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PhDr. Milena Hubschmannova
26-02-2000

Biographical Details:

"I came to Romany as a student of Hindology: Hindi, Urdu, Bengali. In my longing for India, which wasn't feasible in the 1950's, I began to see Indians in groups of dark-skinned people whom I came across in Hloubetin, in Liben, and in Vysocany. They were astoundingly similar to the Indian people I'd met. On a student's working brigade in Ostrava, we were working close to a dark-skinned group and I was able to hear their speech up close. I was astonished that I was able to distinguish Hindi words, or rather words of some language extremely similar to Hindi. The word shun! was often repeated, which couldn't be anything but the Hindi sun!, listen. Dikh! had to mean dekh, hey, look.

At the time of my Ostrava discovery, I didn't know anything about Roma. I began to fulfill my longing for India with a Romani family by literally devouring Romani speech, stories, songs, proverbs, riddles and wonderful tales about fantastic realities. I was surrounded by love, respect, direct and, at the same time, discreet interest, and generously hosted. My calling, or rather my mission, gave me one great advantage. I didn't come to the Romani family to instruct, but to learn myself."

So linguist Milena Hubschmannova described the beginning of her lifelong interest in the Romani language and culture in her book Shai pes dovakeras (We Can Agree). She is also the co-author of a Romany-Czech/Czech-Romany dictionary, the author of many books and translations from Romany, a collector of Romani stories and professor of Romani Studies at the Philosophical Department of Charles University in Prague.

In your opinion, how well informed is the Czech public about the Roma minority?

The Czech participial form "informovana (informed)" doesn't allow the separation of the state and the ongoing action. So, the state: minimally, the information is distorted by stereotypes and centuries-old prejudices. The ongoing action: the press from 1991 to 1996 informed heinously! I attribute the racist and anti-gypsy feelings of the public to the many years of defaming the Roma in the press. After the murder of Mr. Berki in May 1995, the mass media began to recover somewhat. The mass emigration of Roma also contributed to this attempt at turnaround. Nevertheless, the fixed ethnocentricity and uninformedness of journalists will lead to their filling the air with phrases that are latently deeply ethnocentric, if not racist, like 'Roma problems' (implying that it's Roma who cause problems, while problems a thousand times more serious are brought on the Roma by the gadje), 'Romani criminality', 'us - them', 'the segment adapted to the Czechs' (why, to which image?), and so on. Informedness - the will and ability to understand - that's a long-term process. On the other hand, "a journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step" (Chinese proverb) and maybe that first step has been taken, who knows.

What do you think the attitude of Czech society is towards the Roma community?

Czech society is differentiated. Those who approach the Roma with a multidimensional understanding and awareness are few. The number of those who show good will, but they don't know and they would be happiest if the Roma were to become "black Czechs." As such they are also willing to accept them. And then there are the outright racists and so far the politicians and laws unfortunately aren't able (or they don't want to, or they're afraid?) to deal with them.

What is your opinion on the suppression of manifestations of racism in the Czech Republic?

Insufficient.

What is your opinion on the position of the Roma in the Czech Republic?

Without full rights - discrimination in the entry to public life, discrimination in the labor market, genocidal graffiti on the walls of their homes - they lead understandably to an increasing negative reaction by the Roma: aggression, indifference, and not identifying with this society. The Roma are criminalized and then Romani criminality is talked about.

In your opinion, what do Czechs most often hold against the Roma?

Theft (Wallachian Roma - pickpockets compared with Czech embezzlement, customs fraud, not declaring taxes and so on appear daily in the press and who ever used the term "Czech criminality"?) The devastation of apartments (I analyze this in my book "Saj pes dovakeras" (Can we agree), crude way of speaking (if a Czech were to be judged by how he expresses himself in English, for example, then the majority must act like idiots, uncultured, uneducated.).

In your opinion, what do Roma most often hold against the Czechs?

"Throwing all Roma into one pile." They put it that way in a proverb about gadje, included in the book "God'aver lava phure Romendar" (Wise words of the Old Roma).

How do you see the future of the Roma in the Czech Republic?

I am an optimist - I would like to write an essay for each of these questions - unfortunately there isn't time for that. The only possiblity, which I declared from the very start of my encounters with the Roma, is their language and culture: the realization of an ethno-emancipation process, establishing the Roma in all respects and dimensions as a nation with full rights (nationalities, ethnic groups) self-aware (which is for the present made tremendously difficult for them by the gadje, in the present as in the past, attempts at genocide, expulsion, assimilation). Acceptance and self-acceptance of the Roma as a nation will mean that those who disentangle themselves from "gypsyness" won't be forced into an ongoing ecsape from "Roma-ness". In Slovakia, for instance, there are 6,000 Romani university graduates. How many of them are heard from? How many of them are brave enough to be able to bear the apalling stress of being a Rom?

What do you think are the possibilities of mutual coexistence of Czechs and Roma?

Education in order that people come to realize that in today's world it isn't possible to resolve communication between "differents" by the liquidation of the distinctions, which I can't understand. The willingness and ability to learn, understand and put yourself in the position of another are challenging. It's hard to give up stereotypes, it requires intelligence and courage. But it is essential and the "heads of the state" (which aren't only politicians) should concentrate on the ethical education of citizens. There needs to be more about philosophy, more about "God" - not connected to the church - but to put it simply, about a dimension beyond economics.

Do you think it is necessary to draw the interest of Roma to events throughout society and to their position in society? If yes, how would you go about doing so?

What is this "draw the interest of the Roma"? The Roma do take an interest in their position in society - but the Romani representation has only had the opportnity to learn about its own politics for 9 years (the Czechs have had from two to ten centuries, and they still haven't figured it out!)

Have you considered leaving the Czech Republic at times? If yes, for what reason? If no, why?

Here I have to say that I considered it. But I'm 64 years old, so I"ll hold on. You know the Jewish joke, how Roubicek met Kohn. Kohn emigrated to Africa, hunts lion, Roubicek stayed in the CSSR (Czechoslovak Socialist Republic) and Kohn says to him, "But you're the adventurer". Another Jewish joke with the globe! Kohn wants to emigrate. Where? The secret policeman hands him a globe. Kohn turns to him and asks, "Don't you have anything better?" No, I wouldn't want to emigrate. There's enough work here... But if somewhere, then to only India.



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