International Roma Day to be celebrated for first time in Czech Republic

This Sunday, for the first time ever, the Czech Republic will mark International Roma Day, the day when Europe's 12 million Romani people remember their common, often tragic past. April 8th was declared International Roma Day in 1971, at the first ever congress of the International Romani Union in London. Rob Cameron reports.

There are still many grievances to be addressed - the Roma are still waiting for compensation from the German government for the hundreds of thousands of Romanies who died in Nazi concentration camps. But April 8th is mostly a day for Roma to celebrate their common identity. This year, towns and Cities throughout the Czech Republic are hosting a series of events leading up to Sunday's big day, including concerts, rallies and a charity football match. Martina Pokutova is from the body organising the events, Athinganoi ( )

"I'm from the Athinganoi organisation. It's the original name for 'Rom', or 'gypsy' - it's a Greek word. I'd like to say we are happy that we can realise a project like the International Roma Day, because we think we should be proud to be Roma, and it has never been celebrated in the Czech Republic. We think that it's very important to show other Roma that such an organisation and such people can prove something, that we can reach something, that we should have courage and be brave, not to worry. One thing we can do is motivate others and be a positive example for them. That people like us exist."

One of those positive role models Martina Pokutova mentioned is the country's only Roma MP, Monika Horakova. And as she explained to Radio Prague, the campaign to mark International Roma Day was important mainly because it had all been organised by Roma themselves, a sign that the situation of Czech Roma was slowly improving.

"All of these things which were in this campaign were realised by Roma themselves, which is a very important thing. Athinganoi has existed for three years and there are many active people inside that organisation, mostly young people, and they are doing something for Roma... I think there is strong progress. There are still many, many problems which are not solved, but things are changing. We have our institutions like the inter-ministerial commission for Roma affairs in the government, and we have Roma advisers in all district offices. We have many Roma organisations, and I think things are moving forward,"Roma MP Monika Horakova said.

And just a quick rundown of some of those events for those of you listening in Prague: On Friday in Prague's Namesti Miru square they'll be a street party featuring Roma food-tasting, painting and gypsy music. On Saturday there's a charity football match with Roma, Albanian and African teams competing at Prague's Slavia stadium, and on Sunday - International Roma Day - there'll be a special ball at Smichov's Narodni Dum.