Late summer is here and the weather is fine.The city looks great and is filled with beautiful tourists from around the globe along with a spattering of locals who couldn't get much vacation time. Everyone's having a great time...except of course for the Roma.
One horrible incident after another has made this truly a summer of discontent for the Roma, numbering around 300,000 and comprising about 3% of the total Czech population.
There has been a string of racially motivated attacks against them, capped off by the murder of Svitavy resident Ota Absolon at the hands of a 22 year-old skinhead.
But violence against the Roma is hardly even news here anymore. To literally add insult to injury, the Czech government even committed a horrible faux pas last week when they completely skipped the first ever memorial service for the thousands of Roma who were put to death in the Auschwitz concentration camp, despite the fact that the majority of the Roma in Auschwitz were transported there by the Czech regime!
The Czech Embassy in Poland allegedly lost the invitation, so no government officials were present and the Czech media wasn't even informed about the event. Kudos to Lidové noviny for getting the scoop.
And then as a figurative last straw, the British were allowed to set up an extra-ordinary passport control checkpoint in Prague's airport as a response to the high number of Roma flying to Britain this summer.
The British were apparently afraid of an increase in their already high number of asylum seekers from Czechia and Czech government officials readily permitted them to weed out people from the flight even before take-off - which served the purpose of preventing Roma from even entering the country to see London or visit relatives, despite the fact that they have the same passport as the rest of the Czech citizens.
But I can only scratch the surface of the issue, so I decided to allow my friend Martina Pokutova to sum up the situation for the Think readers by publishing this English translation of the wonderful opinion piece she recently published in the Czech daily Mlada Fronta Dnes:
"Why should someone be afraid to go into a store or walk down the street just because he or she has a different skin color? One of the roots of racist evil is indifference."
This is how one of the participants in the internet discussion on the MF Dnes web page (iDnes) expressed himself:
Every day I turn on the radio and I hear...news from home...the Roma are complaining... they're taking to court... they're hurt... and before I have to hear about how some b*tches had a bad taxi ride to Tabor... send the damn Gypsies to Hell and get on with the news!
Other contributions don't differ much.
Somebody tells me I should jump off my flight, wants to regulate my fertility, and wants me to finally assimilate. I've been thinking about what I actually have to do for Czech society to accept me as an "assimilated" citizen. I'm finishing up college, I think I follow the rules and norms of this society, and I have a clean criminal record.
How is it possible then that the moment I enter a store the eyes of all the salesgirls zoom onto me and say, "I wonder if that Gypsy chick is going to steal something?"
How is it possible that whenever I get in among a new group of people I have to prove that I'm not that bad, I don't steal, I'm not dirty, and I even have something between my ears?
How long will I have to hear the incredibly stupid comments and jokes of my colleagues, professors, and peers about my ethnicity, without them being the least bit ashamed? How long will I have to search for a business that will let me in? Do I have any chance of being a citizen with equal rights? Maybe these are the real reasons why people are leaving this place.
Discrimination, constant oppression, and fear. Violence, murder - that's just the tip of the iceberg. After the murder in Svitavy I'm still afraid. I was born in Czechia, as were my parents and grandparents, so I'm at home here. Why should I be afraid that someone is going to attack me just because of the color of my skin? Just because of the skin color. The attacker isn't going to stop to consider my character or education.
My appearance will be enough for him. In Svitavy, a young man who publicly admits that he belongs to the skinhead movement stabbed and killed the Rom Ota Absolon. At Ruzyně Airport in Prague British consular officials are preventing the Roma from flying to Great Britain. It is pretty easy for me to put myself into the shoes of the Czech TV editor Richard Samko (a Rom), who, unlike his Czech colleague, wasn't allowed to fly to Britain.
It would be enough for me to picture a pretty normal situation. I decide to fly to London with my boyfriend. My boyfriend (non-Rom) goes through the passport check without any problems. But I, just because I have a different skin color, don't have a chance. I understand the trapped, degrading feeling that Richard Samko and all the other "not recommendeds" tasted.
I've never thought about emigration seriously. But I have to admit that I'm not so sure anymore that I want to stay in a country where the only government official to come out against the discriminatory practices of the British officials was the Minister of Culture, Pavel Dostál. In a country where the prime minister wears a silly grin while being asked about a person's murder.
Where you can hear right out of the mouth of the vice chairman of the opposition party ODS, Miroslav Macek, that we should emigrate to other countries than Great Britain.
Maybe I should send him an official thank you note for such a great idea! It seems to me that these politically correct politicians with their firm statements about the uncompromising prosecution of racism just live from one empty sound byte to the next and are out of touch with reality.
The level of indifference and more or less concealed xenophobia is unfortunately about the same among these governmental representatives as it is for the indifference and hatred among the majority of the population.
This work contains the testimony of those who survived the concentration camp for Roma in Lety u Písku, where today stands a pig farm.
That is how they solved the "Gypsy question" during World War II. Even back then, the roots of the problem were indifference and hatred.