Review of Activities 2000-2001 (Part Three)

I. Project Activities, August-September 2000
1. Stories Cafe-Tent Main Square Usti nad Labem 2-4 August 2000
Proposing a constructive alternative to the wall between Czech and Romany residents of Maticni Street in Usti, the Stories Exchange Project put up a cafe-tent on the main square. A large banner advertised this Web-site:
WWW.STORIES-EXCHANGE.ORG
A hundred-odd Czech and Romany adults shared stories over coffee and sixty or so Czech and Romany children drew pictures in exchange for sweets.
Members of the Usti nad Labem team greeted visitors and explained the intentions and strategies of the project, and members of the teams in Prague, Ostrava and Brno joined them.
Three members of the Prague team who had recently returned from their story-gathering expedition to rural Slovakia presented photos and stories of Romany survivors of a devastating flood that had killed many of their children, parents and other relatives: the disaster a result of post-World War II Slovak policy of permitting Roma to live only in abandoned areas or on the banks of rivers.
[see Stories and Responses: The Holocaust "Survivors had to settle on river banks."]
This open, relaxed and friendly gathering of minority and majority citizens in a public space was unique in the history of the city and the nation.
There was strong media coverage.
2. A NEW DIRECTION FOR THE WORLD BANK?
STORIES EXCHANGE PROJECT 2000 PragueLondonTerezinViennaWorldWideWeb
EastWest Institute Prague 7 September 2000
[from press release:]
“By now most people know that protesters fromaround the globe will be coming to Prague in September to challenge policies of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. What the protesters – and the Czech public – may not know is that a project partially funded by the World Bank has been working since December 1999 to make a start at doing in the Czech Republic what the protestors are demanding throughout the world: to ensure that everyone has a chance to share the profits and privileges of globalization.
Under a grant from the Information for Development Program Romany-Czech teams in Brno, Ostrava, Prague and Usti nad Labem have been gathering and presenting stories of interaction between the white majority and the Romany minority in schools, at work, and in community life.”
a. press conference
b. presentation and discussion of stories
c. discussion of corporate volunteerism in post-Communist Europe led by Todd Esposito, E-business manager at GE Capital, Prague.
d. interviews with Project staff and participants by Czech Radio e. coverage by Czech Television
3. Presentation and Discussion of Stories Selby Multicultural Centre London 8 September 2000
Romany and Czech members of the project told and discussed stories and explored opportunities for cooperating with the Selby community and the UK Refugee Council in developing an adaptation of the Stories Exchange Project focused on migration into and around Europe.
The Selby staff demonstrated a studio for Internet distribution of the music of minority cultures. Directors of the Selby Trust offered to collaborate with the Stories Exchange Project expansion in organizing an international exchange program offering ICT training and management internships in the UK to ten Czech Roms a year, a program to be coordinated with Music Business Course Europe, a European Commission-financed program involving state-of-the art recording studios in France, Ireland and Italy and developing skilled employment for minorities.
4. Broadcast Interviews BBC World Service, Bush House London 11 September 2000
Stories Exchange Project participants and staff, were interviewed on two BBC programs, “Europe Today,” a program transmitted throughout Europe and the world via radio and the Internet, and the Czech Service.
5. Presentation and Discussion Czech Embassy London 11 September 2000
Malcolm Haslett of the BBC World Service introduced I HAD WALLS IN MY HEAD, a presentation of Project stories by Czech and Romany participants and moderated a panel discussion which drew its title from a story in the Meeting Others menu of Stories and Responses:
“I had always thought of myself as a very tolerant person. But suddenly with so many gypsies around me, prejudices and fears surfaced that I thought I didn’t have. I discovered that I too had walls in my head.”
Following the presentation and discussion, the London Arts Board confirmed its interest in assisting in an expansion of the Stories Exchange Project to the UK.
Project staff and participants also received several offers of cooperation by teachers, arts therapists, and minority community workers in London.
6. ARTS OF TOLERANCE: Workshops, Discussions and Performances Attic Theater, Magedeburg Barracks Terezin 18-19 September 2000
Five workshop and discussion sessions asked how the Stories Exchange Project can cooperate with local, national and international organizations to help create mutual respect among people of different cultures, and to develop practical solutions to problems of minorities in the Czech Republic and throughout Europe.
In all sessions, twenty-five to thirty Romanyand Czech participants in the Stories Exchange Project joined invited guests. The topic of each session was addressed through discussion of stories gathered by the Project in Brno, Prague, Ostrava and Usti nad Labem, and new stories by participants about their work in the project and in local communities.
All public sessions were videotaped for a documentary for international television broadcast and this Web-site.
The camera crew also documented discussions about police harassment of a minority citizen—- and participant in ARTS OF TOLRANCE – that occurred on the morning of September 18 in Terezin. These discussions involved two members of the Czech government and two members of the diplomatic corps who had come to Terezin for the Stories Exchange Project discussions: Petr Uhl, Czech Government Commissioner for Human Rights; Martin Palous, Deputy Foreign Minister; John Shattuck, U.S. Ambassador to Prague; Denis Keefe, Deputy Head of Mission, UK Embassy, Prague.
The film-makers documented too a visit to the Terezin police station by a delegation of Czech and Romany participants which included Jana Chalupova, spokesman for President Vaclav Havel on human rights issues; Cenek Ruzicka, Director of the Romany Holocaust Association of Bohemia; Markus Pape, adviser to the European Roma Rights Center in Budapest; Commissioner Uhl.
[See Recent Stories on the front page of this Web-site or Being a Citizen: "They forced me into the car and took me to the police station."]
In another session on 18 September, a potentially productive association between two topics discussed – the Drom Romany music project and opportunities for Roms in an integrated Europe, the latter introduced by Martin Palous, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic – was suggested by another participant.
In a preparatory conversation Denis Keefe, Deputy Head of Mission at the UK Embassy in Prague, had expressed interest in the music project and in the formal discussion he asked to be kept informed about plans for a Web-based Stories Exchange Project video link between activities in London and Prague in 2001 or 2002: “that is a very interesting idea and one I want to follow.”
During the same session – transcribed on the discussion forum Web-page www.stories-exchange.ecn.cz as an initial response to the “Roma in Europe” topic – U.S. Ambassador John Shattuck further developed his presentation in December 1999 at the opening of the second phase of the Stories Exchange Project. He made a case for grounding social and economic development efforts in cultural preservation initiatives like this project: “We Americans tend to be very pragmatic and sometimes very practical, and I think this is not just a subject of theory, but of practical discussion. That’s why I salute the very important name of this project, the Stories Exchange Project. Stories are really at the heart of what this dialogue is all about. People can only understand the experience of other people if they hear each other’s stories, not if they just talk about theories.”
Nadia Costantini, representing the Delegation of the European Commission in the Czech Republic, concurred in the emphasis on concrete projects voiced both by representatives of the Stories Exchange Project and the American Ambassador. And like the UK representative, she expressed strong interest in the European scope of the project’s expansion.
A performance in Terezin on Monday evening was recorded in stereo and on videotape for use in a television documentary on the Stories Exchange Project and also for distribution – initially in excerpts on the Internet – by the Drom music studio.
The evening began with stories of Terezin by Helga Weissova-Hoskova, a survivor whose childhood drawings of the camp have been exhibited throughout the world.
[See Stories and Responses: The Holocaust: "The only weapon I have is to go around telling my story"]
Then an informal concert brought together a five-member ensemble of Romany musicians from Brno associated with the Drom studio project who played traditional Romany music with three members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Hawthorne Quartet who played music by Jewish composers incarcerated in Terezin and subsequently murdered in Auschwitz.
[see under Performances at this Web-site: "Terezin September 2000: "Jewish and Romany stories and music" and "What do they do? They create."]
This in turn led to improvised bowing contests in which Jewish-American, Asian-American and Romany musicians began to learn each others’ performance traditions, and ended with exuberant dancing to the music of the Brno Romany group from the Drom studio.
This was a truly extraordinary event: large numbers of Roms playing and dancing in a space where Jews incarcerated in Terezin had come to hear Jewish music—some of them immediately before being deported to Auschwitz.
[Several other ARTS OF TOLERANCE discussions, events, and interviews with participants, in Terezin are transcribed here at this Web-site under Stories and Responses:
Being a Citizen
"How can Roms have a white tent?"
"Slavery was like what happened in Terezin, and we're still wrestling with its legacy"
The Holocaust
"The only weapon I have is to go around telling my story"
"Something was left inside us: we are always afraid"
"Don't close up!"
"I know you can’t compare Lety with Terezin"
"Terezin was much worse than the wall in Maticni Street "
"Does it open up your world?"
"It's very close to us, the past"
"To remember well, we have to know a lot more"
"How lucky I am to be doing what I'm doing"
The Broken Mirror
"We Roms have opened ourselves up to you"
"How to do something as good as Terezin with the Romany Holocaust"
Three of the topics discussed in Terezin are also available for continuing discussion in Czech and English at the Project’s second site,
www.stories-exchange.ecn.cz
The topics:
AN INTERNATIONAL ROMANY HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL? NEW ROLES FOR ROMA IN AN INTEGRATED EUROPE?
A ROMANY MUSIC STUDIO IN THE CZECH REPUBLIC? In addition to the statement about this third project at www.stories-exchange.ecn.cz, a more comprehensive and detailed description of the Drom music studio project is available here at this main Project Web-site under NEWS.]