1 step 2 step 3 step 4…tired baby screams, a mother sighs…17, 18, 19…smell of simmering onions diffuses up the stairwell…45, 46…lovers part with a kiss…79, 80, 81…blaring TV laughter fills the airwaves…93, 94…key turns in lock; home sweet home. I’m still weighing up the pros and cons of living on the 6th floor, but the one thing mounting those steps does guarantee (aside from a racing pulse) is time for reflection.
I spent last weekend with the organization Romodrom as they prepared for their summer camp for socially deprived Roma children. I am at present stirring the cauldron of adjectives and won’t start serving until I get a mix that accurately captures the generosity, music, campfire stories, laughter, good food and beautiful countryside to which I was treated. Instead, I turn to staircase contemplations and one particular niggle that dominates my climb to flat no. 24, namely that I am advocating for the rights of an invisible minority.
As I have become more familiar with the city and its inhabitants, I am struck by the lack of awareness about the situation of the Roma. Unlike the unavoidable swarms of tourists, Roma – living mainly in one particular city district, Žižkov – remain out of sight, out of mind for the majority of Prague’s population. The picture is similar elsewhere in the country. Aside from allowing prejudices to fester, geographical concentration ensures that statistics which stick out like a sore thumb on paper (up to 56% of Roma of working age are neither employed nor actively looking for a job) remain in reality unseen by most. The incessant application of the label ‘different‘ is accompanied by little firsthand experience and an element of apathy; the d word used as an explanation for the Roma’s difficulties which ‘just are’.
A media campaign by Dutch photographer Juul Hondius in 1998 aimed at stimulating public debate on racial violence and discrimination in the Czech Republic against Roma. Provocative posters covered city walls fighting what was described as a preference to ignore by making Roma visible on the streets of Prague.
A follow-up project photographed the posters sometime later in order to document positive/negative response to the campaign. I’ll leave you to interpret the results for yourselves but for me, they are a vivid illustration of how the pervasiveness of the Roma plight is intertwined with society’s inherently short attention span.