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News
26-02-2000 - Dita Asiedu, Nick Carey, LM

Opinion shows that Czechs do not believe wall in Usti nad Labem is a racial issue
Radio Prague, May 26th - In an opinion poll, the Czech people have said overwhelmingly that they do not believe that the controversial plans to build a wall in Usti na Labem that will separate a Roma section of town from the Czechs is a racial issue, or one that should involve the government. Nick Carey has more...

The planned wall in Usti nad Labem, now called the Matecni Street wall in the Czech press, has been the focus of much heated debate over the past year. The planned wall will separate a predominantly Roma, or gypsy, section of town, which consists of emergency housing, from the rest of the population. The Czechs in Usti nad Labem say they want to build the wall to shut out the noise and the piles of refuse left by the Romas. This has been condemned by Roma representatives, human rights agencies, the European Union and others as racial segregation. Thus far the charge has been denied by the Czech residents of Usti nad Labem.

A political battle has been waging over the wall in the country over the past few months, with the Czech government's human rights commissioner Petr Uhl and various Roma agancies attacking the proposal, and local council members supporting it, denying outright that this is an act of racial intolerance.

The new opinion poll, carried out by the agency STEM, asked Czechs if they believe that the Matecni Street is a racial issue. Almost seventy five percent of respondents said it is not. Instead, they believe it is a social issue, as the wall has been built between rent paying residents, and non-payers.

When asked whether this is an issue that should be dealt with by the Czech government, the answer was the same, with seventy three percent saying that this issue is purely a matter for local government representatives to decide.

Another, very important question posed in the opinion poll, and one much discussed lately because of Matecni Street and the growth of neo-Nazi organisations, was is the Czech Republic racist? Two thirds of people asked said no, they do not believe this is a racist country, whilst one fifth answered that it is.

I spoke to one of the directors at the Central and Eastern European Centre for Roma, and an editor of a Roma bi-weekly newpaper, The Roma Voice, Roman Kristov, and asked him if he sees the Matecni Street wall as a racial issue:

Poslech:
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And what about the Czech Republic as a whole? Do you believe that this is a racist country?

Poslech:
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Lety: Government agrees to allocate 1 million crowns
Radio Prague, May 18th - On Monday, government spokesman, Libor Roucek, announced during a press conference that the Czech government has decided to allocate 1 million crowns to the Czech town of Pisek which is to be responsible for better access to a former concentration camp site at Lety. Dita Asiedu reports:

During WWII, Lety was the site of a concentration camp where Romas were held before they were sent to extermination camps. Today, instead of a beautiful memorial that pays respects to all those who suffered and died at the site, you will find a pig farm. Outraged by the bad road conditions, the lack of road signs, and of course mainly the presence of the pig farm, the Roma National Congress (the RNC) launched an international protest which called for the relocation of the farm as well as better access to the site. But with the growing state budget deficit, the Czech government, notes that it cannot carry out the RNC’s demands as it lacks the 300 million crowns necessary. RNC spokesman, Ondrej Gina, who believes that the government has let down the Roma community by failing to make the Lety affair a priority, asked Roma and non-Roma citizens to stop pork consumption as it could come from the Lety pig-farm.

This may have had an effect on the Cabinet as during its meeting, on Monday, the Czech government decided to allocate 1 million crowns to the town of Pisek, close to Lety, where its town office will be responsible for the reconstruction of field and forest roads that lead to the site, the placement of proper road signs and the establishment of information boards at Lety which will have orientation plans and will be in several languages.

But many wonder whether this contribution will suffice to appease the Roma community for the time being. The Czech Republic has been facing criticism from the West, claiming that it lacks social and political support for its minority groups, a conclusion deduced from the fact that a large number of Romas has emigrated to mainly Canada and Britain.

On this note, it seems like Britain is reconsidering its imposition of visa requirements to Czech citizens due to the continuing increase of the influx of Roma from the Czech Republic. According to the daily “Pravo”, Interior Minister, Vaclav Grulich, confirmed that the British Ambassador to Prague warned him that Britain may impose a visa requirement to the Czech Republic if the number of Romas asking for asylum in Britain, continues to rise. The government in return, sees this as a problem as it cannot control Roma emigration since it does not have the right to ask travellers what intentions they have outside the country.



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Czech Roma Launch International Protest
Radio Prague, May 14th - Thursday marked the start of the Roma National Congress' international protest action in Lety. More than a hundred Roma from across the country arrived in Lety, showing their solidarity at the site of the World War II concentration camp where more than 300 of their kin perished. LM has the story:

The RNC has for years been lobbying for the removal of a pig-farm from this very site, but their effort has thus far proved fruitless. The Czech government recently voted to shelve the issue, claiming it lacked the necessary 300 million to transfer the farm elsewhere. Unconvinced, the RNC has launched what they describe as an international protest action. According to RNC representative Ondrej Gina, the protest will include Romany groups in the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Macedonia, Germany, Sweden and even as far away as the United States. Here in the Czech lands, the RNC is asking for Roma and non-Roma support, and aims at persuading tourists not to consume pork since there is a chance it may originate from the Lety pig-farm. Spokesman Ondrej Gina stated that the protest will continue until the pig-farm is no longer standing. Gina vows to set an example for Roma and non-Roma alike, and eliminate pork from his diet. It is not a question of money, he says, but rather wrongs committed against Roma.

Marta Miklusakova from the government's Human Rights office, on Thursday expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of the RMC's protest in Lety, while however, holding out hope that the international community and the government of the Czech Republic will eventually address the issue.

Petr Uhl, Government Human Right's Commissioner, also expressed the view that a pork boycott is not the best route to securing the closure of the Lety farm.

The RNC action in Lety has also been linked to current domestic and international stories concerning the Czech Republic. The participation of Romany groups outside the Czech Republic and the pressure they will exert has been downplayed in connection with the Czech Republic's pork-producing rivals from the European Union. In addition, according to AGPI general manager Jan Cech, the calling of this boycott on pork is equivalent to environmentalists' calls for no energy consumption as electricity may originate from Temelin, now scheduled to be completed.



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Roma Festival to take place in Washington and New York
Radio Prague, May 4th - The CTK news agency noted that, from the 11th until the 18th of May, a festival of Roma culture in the Czech Republic will take place in Washington and New York. Highlights of the festival will be concerts of the singer Vera Bila and group Kale, an exhibition of photographs on Roma life, as well as the display of works of amateur Roma painters under the title "The World seen through Roma Eyes". Dita Asiedu reports:

The exhibited material accepts that the rather different Romani way of living stimulated feelings of mistrust between the Roma community and the rest of society. That is why the goal of the festival is to communicate with non-Roma people and according to the Czech ambassador to the U.S., Alexandr Vondra, "there is no better way to achieve mutual understanding than through the universal language of culture".

And there is no better person to show what Roma are all about than Vera Bila who, with the group Kale, is considered to be one of the best European representatives of Roma culture. Here's a taste of them:

Poslech:
RealAudio ~ Download

The Czech Republic's stand towards the Roma has been criticized in the past few years. Especially since the break-up of the Czechs and Slovaks, Roma are said to face political and social discrimination, as well as barriers in the areas of education and unemployment. The festival, which is mainly organized by the Czech embassy in Washington, is a chance for the Roma to let others know what they feel, what they think, and how they live.



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