Do More Today!
Which am I more: A woman, or a Romani woman? Am I more a journalist, a daughter, a Czech, or a European? I am all of these together, and which of these becomes most important depends on my momentary situation, my stage of life, and my circumstances. I don‘t think so much about identity anymore, you know – as in my own identity. Given my age and experience, the way my family raised me, and possibly also my profession and my nature, my identity is rather clear to me. However, often I observe children and young people around me who are struggling with their Romani origins in relation to the unbelievably deteriorating state of public opinion about Romani people here. I see how for some of them this represents an almost unreal difficulty. It’s not because of their own personal feelings, but because they feel blamed and often suspected by those around them, just on the basis of their skin color and belonging to a minority which consistently belongs among the least-liked groups in society – or to be more precise, the absolutely least-liked.
This has, of course, occurred before in history, as is known to African-Americans and the many other nations and tribes who have had to battle this in the past. What about Romani people? We of course were once very badly treated – they used to cut off our ears the moment we came into town, they could hang us without trial, they branded us with a “Z” for “Zigeuner” (“Gypsy”) and forced us into the concentration camps and then into the gas chambers.
Compared to the past, we are experiencing calm today – I’m not joking, really. The problem is that when we lived for all those centuries on the outskirts of towns – essentially outside of a society that would only call on us and briefly honor us every so often for our magic, or our music – we did not feel these wrongs as desperately and persistently as we do now. Today you do your best to fit in, to function – to integrate, as it’s called – sometimes even more than a “white” person, and in the end they tar you with the same brush as they do all the other Romani people in this country. Do they want you to feel guilty for being Romani, to publicly distance yourself from each and every Romani person who does something wrong? “What, should we hold a march every time someone is assaulted by a ‘white’ criminal?”
No – but this is the reality. Neither life nor the world is fair. In the 21st century, one-fifth of the planet is squandering everything from energy to food while the rest are dying of hunger, thirst, and wars – as we “more developed” people keep inventing ways to deprive them of their mineral wealth. Those who protest against watching the fashion shows of celebrities and their dogs dressed in expensive bits of clothing brought to us by the television companies could be doing more about this than just having irritated conversations in which they curse the tainted injustice of the world.
For the Sake of Future Generations
Every single one of us can do more today. The main thing is that if we don’t do more now, the next three generations of Romani children will also live in an atmosphere of intolerance. They will insist at school, or later at work, that they have Arabian ancestors, or that they are Hungarian, or Italian. They will change their names.
That is also one way to go. It’s a faster way – but it’s also indirect. It helps only you yourself, not those living on your street, not those of your generation. Yes, I know, we each live for ourselves alone, but some nations, the stigmatized ones, are still perceived and will still be perceived through the prism of these generalizations for a long time to come.
On the basis of many discussions I have held with the Romani people who actively participated right away during the days of the Velvet Revolution and shortly thereafter, I essentially believe things could not have turned out differently for us. Maybe it would have been possible to negotiate with Civic Forum, with Václav Havel at its helm, so that places on the Civic Forum candidate list and support for the Roma Civic Initiative would have been perceived not ethnically, but as an effort at greater integration. However, Emil Ščuka, Jan Rusenko, and even Václav Havel thought at the time that for the Romani minority and Romani culture, for the sake of history and the contemporary moment growing out of it, it would be good for the Romani nation to first “revive itself” and earn the necessary self-respect. That is understandable. Unfortunately, it only partially succeeded. The “systemic” bases were established for developing the Romani language, for Romani education, for the Museum of Roma Culture in Brno, options for Romani college students, Romani radio and television broadcasts and a Romani press. However, no one but Václav Havel wanted Romani people on the candidate list after Civic Forum fell apart. At the start of 1992, when it would still have made sense to try, we Roma were not politically mature enough, not prepared enough, not strong enough, and not unified enough to try to create a coalition or to apply for places on the candidate lists of the big parties, where some decent politicians were still involved in those days. Even then, the existence of an independent Romani political party had no chance of success. Not here, not in this country, and not with these numbers of potential Romani voters, whose discipline as a voting bloc is now for the most part, and was back then, grievously lacking.
New Media, New Opportunity
What now? Well, we can’t all go to Western Europe, neither to emigrate nor to work. They want other people there who are needed more. Naturally, the Government and the politicians should do something. However, Czech politics is undergoing a great crisis of leadership and morals, so during the next year and a half of this cabinet’s term, unless some terrible screw-up happens and the leaders literally commit murder, or unless ethnic and social unrest breaks out, we can expect a whole lot of nothing from them.
Maybe we should apply ourselves more now. Not by posting our fabulous photos of ourselves in our fabulous brand-name clothes to the social networking sites, but by trying to use those sites for something else. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, we should actively participate – through declarations, petitions. We should own the fact that many Romani people are employed, paying taxes, and voting. We don’t feel well here and we should be willing to say why, instead of withdrawing into our homes like moles or cursing only in the pubs. Please, think about it.