New anti-racist project launched in Czech Republic

Well a project was launched in the Czech Republic to improve relations between the Roma minority and the majority Czech population. The project goes under the title "Varianty" and is sponsored by the European Union, under the PHARE program, which is providing half a million Euros. Olga Szantova reports.

The project is to last throughout this year, and while it is to deal with all forms of xenophobia, the main stress will be on the Roma minority and its life in the Czech community. The program involves a media campaign to inform people about the life and achievements of Roma artists, musicians and other professionals. Brno university is launching a research program to study race relations in various cities, to compare those where relations are good, with those where there have been serious clashes in an attempt to find out what causes these differences and how best they can be avoided. Special courses for Roma activists - street workers and social workers will be held, and the project will also include the Roma assistants who are helping Roma children in some 170 schools throughout the country. But the Government's Human Rights Commissioner, Jan Jarab says the most important part of the program concerns all children, not just those from Roma families.

"The ambitious part of the project is the one which concerns education on all levels, the multi-culture curriculum, which should look at the whole education in history, civics and other fields, and try to put a less ethnically Czech impact, which reflects far more the historic and contemporary multi-cultural, or mixed heritage that we have here. It's very, very worrying, when you see kids in primary school or secondary school who believe that this country has always been purely Czech and now we have some bloody foreigners coming in, and that is what's happening. We really need to start re-structuring the education of the majority, not just of the minority."

The Varianty project is being organized by the People in Need Foundation, which has much experience with helping people in war-stricken parts of the world, including the Balkans. And Jan Vlaciha from the foundation feels that much of that experience will help them in the Czech project, that there is a lesson to be learned there as to what ethnic cleansing can lead to.

"The experience is in all the Balkan states, where the society wanted to have a clear ethnic society of one ethnic and one nationality. And in the Czech Republic we have a large society of Roma society. And we want to be partners and to be a multi-ethnic society, with the possibility to work together, to live together with the Romas."

The Varianty project is one of many programs addressing the issue of xenophobia, but in some aspects it is more ambitious. Human Rights Commissioner Jan Jarab stresses that the financial help from the European Union has made that possible. But doesn't the PHARE aid show that the European Union feels that race relations are a serious problem in the Czech Republic?

"Yes, I think that from a European viewpoint the Czechs are not yet fully prepared to accept what will inevitably happen to them when they enter the European Union, that is, they will be far more in a pool of nations and a pool of national minorities which will be migrating to and forth and they will have to get used to the idea that we are not living in our own small closed world, where we can just close the doors on everybody else. We simply can't"

Author: Olga Szantová
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