Olah Roma elect their king

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A king was crowned in the North Moravian town of Ostrava on Wednesday. He is the new sovereign of the Olah or Vlachiko Roma living in the Czech Republic. Jan Lipa accedes to the throne after two years of mourning for his deceased predecessor. The Olah, or Vlachiko Roma represent about ten percent of the estimated 200 000 Roma living in the Czech Republic. They came to Central Europe from Romania some 200 years ago, much later than the other Roma living here. They lived as nomads until 1958, when the communist government outlawed their way of life and forced them to settle down. Olga Szantova asked Karel Holomek of the Museum of Roma Culture in Brno just how the Vlachiko Roma differ from the rest of the Roma population.

"It's a very close community. Other Romanies are trying to integrate into society, to participate in different structures of society in state or self government institutions, or not-governmental institutions. Vlachiko Roma are a very close community and they are living only for themselves. They are keeping their customs, not like the other Romanies, whose customs have been lost."

Just what will the powers of the newly elected king be? Will they be only over the group that he rules, or will his powers expand to all the Roma population?

"I am not sure. You know, it's a certain theatre in front of the society and what I can say is that I should not overestimate the possibilities of the king of the Vlachiko Roma in the Czech Republic. I perceive it as a possibility for the improvement of the position of the Roma in society. But, for example, if you are speaking about drugs and their prohibition, it is not in his posibilities."

Will the other organizations, the officially recognized organizations of the Roma population in the Czech Republic, will they in any way cooperate with him?

"Yes, of course. For example, my organization, the Association of Ramanies in Moravia cooperates with the Vlachiko Roma in Ostrava."

And do you know anything about the new king as a person, have you met him?

"I know him, not very well, but I know him personally. He has lived a long time in the United States. He now lives in the Czech Republic several years, maybe five years. He has no education, higher education. That's what I know."

Do you think he will be able to make an impact, do you think he will be able to achieve anything?

"In Roma matters we can achieve something if we have support from the state, from society. But the problems are hidden deep in society and I am not sure. But what I can say and what I am sure of is that he has a positive possibility to improve something, but not so much."

Author: Olga Szantová
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