U.S. Embassy awards Kumar Vishwanathan for his Work with Roma Communities|
On the occasion of the 57th anniversary of International Human Rights Day
the U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic William J. Cabaniss handed over the
Alice Garrigue Masaryk Award to activist Sri Kumar Vishwanathan, the creator
of the Common Life program, on Thursday, December 8 at the Ambassador's
Residence (Zikmunda Wintra 3, Prague 6).
Last year, the U.S. Embassy in Prague established the Alice Garrigue Masaryk
Award to recognize persons in the Czech Republic who have made an
exceptional contribution to the advancement of human rights in the country
through courageous promotion of social justice and defense of democratic
liberties and an open civil society. The award is presented annually and is
named in honor of Alice Garrigue Masaryk, the pre-eminent Czech-American and
founder of the Czechoslovak Red Cross, as a tribute to her devotion in
combating social injustice and her personal courage in standing up for human
This year, the recipient of this award is Mr. Sri Kumar Vishwanathan for his
leadership and initiative that led to the creation of the Common Life
Village in Ostrava - Muglinov where families of both Roma and non-Roma
ethnicity live together as a single, coexistence community.
"The village has shown that Czechs and Romanies can live
together and create something beautiful," Vishwanathan said.
"I've seen state institutions slowly opening [towards
Romanies] and the confidence between Romanies and the police
being built," he said.
But Vishwanathan said he thinks there is still a lot to be
done to improve the situation.
"Romanies are pushed out of towns, new ghettos are
established and the old ones are overcrowded. This generates new
sources of conflict," he said.
Vishwanathan got the idea to establish the village in 1997,
after flooding that left a number of Romanies without homes. The
village where some 150 people live at present, was finally formed
in 2002. There are 10 Romany families, 10 Czech and 10 mixed
For his work
with Roma communities, Mr. Vishwanathan has won national awards and
international acclaim. As part of this award, Mr. Vishwanathan will travel
to the U.S. in spring 2006 under the auspices of the International Visitor
Leadership Program of the Department of State.