Expert: Adoption of antigypsyism definition a “significant move” for Czechia

The Czech government has officially acknowledged the term "antigypsyism" with the aim of curbing discrimination towards Roma people in the country. But what does the term mean, and how will its use effect change? I asked human rights activist Gwendolyn Albert.

The Czech government has officially adopted the term “antigypsyism”, which signifies them taking a stance on discrimination towards Roma individuals in Czechia. To start off, could you define what antigypsyism means in this context?

Gwendolyn Albert | Photo: Czech Television

“The definition that has been adopted is a legally non-binding definition, it’s just a recognition of this phenomenon. The term is based on the definition that was adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance to discuss how to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive and the ideology that led to it. The adoption of antigyspyism is meant to be parallel to the term anti-Semitism – it’s a one word way to reference a very specific set of stereotypes and prejudices that are held in the minds of people around the world about the Roma. The pejorative term that has developed over the centuries for Romani people is gypsy, and so the term antigypsyism is against using that term and the ideas that come with it.

“In this country, this is a significant move because for years Romani people have been discriminated against on the basis of being a part of a group that is perceived to have all of these negative characteristics – considered to be anti-social and inherently criminal. These are all generalizations and biases that are completely unfair to make about Romani people. This gesture is significant because it recognizes that the bias and discrimination is a real problem within society.”

How long has it taken for the government to recognize this even though it’s not legally binding?

“The concept has been in discussion internationally for 20 years. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance did not adopt their own definition until 2020. Given how slowly things can take to come into the Czech environment, I would say this happened pretty quickly – although there are some people who I’m sure would wish it happened sooner.

“I think it’s significant that it’s happening because it shows that the Czech government understands that it needs to distance itself from this kind of discrimination and bias, and make a clear statement that this is not acceptable in Czech society. That is a definite departure from the behaviour of previous Czech governments who have really tried to downplay or belittle the idea that Romani people are targeted. As time has passed, the evidence that this is a problem has accumulated, and this government has decided to take a different approach that should be commended.”

Lucie Fuková, Government Commissioner for Roma Affairs has praised the gesture saying that it gives a name to the phenomenon that Romani individuals face every day. But I’m curious to know if you think that this is enough to make Czechs better behaved or have a more positive attitude toward Romani people?

Lucie Fuková | Photo: Rena Horvátová,  Czech Radio

“This is mainly important in terms of rhetoric and discourse. I’m sure that there will be many Czech people who will belittle and dismiss the fact that this word has been adopted, just as they dismiss Romani people in the first place, those are people who can maybe never be reached. The fruition of this will come in the future once this term becomes understood as a word that is describing something real.

“The more it’s used in this way, and the more the reality of the circumstances is promoted by using the word, hopefully more and more people will recognize it and see it for what it is. But this of course won’t happen right away, and we can even predict that the immediate reactions from certain segments of society will dismiss this.”