‘Our Roma are Czech!’
Photo by Mary Rizos
For some, there are far too many Roma. They want them to go back to wherever they came from, presumably India or somewhere far away. These advocates of “repatriation” call themselves sensible people and patriots. There are others who practice a less extreme but more insidious form of prejudice, backing away from definitions of Czech identity based on colour or race to focus on behaviour – these people insist they’re not racists. In addition, there are those who maintain that there’s no such thing as “the Roma”. Stressing the importance of social rather than ethnic ties for Roma identity, many scholars have sadly allowed their seemingly innocent theoretical stances to be exploited by politicians with aggressive populist agendas.
All that having been said, it’s fascinating to watch how the Romany minority has managed to thrive despite all to the efforts to annihilate it, symbolically and literally. The approximately 300 000 Roma in the Czech Republic have been labelled human vermin and nonentities by some, but none of these insults will make them disappear – they are here to stay.
Their country of origin is not Punjab or Rajasthan, but mostly Slovakia or the Czech Republic. During the hockey or football world championships, they naturally support the Czech team and happily bounce up and down with the rest of the fans: “He who doesn’t jump is not a Czech!” Although the highlights of traditional Romany cuisine are bobalki (sweet dumplings with a poppy-seed and honey topping), marikla (unleavened bread) and goja (roasted pig guts filled with seasoned potatoes), you would probably search in vain for them on the day-to-day Romany dinner table. In fact, you’re more likely to see the Roma serve a traditional Czech meal, such as pork roast or sirloin with sauerkraut and dumplings.
What I’m about to say may come as news to many Czechs: our Roma are Czech! Their identities are additive not divisive, which is to say they bring with them the wealth of both Czech and Romany identities. They’re the frontrunners in a Europe that is struggling to become multicultural. Magdaléna Karvayová, a Romany student at the Anglo-American University, speaking about how younger Roma regarded a recent census, captured precisely this sentiment: “I believe a lot of Roma are still ashamed of their identity. Personally, I am going to use my right to fill in two identities, Czech and Romany. After all, I am a Czech Romany.”