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Romea: Countering Stereotypes and Building Bridges through Media and Education

Tereza Bottman | Posted September 5th, 2010 | Uncategorized

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“Our colleagues in journalism, as much as we, are still looking for a way to write about the Roma and about Roma-related issues in a way that is not too ethnic; in a way that is not colored by various prejudices and stereotypes,” says Jarmila Balážová, co-founder and chair of Romea Civic Association, a Romani media and education organization.

“It is not at all easy to do,” she elaborates. “”It has only been since (the Velvet Revolution in) 1989 that Czech journalists have been writing about the minorities. Even we are guilty of stereotyping sometimes, for instance, when we want to balance out a negative image of the Romani minority that continues to prevail in the Czech media. So sometimes we emphasize the ethnicity of a personality when it should not be done. But we do it to spread the word that Roma exist who are not known, and who, for example, represent this country on a national level in sports.”

Jarmila Balážová is a woman in demand; a woman with charisma, vision and an uncanny amount of energy. She is an award-winning journalist and the driving force behind a number of programs and publications, including Czech Radio’s Romani radio broadcast, “O Roma vakeren,” which she founded and the Romani monthlies Amaro Gendalos and Romano voďi, of which she is editor-in-chief. Balážová is also a producer at Czech Radio 6, the former broadcasters of Radio Free Europe in Czech.

[Jarmila Balážová, photo credit: Romea]

Balážová established Romea in 2002, along with a group of others, following a training of young Romani journalists, offered by the Dženo Association. Zdeněk Ryšavý, who is now the executive director, was also one of the co-founders.

Romea’s mission is to “motivate and involve predominantly young Roma in civic life as well as to contribute to better relations between the minorities and the majority population in the Czech Republic.”

Romea runs a press service as well as an internet news server, which reports on events from the world of the Roma, and is, according to Romea’s annual report, currently the country’s most-visited Romani server. The server regularly broadcasts TV news reports on ROMEA.tv in both, Romani and Czech language. The monthly Romano voďi, which Romea publishes, provides coverage of current events from the world of the Roma as well as articles on Romani literature, music, history, language. A portion of the magazine is directed at young Roma, who can find pages that profile active and successful Roma and a two-page section “Through Our Eyes” focusing on “youth” themes. Romea also produces “10 Minutes”, a talk show which profiles interesting Romani guests.

I had the opportunity in late August to talk with Ryšavý and Balážová at their office about their work and Romea’s role in the Czech media landscape.

“I think that the vast majority of the media, in fact nearly all media, continue to reinforce various stereotypes concerning the minorities,” maintains Balážová. “I must say that some media do it less, others more. A huge difference can be seen between those who have been dedicated to these issues long-term, using an analytical lens. The result depends on who is writing and who is in the leadership at the particular media outlet.”

When asked to discuss the mission of Romea, Balážová explains that providing information, but also monitoring the press for factual accuracy are some of the key roles her organization plays.

“We bring information to the Roma themselves,” Balážová says. “Our role rests in that we think that if the Romani community is not well informed, the members will not be very politically engaged; that they will not be able to defend themselves well. That is the reason we provide information. And we write about notable personalities for a more balanced (public image of the Roma).”

“We also try to bring opinions of the Roma on the issues, because white Czech journalists never or seldom ask Roma for their opinions,” continues Balážová. “If it weren’t for us at Romea, who put in the effort and approach a number of Roma to obtain their commentary so that Czech News Agency and others can use them as sources, the angle would never change.”

“I get very upset,” chimes in Ryšavý, “when we have to correct journalists when they write nonsense they don’t doublecheck. They go somewhere where conflict is occurring and usually ask only those from the side of the white Czechs. That has happened to us many times. And the way the articles are framed because only the whites are asked, makes the Roma instantly into the perpetrators. Then when we collect quotes by the Roma and contact newspapers, asking them to include this information, they usually write us back that their organizations are objective, that they could not interview any Roma because they could not find any. That is absolute nonsense.”

When asked what he finds most rewarding about his work in Romani media, Ryšavý says he enjoys introducing successful Roma to the public. “It is interesting,” he reflects, “that these types of articles are not of interest to majority media outlets. In general, the media write about what is wrong, not what is positive. We try to correct that by trying to place articles with a positive spin in mainstream media.”

Balážová says that occasionally positive coverage does appear, especially on Czech Television, and especially about children. She, however, points out that Roma-related topics are often viewed as their own separate domain.

“Often both, the public and the journalists, understand Romani-themed issues to be separate from the rest,” Balážová explains. “When the issue is something that has to do with discrimination, exclusion, stealing or looting, Roma will be written about. But when it is something that is unexpected, for instance help is provided to flooded communities by the Roma and not just along ethnic lines, there is not too much interest.”

“I think it is the main weakness of Czech media,” Balážová asserts, “that they perceive the Roma divided from Czech society and not part of it. This idea tends to always be emphasized.”

Regarding dreams for the future, Balážová jokes: “World peace.” But then gets more serious, describing how over the last eight years of its existence, Romea has always struggled with funding and has had to rely on volunteers, in addition to the core paid staff.

Balážová explains that, even at the price of getting funding cut, her organization is critical. Because of that, she says, they have gotten “smacked across the fingers regarding taking on new projects,” as she calls it.

“The nonprofit sector is very much affected by this phenomenon,” Balážová continues. The Romani organizations which are dependent on state funding, she says, “will not do anything that could go against the government or some politicians, who are offensive or anti-Roma. Our experience is that a whole lot of Romani nonprofit organizations, which are effective, which have lots of money, because they know how to apply for it, because they are well-established, will not ever join any demonstration or protest at all, even in support of Natalka (the two-year-old Romani victim of a molotov cocktail attack carried out by neo-Nazis last year).”

“It would be great if we could work in a more or less stable atmosphere,” she says. “It would be great to find partners in the media or other relevant institutions for our educational and media-related projects.”

Ryšavý agrees: “I would like Romea to become more financially stable. Another distant and more difficult-to-achieve goal is that of eventually cutting ourselves off from state finances, to obtain funding from other sources and not be dependent on grants, because that is very binding.”

[Zdeněk Ryšavý]

As a white woman involved in advocating for equal rights for minorities, I was curious about how Ryšavý wrestles with the fact that he is white in an influential role in a minority organization.

“I have an opinion about that,” jumped in Balážová, who is a Roma. “He has been very active working on these issues, so he has already gone through a trial period when some people may have doubted his role here. I have to say that he has never tried to push himself to the foreground, only the last two years he has agreed to appear in the media, but only if I or another Roma from Romea is there.”

“It is exactly the same,” she continues, “as when a Roma has to prove him- or herself in a non-Romani company. In the same manner, a non-Roma must prove himself in a Romani organization. But from the beginning, we have declared, and quite loudly, that we will have non-Roma working here as well. Our mission is to improve mutual relationships, so we have to build on the fact that we can work well together.”

As a white person, closely familiar with issues affecting the Roma, a person like Ryšavý has the unique position of serving as a bridge between the two groups. Ryšavý says he can influence the majority population’s perceptions of the Roma by challenging his white friends when they say prejudicial things and engaging them in a conversation.

“It does work,” Ryšavý explains. “At most you can influence your circle of friends, which is maybe two hundred people. It is possible. But the media influence people’s opinions more.” That is why Romea’s work of bringing information from the perspective of the Roma to the public is so crucial.

Speaking Truth to Power: A Conversation with Karel Holomek, a Vital Voice in the Roma Rights Movement

Tereza Bottman | Posted August 30th, 2010 | Uncategorized

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Earlier this month, following the Roma Holocaust commemoration ceremony at the site of the former “Gypsy” concentration camp near the town of Hodonín u Kunštátu, I had the chance to sit down and talk with Karel Holomek, one of the most esteemed Czech Romani community leaders.

He shared with me his concern about the recent political developments and their impact on his future cooperation with the Czech government as a human rights activist.

“I will speak about politics now, because politics for me is a fundamental thing. Everything stems from there,” said Mr. Holomek, sharing a table with me in the breezy, contemporary, urban, yet relaxed setting of the cafe at the Museum of Romani Culture, an institution he co-founded nearly twenty years ago in the Czech city of Brno.

Mr. Holomek is the son of the first Czech Romani university graduate and the father of the historian and Museum of Romani Culture director Dr. Jana Horváthová. He is a celebrated international human rights advocate, chairman of the Society of Roma in Moravia and current Ambassador of the Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005 – 2015, an initiative that brings together the governments of twelve European countries and NGOs “to accelerate progress toward improving the welfare of Roma.“

[Ing. Karel Holomek, photo by Chad Evans Wyatt]

“I reject the attitude politicians display toward the people who challenge them,” Holomek continued, “in the vein of ‘don’t meddle in our dealings; we are now discussing culture, we are discussing language, we are discussing literature.’ Politics doesn’t belong in these types of conversations, they say. But, unfortunately, it does belong there, and in a very significant way.”

“My big topic at this time is this,” said Holomek. “The government, after the (May Parliamentary) elections came out with its new policy outline. The administration announced, to the satisfaction of everyone with common sense, that it is an administration whose priority is a balanced budget.”

“We accept that,” Mr. Holomek elaborated. “But I always add that government savings measures do not have to mean going broke.”

Holomek went on to criticize Prime MInister Petr Nečas’ choices of staff: “The new administration took the next step of making changes in staffing. It nominated the ministers. Pavel Drobil, who was named the Minister of Environment, is a man who is dedicated to the industrial lobby. He does not even hide that fact. He says such nonsense as ‘nature is there for the people, not people for nature,’ which is a completely primitive slogan, almost as if meant for simpletons. The Minister of Environment is only proof of what the government plans to do regarding the environment. They don’t have to play the charade that they will work for the people.”

“The second concern I have is the new advisor on human rights to the Prime Minister,” Holomek went on. “I consider Roman Joch to be on the borderline of acceptability. I would go as far as to say, and many would agree with me, that, opinion-wise, he is a neo-Nazi. His opinions include: the constitution is the only force needed to protect human rights; everyone is equal in the court of law; the courts should decide.”

Holomek asserted that Czech courts are often incapable of carrying out just judgements, because they are corrupt, a sentiment I have heard echoed from many activists, even a long-time human rights lawyer in this country.

Regarding the lack of legitimacy of Czech courts, Holomek said: “In reality, we have a judicial mafia here. Some people do not realize this, but most of the nation understands that the highest posts are occupied by a judicial mafia.”

“All the people the Prime Minister has selected come from the Václav Klaus administration,” observed Holomek. “And that epoch had a very negative effect on the cultivation of the society, morale, but even in economics. Nečas is probably, with these staffing choices, making deals or amends with Klaus’s political party. That is his problem. But there is no reason we should tolerate this.”

Holomek was referring to the years, specifically the early to mid-90s, following the Velvet Revolution when the regime shifted practically over night from a centrally-planned socialist economy to “free-market” capitalism. The Czech government relatively quickly privatized the majority of state-run business, selling disproportionately large amounts of assets to foreign-owned entities. This transition resulted in significant job losses (in the Czech Republic namely in the agriculture and manufacturing sectors) and wage depression. What followed was a societal reorientation towards rampant consumerism and the general weakening of social safety nets.

“My dilemma is now with this,” confided Holomek. “On July 1, the Czech government took over the presidency of the Decade for Roma Inclusion. I was there in a meeting with still the previous Prime Minister and I was selected to be, so to speak, the face of the Decade. They even call me the Ambassador.”

Holomek’s reaction was mixed. He said that he would be happy to represent the Decade if it had the power to bring about concrete change: “It makes me smile, because it is a highly honorable, but unfortunate function and, of course, without a crown. If I were an ambassador who could do something, who could be the person who receives and allocates the funds dedicated to the initiative, it would be a whole different thing.”

“There are two problems here,” Holomek explained. “The decade is a completely ‘sterile’ project, which has so far taken only the form of international conferences. These are completely insignificant events, during which twenty, thirty or forty like-minded people get together and complain about how things are not working and how something should be done, and during which not a single government official ever participates, let alone to say: I acknowledge you and what should we do about it on our part?”

“When I accepted my role as Ambassador,” explained Holomek, “I said we have to do something concrete. There needs to be a shift forward. I don’t think I will continue being the face of the initiative, if no development happens. I went to the administration and proposed some measures to be taken (toward Romani integration), but I was told immediately by the Office of the Government that there is no money for those efforts.”

Holomek said that the combination of a having a person in office with whom it is impossible to cooperate, and the prospect of no expected progress in sight, makes it so that he cannot possibly continue being the face of the Decade: “I would accept it all and continue to risk and move forward if there were at least someone in the administration who would be supportive.”

“With my years of experience,” Holomek contended, “I am a trusted person and I am willing to do anything (to improve the situation for the Roma), but not with these people in the government.”

“Now I just have to wait and see whether the PM will grant me a meeting with him,” Holomek concluded, “so I can tell him eye-to-eye, bluntly as is my style, how I see the situation and how angry he has made me.”

Karel Holomek is one of the signatories of ProAlt, a grassroots initiative opposing the new Czech government’s priorities. I, too, have signed the initiative, which I hope will constitute a vital force that keeps in check the new conservative administration who, so far, seems deaf to the concerns of human rights and minority advocates.

Museum of Romani Culture: Paving the Way Toward Opportunity and Understanding

Tereza Bottman | Posted August 27th, 2010 | Uncategorized

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“We are a space where different cultures meet. We preserve examples of Romani cultural history as part of Europe´s heritage. We educate the younger generation to be tolerant and to appreciate other cultures,” proclaims the motto of the Museum of Romani Culture, based in the Czech city of Brno. “We are committed to fighting xenophobia and racism. We are paving the way to a new understanding of the roots of Romani identity. All this we do in the name of mutual understanding. For a dialogue of cultures. For us.”

“A Romani museum of our scope does not exist anywhere else in the world,” explains Museum of Romani Culture director Dr. Jana Horváthová, who co-founded the institution in 1991 along with a group of scholars and community leaders, including the prominent Romani activist, current Ambassador of the Decade of Roma Inclusion, and Horváthová’s father Karel Holomek.

[Museum of Romani Culture. Photo credit: wikipedia]

The permanent exhibition traces Romani culture and history from the time of the Romani migration from India centuries ago up until present-day life in the Czech Republic.

“Our goal is to create the broadest possible collection of original documentation for the presentation of Romani history and culture,” says Horváthová.

Particularly well-documented and moving is the section on the Roma Holocaust, which comprises scores of photographs, testimonies, newspaper articles, official documents and original correspondence.

[Museum of Romani Culture Director. Photo by Tereza Bottman]

Other sections include artwork by Romani artists, cultural artifacts and descriptions of traditional customs and music. The exhibit also shows the history of Romani political activism in the Czech Republic as well as a collage of Roma-related press headlines collected over time and together forming a complex picture of the media coverage of Roma-related issues.

“Our museum is really an exemplar and a first of its kind,” Horváthová continues, “a fact which the Czech Republic perhaps does not value as much as it should.”

“There aren’t many Romani museums, ” Horváthová says, listing all other Roma-themed museums and permanent exhibits around Europe, including the Museum of Romani Culture in Slovakia, part of the Slovakian National Museum, and the Tarnów Ethnographic Museum, which now houses Poland‘s first permanent Roma-themed exhibition. She also mentions The Interpretation Centre and Ethnographic Museum in Granada, Spain, where an original Romani cave dwelling complex can be viewed.

[Museum of Romani Culture. Photo by Tereza Bottman]

In addition to the permanent exhibition, the Czech Museum of Romani Culture periodically presents temporary exhibitions of art and photography. The museum is also a Romani studies research center for all of Central Europe. It houses a Roma-themed library and bookstore as well as organizes lectures, concerts, panel debates and Romani language courses.

“We always say that it is important for people to come the first time and then visitors tend to return,” says Horváthová. “There are many people who hear about us and think that it is terrible here, that we are located in a slum. They are afraid of coming to a Romani neighborhood, so this type of prejudice deters many potential customers.”

“My wish,” Horváthová continues when asked about her vision for the future, “is for us, after so many years of effort, to be able to break the society-wide aversion toward the Roma.”

The museum has worked intently to make this vision a reality. The institution’s scope extends to helping to give Romani children a fair chance at adequate and academically challenging education.

In conjunction with the museum’s extensive afterschool education offerings for the neighborhood children, which include art, sports and performance classes as well as tutoring, a new program centered around integration of the chronically segregated Czech school system is underway.

As part of the program, a number of children have been identified by the museum’s educators for extra academic support and integration into schools with predominantly majority-population children in other areas of the city outside “the ghetto.” During the upcoming school year, the Romani children participating in this program will be accompanied by staff and bussed to new schools in order to improve their chances for a better education and future.

[Dr. Jana Horváthová, Museum of Romani Culture Director.
Photo by Tereza Bottman]

“The segregated schools in this neighborhood,” explains Horváthová, “have a population of 90 to 100 percent Romani children. There the teachers cannot give extra attention to the more gifted students and the curricula are not the same as in mainstream schools. These students, even when gifted, have no chance of getting into secondary schools. We have already confirmed this over the years of running educational programs. And it makes us very sad when children that would do well in secondary school, even college, do not make it because their schools are so behind mainstream programs and the children find it impossible to catch up to the level required for entrance exams and education at the secondary level.”

“These children will be pioneers,” says Horváthová. “The transition will be very difficult. The children are used to going to an all-Roma school, where it is, in a way an easier and more pleasant environment, because there they know the communication style and behavior of their classmates. When they begin in a classroom that is mostly non-Roma, it will be enormously stressful for them. They will need professional assistance. Without that, the transition is impossible to manage.”

When asked whether the teachers in the mostly majority population schools are prepared for the integration efforts, Horváthová explains: “What is needed to make integration successful are smaller class sizes and an educational assistant, preferably a Roma from the community, in the room, together with the teacher.”

She adds: “Very few teachers and classmates are aware of the reality of the child living in a ghetto and all the things the child has to deal with when entering the surrounding world.”

“Teachers from the majority population have gaps in this area. One of the programs we provide are educational seminars for teachers, which acquaint them with Romani history and culture,” she continues. “We often advise teachers who write us and ask us what they should do, how they should work with their Romani students.”

“I like the afterschool programs a lot,” says a fifth-grader who attends English language lessons and tutoring sessions at the museum in the afternoons. She says she likes learning languages and would like to also study Latin. In school, her favorite subject is Math. She wants to be a nurse or police officer when she grows up.

When asked whether she would be participating in the school integration program, she said she would very much like to, but that her mother is afraid: “My mom is scared because the other school is too far, that a tram could hit me or that I could get lost.”

“Family support is a substantial, if not key ingredient, along with the child’s internal motivation, in determining which of the children are chosen for the program. If the parents did not understand or agree with the placement, it would be almost impossible to retain the child at a prestigious school,” explains Horváthová.

As far as a systemic change which would ensure all-around success on the school integration front, Horváthová believes much work has yet to be done.

“Ever since the revolution in 1989,” says Horváthová, “our organization has been calling for systemic change in the arena of education, but each time a government is replaced following an election cycle, a new minister is put in place who must familiarize himself with the situation, which makes systemic reform very difficult.”

Horváthová calls the museum’s school integration program daring and adventurous and says that even with all their effort, success is not guaranteed.

[Museum of Romani Culture, photo by Tereza Bottman]

“We have been observing a trend that shows that many Roma who do leave ‘the ghetto’ and do obtain higher education often have an interest in communicating with Roma from different groups inside the community which is very diverse, and in working in the non-profit sector and helping their community toward a common goal of uplifting our ethnic group.”

Horváthová confides that the economic downturn has been difficult for her organization: “Today’s economic situation has been troubling for us and other museums, I am sure. Culture is probably, so to speak, our society’s Cinderella. So, we are afraid of how the future will pan out. I can imagine that currently even mainstream museums are having a difficult time sustaining themselves, but when we approach sponsors, they usually turn us down. The will to support any Roma-related activities is just not there.”

[Dr. Jana Horváthová, photo credit: iDnes]

Horváthová’s vision for the museum is to grow and to continue expanding its collections.

“Next year will mark twenty years of our museum’s existence,” she concludes. “We have the spirit of a warrior, and we hope no one breaks that in us.”

Oh, You Black Bird, Carry My Letter: Czech Roma Holocaust Remembered

Tereza Bottman | Posted August 23rd, 2010 | Uncategorized

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“Tensions in society are heightening. Perhaps the time will come again when we are sent away to designated areas. That is why during hardships we all must help one another.”

Such was the sentiment that resounded during Catholic Mass, which was part the commemoration of Roma Holocaust on August 22, held at the site of a former concentration camp for Roma near the Czech town of Hodonín u Kunštátu.

Approximately 1300 Roma were imprisoned in the Hodonín camp between the years of 1942 and 1944. More than 200 prisoners, many of them children, died at the camp of disease and malnutrition. The majority were deported to Auschwitz, where more than 90 percent of all Czech Roma died at the hands of the Nazis.

“For the Roma gathered here, we ask for the strength to fight the evil marching along the same old tracks today,” Father František Lízna said in his sermon. “We ask for blessings for the new generation.”

“For the non-Roma here,” the priest continued, “we ask that they are able to accept those different from them, and that they be willing to die for them, thus repaying the debt of the hatred they have harbored against their neighbors.”

About 80 people attended the event, which consisted of a mass, commemoration ceremony at the mass gravesite of the Roma victims, and an opening of a Museum of Roma Culture exhibition entitled Roma Genocide, displayed inside the only original building left standing.

“We share the pain, injustice, and arbitrary treatment as well as the feeling of being excluded from society, occurring still today,” said Pavel Fried, head of the Jewish Community in the city of Brno during his speech, drawing a parallel between the experience of the Roma in Czech society and that of the Jews.

Fried said he hoped that the presence of the members of the Jewish community would help encourage the Romani community “to continue to find the strength to persevere in fighting discrimination.”

“The suffering that occurred seventy years ago is continuing today,” said Jan Munk, director of the Terezín concentration camp. “It connects us and creates for us a joint responsibility for things to come.”

Activist Karel Holomek of the Society of Roma in Moravia, who is the Ambassador for the Czech Presidency of the Decade of Roma Inclusion, expressed his disapproval and dismay at the political situation today.

“I always speak at this ceremony about the present situation in relation to the past, and I am troubled by what is currently happening,” Holomek said, criticizing the Prime Minister’s new human rights advisor appointee, calling the choice “a danger to the development of democracy.”

Jana Horváthová, director of the Museum of Roma Culture, told the press at the event that very few people are aware of the Roma Holocaust. For that reason, the Czech Ministry of Education plans to build an educational center at the former camp where researchers and schools can study the Roma Holocaust. Šimon Mastný of the ministry said that the project is important for the ministry and that he hoped the ministry will continue its support for the project.

Before the candles, flowers and, in the Jewish tradition, stones were ceremoniously laid on the mass grave memorial, moving many of those present to tears, singer Zlata Pouličková performed a song, In Auschwitz there is a Great House, written by Růžena Danielová, a Czech Romani Holocaust survivor. The first two stanza of the song are as follows:

In Auschwitz there is a great house
And there my husband is imprisoned
He sits and sits and laments
And thinks about me

Oh, you black bird! 

Carry my letter! 

Carry it to my wife 

For I am jailed in Auschwitz

American Neocon-Christian Right Ideology Makes Inroads into Czech Politics with PM’s Advisor Choice

Tereza Bottman | Posted August 18th, 2010 | Uncategorized

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He opposes affirmative action because it unfairly privileges those from “special” groups over others, and because, as he says, there is no need to rehash things for which we, alive today, are not responsible. He claims there is no systemic discrimination, and thus no need for corrective measures improving the lives of the marginalized, including the Roma, in the Czech Republic, even though scores of international studies have shown otherwise. He is not happy anti-discrimination legislation was instituted in this country, because it essentially “dictates how people in their private spheres should conduct themselves.” He deems homosexuality abnormal, likening gay people to pedophlies, zoophiles and necrophiles. He defends the use of torture, including waterboarding, and is not opposed to the installment of a right-wing, authoritarian regime if Western civilization and liberty are under threat.

Meet Roman Joch, director of the conservative think-tank Civic Institute (Občanský institut), and new advisor selected by Prime Minister Nečas for the area of human rights and foreign relations.

What Joch’s post as an advisor to the Prime Minister means is that, come September when he is slated to start, the American Neoconservative-Christian Right alliance, through its long-cultivated mouthpiece in the Czech Republic, will have a direct say in the formation of both, foreign and domestic policy.

This is not a new phenomenon, as other CI personalities have been in advisory positions in the government before. It is nonetheless an alarming turn of events for those concerned with the dire human rights situation of the marginalized groups, especially the Roma who face systemic discrimination in nearly every sector, including housing, labor, and education.

This information is taken from Joch’s 2007 bio for his fellowship at the California-based Claremont Institute, a conservative think-tank whose mission is “to restore the principles of the American founding fathers to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life,” and to establish a limited and accountable government that respects private property, promotes stable family life, and maintains a strong national defense:

Joch lectures and writes on political philosophy, international relations, and national security issues in Czech and Slovak newspapers, magazines and electronic media. From 1994-1998, he was International Secretary of the Civic Democratic Alliance, a conservative political party in the Czech Republic. Joch was a member of the student movement during the Velvet Revolution in 1989, an international visitor to the Republican National Convention in 1996, and a delegate to the First International Conservative Congress in 1997.

He is the author of two books, Why Iraq? Causes and Consequences of the Conflict and The Revolt Against the Revolution of the Twentieth Century, an intellectual biography of American conservative. He holds an M.D. from Charles University in Prague.

Evidently, Joch and his Civic Institute team have taken it upon themselves to, in concert with their ideological allies from abroad, cultivate contemporary Western society, to save it from ignorance, poor taste and vulgarity.

He is a cultural warrior, fighting to bring back traditional family values and “objective“ morality rooted in Christian values. At the same time, his mission is to ensure the Czech Republic aligns itself completely with pro-US interests in the region. After all, his institute and publishing house are being bankrolled largely by American neo-conservative and Christian Right foundations such as Earhart Foundation a William H. Donner Foundation in conjunction with right-wing Czech industrialists. The American defense contractor Lockheed Martin even financed the Civic Institute, where Joch is director, during the time the US was negotiating a sale of F16 fighter jets to the Czech Republic.

The CI Advisory Board boasts such personalities as neoconservative Michael Horowitz of the Hudson Institute, who served as general counsel for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under the Reagan Administration. Also on the Board is Michael Novak of the conservative think-tank American Enterprise Institute, whose scholars were considered to be some of the leading architects of George W. Bush administration’s public policy.

According to the European Conservative:

The roots of the CI can be traced back to the late 1970s and early 1980s when the dissidents met in their homes to discuss politics, philosophy, economics, theology, culture and international relations. After the fall of Communism, they decided to found an institute to carry on those discussions. (…)

The founders of the CI intended it to be an institution dedicated to the advocacy and vindication of the moral conditions and philosophical foundations necessary for a free society. (…)

Its first publication was a Czech translation of Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom. (…)

The CI began cooperating and networking with many other pro-family and pro-life institutions around the world, publishing studies and policy papers. (…)

After 11 September 2001, the CI preserved its pro-family orientation, though in less explicitly religious terms and added international relations, foreign affairs, security issues, Islamic terrorism and existential threats to the West to its portfolio of issues.

The CI has published studies and organized dozens of conferences and seminars around issues like U.S. foreign policy, the role of America in the world, the war against Islamic terrorism, missile defense, Islam in Europe and demographic challenges in the West.

Joch and his colleagues have clearly set up a mini training laboratory from which they send out ordained warriors to spread their gospel-flavored cocktail of traditional Christian values and right-wing pro-American political agenda.

The European Conservative continues:

CI fellows serve as commentators in Czech media, contributing op-eds to newspapers and magazines or speaking out on political issues on radio and television.

CI fellows serve as advisors to several Czech statesmen. The director of CI (was) a member of the Academic Council of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs and served as advisor to the former Czech deputy prime minister for European affairs. (…)

Many alumni of CI events have gone on to careers in media as columnists; in politics as aspiring politicians or staffers to senior politicians; or in academia as assistant professors or professors.

(CI members) enjoy their position as a ‘happy warrior,’ pushing the public and intellectual discourse – and the whole society – as far to the right as is reasonably possible. Born out of the resistance to Communist totalitarianism and having opposed socialism and moral relativism, the CI now fights against the ideologies of multiculturalism, radical feminism and political correctness. They fight for Western traditions and values and, above all, for ordered liberty.

Approximately a hundred protesters gathered this morning in front of the Office of the Government in Prague to protest the appointment of Joch on the Prime Minister’s advisory team. The appointment has been criticized by leading Czech scholars and human rights activists, including Students Against Racism and the newly formed government opposition initiative, ProAlt.

“We are here to say we reject Mr. Joch, whose concept of human rights is, according to us gathered here, unfortunate,“ said one of the protesters.

During the demonstration, a contest was held for the most ridiculous quote by Joch. The winner was this quote, endorsing the possibility of installing “a right-wing authoritative regime,“ if “Western civilization were threatened with destruction caused by the political and intellectual impotence of the Left,“ or “by the inner disintegration, or abandonment of civilized values and virtues in favor of the freely flourishing venting of lust and passion.“

The intent and the connection between CI’s activities and those of their American counterparts are clear. It is up to the Prime Minister to decide whether he wants to continue to endorse this type of anti-democratic, bigoted, hegemonistic agenda despite the protests from human rights advocates and minority leaders.


A petition against Joch’s appointment as advisor to the Prime Minister has been initiated and can be found here.

Also, to read about how neoconservatives secretly forged an alliance with the Christian Right during the Bush presidency, go to this 2007 interview with investigative journalist Craig Unger by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now.

Czechs ban together to oppose incoming government’s priorities, condemning planned social spending cuts

Tereza Bottman | Posted August 11th, 2010 | Uncategorized

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“The biggest assault on the rights of the working people in the last twenty years.” That is what the Czecho-Moravian Confederation of Labor Unions (ČMKOS) has called the policies the incoming Czech government plans to implement in its continuation of the neo-liberal reforms of the early 90s.

The money saved on the outlined social spending cuts is “blood money, taken from the poorest people,” says ČMKOS economist Martin Fassmann.

In addition to labor unions, the newly elected right-wing government’s priorities have been criticized by a host of journalists, social critics, academics as well as activists. Many of them are now signatories of the newly formed citizen initiative, ProAlt Initiative for the Critique of Reforms and Support for Alternatives, which opposes the steps the government plans to implement in the areas of education, environmental protections, health care, retirement and social policy. One of the initial 100 signatories is the prominent Roma rights activist Karel Holomek, President of the Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015.

According to the press release, ProAlt strives to “bring citizens together across professional and social groups and inspire the general public to defend their own interests more thoroughly. It will also organize protests against the prepared reforms with the aim of preventing them from taking effect.”

The main argument is that it is unacceptable for the state to “abandon responsibility for vital areas of public life, in particular education, health care and retirement insurance.”

“We do not consider the privatization of public services and public space to be the solution – on the contrary, we consider privatization to be the source of most of our current environmental and socioeconomic problems,” says ProAlt spokesperson Tereza Stöckelová.

It was in September 1990, only ten months after the fall of communism, that the Czechoslovak Federal Assembly approved the “Scenario of the Economic Reform,” the blueprint for trade liberalization and a massive-privatization scheme of state-owned enterprises.

At the time of the vote, 97 percent of businesses were state-owned, the highest percentage of any Warsaw Pact country. Today, twenty years later, 87 percent of all the state-owned enterprises have been privatized. Free trade enthusiasts laud the Czech Republic for making fine progress, though the more radical Friedmanite types would have preferred a more rapid process.

The government, encouraged by its mandate from right-leaning voters who determined the right to be the winners in the May Parliamentary election by a narrow margin, is trying to shake off as many expenditures as it can, as quickly as possible, while playing into the hands of (largely foreign-owned) big business, in the form of outsourcing, tax breaks, etc. The Czech government is now focusing on the last and most guarded and controversial aspects of privatization: health care, education, worker benefits and protections, and social services.

The ProAlt press release continues:

“Under the slogan of ‘fiscal responsibility’, the government is preparing to be environmentally and socially irresponsible. The initiative intends to offer principled alternatives to this government policy,” says movement initiator and one of ProAlt’s spokespeople Jana Glivická.

The overemphasis on economic growth and parameters creates the impression that other factors influencing quality of life are inconsequential. This leads to an under-appreciation of those areas of social life that are not easily quantifiable, such as culture, education and the environment. ProAlt considers evaluating any state purely through financial parameters to be unacceptable.

ProAlt stresses that the current position of the Czech Republic with respect to its deficit is one of the best in Europe, propagandistic slogans about the “Greek threat” notwithstanding. Today the percentage of the Czech budget allocated for social expenditure is below the EU average. ProAlt believes the desirable goal of a balanced state budget must be achieved through re-evaluating the tax system in favor of significantly progressive taxation, transparent public administration, and the total elimination of corruption. “The aim of the planned reforms is not to pay off the debt, but to shift it from the public budget to individual households. People will be forced to go into debt for health care and tuition. For many, debt will become a necessary part of paying for their basic needs,” the declaration reads.

My hope is that this movement will become well-organized and powerful. It is about time that the Czechs across the spectrum come together to demand the state shift its priorities, putting people’s social welfare and the environment first, well before megaprofits from which only a few can benefit.

After a tragedy, a community finds strength in unity

Tereza Bottman | Posted August 9th, 2010 | Uncategorized

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It’s dusk. An unknown car pulls in to the neighborhood and slowly approaches our small group talking on a tree-lined street in a neighborhood of modest wooden family homes and neatly kept picket-fenced yards. The atmosphere tenses.

“Why are they coming here?” one of the local men asks under his breath, his eyes never leaving the car coming toward us.

Suddenly I remember a reality I had forgotten while drinking tea and visiting with the locals in one of the resident family’s backyards. We are in Bedřiška, a “socially excluded community” in northeastern Czech Republic, where last year a molotov cocktail, thrown by neo-Nazis out of a car into an open bedroom window, almost killed a two-year-old Romani girl in her sleep.

The racially motivated attack left three of the house inhabitants injured and caused the little girl severe burns on 80 percent of her body. The attackers are currently on trial for attempted murder.

The car stops not more than five feet from us, the lights stay on, the engine idles for some time, clearly putting some in the group on alert.

“They must be lost,” guesses one of the men.

Soon, a woman no one seems to know opens the car door and hurries past us without a greeting into a house a few doors down. The car drives away. Sense of relief.

The evening sky has a pleasant, summer glow, the birds chirp. A small dog accompanies us, playing with a toy. A group of teens walking toward us greets community activist Sri Kumar Vishwanathan, whom I am accompanying on his trip to Bedřiška today, with smiles.

They linger and exchange a few words about how they have been doing. Vishwanathan asks the youth if they would like a soccer field in their neighborhood, pointing at a large, lush green space on the other side of the road that could potentially be used for a field. The boys reply enthusiastically.

Vishwanathan asks the girls if they would play soccer, or what they prefer to do in their free time. The girls are much more shy than the boys and don’t provide any answers readily. But in less than a year’s time, the neighborhood should have a community center, for which they have pressed the city, completed.

The plans for the center are multifold. It would house afterschool activities for children, tutoring sessions, a meeting and performance space, and more.

[community activists in Bedřiška]

As we continue our way down the street, the locals tell of a recent case when someone in the neighborhood got hurt and the police were phoned, however the phone call from “that notorious location” was dismissed as a prank call and help was not dispatched until multiple calls were placed. The ambulance did arrive on the scene, but was very delayed.

My mind is still buzzing from the neighborhood association meeting I had just attended in Bedřiška. The group had been meeting for some time to advocate for the needs of the community’s residents, but because they were not taken seriously by city hall, they decided to form an official association in May. Since then, their influence has grown, one of the members had told me.

“Now that we are official, they can’t just brush us aside. They have to listen to us,” he said.

“Bedřiška is an example of how a community can come together following a tragedy,” Vishwanathan observed. “What happened could have taken on a negative path toward destruction, or gone in a positive direction toward cooperation.”

Clearly, the latter is the case.

“We talk things through here,” explains one of the association’s leaders. “If there is a dispute among the neighbors, we try to sit down, talk and resolve it.”

“Not everyone is on board yet. But we’re working on it,” she adds.

Deescalating conflict through mediation is a key strategy the association uses to build unity and prevent dangerous situations. The efforts are made all the more urgent, considering the wounds of racist violence in this community are still fresh.

Last March, another arson attack on a Romani family’s home occurred. This time, the perpetrator was a white neighbor from across the street.

As we make our way down the road, we cross paths with a family leaving their home. “Four months ago a molotov cocktail was thrown inside this family’s house,” Vishwanathan relates. “Their teenage daughter put out the fire and saved her relatives’ lives.”

“How is your daughter sleeping these days? Is she able to sleep?” Vishwanathan asks the mother.

The mother looks down and timidly shakes her head from side to side. The truth is clear. The family is still experiencing trauma, months after the incident.

“If the fire had spread, it could have burned a big part of the neighborhood down,” says one of the local leaders. “People realized that what affects one family, affects us all. So we started working together.”

In addition to mediating conflicts and advocating for space, funding, staff and supplies for tutoring and afterschool children’s activities, the association organizes weekly clean-ups of the neighborhood. The group plans community-wide events such as movie screenings, games for children and performances that bring the neighborhood together.

The association also acts as a link between the residents and city hall when rental agreements or other legal documents and proceedings must be attended to. Sometimes archives have to be searched, letters written, errors exposed and fair treatment demanded.

In one case, for example, the association helped when a resident, who had paid all his back rent in full, was later unexpectedly alerted that he had an exorbitant outstanding debt to the city with no clear explanation of why these charges had been incurred.

The locals with whom I spent my evening also shared a story about taking a stand against a local drug dealer who ran a methamphetamine (or pervitin in Czech) lab in the neighborhood. As a result of their actions, the police arrested the drug dealer, making the neighborhood safer for the kids.

The community has a vision of creating a historical display explicating and simultaneously commemorating the neighborhood’s history, closely tied to the region’s steel mill industry. Bedřiška’s wooden homes were built in the 1950s for the steel mill workers who had moved to the area for work.

Today, the unemployment rate among the Roma in the region is high, veering between 90 and 100 percent. One of the association’s goals is to push for ways to employ the neighborhood’s residents, for instance as construction workers or street cleaners, and while we were visiting Bedřiška, an arrangement was made to begin the process with an organization which Vishwanathan recommended.

“I started activism because I have children and grandchildren here, and I want everyone here to have a good future,” a white woman, who is one of the leaders in the neighborhood tells me. “I like the Roma. We are different culturally, but as long as we can accept our differences and talk with each other openly, we get along.”

Fighting for fair treatment and opportunity, however, does not come without a price, she says.

“I have lost old friends of twenty-five to thirty years over this,” the activist tells me, describing how explosive associating across racial lines in the Czech Republic can be.

“When they said things like, ‘You are betraying the white race,’” she continues, “that had to be the end of our friendship.”

By the time our visit wraps up, it is late and the sun has long gone down. I am full of impressions. Images of resigned, dark-skinned “ghetto” inhabitants in graffiti-covered, bleak city landscapes of half-dilapidated buildings flash through my mind. Mainstream media are the modern-day myth-makers. Over selectively crafted, cliched, mass-produced myths, I prefer true stories, told by the people in the real world and in their own words.

For Romani families in poverty, threat of forced removal of children by the state looms large

Tereza Bottman | Posted August 7th, 2010 | Uncategorized

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Members of nineteen families facing eviction file in to a small conference room. The multigenerational group listens intently as LifeTogether director Sri Kumar Vishwanathan describes the situation: his organization, in partnership with several private firms, was, at the last minute, able to secure eighteen apartments on the outskirts of town for families who have defaulted on rent, and are thus being forced to move out of a building in one of the city’s “socially excluded Romani locations.” The apartments offered to those present contain only bare walls, no appliances and insufficient facilities–a sink, but no shower or tub.

[Sri Kumar Vishwanathan, head of LifeTogether, meets with families facing eviction]

This particular community’s unemployment rate stands at a shocking 100 percent, a phenomenon that is common in many of the poor Czech Romani enclaves. In order to survive, families often rely on money lenders who use unethical practices, charging exorbitant amounts of interest, thus forcing families into vicious cycles of poverty which are difficult to break.

As a result of their dire economic situation and deeply entrenched systemic discrimination, several families at the meeting have already had some of their children taken away by the state and at least four others are in danger of having their children placed into state care.

“The mothers were ashamed to say their children are under the threat of being removed from the family,” Vishwanathan, who founded LifeTogether in the northeastern Czech town of Ostrava thirteen years ago, related to me in private after the meeting. “They feel they have failed. But it’s not their fault.”

“Czech Republic is number one in Europe,” he continues, “in terms of having the highest rate of forced removal of children from Romani families and placed in state-run institutions.”

Indeed, Human Rights Watch has found that the Czech Republic has the highest number of infants under the age of three forced into institutional care of all EU countries.

Vishwanathan’s organization works to help prevent such practices, which have been criticized by the European Roma Rights Center and Amnesty International, among other human rights watchdogs. LifeTogether provides many services for the Romani community, including legal aid, counseling as well as help for children who run away from state foster care institutions.

[Sri Kumar Vishwanathan]

To truly remediate the situation, however, a systemic overhaul is long overdue. In its Survey on Children in Alternative Care, Eurochild, a network of organizations and individuals working across Europe to improve the quality of life of children, outlines seven steps by which European governments could prevent forced removal of children from families in poverty. Eurochild states:

EU member states should invest more in moving away from a child care system based on large institutions and move towards the provision of a range of integrated, family-based and community-based services.

Another Eurochild recommendation suggests that “the involvement of children, young people and their families is crucial, both in the decision- making processes affecting them directly and in the development of alternative care policies and services. They should therefore be empowered to participate in all stages of the care process and the EU should encourage the development of peer led groups of children, young people and parents with experience of care.”

The European Roma Rights Center identifies the role of the social worker as key in addressing systemic discrimination, as social workers are those who determine whether a family is “definitively incapable of caring for a child.” This decision is often driven by preconceived conceptions and a social worker’s view of the Romani community. The Bratinka Report, a study discussed in the ERRC document, found this to be the case:

This report found that 38% of social workers felt that the main obstacle to better relationships were the “unsavoury characteristics of the Roma”, that the Romani minority should attempt to adapt to the majority, that affirmative action programmes for the Roma were a waste of money and their influence negligible, and that it would be good to strike hard at Romany criminality and disregard for generally accepted norms. Forty-two percent of social workers felt that pro-active programmes for the Roma were an unfair privilege for one group of citizens. The ramifications of these perceptions may indeed correlate with the disproportionate representation of Roma children in institutions and necessarily question whether Romani families are given a just assessment of their rightful capacity to raise their own children.

Because social workers’ prejudices can ultimately lead to the break-up of a family, it is crucial that, as the organization Eurochild asserts, “all professionals working with and for children, including those in the education, health care, child protection and social work sectors, need high quality on-going training and supervision.”

Furthermore, Eurochild advocates that risks of social exclusion associated with poverty must be reduced:

The fight against child poverty must remain a key political priority of the EU. Social inequality denies children equal access to services and perpetuates the cycle of poverty. A strong political framework is required at EU level to ensure all member states put in place the necessary structural reforms to ensure all families have access to a minimum income and adequate services.

This year happens to be the EU Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion, and in that regard, the Czech Republic has far to go. Considering the critical situation of the Romani population living in poverty, it is an abomination that the newly elected Czech government plans to cut social spending rather than invest in uplifting marginalized communities so they can live fearless, dignified lives.

“That’s very big of you. You are noble people,” Vishwanathan responds to one mother’s offer to forgo her chance to move into the apartment offered by LifeTogether before the meeting with the families concludes. The mother wants to give a preference to a family in danger of having its children removed by the state. She says, “There are nineteen families and eighteen apartments. Of course I will give a family that needs it more a chance first. We, who have kids, know how it is.”

Fortunately, following the eviction from an already long-neglected building for the poor, she and her children will be able to stay at her aunt’s for now.

Seizing the Opportunity: An Interview with Romani News Anchor Richard Samko

Tereza Bottman | Posted July 27th, 2010 | Uncategorized

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“My work has become my hobby,” says Richard Samko, the second ever Romani news anchor on Czech Television. “The work is colorful and diverse. It’s also an adrenaline rush, and I like that.”

[Richard Samko, photo credit Czech Radio]

Samko has worked in the field of journalism for eleven years as a reporter, news anchor and more recently host of Events and Commentary, a nightly program featuring news analysis and political commentary.

In the late 1990s, the Dženo Association introduced Samko to the world of journalism in a training designed to bring up a new generation of Romani reporters.

Samko is a pioneer, with only Ondřej Giňa, Jr., the first news anchor of Romani background in the Czech Republic, having blazed the trail before him. Samko’s drive, energy and passion for his work in the news media underscore our conversation.

“I stuck with it for years, working my way up, because I wanted to make it far,” says Samko. “The opportunity was something a person gets only once in a lifetime. To get to work in Czech Television is huge; it’s power.”

Samko has covered topics as wide-ranging as immigration, problems inside the police force, right-wing extremism, traffic law, housing issues and unemployment. He has also taken part in producing documentaries, an interest he would like to pursue in greater depth.

One documentary on which Samko collaborated was The Saga of the Roma (Sága Romů), a film examining the changes in the Romani community and its relationship to the majority population during the second half of the 20th century. Samko confesses filmmaking is his dream.

“When I worked on The Saga, filmmaking really grabbed me. I saw that the work was more creative,” Samko recalls. “I then made a few short documentaries myself.”

“I would like to make a film that is Roma-themed,” Samko continues. “I can see that as the most realistic undertaking for me; a topic which I understand the best and can say the most about.”

One of the most powerful aspects of being so visible in the media is Samko’s ability to inspire Romani children, who look up to him as a role model from their own ranks.

Whenever Samko’s hectic schedule allows it, Samko travels to Romani cultural festivals to act as master of ceremonies and to speak to the children.

“I want the children to see a positive example of what is possible to achieve,” says Samko.

One of his projects is a program called Fledglings (Ptáčata), in which a television crew follows a group of second-graders, many of them Romani, as they learn to become camera operators, reporters and news anchors while documenting their own lives.

Samko is a visionary. He recognizes the potential in his community and advocates for the skills of those newly trained in his field to be harnessed. Once funding for Dženo’s Romani station Radio Rota is renewed and the broadcast expanded via digital satellite technology, Samko, who would work with the station in advisory capacity, sees an enormous opportunity for a new generation of journalists.

“Radio Rota should be funded,” asserts Samko, “because it would serve as a base for those who have started on a path towards a career in journalism. There is a potential here that should be developed further. In mainstream television, where I work, there is no time for on-the-job training or mentoring. New journalists have to be ready to start working at a professional level. That’s where media organizations such as Dženo and Radio Rota come in.”

Another role that Radio Rota could fulfill is that of enabling journalists from the majority population to access experiences of the members of Romani community whose issues would be of interest because they ‘affect the entire country,’ as Samko says.

“Mainstream media could draw on the work of Romani journalists reporting for Radio Rota,” Samko continues, “because they tend to be the ones with access to the Romani community, something the average Czech reporter doesn’t have.”

In addition to providing information mainstream journalists could draw on as well as hands-on experience to young Romani reporters, Radio Rota, because the Czech Republic is in the center of Europe, could serve as the heart of Romani newscasting, says Samko.

“Radio Rota could broadcast news programming from around the world,” Samko envisions. “We know journalists in Bulgaria, Hungary, Russia, Poland, etc. We know people everywhere. In all these places there are journalists who would contribute Romani-themed programs. The station could be a pan-European showcase.”

To close, Samko urges: “I want my fellow Roma to persevere in doing what they enjoy despite obstacles they may encounter. The opportunities are there. It may take a few years. There will be a few years of waiting, but then the chance to get to a better place will arrive and they will be able to fulfill their dreams.”

“And as far as the majority community is concerned,” Samko concludes, “more tolerance is necessary. There needs to be more room and less judgement of people based on their looks or minority status. Minorities must be given a chance.”

Matters of the Heart: A conversation with Romani radio personality Iveta Demeterová

Tereza Bottman | Posted July 23rd, 2010 | Uncategorized

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“It was when I started here in 2002 that my big love affair with this work began,” says Iveta Demeterová, Director of Programming at Radio Rota, the first Romani internet station in the Czech Republic, founded and operated by the Dženo Association.

“None of us at the station took the work as a mere job; we considered it our life’s mission and our passion,” recalls Demeterová. “For us, it was a matter of the heart. None of us ever looked at the clock; we worked until we were happy with what we produced.”

[Iveta Demeterová, photo by Tereza Bottman]

During Radio Rota’s heyday between 2002 and 2006, the station attracted tens of thousands of listeners from the Czech Republic and around the world each month. Radio Rota aired news, public affairs programming, talk shows, and cultural programs in three languages: Czech, English and Romani. The radio presented organizations to which the community could turn for help.

The hope is that if enough funding is raised, the station will soon resume broadcasting, this time in digital satellite format, reaching listeners in more languages, across as much as three quarters of Europe.

“The station served as a a link, connecting Roma who before the year 2000 immigrated to Canada, England, Belgium, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand,” explains Demeterová. “We provided a way for them to communicate together, obtain information from us, and, in return, pass on information to us about how they were doing abroad; how they were faring in areas of housing, education, work; how they were perceived there and whether they had problems based on the color of their skin.”

The audience also included the majority population.

“Our motto was: ‘Radio about and for, but not only for the Roma,’” says Demeterová, who, as of September, will also be the new Director of Romani programming on Czech Radio, a publicly funded station with a weekly listenership of nearly 3 million.

“I was most thrilled by the fact that there was such great cooperation between the station and its listeners,” beams Demeterová. “The telephone rang off the hook. We received so many emails, it was a challenge to respond to all of them.“

One of the regular programs was a show called Voicemail. “The messages that people sent to each other through us were incredible,“ remembers Demeterová. “People called in to confess their love for each other, to make birthday wishes, to express regrets that they cannot be there to celebrate their grandparents‘ anniversaries.“

Radio Rota even brought people together; not only couples, but friends or relatives who had not been able to find each other for years.

“I did not live my own life doing this work,“ Demeterová confesses. “I lived the lives of the others; the listeners, because I was their fan. I provided advice and contacts for organizations that could help them.“

During the time of campaigns, politicians were regularly invited to the Radio Rota studio to be interviewed and to discuss their platforms. Informally, many of them expressed their support for the station, but in the end, their words were mostly empty promises, says Demeterová.

“Funding was always an issue,” she explains. “The station was built for money from abroad. We asked the Ministry of Culture for funding, and we received it twice. We were glad we received the support, even though it was less than the amount we had requested.“

“We had to prioritize,“ says Demeterová. “There were times when we were only able to pay the bills and the contractors, still we continued working. We weren’t thinking about ourselves; we were thinking about the listeners who were waiting for the services the station provides.“

The importance of independent, minority-run media such as Radio Rota cannot be overstated. Demeterová says the station played a unique role in Czech society in that it emphasized a positive image of the Romani community.

“If the majority population truly wants to have a multicultural society and to be a lawful member of the European Union,“ Demeterová asserts, “if they want tolerance to preside over this land, one way to achieve this is [for the majority and the Roma] to continue getting to know each other. Radio Rota could be a vehicle to open the way for that process.“

Several years later, fans are still writing in, wondering what is happening with the radio station.

“People are still waiting for something to happen, hoping that the radio will continue,” says Demeterová.

The station provided not only information and entertainment, but also a sense of community as well as pride.

“When the radio was created, the community felt part of the experience,” Demeterová explains. “The people felt that they belonged there: ‘We, too, have our own radio station now.’”

“When the listeners wrote in, they did not call it ‘your radio;’” she concludes.“They called it ‘our radio.’ We gave them something to feel proud of.”

Fellow: Tereza Bottman

the Dženo Association, Czech Republic


Czech Republic discrimination Dženo Association education elections employment EU Europe extremism government government spending health care history Holocaust housing human rights institutional racism integration Italy Ivan Veselý Iveta Demeterová journalism Karel Holomek media neo-Nazis Ostrava police poverty prejudice press racism radio reproductive rights resilience Roma Romani media Roma rights Rádio Rota segregation Slovakia social benefits socially excluded location Sri Kumar Vishwanathan women's empowerment ČEZ




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Antigona Kukaj
Colby Pacheco
James Dasinger
Janet Rabin
Nicole Slezak
Shweta Dewan
Amy Offner
Ash Kosiewicz
Hannah McKeeth
Heidi McKinnon
Larissa Hotra
Hannah Wright
Krystal Sirman
Rianne Van Doeveren
Willow Heske

2007 Fellows

Johnathan Homer
Adam Nord
Audrey Roberts
Caitlin Burnett
Devin Greenleaf
Jeff Yarborough
Julia Zoo
Madeline England
Maha Khan
Mariko Scavone
Mark Koenig
Nicole Farkouh
Saba Haq
Tassos Coulaloglou
Ted Samuel
Alison Morse
Gail Morgado
Jennifer Hollinger
Katie Wroblewski
Leslie Ibeanusi
Michelle Lanspa
Stephanie Gilbert
Zach Scott
Abby Weil
Jessica Boccardo
Sara Zampierin
Eliza Bates
Erin Wroblewski
Tatsiana Hulko

2006 Interns

Laura Cardinal
Jessical Sewall
Alison Long
Autumn Graham
Donna Laverdiere
Erica Issac
Greg Holyfield
Lori Tomoe Mizuno
Melissa Muscio
Nicole Cordeau
Stacey Spivey
Anya Gorovets
Barbara Bearden
Lynne Engleman
Yvette Barnes
Charles Wright
Sarah Sachs

2005 Interns

Eun Ha Kim
Malia Mason
Anne Finnan
Carrie Hasselback
Karen Adler
Sarosh Syed
Shirin Sahani
Chiara Zerunian
Ewa Sobczynska
MacKenzie Frady
Margaret Swink
Sabri Ben-Achour
Nitzan Goldberger

2004 Interns

Ginny Barahona
Michael Keller
Sarah Schores
Melinda Willis
Pia Schneider
Stacy Kosko
Carmen Morcos
Christina Fetterhoff
Stacy Kosko
Bushra Mukbil

2003 Interns

Erica Williams
Kate Kuo
Claudia Zambra
Julie Lee
Kimberly Birdsall
Marta Schaaf
Caitlin Williams
Courtney Radsch