Never educated for democracy

Prague, Czech RepublicDecember 6, 1993
Milena HubschmannovaChairman, Romany Studies Program, Charles University
Racism always has many levels. The historical, political and religious level is just one of these. We should also consider the psychological or, if you want, the human level. Much depends upon how man reacts out of his instinctsand his experience. That should lead to a more humanitarian society.
But unfortunately man is capable of terrible things, and a concern for the psychological or human level should be focused in ways to prevent racism. I believe that society is responsible for this, and should use all the means it has available to change the situation – including the mass media: the media should realize that they have enormous power to address the psychological level which is at the root of the problem.
The attitude of our media towards the Romany community is absolutely unbearable. Of what you read these days, I would say eighty per cent is discriminatory, even criminal.
It is important to realize that people here have never been educated for democracy. People are now making up for the prohibitions imposed by the totalitarian regime, and newspapers are hunting for anything sensational. People have no solid information about the Romany issue. Sometimes we feel that there might be something behind this: a distinct objective to which this is meant to lead.
Whenever you see a newspaper report about a crime that has been committed by a Gypsy, you will always find mention of the fact that the offender is a Gypsy. What may be even worse, often you find a phrase such as “a citizen of a dark complexion.” Whenever you see a Romany family on television, the household is seen as messy and disordered. Of course it is true that there are some Romany families whose way of life is not what you would call adequate or comparable to an average Czech family. These people live in huts where there is no electricity, no tap water. But I would say that ninety per cent of Roma have what you would call an average way of life or higher than average. Yet I have never seen one Romany household that looks average. Of course there are families who use their floor as fuel, but the vast majority ofRomany families are normal families witha normal way of life.
Such media coverage has had a malignant effect on Czech people. Many of my good friends are against the Romany people, but when I ask whether they know any Romany, they say no, but they also say, “well, Haven’t you seen them on TV” or “haven’t you read about them in the papers?” That’s what the situation is like.
MEDIA AGAINST INTOLERANCEA Conference Organized by The Fund for New Performance/Video
Franz Kafka CenterPragueDecember 6, 1993