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Gypsy King Bows Out
20-08-1999
Radio Prague, August 20th - As you heard in our news programmes earlier this week, the death has occurred of Gypsy King Josef Smolka -- the leader of this country's Olach Roma community. Security in the North Moravian city of Opava was tight in anticipation of Saturday's funeral rites, which brought hundreds of mourners together to pay their last respect to the deceased chief. Libor Kubik reports:

The Olach Roma people are a closed community. Their ancestors hail from Romania, from where they have spread across much of southeastern and central Europe.

But the word Olach is a corrupt version of Ollah, the Hungarian for "Italian".The Czech equivalent would therefore be "vlassky", which also means Italian.

Olach Romanies pledge allegiance to the king. They have their own courts of justice which, in exceptional cases, can even expel criminals from their family clans. Ethnography experts estimate the size of this international community at half a million members. But they cannot rule out that ten times as many Olach Romanies actually live in Europe and overseas countries.

Saturday's funeral was scheduled to take place in the Silesian capital of Opava in the northeast of the Czech Republic. The deceased Josef Smolka, who died on Wednesday in Ostrava at the age of 72, will be succeeded on the Olach throne by King Jan Lipa.

The new king said the burial rites would take many hours. As tradition dictates, the mourners must not touch food until the dead man is laid to rest in his family tomb at the Opava Cemetery.

Olach Roma people strongly believe in life after death. They love gold and lavishly put golden objects in the coffins of their departed. Gold is often accompanied by icons, or pictures of saints, and also by alcohol. Only the choicest brands are accepted.

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