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Vladimir Mlynar Interview
26-02-2000
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What do you think of the solution of the so-called Romani question up to this point in our republic? Do you consider the steps taken in this regard by the previous government as sufficient?

I don't consider them to be. Still, the fact is that Mr. Bratinka - my predecessor - had a much more difficult position than I do. For one thing, he was a member of Vaclav Klause's government, for another he actually founded this office here and had a lot of problems with it. Or it would be easy and simple to criticize him for some things. Nevertheless, I have a slightly different opinion on several things than my predecessor. I consider the problem of the coexistence of Czechs and Roma as one of the most important problems of this country in the years to come, and I believe in particular that the essential responsibility in these matters isn't with the Romani minority, but with the white majority. My philosophy is therefore this: that the white majority must change its approach towards the Roma, if I simplify it, more than the Roma towards the white majority. My reason is simple - while the minority can never wipe out or annihilate the majority, the majority can very easily annihilate the minority. For this reason I think that the responsibility of the whites is much greater than that of the minority.

How can you as minister persuade the majority to re-evaluate its attitude towards the minority?

My time is very limited, only five months at the moment. I came here with two concrete tasks, which I think are realizable in these five months. One thing is to remove the pig farm from the site of the camp at Lety u Pisku, which I naturally don't consider as a thing that will resolve the coexistence of Czechs and Roma. I consider as something without which it won't even be possible to begin talking about any kind of solutions, because such an offensive thing as large-capacity pigsties on the site of the camp where Czechs held Czech Roma, and sent them from there to the gas chambers, is simply something so unbelievable, that as long as that thing there stands, I think it isn't possible to start talking about anything. So that's one thing and the second thing is that I'd like to attempt to put into the curriculum for Czech children to be taught something about Romani culture. I myself found out that my children had learned nothing about the Roma and of course they succumb to what they hear from their fellow students that are very often racist and xenophobic prejudices. The third thing I would like to attempt is to launch some preparations for the change of the commercial code, in order to more emphatically and effectively prosecute the barring from restaurants and forth on the basis of skin color. The best case scenario, I have to say, will be if this matter is even started, because I now understand that in state administration everything takes about four times longer than in normal life. Those are my three priorities. I would also like it if the Romani Interdepartmental committee functions with some kind of results. I will start off with such small matters as helping some schools or attempting to assist Roma to get on to the police force, which I promised, for instance, that I would try to do in Krnov.

The Interdepartmental Commission came into being last year due to pressure from the Roma and espaecially after the huge wave of Romani migration to Canada and then to Great Britain. Nevertheless, in its final phase it has a slightly different form than the Roma themselves requested. It is only an advisory organ, without any kind of powers at all. Do you think that it will be able to take enough steps in this form towards the improving the situation?

That remains to be seen, because it's only beginning to work. As a journalist, I myself was a big critic this, and I still am: the result of all those promises of the former premier was only the beginning of this Interdepartmental commission, headed by a gadje - presently me, and Monika Horakova, the Romani executive vice-chairwoman, is only the executive vice-chairwoman. I believed and I still believe that it would be better if a Rom were the government representative for these questions, if the role were strengthened. In any case, I had two possibilities: whether to quickly begin working with the possibility that before I leave here I'll suggest to the government that it raise the statute of this commission from a formal standpoint, or I have another possibility, to immediately begin fighting for this formal statute, but then the commission wouldn't begin to work right away. Therefore I decided to decide for the first solution, for the commission to start working at once with my full support, which I think will show concrete results, and if I reach the end of my term of office with the opinion that it would be better for a Romani government representative to be at the head, I will act on that and suggest the change to the government. I can't promise it will pass, but I will offer the suggestion.

What do you think it would still be possible to change in education. For now the only things that are happening is touching on the preliminary years, whether on the level of nursery school or pre-school education, or on the level of elementary education, and now a history about the Roma and references in other articles are being prepared. What about such education in "tolerance"?

Without question it should be. And it doesn't have to do only with Roma or the attitudes of children towards Roma, but also towards old people, for example, or towards the disabled. Without question it should be so, but such a liberal wave has actually gone through our schools, with the state only interfering through so-called pedagogical standards in education or determining these levels. It is a question to ponder, whether in these matters, such as perhaps the tolerance of nationalities, the state shouldn't be far more emphatic and interfere more in the lessons.

Otherwise, we're counting on the support of the already existing Romani schools, such positive refuges like the Premysl Pittr school in Ostrava. There are changes being prepared in the psychological tests on the basis of which Romani children are very often placed in special schools only because these tests are set up for white children. In other words, there are more of these things and of course it's a process of many years.

I'm always saying in my visits to Roma, that this country is simply racist, that it's necessary to know this. Not to become resigned to it, but to realize that the Roma must organize their affairs themselves and that the state will help those who it's able to help. But that it's a difficult thing to expect the state to resolve this problem. The Roma must organize more, must speak more with one voice, must put pressure on the state. Then maybe these things will move forward. At the same time, I tell them that it probably won't be us, but let's hope our children who will live to see the improvement of the situation. For us it will be difficult.

You are actually the only minister, in spite of the fact that your term will be only five months, who chooses his advisor from among the Roma. Why did you do it this way? You have the executive vice-chairwoman, you have the Interdepartmental Commission, the Council for Nationalities ...

For one thing, I still know Mr. Scuka from the time before I held this position, and for another I perceived that Mr. Scuka has great authority among Roma and then I saw that the Interdepartmental Commission, or its personnel content - the Romani part - came into existence by some means, which I don't want to judge. My predecessor just decided that way and again I had two possibilities. Whether to dive into the problem, to do it according to my own opinion, to hold to this decision or to revoke it by some means, or to attempt to find the greatest consensus among individual groups of Roma with the awareness that my time is short and I need the support and cooperation of everyone to do something concrete.

There fore I asked Mr. Scuka to become my advisor and represent one group that wasn't fully represented on the commission. I'm glad that he granted my request and did it, and for a sort of first assignment we took the removal of that pig farm I spoke of. So Mr. Scuka is actually working on this matter with me, because we didn't want to give this to the Interdepartmental Romani Commission, which should resolve other conceptual projects. This current matter, which worries me as well as Mr. Scuka, I think, we took as our own project.

In order to orient our listeners, we'll try to divide up what should fall to each group. This means, what should the Council for Nationalities do, and with what areas and with what questions should the Interdepartmental Commission for Concerns of the Roma Community concern itself, and what should your advisor actually do.

The Council for Nationalities is a body which existed here a long time before my predecessor, and will certainly exist for many more years. On this Council there are not only Roma representatives, but also Polish, Slovak, German and other nationalities that live within the Czech Republic. The Roma are only one out of the many ethnic groups represented, and the Council is concerned with the support of cultural activities and similar things.

It was clear in recent years, even the previous government understood it, that the problem of coexistence of Czechs and Roma is of a different kind than the coexistence of Czechs and Poles, Slovaks and Germans, and so this gave rise to the Interdepartmental Commission, which should coordinate the Departments of the Interior, Social Affairs, Justice and others with representatives of the Roma community, and look for a solution specially Romani. My policy is this, that the basis of the solution of these current problems is assigned to the commission and the council actually stays the way it was, which means an umbrella body for all nationalities. Besides, it would be unfair within the framework of the council to give preference to one ethnic group over the representatives of other natinalities.

Mr. Scuka became my advisor fourteen days ago, so I haven't been able to respond to this question exactly. I think that in this time we are both looking for ways we can work well together. He doesn't sit on the government board, I named him as an advisor, in fact a sort of informal advisor, and he isn't even employed here at the moment and I think that this is a pretty good solution, because when a person becomes a government functionary, he will sooner or later begin to see with the eyes of a government functionary. I would be happy for Mr. Scuka to keep his acuteness of vision in things and to tell me them here to my face.

You have been able in a short period of time to look at a number of localities which are relatively densely settled by Roma. Did it change your view of the matter in any way, or are you getting more deeply into the problem? Do you have the feeling that if a person sees and experiences it, he can then understand it more?

Definitely. I was only in Ostrava and Krnov, where those disquieting events occurred - a pogrom or attack on a Romani family. In both of these places the experience was the same the complaints of the Roma were the same, very often a feeling of injustice, a justifiable feeling of injustice, but also that the Romani comunity speaks with more voices and that it's very difficult sometimes to get to one in common.

At both places I called on the Roma to do what I'm saying here now, to become better organized, to take things into their own hands - though this doesn't mean to take the law into their own hands, to acknowledge one another, to help each other, because only when they begin to be proud of being Roma and they start taking things in their own hands, only then can they obtain from the state the rights which of course belong to them, but in this country it's hard to fight for them, as this country is simply racist, on that unfortunately I have to insist.

What are your opinions on how columnists can really influence the extent of this tolerance or, on the other hand, intolerance in our country. Whether to a certain extent they don't have a hand in this intolerance and whether they couldn't be provoking discussion on the fact that the situation in short isn't okay. The weekly Respekt, of which you were editor-in-chief for a long time, was one of the few periodicals that applied itself to this question, I would say more regularly and objectively. This situation isn't too common, however, that journalists do this.

I agree with you, that the media, just like politicians or actually any publically well-known persons, are in some way norm-setting. This means that their actions, reactions and activities become the norm in a way. In this sense, the media, in how they write or don't write about the problems of coexistence of whites and Roma, create certain norms. I'm not satisfied with this either, how they work in this sense, nevertheless I have to insist here that it isn't possible to impose on a free press any kind of rules from the outside and so in no case can the government take action. It would be best if there existed here a certain professional organization of journalists which had the necessary authority, but unfortunately the Syndicate of Journalists isn't such an organization that could give certain recommendations to the media or work in this sense. Unfortunately such a situation isn't here and let's hope that in time we woke towards it. It will also be a long trip, it has no simple solution. I am definitely against the state or anyone from the outside influencing or manipulating the press by any means. Journalists must do it themselves. I think that these things go slowly and I wish they went more quickly, but they do go forward in their way. It seems to me though, that in the last few years the state of mind in the press is changing a little



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