Monday, April 13, 2009


International Roma Day celebrated in Chomutov despite animosity of the town leadership
Chomutov, 11.4.2009, 17:05, (ROMEA)


Despite the animosity of those at the top levels of local government, International Roma Day celebrations took place in the town of Chomutov. A traditional meeting at the "tree of reconciliation" took place in the Podkrušnohorský Zoo with the blessing of a Roman Catholic priest. The meeting was attended by Czech Human Rights and Minorities Minister Michael Kocáb and representatives of the US Embassy: First Secretary for Political Affairs Martin Strong, Second Secretary Lori Johnson and political specialist Helena Markusová.

Part of the celebrations included the screening of video greetings and wishes from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the Roma on the occasion of their greatest holiday.

Under pressure from the Chomutov town hall and the zoo management, Minister Michael Kocáb did not speak during the sanctification of the "tree of reconciliation", but spoke later at Pizzeria Rigoleto, where the celebrations continued. According to zoo director Iveta Rabasová, the minister's participation meant the event was of a political nature. After a week of complicated negotiations and several demands, the blessing took place at the traditional site on the grounds of the Zoo and outdoor museum despite city authorities having banned it.

"I must caution against the course taken by the Zoo and the town of Chomutov. The situation in this country is now under a microscope. Our country is attracting much more international attention after the collapse of the government during the EU Presidency and after the visit by President Obama's delegation. I consider the ban on this commemoration to be very dangerous for the reputation of the Czech Republic. It escalates social tension and leads to a coarsening of the social debate," Minister Kocáb said.

"Twenty years after the Velvet Revolution I was prevented from speaking in public at your celebration. It is really very interesting when a local mayor decides to ban a speech by a member of the government in a public place. I consider this to be a real joke about what is possible under democracy," Michael Kocáb said during the private part of the celebrations.

Chomutov Mayor Ivana Řápková played down the impact of the ban on the country's reputation. "I believe this entire matter should be framed completely differently. If a closed gathering is to take place somewhere, in a closed space, those who want to gather there, even Minister Kocáb, must have the permission of the director of that space. They sent a letter to the town hall, but we do not decide about this at all. They have to reach agreement with the director," Řápková said on Czech Television's "Studio 6" program. Řápková even claimed the celebration was taking place at a site to which an entrance fee was required. "The celebrations took place at a site for which there is no entrance fee, but I did not give permission for them," Zoo director Rabasová told the web server

The mayor refused to grant the auspices of the town of Chomutov to the celebrations in any way whatsoever. "Why should the town share in the celebrations when the Roma were not even decent enough to announce them to the town hall?" the mayor insisted, even though she had already stated that the Roma had requested permission for the celebrations from the town hall.

The event at the "tree of reconciliation" ended with the Čilágos musical group from Náchod performing the Roma national anthem "Dželem dželem". Afterward, the celebrations moved to Pizzeria Rigoleto, where in addition to other events there were lectures, e.g., Iveta Pape spoke about the education of Romani children.

No comments: