Some 20 years ago I scared some communist bureaucrats
when I told them that the only realistic solution to the Gypsy question
was the establishment of a Czech Black Panther group. Naturally I didn't
mean that an urban guerrilla force should be set up or that I support any
form of violence. What I meant was that the situation requires a certain
degree of ethnic self-realization: as long as the Roma do not have their
own respected representatives, we won't have anyone to discuss these problems
Much has happened since then. The problem of ethic conflict has come
to a head in this country - if only because people have started to talk
about it. It turns out that Czechs are quite xenophobic and that there
are various groups of open racists among them. Personally, I would say
that the skinheads who sport baseball bats do less damage in the long run
than the elegant white-collar racists who sport tennis rackets or golf
clubs and are considered to be society's opinion-makers.
This summer , the "Romani problem" really
became pressing and it is therefore important to ask ourselves some hard
questions. We must demonstrate the ability to make distinctions and steer
clear of erroneous interpretations - even those espoused by minority rights
activists. Peaceful coexistence has proven difficult in some parts of this
country. Anti-social behavior affects all races and only a completely confused,
hyper-politically correct person could say that an individual Rom who pickpockets
a tourist is not responsible for his actions.
As far as Czech racism is concerned, I would say that we are no better
or worse than Austrians or Bavarians. You certainly can't say that those
people have any kind of "traditional friendship with Asian people," but
in postwar democratic Europe they simply had to get used to the fact that
certain types of behavior are not acceptable. Thank God for that. Sure
the Austrians have their right wing extremists like Jörg Haider, but
they also have a far more developed civic society than we do.
The Czech form of "folk" racism generally manifests itself in verbal
attacks. It begins with the vulgar familiarity of Czech workers who patronize
foreigners. The new foreigner on the job is given a nice little Czech name
like "Pepík" and is sent on beer runs. But such workers will stand
up for him if someone tries to threaten him - after all, he's their "Pepík."
If that was where it ended, then one could at least say that those workers
are getting rid of their fear of anything foreign.
Even if we fall back on strict civic principles,
we will not have resolved the "Romani problem." Perhaps the first mistake
lies in the fact that we are constantly trying to "resolve" something.
That's the wrong word. Resolving a problem generally means eliminating
it. Unfortunately, this problem will not be so easy to eliminate. So instead
of going on about some sort of "resolution," we should be preparing ourselves
to sit down and talk about this problem for a long time. It doesn't do
the Roma any good to shout like young anarchists that we're all brothers,
black or white. We can help them, however, by being more demanding. It
is better to argue with a brother than it is to sweet-talk him or, conversely,
call him names. The fact that we are xenophobic is our problem, not theirs.
But that applies to them as well - they won't be helping us either if they
just sweet-talk us or call us names.
We have to be conscious of our differences. Only such a consciousness
can serve as a basis for our future similarities and common agreements
on the most fundamental issues. And that applies regardless of whether
the Roma choose to assimilate to the majority culture or emancipate themselves
from it. The absolutely worst thing that we could do is to cover up the
real state of affairs. Such thinking is precisely what makes people like
French extremist Jean-Marie Le Pen so popular. Many hypocrites vote for
him but are afraid to admit it in public.
The Roma have migrated for centuries. None of us
would have referred to the small percentage of Czech Roma who decided to
head overseas this year as an exodus unless we didn't feel forced to ask
ourselves, "Don't they feel at home here?" It's not a question of numbers
but of feelings. Furthermore, the Czech Roma who gathered in Calais and
as they tried to get into Great Britain this year became a European issue.
This was evident in the maliciousness with which French bureaucrats processed
the Czech Roma or the manner in which the British kicked the Roma off Czech
buses coming into England simply because of the color of their skin.
One of the few things that we can all agree on is that the older generation,
regardless of ethnicity, will not be of much help anymore. The only hope
lies in education, and not just the kind that you get in schools. Much
can be done by enthusiastic volunteers or foundations. More and more responsibility
will fall on the shoulders of the Romani elite. Confident Romani representatives
will have more and more space to attend negotiations at the government
or parliamentary level. The fact that the government finally accepted Minister
without portfolio Pavel Bratinka's critical analysis of the situation is,
hopefully, a good sign. The Roma have fought for and received a museum
of Romani culture. It is clear then that something has started to change.
But it is just as evident that whether or not the Roma feel at home in
this country will continue to be an important and constant test for our