Czech Romanies mark International Day of the Roma|
In this week's Panorama, Rob Cameron looks at celebrations marking
International Romani Day on April 8th. 2006 is also the 35th anniversary
of the foundation of the International Romani Union, an organisation
designed to bring together the millions of Roma scattered around the
This year marks the 35th anniversary of the foundation of the International
Romani Union, an organisation designed to bring together the millions of
Roma scattered around the world. In 1990, the organisation decreed that
April 8th should be designated as International Day of the Roma, a day
which is also being celebrated here in the Czech Republic.
The country has a Roma population of some 300,000, many of whom live in
squalid conditions on the margins of society. All this week, seminars,
concerts and other events are being held across the country in the run up
to Saturday's International Day of the Roma. I went along to Namesti Miru
- a large, leafy square in the heart of Prague's Vinohrady district -
where a Romany organisation called Athinganoi was holding a series of
events on Thursday to raise awareness of the day.
"My name is Gabriela Habranova. I'm the director of Athinganoi - it's
a Roma student organisation whose main aim is to bring together Romani
students from high school and universities to break the stereotypes and
prejudice of the majority society and to show that Roma can also be
teachers, lawyers or whatever else than just supporting the
Why are you here on Namesti Miru today?
"We want to show to the public that the Roma have some culture.
Athinganoi do a number of projects, and we want to show them to people, to
prevent our activities. So people can come and see, we'll also offer some
food, some traditional Romani food, so people can try that as well. The
main reason is that April 8th is the International Day of the Roma. We
want to celebrate it not just with us, but also with the people around
The International Day of the Roma is quite a new holiday. What does it
mean to you?
"For me, it's a great reason to celebrate. It something shared among
all the Roma in the world. So we're celebrating here in Prague, also in
other cities in the Czech Republic, and also Romania, Macedonia, even the
Tell me a bit more about the Romani food!
"Some people claim that the Roma don't have their traditional food,
but it's food that Roma brought to the Czech Republic from the countries
they were travelling from. So we will offer something like
"sarma" from the Balkans, it's a leaf filled with meat and
Stuffed vine leaves?
"Yes! That might be the name in English. It's made by Roma women, and
it's one of the favourite meals we have."
And there will be music too?
"Yes, we'll have a guitar and violin and some children will dance,
but modern dance. On Thursday evening we have a concert at Matrix in
Prague 3. They'll also be traditional dance, and performance by three
How much interest do you think there is among the Czech public in the
International Day of the Roma?
"As you said, it's a new holiday, so people really don't know much
about it. And it's also within the Roma community. That's why we want to
present it not only to the public, the majority society, but also to the
Let's not mince words here - relations between Czechs and Roma are not
good. Many Czechs hate Romanies, don't they?
"The general feel is anti-gypsy. That's present here in the country.
We can see that when Roma go to ask for jobs or enter some public places
such as discotheques."
And you think events like this can help bring the communities closer
"I hope so. I definitely hope so."
Generally, how would you say the situation of the Roma is changing? Is it
improving at all?
"Unfortunately I have to say that it's not really improving. It's
seventeen years since the fall of Communism, and the situation is getting
even worse. On one hand we have Roma, they are integrated into society, we
have more students going to university and more people taking serious jobs
and showing that Roma can do something else. But on the other hand we have
Roma that are marginalised. There are newly created ghettoes, and the
people are socially excluded."
A number of seminars were held this week to discuss issues such as social
exclusion and racism, issues which are clearly hampering efforts to bring
the Roma community closer to majority white society. Athinganoi's Michal
Miko is one of the organisers.
"We wanted to focus on this problem in the Czech Republic, that there
is anti-gypsism, Romaphobia, discrimination, racism. The Roma in the Czech
Republic are still living in these conditions - they are discriminated
against, they are attacked by skinheads. The public opinion of Roma is
that they are smelly etc - the usual rubbish. Roma are good inhabitants of
the Czech Republic, and I think they can be a good partner for the Czech
This is something have been talking about for many years, since 1989. Do
you think things are getting better?
"Yes, I think things are getting better. Roma children are no longer
sent to special schools, they're getting a regular basic education. More
Roma are studying at university in the Czech Republic. More Roma are
working in government. But the standing of minorities in the Czech
Republic is still not good."
Back in Namesti Miru, Gabriela Hrabanova and her colleagues were still
hard at work. In a bid to bridge the divide between Roma and Czechs,
they'll be giving o ut lapel pins featuring the Roma flag - a flag of a
nation of millions with no state of their own.
"This is the Romani flag. The Roma agreed at the beginning of the
1970s in England that this would be the flag for all Roma in the
Describe the flag to us.
"The upper part is blue, and it's blue like the sky. The lower part
is green like grass, so that means the Roma are between the sky and the
ground. And in the middle there is a red wheel, that's characterises the
travelling of the Roma. But also the connection with India, because this
is an Ashok Chakra. Ashoka was the Indian leader who united all the Indian
So we should see this flag flying around Prague in the lead up to the
International Day of the Roma on Saturday.