Roma leaders seek to unite associations
Summit meeting in Brno seeks formation of national assembly
Posted: October 19, 2011
In the wake of clashes in north Bohemia between the Roma minority and majority white citizens, 250 Roma leaders from the most influential community groups gathered Oct. 14 in Brno for talks about setting up a nationwide organization to unify associations scattered all over the country and set common goals.
While leaders stopped short of saying the efforts were tantamount to the formation of a political party, they did acknowledge the group would be charged with communicating at the highest levels of government.
In an event that was somewhat controversially held under the patronage of South Moravian Governor Michal Hašek (Social Democrats, ČSSD), 34 people were appointed to an organizational committee for a future Roma Association of the Czech Republic.
"We all know we cannot expect this situation to resolve itself," Hašek said at the conference. "I expect all of you to come up with ideas and long-term solutions together, to solve [the continued isolation of the Roma community]."
Hašek emphasized the importance of youth education, which should be supported not only by schools but also by Roma families. He also reacted to speculation that the formation of a new Roma political party is imminent, instead advocating increased dialogue with established political parties.
"I don't want to condemn the results from the very start, but the current course of the three initiatives toward establishing a Roma party… reminds me of previous [failed] attempts," said Pavel Pečínka of Masaryk University and an expert on Roma politics in Europe.
Roma have never seen much success at high-level national politics, although in the aftermath of the 1989 revolution, six Roma made it into Parliament as part of the Roma Civic Initiative (ROI) led by Emil Ščuka. Among the presently established political parties, the ČSSD has always appeared closest to the Roma community.
Former ROI Deputy Karel Holomek said he is glad he did not attend the conference, saying it would make him "angry to see everyone wearing the yellow Social Democrat ribbons despite claiming to form an apolitical organization."
He added that in the past 21 years, he has attended dozens of similar meetings, none of which he recalled having a significant impact.
Holomek is not alone in his skepticism among the Roma community.
"I disagree with many Roma leaders who do not have the courage to admit the current Roma situation is not only a consequence of external circumstances, but it mainly stems from the attitude of the Roma themselves," said Jana Horváthová, director of the Museum of Romani Culture in Brno. "The Roma are showing they want to solve the situation, and at least they are attempting to do something and not sitting with their arms crossed, although I personally don't have much belief in this initiative."
Amid continued cuts to social welfare programs by the right-leaning coalition government, the activity of a political party, Pečínka said, cannot be based solely on "national awareness" and must take up a broader mandate.
"I believe the young, educated Roma generation will not assimilate - that they will keep their own ethnic and cultural values. I think they will give up some, though, like denying women education, and absorb the values of Western civilization," Pečínka said.
No Cabinet-level officials attended the Brno event, although Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková did.
Klára Jiřičná can be reached at
Tags: roma discrimination, roma rights, czech republic, roma politics, north bohemia, social democrats, brno.