Sunday, 23 December 2007

"I’m not racist, I just don’t like Gypsies".

You hear that sentence a lot around here when racism comes up in conversation.

And come up it does, because racism has been in the Czech news a lot lately. The planned march of far right wing extremists through Prague’s Jewish quarter to “show the rabbis the flags after 60years” ended as a bit of a fiasco, but their demonstration the following week protesting the death of free speech carried more weight in the wider community.

Then, three elite Special Forces soldiers were suspended pending expulsion from the Czech army due their involvement with shadowy neo-Nazi organizations and fears that they could be intending to train extremist paramilitaries. And in the same week that students from the Liberec art college won a Europe-wide anti-discrimination design competition, students across town at the Liberec technical college were being investigated by police for posing behind a Nazi flag.

A survey of almost 1700 teenage students published this week by the People in Need organization showed that 75 % of respondents had a negative attitude towards Romanies and thought their problems were caused by their ‘failure to adapt’. A third of respondents said they would like to expel Gypsies from the Czech Republic!

Not so surprising perhaps, but read further and you’ll find that 80% of respondents have a positive attitude towards Africans and 60% towards eastern Europeans, Vietnamese people and Muslims. The Czech Vietnamese community is the most visible after Romanies, and I was a bit surprised that there was so much of a difference in the figures.

I asked friends about it and they weren’t surprised at all. Their explanation was that Vietnamese people were perceived as much more hardworking than Romanies, and that was the difference. That’s fair enough I guess, but the problem comes when an entire group of people is judged by the actions of a few (or even many), and leads to racism or discrimination. I asked the same people about right-wing extremists and racist organizations and they explained that everybody they knew thought the skinheads were a bunch of ****ing idiots. If we acknowledge that it is human nature to an extent to judge a whole group of people by the actions of those you come into contact with, it’s at least reassuring that it’s applied to the outspoken racists as well as to those they march against.

For my part, I’ve quite enjoyed the limited and admittedly arm’s length interaction I’ve had with Romanies and their culture. There’s a particular bar that’s run by a Romani family that I really like to go to, and I had a great time at the Gypsy music festival at Rožnov pod Radhoštem and the Khamoro festival parade in Prague. Iva Bittova and Terné Čhave are two Romani acts that are amazing to see live and last new years’ eve Kale played live on the main square of the town I live in. Awesome!

An in-depth analysis of Romanies' place in Czech society is beyond the scope both of this blog and my abilities, but if you’d like to explore more, you might be interested in these links...

Merry Christmas, Veselé Vánoce and Baxtolo Karačoňa...

1 comment:

Michael said...

You hear a lot of anti-Roma prejudice from Czechs, with the old "they don't want to work" line usually figuring somewhere. Close behind was that old chestnut about the Communists moving Roma into brand new flats, which were quickly smashed up and used for communal bonfires. How much of the problem is down to racism and ignorance I never quite managed to work out.