JUDr. Klara Samkova-Vesela
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I was born on March 23, 1963 in Brno and I graduated from gymnazium in Brno and from the Charles University faculty of Law in Prague. A deputy in the Federal Assembly for the Romani Civic Initiative from 1990 to 1992. Studied in the USA and Canada. A lawyer since 1994. Continued cooperation with the European Roma Rights Center in Budapest and the Commission for Human Rights in Strasbourg. Long-time defender of Roma in matters concerning the violation of their human rights.
In your opinion, how well informed is the Czech public about the Roma minority?
In years past, the mass media's providing of information was absolutely disgraceful. I'm convinced that the media have the lion's share of blame for the Czech public's perception of the Roma, as they diligently promoted this image over the years. Journalists would quite frequently mix up Roma with socio-pathlogical phenomena in so doing. During the "cucumber season" (summer vacation period) or when it was just convenient, the editors-in-chief would send the rookies out to the streets to hunt up "gypsy stories". I actually know quite well what level these journalists were or are at - they often eneded up with requests for information from me, while they wanted answers to such questions in which either the way the questions themselves were put were outrageous, or it would be enough in most respects to do research on the given story at their own papers. Obviously, I wasn't very nice to these reporters.
The change occurred - or is slowly taking place, as the case may be - on the basis of the so-called "Bratinka reports" of Autumn 1997 on the state of the Roma minority in the Czech Republic, when the media, among others, was torn to pieces. As far as I know, in one of the first versions of the report there was very strong criticism of the effect of the most widely-read Czech daily Mlada fronta Dnes, which was practically accused of the indirect promotion of racism. This was transfered from the first versions of the report to the comments, among others, as well as to various media passages. The editors-in-chief there apparently realized that accusations of racism could bring them complications from more than just the owners of the newspaper and they began to slowly change the approaches of their papers toward the issue in question. MF Dnes was again in the forefront, and it was soon followed by other papers. At present, there are even starting to appear attempts at a serious approach in the newspapers. On one hand, many of them - especially the nation-wide dailies - try to point out that the whole so-called "Romani problem" isn't a simple affair, to which a simple solution can be applied, while on the other hand genuine attempts at emphasizing a positive example are beginning to appear. This is conceivably the right way, which has been missing up to this point.
What do you think the attitude of Czech society is towards the Roma community?
The attitude of Czech society towards the Roma community is the same as its attitude towards Roma individuals: very, very bad. The situation has come so far already that it appears to be what was once called "the syndrome of the white Jew." This means that you don't even have to be a Rom, it's enough to support this minority or point out the fact that everything isn't as simple as it appears at first glance, and you will become entirely unacceptable for the majority society. From my own experience I know that such things as education, inclusion in society and so on play absolutely no part. From this point of view, it's not surprising at all that the Roma don't appreciate education. Even a university degree with academic titles doesn't guarantee any of them that Czechs (and by this, please understand, I'm not talking about any kind of exchanges of words on the street, but about the behaviour in public on a certain level) will treat them decently. I was often in public - for example at various diplomatic receptions - with JUDr. (Doctor of Law) Scuka an it was a source of entertainment for me (when it wasn't a source of tears, that is) how Czechs fell into unbelievable embarrassment, how they have to behave towards him. The usual informal terms from the markets don't come into consideration and the proper address "Doctor" really doesn't come easily to any of their lips. I think that just like Roma would need to learn how to communicate with Czechs without tension, Czechs would also need courses in normal communication with Roma.
What this has to do with the possibilities of improving the situation, I think that it already happened, this "turnaround point", and this really in connection with the change in the work of the media, as I described it above. But how long this "normalization of relations" will take I wouldn't dare to guess.
What is your opinion on the suppression of manifestations of racism in the Czech Republic?
One word - feeble. The government - and this is particularly the last one [of Vaclav Klaus] and the one before that - lacked any concept of a legal state as such and phenomena like racism were outside its field of vision. What awaits the next government is the development of an "ideological plan", which should include:
What is your opinion on the position of the Roma in the Czech Republic?
The position of the Roma in the Czech Republic (but also in other - Western - countries) is characterized by two basic factors:
In your opinion, what do Czechs most often hold against the Roma?
Criminality, acceptance of social support, and a low desire for education and for employment. With these alleged negative attributes of the Roma Czechs then justify their own racist attitudes. I ask though: Jews in the Czech Republic are undoubtedly at the highest level of education, with no criminality to speak of, they don't take social support, and, naturally, work - usually in fairly specialized positions. If the hatred Czechs have for the Roma is caused only by the Roma's negative attributes, then how is it possible that there is so much antisemitism in the Czech lands?
In your opinion, what do Roma most often hold against the Czechs?
The truth, which Czechs may never admit, is that the Roma have deep contempt for Czechs (and for Euro-American culture in general), as they consider it to be a culture to which real values of human life are entirely foreign.
A perpetual source of laughter among Roma about the Gadje (I don't think it only applies to Czechs) is the endless Czech avarice. Fawning, informing, trying to climb the career ladder by toadying to superiors behind another's back, and all forms of chasing after wealth. The Roma hold Czechs in contempt for not knowing how to keep their word, stealing themselves (!), and for at the same time assuming the right to judge the Roma. Czechs' treatment of the disabled, the old, and the sick bring them absolute contempt from the Roma. In the traditional Romani family and society it's necessary to take care of everyone - including aged parents and mentally retarded children.
How do you see the future of the Roma in the Czech Republic?
The future of the Roma in the Czech Republic I see as that of the future of the CR itself. Unless the Czech Rep. manages to deal with the so-called "Romani problem", which should actually be called "the problem of Czechs to handle coexistence with the Roma", it will mean that the Czech Republic hasn't aligned itself with the megatrend of human civilization, which is oriented towards globalization, towards the mixing of all existing cultural structures on the globe, and not least, towards the loss of superiority of Euro-American civilization. The Roma - an amazingly large intellectual potential I'd say, which has so far gone unused. Essentially, then, there are two solutions: either the Czech Republic creates such conditions so that this potential can work for it, or the Roma will begin to slowly leave for other parts of the world, where this potential can be developed - and this primarily for themselves, secondarily for the host country.
What do you think are the possibilities of mutual coexistence of Czechs and Roma?
From a general standpoint, I consider the introduction of harmonious coexistence between Czechs and Roma as an absolutely fundamental question of survival - and this is for Czechs. If the Roma aren't able to survive here, well then they will simply leave, just as they've done many times before throughout history. For the Czechs, however, this inability to survive will mean that they aren't able as a nation and as a state to deal with newly arrived problems, and thus, that they are in their considerations as well as in their actions so rigid, that the question arises whether they will be able to face other fundamentally more challenging tests that the next question will put before them. If the Czechs aren't able to get used to the Roma (by this I don't mean to give in to the Roma in what is pejoratively called their "specific way of life"), then they won't be able to get along with the following trends either, and so the Czechs and the Czech state will be faced with extinction. Even from biology this is clear, that only those that are able to adapt survive. And adaptation is a quality at which the Roma are masters.
If I were to outline some practical steps, leading in the desired direction, they would be these:
Do you think it is necessary to draw the interest of Roma to events throughout society and to their position in society? If yes, how would you go about doing so?
This question brought a smile to my face, since it makes clear how deeply Czechs (I'd like to point out, that I don't suspect the author of this survey in any way of ignorance of the problems in question, racism, malevolence, or anything similar!!!) don't understand at all that anything has happened at all on the Romani side.
That Dr Scuka appeared on the Letna plain on Nov. 27, 1989 and declared that the Roma supported what was later to be called the "Velvet Revolution" is possibly of marginal significance to Czechs, but it had a fundamental significance for the Roma. This was the first time in the 700-year history of the Roma in our country that the Roma spontaneously joined the "gadje" and their political life, their political ambitions and endeavors ceased to exist. Nothing like this EVER happened to the west of our borders either. Nor did anything similar to this EVER happen in any post-communist state in connection with the departure of communist power in that country. In these other communist countries on the same path the Roma stood on the sidelines and waited to see how things came out among the "gadje". From this viewpoint, it's clear that the Czech, as well as the Slovak, Roma are definitely the most politically advanced part of the Romani nation - and that's in the whole world. This fact was even verified for me in 1996, when I took part in an audience of Romani women from all over Europe and parts of the USA in Strasbourg. While the women from the Western countries essentially whined about securing basic social support and ensuring security, the Romani women from Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia came up with explicit political demands, such as Romani representation on the Council of Europe by actual Roma representatives, the establishment of a "Romani parliament" as a permanent body in the Council of Europe, electing its representative to the Council of Ministers and with AT THE LEAST an advisory voice. I don't need to add that the kindly organizers of that meeting in Strasbourg almost fainted in horror.
But back to Czech history. After the inception of the Romani Civic Initiative, which meant a real rise for a huge part of the Roma towards getting involved in the political life of the majority society, after it joined the Civic Forum and participated in the government party, the Roma found themselves in the situation of being de facto in the position of a government party. This was without regard to the fact that they didn't have a minister in the government, as they were a part of the victorious political coalition. In keeping with this status, they presented to the government of the CSFR (Czechoslovak Federal Republic) and the government of the Czech Republic in August - September 1990 their conception of solutions for the so-called "Roma Question" and communications to the premiers - in particular to [the CSFR's] Pithart - began to request at least a discussion on that theme and the realization of the program with which ROI (Romani Civic Initiative) entered the elections, and which became an integral part of the Civic Forum's election program. (By the way, who today remembers that that program contained a pledge to set up a ministry for nationalities?) In its place there were both on the federal government level and the level of the government of the Czech Republic appointed government representatives for the Roma Question, who began issuing invitations to so-called "round tables", to have discussions on the topic. Over the repeated protests of the ROI the representatives of the Romani opposition were also invited to this "round table", including Romani groupings supported by the Communist party, such as the Democratic Federation of Roma. The result of these "tables" was the abslolute deadlock of both the above-mentioned "conception", as well as the "Program for the prevention of criminality of parts of the Roma population", submitted again to Premier Pithart in November 1991. In hindsight it's clear that in all of those two years of 1990 to 1992, the ROI was completely exhausted by the struggle for its rights wrested away by the democratic process to implement its own conception of the solution to the so-called Roma problems. Once again, I consider it necessary to repeat that although the ROI was democratically elected in democratic elections, although it was a member of the government coalition, it was completely undemocratically prevented by the ruling majority from partaking in the administration of the concerns of the Roma minority in the Czech lands. What's even worse about this fact is that from the point of view of Romani history it was the single attempt for Roma at cooperation with the majority society on the basis of rules actualy set by that society. I'd venture to say that this development and experience of the ROI had and continues to have for the Roma an absolutely devastating influence. The very quick departure of the Czechs from cooperation with the Roma, the start of which it's possible to place in the period when the Civic Forum split into the ODS (Civic Democratic Party) and the Civic Movement, intensified this experience still more. Another consequence of this departure was then the Law on the Acquisition and Forfeiture of Citizenship, prepared in the second half of 1992 and passed at the same time as the termination of the Federation.
After these entirely crushing experiences, I can't imagine any ways by which the Roma could be induced to cooperate with the Czechs again. Personally, I deeply admire them for still being at all able to communicate with Czechs by any means. But then, this is something dictated by the Roma's tactics for survival.
However, if I were answer the question put to me, yes, I think that it's necessary to draw the interest of the Roma to events throughout society and to it itself, but I have only a vague idea about how to go about it. For a start I would suggest that perhaps someone simply thank those Roma activists from past years, who were admittedly more or less unsuccessful, but often with maximum personal risk, and maximum financial as well as personal sacrifices they endeavored toward this raprochement and engagement. There has yet to be even a hint of this happening.
Have you considered leaving the Czech Republic at times? If yes, for what reason? If no, why?
Leaving the Czech Republic - at least for a period of a few years - I have considered for more than a year now. If somebody isn't part of some sect of flagellants, he or she needs to see that his or her efforts have some kind of result, that things are going somewhere. Life in the Czech Republic for me has meant being branded crazy, weird, having to constantly justify my opinions, and being continually on the defensive. Such a position in life in psychically extremely difficult and I myself feel how the suppressed aggressiveness is growing in me. I'm losing the ability to communicate, which is also critical with regard to my job as a lawyer. The fact of my livlihood being threatened isn't negligible (the essentially burdensome position of being the "gypsy" lawyer), as well as the physical danger.
On the other hand, I know that in many countries they would care for my experience and knowledge and be willing to pay quite well for them. How my internal struggle will turn out between my opinion that I don't have to leave the unfinished work here when at the same time my strength is running out, to fight for these unfinished matters, I don't know. Even if - as I already said above - I think that - maybe - a certain turning point is reached, I am starting to lack the strength to live here. Therefore it's possible that I really will leave. It also depends on some other circumstances about which I will learn in the course of the following months.
Radio Prague Internet Team