovce community in Slovakia. At the age of 15 she had begun performing with her siblings Antonín, Vojtěch, František and Jiří in a family band called "The Gondolán Siblings" (Skupina sourozenců Gondolánových) and later with a Russian folk music ensemble.

The siblings had stopped performing in 1973 after Vojtěch had passed away and Jiří and Věra had emigrated to Australia. Ms Gondolánová ahd then found a new home there, married, and discovered the genre of music that was most fulfilling to her as an artist.

Romea,cz said that, “Ms Gondolánová dedicated her life to chamber jazz and soul. She was always apprecated by musical professionals for her energetic performances and the brilliant vocal technique that made it possible for her to sing the demanding repertoire of Ella Fitzgerald”

 

Romani runner in Slovakia prepares for Europe's junior championship

On 25th January Romea.cz reported some positive news about Annamárie Horváthová. It was reported that when she had won a local race in Slovakia two years before, a photograph of her on the medalists' tribunal went viral. Compared to the girls who came in second and third place in their running shoes, 13-year-old Annamárie Horváthová was standing in first place after running in ballerina flats. 

Trainer Norbert Pecze commented that, "It's talent, diligence and perseverance”  It was also noted that she is, “growing up in the miserable conditions of a Romani settlement”.  

It was also noted that, “after that victory she received running shoes from a sponsor and the Athletics Club in Moldava nad Bodvou noticed her talent and took her in. She was also visited by the then-President of Slovakia, Andrej Kiska, who expressed recognition of her achievement and wished her a great deal of success in school, sports and life”.. 

 

Vaccinations against COVID-19 - how is the Romani community in the Czech Republic responding?

It was noted that Opinions about vaccination among Romani people were overwhelmingly influenced by disinformation.   However, a Gineli poll of Romani people had fund that most believed vaccination is important.

 

Fascist party in Slovakia seems to be falling apart

On 27th January it was reported that the Fascist party in Slovakia seemed to be falling apart. It was noted that Milan Mazurek, Milan Uhrík and Ondrej Ďurica had left the board of the fascist party in Slovakia called ĽSNS-Kotleba ("People's Party Our Slovakia-Kotleba" because party chair Marián Kotleba had used the party's statutes to change the way in which it was directed so that it now followed the "leader principle", stripping them of powers while enhancing his own. It was further reported that journalist Tomáš Kyseľ had stated that, "Marián Kotleba has cemented himself into the chairmanship of ĽSNS in such a way that nobody will ever remove him, even if he ends up behind bars".  

 

Alena Gronzíková: Czech landlords will not rent to Roma even with good references and steady incomes

On 28th January Romea.cz/en reported that Czech landlords would not rent to Roma even if they had good references and steady incomes. One example of this was given, that of Irena who was on the edge of exhaustion because she had not managed to find new housing for her family even though she had a steady income, had saved up for a deposit, and had good references from her current landlord that she is a reliable tenant and met all the requirements for continuing to lead the life of a regular citizen, if society permits. So what was the problem, then?   The answer from Romea.cz, was that, “Irena's family is Romani. All she has to do is mention her surname on the telephone and her dreams of a better future are dashed.”   

Karel Karika: COVID-19 making life drastically worse in the socially excluded localities of the Czech Republic

It was reported on 20th January that the situation in the socially excluded localities of the Czech Republic had deteriorated significantly because of COVID-19. "Impoverished people have been impacted by the pandemic most of all," said Karel Karika, the Romani community member who is vice-mayor of the Ústí nad Labem - město Municipal Department, in an interview for ROMEA TV. 

Karika went on to say that, "I want to concentrate on fulfilling [residents'] needs,". It was further reported that he had told ROMEA TV that he believed that the most impoverished people in the socially excluded localities were not the ones who were succumbing to the current wave of disinformation associated with anti-vaxxer propaganda. 

Speaker of the Czech Senate and Romani representative on the importance of Holocaust commemoration for ROMEA TV

It was reported on 30th January that 27th January had marked the Day of Holocaust Remembrance and Prevention of Crimes against Humanity in the Czech Republic. The Speaker of the Czech Senate, Miloš Vystrčil, was reported to have said on that occasion that it was necessary to do more to draw attention to the country's past and to educate the next generation never to repeat such horrors.   

It was noted that the speaker had made his remarks in an exclusive interview for ROMEA TV and that in a separate interview, the chair of the Committee for the Redress of the Romani Holocaust, Čeněk Růžička, had said politicians who incite the nation against Jewish people or Roma have no business being in politics. 

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

 

 

 

 

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