April 2001  

April 13, 2001
And the winner is...the girl singing the Gypsy song! Thus spoke the jury at this year's Miss Czech Republic beauty pageant. Her rendition, complete with costume borrowed from the National Theater, proved to be the winning factor in a field dominated by tall, curvaceous young women. The jury, by contrast, was an incredibly skanky looking lot that supposedly represented the cream of Czech culture and business. It didn't seem to bother the jury that no Roma made up any of the contestants, or its own members for that matter. Important was that she scored big in the human relations category and for that she got the crown. It probably didn't occur to any of them that her performance could be interpreted as demeaning. In this country, racism is never subtle. Either it is or it isn't and it almost always isn't. One of performers at the beauty contest routinely does a Gypsy act in her shows, where she celebrates their music one minute, then bashes their people the next. This kind of fare is not akin to a minstrel show, so goes the argument, because she sings and bashes her own people as well. And there is an easy justification for the absence of Gypsy women at the contest. They have their own Miss Roma beauty contest, which somehow never makes it into the public eye. As for the new Miss Czech Republic, good luck trying to pull off that same act at an international contest. (A personal note: I was in a pub late one night with a group of people and the discussion turned to the status of the Roma in the Czech Republic. The people, including a court judge, clung to their beliefs that the Gypsies can only do music and handicrafts and can't even speak the Czech language. At least not properly, like they do here in North Moravia. The lone exception was a man from Prague, who dismissed their claims by saying that Prague had a more cosmopolitan outlook. I knew I was losing the battle when the conversation turned to jokes about Gypsies. I knew I had lost the battle when the man from Prague chimed in with his own joke. So much for cosmopolitanism.)

April 6, 2001
Vielen Dank, Herr President. Those were the words a young Romanian woman had for Václav Havel after he granted her a pardon. The woman had been locked up by the police on suspicion of running a whorehouse with her husband, a German native. Pregnant at the time, she ended up giving birth while in detention, but was immediately separated from her newborn. For two months, until the pardon came through, the baby remained in the care of the state. The indignity didn't end there, however. A major daily had promised her a plane ticket back to Romania but backed out at the last minute. Appeals to humanitarian organizations went nowhere, so mother and baby had to make the long haul home on the night train. And good riddance, for despite the apparent rough treatment, Czechs have lost all sympathy for foreigners connected to crime. Sex clubs, the drug trade, all are perceived to be under the control of foreign gangs, particularly from the east. A number of measures have been enacted as a result, including the issuing of foreigners green booklets instead of their former green cards (presumably to keep better track of them). As for asking whether the judicial system would have proceeded in the same manner had the woman been Czech, keep in mind that this is a country where the man on the street might say, with straight face, "I am not a racist, but I hate Gypsies." No doubt he will be happy to hear that the Roma are once again packing up and heading for England. Their reason is that they have no future in the Czech Republic. Nonsense, says the government, they just want big handouts in other countries for claiming to be persecuted. In other words, good riddance.