Sunday, March 11, 2012

Request to publish the logo for the International Romani Day on Google's main page

Here is something simple, yet meaningful that could be done to raise awareness about the Romani people, their rich history, and their human rights struggles today. I invite you to please take a minute and join this effort by the civic organization, Romea, to email Google to request the company post the logo for the International Romani Day on its main page on April 8 to honor that holiday.

Below is the email I sent to Feel free to copy or write your own:

I would like to request that you please publish the logo for the International Romani Day on your main page on April 8 to raise awareness about one of the largest minorities in Europe which has a rich history on the continent, but also experiences some of the most severe discrimination of all ethnic groups in areas of employment, housing, education and health care. Violence against Roma is also on the rise as economic strife across the EU deepens. Roma, of course, live all over the world, including in the US where they have been called the "hidden Americans" because they remain largely invisible.

International Romani Day was established in 1971, the year the Romani people themselves, representing communities from 14 different countries, organized the first-ever, historic World Romani Congress in London to discuss civil rights, cultural heritage, post-WWII reparations, and more. The Congress also agreed on the use of the word "Roma" as a self-identifier (instead of the pejorative term "Gypsy"), on the adoption of a Romani flag, and on the Romani national anthem, connecting Roma, whose heritage can be traced to India, the world over.

Please post the International Romani Day logo on April 8 2012 to commemorate this day and to raise awareness about the human rights struggles for Roma all across Europe and the world.

The logo designed by Laďa Gažiová, a Romani artist born in 1981 in Slovakia. She has based her design on the Roma flag and traditional Roma motifs.

The logo URL:

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Czech neo-Nazis becoming more violent and sophisticated, report warns

(Czech Ministry of Interior logo)

This very important piece, published on March 1, 2012, is reprinted from

Despite a fall in numbers compared to the 1990s, extreme right-wing movements in the Czech Republic are becoming more discreet and sophisticated and widening their range of targets, a report commissioned by the Czech Ministry of Interior says, warning that neo-Nazis and other groups may resort to terrorism.

According to the 50-odd page report authored by political scientist Miroslav Mareš and several contributors, a rise in racially motivated attacks can be expected over the next five years. While the ethnic Romany population will continue to be the target of violence, the report says far-right groups are increasingly focusing their attention to resistance to multiculturalism and immigration to the Czech Republic.

“Calls to form home defense units (which came from the [banned] Workers Party) against Vietnamese present a risk because they could lead to an escalation in ethnic violence,” the report published on Thursday states.

Mareš says in the report an increase in violent attacks can be expected due to: worsening economic conditions; increasing social exclusion; mainstream political failure by extreme right-wing parties; and the influence of foreign white supremacist groups.

There are currently around 4,000 extreme right-wing activists in the Czech Republic, the report says, with an especially active core of around 400 leaders and ideologists. The core of the movement is now formed by the free nationalist and autonomous nationalist movements, which operate in coordinated regional cells as opposed to adhering to a national leadership, the report says.

‘The Russian way’ of terrorim

“Within the neo-Nazi scene, which is attempting to work out courses of action, terrorist concepts influenced in part from Russia (the so-called ‘Russian Way’), are being propagated,” the report states. It notes that numerous Russian judges who have sentenced neo-Nazi activists have been attacked — and several murdered (though no right-wing militants have been convicted for the homicides).

“It’s necessary to monitor whether the Czech neo-Nazi scene will adopt similar tactics in reaction to a wave of controversial trials,” the report’s author recommends, pointing out that the Czech far-right movement has close ties with similar organizations in Russia.

The Ministry of Interior last year published an instructional booklet intended primarily for police chiefs under the title Extremism as a Security Threat warning of right-wing extremists infiltrating police ranks. The new report likewise warns that Neo-Nazi activists are drawn to the police force: “We can expect more conspiracies in this area than there have been before.”

Similarly, right-wing extremists are attracted to employment with private security firms, which is a way for them to get firearms licenses. Mareš also draws attention to potential problems arising from the increasing use of private security firms in conflict zones, warning that some extremists have gained conflict or combat experience in this way.

Mareš and his colleagues also warn that some core members of extreme right-wing movements are attempting to influence public life, primarily on the local rather than national level. They do so by infiltrating mainstream politics by joining the major political parties, gaining positions in public organs other than the police, where “for the time being they covertly act in the interests of their ideological orientation.”

Change of image

Czech extreme-right wing organizations are turning away from the skinhead image, which was widely adopted by its activists and sympathizers in the Czech Republic in the 1990s. As well as the changing tastes of the younger generation of right-wing extremists, many of the activists prefer not to wear the politics on their sleeves, so to speak. “The neo-Nazi scene is not as visible as in 2008, but the number of activists remains the same,” the report says.

Further, it warns that in response to a shift in ideological outlook — and with their perceived war on multi-culturalism in Europe and protecting European traditions — neo-Nazi groups will likely try to recruit sympathizers and active supporters by exploiting populist issues and opposition by conservatives and traditionalists to “liberal” tendencies such as same-sex marriages, as well as some stereotypical perceptions.

“Today they manage to blend in with larger mass protests as was the case in the Šluknov district last year, where it was very difficult to tell who belonged to the neo-Nazi scene, and who were ‘ordinary citizens,’” the report says, referring to the large protests against a wave of attacks and a rise in crime in the northern Bohemian district last fall, which many local residents attributed exclusively to the growing Romany population.

Italian professionalism

The report also notes the influence of the Italian neo-Fascist movement Casapound, which spurns identification with the traditional image of the far-right and presents itself as a mainstream political movement beyond the confines of traditional left- and right-wing politics — although the party is openly anti-immigration.

“Professionalism is a key characteristic off the neo-Nazi movement of the new millennium. In the case of Casapound, there is a managerial leadership and managers are groomed for specific activities,” the report says, adding that the movement makes a point of appealing to university students.

“A part of the Czech neo-Nazi scene views Casapound positively precisely because the movement has managed to penetrate into everyday public life. ... they view the concept positively because they themselves are attempting to find a form more acceptable to society, thus the collections for dog kennels, cleaning refuse from woods and forests, help in the wake of floods, etc.,” the report states.

Mareš and colleagues say the best way to combat far-right extremism in the long-term is through educational programs. Also in cases where school pupils have become involved in extremist groups, patient persuasion as opposed to in-school punishments such as suspension or detention are far more effective, they conclude.

The Czech Ministry of Interior has published a number of documents in English about the ministry’s “Fight against Extremism,” which are available here.

Monday, March 5, 2012

"Never Again," an apropos motto in a climate increasingly hostile to Roma

Here is my piece for Cultural Detective blog:

Two generations have not yet passed since ninety percent of Czech Roma, and between a half million and two million European Roma in total perished at the hands of the Nazis in The Great Devouring, or Porrajmos, the Romani word for the Holocaust. Roma, also known by the pejorative term "Gypsies," make up the largest minority in Europe today with some 10 to 12 million members. Roma face fierce discrimination in accessing employment, education, health care, and public and social services. In spite of repetitious cases of racist violence and hate speech targeting Roma, the community continues its struggle for human rights all across the continent.

Two years ago I paid my homage to those who died in Auschwitz and Hodonín u Kunštátu, a Czech concentration camp for Roma. “Tensions in society are heightening. Perhaps the time will come again when we are sent away to designated areas," were the words of the priest leading the commemoration service.

Today, many in the Romani community echo these fears, afraid for their safety since numerous neo-Nazi-led marches have been taking place periodically across Europe, and several arson attacks at Romani residences have been perpetrated by white supremacists. Racial tensions have been growing more intense with the media printing negative stereotypes, inventing damaging reports and spreading fabricated accounts blaming criminal acts on members of the Romani community.

In mid-February, the director of the European Roma Rights Center, at a hearing in Washington DC held by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (US Helsinki Commission), testified that violence against the Roma is on the rise.

In the Czech Republic, where I was born and raised, a study on extremism commissioned by the Czech Interior Ministry states that there are currently about 4,000 militant neo-Nazi activists in the country. Experts warn that violent crimes committed by neo-Nazis against Romani people will likely rise. The risk of race wars in some regions of the country, specifically between gangs of white Czechs and groups of ethnic Roma, looms large, experts say.

Today's white supremacist movement is pan-European (with strong German and Italian influences), and international (namely US-inspired). Since the years 2008 and 2009 the movement has become more radicalized and organizationally sophisticated in the Czech Republic, becoming more visible in the streets and infiltrating the political scene.

In Hungary, an armed militia group has been patrolling and terrorizing a Romani village. This following a series of racially motivated murders.

“Gypsy criminality” is one of the most prevalent anti-Roma stereotypes. It permeates all parts of central European life—and can be found as commonly in the media as the local pub. The Roma are also said to abuse welfare and to not want to work. The World Bank just showed the former was absolutely untrue in Slovakia. The latter is a also a damaging myth held by the white majority. These stereotypes are all the more exaggerated in light of the economic downturn and the scarcity thinking the crisis triggers in the white majority.

What are the solutions? Many rights groups are pushing for economic betterment in the form of job creation and training. Organizations are active in producing independent media with a human rights bent, as well as waging campaigns pressuring mainstream media outlets to be accountable and responsible in their reporting. Key are also positive opportunities for cross-ethnic social interactions and education. Those aware must remain vigilant and spread the word about the threat of extremism that exists in European societies. We must never again permit another Great Devouring.

Friday, March 2, 2012

First US state recommends redress for forced sterilization

Similarly to the Czech Republic, state-enforced sterilization of those considered "undesirable" has also been practiced in the US.

Between the 1920s and 1970s, 60,000 Americans, many of them poor and black, were sterilized. The state of Georgia apologized for its role in the eugenics movement in a 2007 resolution by the General Assembly.

More than 30 states drafted sterilization laws and created eugenics boards that passed judgment on inmates of mental institutions and also those on welfare rolls or those recommended by social workers. Children as young as 8 years old were sterilized.

In January, North Carolina became the first of the 32 states with sterilization programs to consider compensating its victims. The redress amount would amount to $50,000 for each victim, but is still only a recommendation sent to lawmakers along with the Governor's budget proposal in time for the May legislative session.