I was a revolutionary, but I know I did not keep my promise

Katerina SidonovaPrague
It was early in the winter of 1989. The Velvet Revolution had just got under way, and I was a student at the Pedagogical Faculty.
I remember standing on a stage in a hall full of Roma. I don’t remember the name of the town where this meeting took place. I only remember that I felt very important. I strongly believed in the victory of truth. I was a revolutionary.
It was a beautiful feeling. I thought I had the power to change anything I didn’t like. It was a very victorious and self-confident feeling. This was the Revolution.
I was speaking about the Czech school system, how unjust it was to Romany children.
"The teachers don’t take interest in the needs of your kids,” I said. “The Communists are trying to keep you as illiterate as possible. They need to keep you down: they are afraid of you because you’re too unpredictable, too free. They give you material things to make you stop thinking about freedom. They force your children to forget your language, your traditions. They want to assimilate you because they don’t understand your way of thinking, your mentality. They keep destroying your national and personal identity.
Assimilation is not what you need. You will always have a different color of skin. You will always be different. We are also different from you. And there is nothing bad about that. Let’s keep the difference. Let’s keep what is in our blood and in our souls. We can be equal even if we are different. Let’s tolerate each other.”
I paused and looked at the audience. They listened carefully. I was in a trance; it was as if I had been drugged. Drugged by faith in victory, in a better tomorrow.
After a while I started to speak again more quietly.
“I am here to promise you that the attitude of the teachers towards your children will change. Those who will become teachers from now on will do their best to help your children. They will always tolerate their needs, their difference and their personality.”
When I finished there was a lot of applause. I noticed tears running down several faces.
The memory of this event very often comes back to me.
I know that I did not keep my promise.

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