BY ANNA CHVALOVA/ROMODROM
Anna Chválová, director of the Romodrom association's Drop-in Facility for Children and Youth and its Center for Preschool Education, participated as a member of the honor guard standing over former Czech President Václav Havel's coffin on Tuesday, 20 December at the Prague Crossroads center, formerly the Church of St. Anne.
"The news of Václav Havel's death greatly affected me. On Monday evening I was offered the opportunity to pay homage to him as a representative of the Romani minority. It was a very strong moment for me, an enormous honor," Chválová said. She took part in the honor guard starting at 10 AM.
"At that moment I felt that we Romani people suddenly have a great deal in common with the Czechs - we share this pain. I felt I was not standing there on behalf of myself, but on behalf of our entire minority," she said. Others who arrived to pay silent homage to Havel's memory during the 20 minutes she stood guard included representatives of the Vietnamese community and college students.
"Václav Havel is a symbol of the great change brought about by the year 1989. I especially value his humanity, his respect for people, for other religions, for minorities. He vocally condemned the rising aggression between the majority and minority and drew attention to its effects, he was far-sighted, he sought other options and did his best to explain them to people. Just as is written in Charter 77, Havel warned against the forced assimilation of ethnic Roma and considered it correct that Romani people preserve their culture and values. He also openly condemned the Romani Holocaust - he understood the pain of the Romani nation and supported the memorial at Lety by Písek," Chválová said.
"I will never forget this day, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It occurred to me that even though it was such a sad moment, it might bring people together again, bring them closer to the values the Velvet Revolution fought for. Even though the current climate is one of unstable politics and social tensions, even though prognoses for the future are not very favorable, I have the feeling Havel's departure is changing something. I believe what he said recently, when he was awarded the Ján Langoš Foundation prize - that everything will ultimately turn out for the best, that we must be patient. I think it's good to be a bit of a dreamer, an idealist - one should believe in one's ideas and do one's best to do everything one can for them," said Anna Chválová.
This is the last testimonial to Vaclav Havel we will publish. But all these tributes show how much the Romani of the Czech Republic respected and cherished him.
He gave them hope. And, at least as importantly, the present government of the Czech Republic recognized that he would want Romani to play a role in his funeral, and included them.