Exhibition of 30 racist murders since 1989 marks International Romani Day

Exhibition of 30 racist murders, photo: Štěpánka Budková

One community that’s borne the brunt of skinhead attacks are the country’s Romanies, 250,000 of whom live in a state of uneasy cohabitation with their white neighbours. Romanies make up half of the three dozen people killed in racially-motivated attacks since the fall of communism. April 8th is International Roma Day, which was first marked in 1971 and has been celebrated here in the Czech Republic since 1990. We spoke to Ivan Vesely, head of the Roma organisation Dzeno.

Ivan Vesely
“According to the many reports and evaluations, the situation of Roma in Europe is not good. We’ve been members of the European Union since 2003, and we don’t see any change that was supposed to come from European institutions. We don’t see the democratisation process in decision-making in European institutions.”

But this isn’t about Brussels and politics and decision-making. This is about two communities – white Czech and Romany – who simply do not understand each other and have no time and tolerance for each other. Politicians can’t change that.

Exhibition of 30 racist murders,  photo: Štěpánka Budková
“I don’t agree. Politicians make the atmosphere in society. Politicians are examples, leaders. They show morality, culture, attitudes to issues. The public copies this behaviour.”

How is International Roma Day going to be marked today in the Czech Republic?

Exhibition of 30 racist murders,  photo: Štěpánka Budková
“We’re organising an exhibition on Prague’s Namesti Miru, showing the faces and names of those who have been killed in racially-motivated attacks in the Czech Republic since 1989. We’re also sending a letter [you can read it here] to Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, and Vaclav Klaus, the Czech president. In the letter we say that April 8th is a day of celebration for the Roma, and of course, there will be dancing and singing. But Roma Day is not only about Roma culture. Roma Day is also about emancipation. Roma Day is about the many problems which we experience every day in Europe.”

After 18 years of holding these celebrations and seeing almost nothing changing in Czech society, are you still an optimist?

“I’m an optimist, because we have two possibilities: live together, or face a return to fascist policies. And in that case there will be some kind of fight.”