Prague, Roma problem

Trip Start Oct 20, 2003
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Trip End Dec 22, 2004


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Wednesday, March 10, 2004

On 10 March 2004 FM wrote to Marilyn Miller:

Sometimes it seems as if there is a deep-seated desire in mankind to root out any one or group that is different, so that we can live in a place where everyone else is as much like ourselves as possible. No one would admit to wanting to be rid of people simply because they are different. But people say, they deserve our hatred because they are not clean, or they cheat us or steal from us, or they are mentally inferior, or they are not Christians, or, even worse, they are killers of Christ. We, on the other hand, believe the part of the world we share with this group ought to be ours. They do not deserve to share it; they are not good enough. It is our destiny to have it; we are God's chosen people.

Thus the Nazis tried to eliminate all the Jews in every country they conquered and succeeded to a terrible extent. They also worked hard on eliminating Roma people (Gypsies) and homosexuals.

Thus the Serbians attempted to eliminate the Muslim Bosnians and killed and drove away thousands of their countrymen. So the Hutus of Rwanda tried to eliminate the Tutsis so that they could have their land all to themselves.

Though we (Marty and Fred) have been in Prague only since October and are not experts on racial issues here, we have seen and read enough about the relationship between the dominant Caucasian societies of European countries and the Roma (Gypsy) people to see the same pattern: the dominant group hating the small group of outsiders whom they believe to be inferior-the Roma people living as an unwelcome minority in cities and in rural areas. They are also called Tinkers or Travelers in different countries; they have in earlier historical periods been more nomadic and have made a living traveling and repairing pots and pans in some cases.

Our acquaintance with Roma young men probably began on our second day in Prague, While one young man pushed Marty hard on one side while he rode in a tram, another took his wallet from the other side before quickly leaving the tram. Marty didn't know it happened until he realized at home that his billfold was gone. The young men were darker skinned than most people in Prague and had black hair.

In Prague newspapers, the letters to the editor about Roma people sound like the letters of bigots in the United States talking about African-Americans before the civil rights movement began. The letters say all Roma are ignorant, they are dirty; they are thieves; they are responsible for all or most of the crime in the country.

Last fall, teenage boys in England killed a 15-year old Roma boy by beating and standing on his body until he died. They said they attacked him because they knew he was a Gypsy.

Unfortunately, the Roma tend to be poorly educated, have poor job prospects, and have little chance of succeeding in the societies they live in or near.

Recently we traveled by train across two borders from Hungary to Slovakia to the Czech Republic. It is easy for white people, even foreigners like us, to cross borders. We show our passport to the officers from the country we are leaving and then the country we are entering, and everything is fine. But it was not easy for the Roma people we saw on the train. Their bags were being examined, which rarely happens to anyone else. They were questioned at length and harassed. They are expected to be troublemakers, and they are treated as potential enemies, even if this country is their home, whereas we, white people from a foreign country, are welcome and always treated with courtesy.

While murder is not the terrible problem in European cities that it is in American cities, street crime is commonplace. If you tell someone you were just robbed or your pocket was picked, he may respond by telling you about the time he was robbed of his cell phone or wallet just the week before. People constantly talk about how to carry your money and camera so you won't lose them. Roma are involved in some of these crimes as well, which contributes to the belief that all Roma are thieves. As is usually the case in discrimination, there is some small degree of truth in the charges against the hated minority. Then we decide that all members of the group have the same ugly traits, and then we try to get rid of the whole group

So while we try to celebrate diversity, singing with joy that God made us all different and that each of us as individuals and ethnic groups have our own talents to bring to God's table, another side of mankind isn't buying this ideal, but instead is turning on anyone in our midst who is different. Maybe it will help us to see prejudice as rooted in a human impulse we cannot wipe out but have to constantly try to overcome.

As an addition to the above MS writes: While we were in Rome we were sitting in the lounge of our hotel listening to a tour guide instructing her American clients about safety. She said: "Be careful. There are lots of Gypsies and pickpockets in Rome." She went on to say that in the morning she would instruct them more in the ways of the thieves.
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