STATEMENT OF EMIL SCUKA
PHOTO: VACLAV HAVEL (LEFT) AND EMIL SCUKA (RIGHT)
It is very difficult for me to find words to express the deep sorrow I feel over the departure of Václav Havel from this world. Someone who made an enormous contribution to the rise of the Romani movement has now left us.
It was Václav Havel who, on 21 November 1989, accepted the "ROI Declaration" from representatives of the Romani Civic Initiative (Romská občanská iniciativa - ROI) and affiliated us to Civic Forum (Občanské fórum - OF). Thanks to his support, Romani people enjoyed a dignified place in the newly-created OF and became part of the revolutionary movement in those November days.
Thanks to Václav Havel, Romani people were represented in all of the OF structures, including the leadership of the national minority commission, which represented all nationalities living on the territory of Czechoslovakia, the Romani minority included. Václav Havel was the first to start using the term "Romani", as we named ourselves in the ROI Declaration. Václav Havel sent his adviser, Věra Čáslavská, to ROI's founding convention to support the rise of a Romani political party. She greeted the 600 Romani delegates on his behalf. Havel was one of the few people in OF to take no exception to the creation of a political party based on the principle of nationality.
Romani people throughout the whole of Czechoslovakia really loved Václav Havel as their president. Through the president and our relationship with him, we identified with the Czech state - we were proud to live in the country of which Václav Havel was president. Everyone Romani felt he was our president, too.
Romani people expressed their gratitude and respect to him at the First International Romfest in Brno-Líšeň, where more than 10 000 Romani people from all over Czechoslovakia were present. In addition to President Václav Havel, this unique cultural meeting was attended by cabinet members and parliamentarians from both the Czech and Slovak Republics.
We definitely cannot forget the president's immediate aid and unequivocal response when we informed him of skinhead attacks on the Romani population in North Bohemia. President Havel emphatically and unambiguously called on the Interior Minister to immediately resign, which happened the following day. In connection with these attacks, President Václav Havel also ensured that Romani neighborhoods and towns in North Bohemia were guarded by military patrols.
Last but not least, President Václav Havel was also responsible for ROI candidates winning eight MP positions as part of OF during the first free elections. This was historically the first time Romani people had ever sat in Parliament on the territory of Czechoslovakia. This "first" was also a global "first", as Romani people had never had the opportunity to represent their own nation at national level anywhere in the world. I remember the response of leading Romani members of the International Romani Union, representatives of countries from all over the world, how they both envied us our president and wished us all the best. Václav Havel was the first head of state to receive Romani representatives not only from Czechoslovakia, but also from abroad.
Václav Havel set an example for other heads of state in Europe and the world. He helped us to open the doors to the highest levels of politics in various countries, a phenomenon unheard-of before him.
During his entire time in office, Václav Havel took a lively interest in Romani people and regularly invited Romani figures to his informal meetings at the Villa Amálie, people who had a lot to say about the development and future of Romani people in our country. Václav Havel also recorded another "first" in being the first head of state to view members of the Romani minority as human beings, as citizens who were equal before the law, without having to designate us with some sort of epithet.
The difference between him and other politicians in this state is that while every Romani person in this country was first and foremost a human being to Václav Havel, with all the rights and responsibilities of any other citizen, other politicians saw us then - and see us today - primarily as people who don't vote for their political parties. We don't interest them, we are just troublemakers, constantly making demands without voting for their parties in return.
Václav Havel was not afraid to publicly stand up for Romani people even though he knew he could lose a great deal politically by doing so because the public wouldn't like it. He never made such political calculations in advance.
By being our president too, Václav Havel gave us the feeling of belonging to Czechoslovakia - and later, to the Czech Republic. Romani people began to be proud of being Romani. They were also proud to be Czech. Unfortunately, that feeling did not last long, but that is due to the error of other circumstances which President Havel could not influence.
With the departure of Václav Havel, all of us Romani people are losing a great defender, a fighter for freedom and human rights. We are losing the certainty that when things are at their worst, Václav Havel will help us. However, I believe his ideals, his ideas, and his philosophy will live on. There is no greater testament to this than the hundreds of young people out in the squares these past few days, reading Havel's works aloud, the thousands of mourners, and his close friends who will continue to disseminate his works.
Mr President, we are all sad. We thank you for everything. We promise we will never forget, Mr President, that love and truth will prevail over lies and hate.