Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 5
7 February 2000

Č U L Í K  O N   R O M A:
"We are not racists, but we do not like the Gypsies"
Racism in the Czech Republic

Jan Čulík

CER's review of the Channel Four programme Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves was also published in Czech in Britske listy last Monday, along with a Czech translation of substantial parts of the programme. This has provoked more than a dozen letters from the Czech republic. Here is a selection of quotes from some of them:

We are not all the same and we do not like each other's smells

Last Saturday, in Mladá Fronta Dnes [the most popular Czech daily newspaper] Karel Steigerwald pertinently argued that a 'non-racist' is someone who does not expect that 'everyone is equal' but that 'we all have the right to differ'. I would say that a non-racist does not expect that everyone is the same. Because if we accept the arguments of the radical anti-racist Petr Uhl (the Czech commissioner for human rights) we will get into conflict with common sense.

Women differ from men, for instance in IQ: there are fewer very stupid and very clever women than there are very stupid and very clever men. Similar statistics apply for different regions and nations: the IQ of Jews and Arabs is statistically higher than the IQ of Europeans and the Europeans' IQ is higher that the IQ of people who live in Central Africa. Am I a racist if I quote this specialised medical information? Am I a racist if I say that the Central Africans are stupider than the Europeans and that the Jews and the Arabs are cleverer than the Europeans?

Look, for instance, I am convinced that the Arabs stink: all Arabs I have ever met stank, if they did not use deodorants. Am I allowed to believe this? Of course, maybe I stink in the eyes of the Arabs.

The question is to what extent we are allowed to generalise. Generalisation is surely a major instrument for finding one's way in the word, it is a major part of a technicians work. If I argue: "This screw breaks, when applied, so I must use a stronger screw", no humanitarian intellectual can find anything wrong with this". Am I similarly entitled to say: "Romanies frequent this pub, two of my pals have been beaten up there, so I personally will not be going there?" Does that kind of thinking turn me into a racist?

Jan Čulík describes four Romanies, shown in the film Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves. This description does not tally with my experiences and the experiences of people around me. It is true that I have known intelligent and decent Romanies, but in my experience they are in a minority. How much right do the do-gooders have to interfere with my experience?

Double standards are being used again: it is not allowed to say "The Romanies steal", but it is permissible to say "The Czechs are racist". Professional anti-racists have a lot of work to do: many books argue that some nations use trickery, other nations are stupid, some nations are melancholy. Radicals who argue that everyone is the same can now start banning these ideas.

It will not help anyone if we start suppressing the information about the nationality of criminals.Progress will be very slow. I know one Romany family where the grandmotherdoes not know how to read and write and does not even know how to read a clock; her grandchild is in Fifth Form and is doing very well in school. Progress is possible. I agree that the Romanies should be given extra financial help. But for how long? For how long must I be offended, attacked threatened by visas and by not being accepted into the European Union.

What Petr Uhl preaches and what Jan Čulík writes is the best way of creating really deep conflicts in society. When a Gypsy family stole a a stethoscope from a doctor friend of mine, she did not become embittered. One concrete Romany woman stole her shoes in the surgery: unpleasant, but what can you do. When the police brought a dead drunk Romany to the same doctor (doctors must now confirm whether the police can take drunks to a detention centre) and he started yelling, "Call Prague, call Petr Uhl, injustice is being done here", she turned into a racist. Similarly when teachers demand of their Romany pupils that they should do their homework, are also racist.

Every pupil and student must be praised; it is necessary also to praise the "majority Czech society" for the successful projects. Although I am Czech, I regard myself as so normal that I will be happy to see on television a functioning classroom with Romany students in it. If for nothing else, then for the selfish reasons that these people will earn their keep and I my taxes can go somewhere else. In spite of that I am being called a racist.

Jan Kyncl

Many Czechs have been killed by the Romanies

Dear Sir,

You have asked dramatically, in one of your articles, how many white people have been killed by the Romanies. A great many, I say. According to statistics, 60 per cent of all criminal acts in the Czech Republic is committed by the Romanies. I myself have very bad experiences from Brno. I will never forget that day when, a little distance from the bank where I worked as a porter during the summer holidays Romanies killed an old lady in broad daylight for three hundred crowns (USD 8) she had in her purse.

Nobody stood up against them because people were afraid they might also be killed. So - what gives Romanies the right to murder the whites? Even if 90 per cent of the whites were racist.

I think you still do not understand one thing, with regard to the relationship between the Czechs and the Romanies. Every other Czech has been mugged by a Gypsy on a tram or in the underground. I have met Romanies several times - in Brno and in Ústí nad Labem. Maybe I am a racist but my attitude towards the Romanies is based on my experiences.

Twice I was mugged, once they threatened me to kill me, once a twelve-year old gypsy girl offered me sex and when I naturally turned her down, her mother wanted to report me to the police, in Ústí nad Labem the Romanies have destroyed a whole one part of town not even twelve years after it was built - it looks there now like in Dresden after an air raid. I do not go to the Slavie swimming pool since I saw Gypsy children urinating in to the pool.

The British film was biased - did it show how afraid the Czechs are of the Romanies? Why are people afraid to go to the Romany quarters of Prague, Žižkov and Karlín at night? No, this is not racism - this is just bad experiences and fear.

Jan Lipsanský

The Romanies do not work and receive free income from the state


You are bothered by collective guilt which is imposed on the Romanies, but you spread collective guilt which is applied to the Czechs. You hold the same views about Kosovo. While the murdering of Albanians was justly repaid by throwing bombs on all the Serbs, once the Albanians have started murdering the Serbs, Britské listy does not seem to call for the bombing of Kosovar Albanians.

You say that racist criminality is being overlooked, I argue that Romany criminality is overlooked even more.

Before you attack me as a racist, I must say that many people reproach me for defending the blacks. I do argue that if you are born into a family which is absolutely at the bottom, you almost have no chance to pull yourself out of all that shit. And if you are an exceptionally strong personality and do manage it, then somebody will crack his or his children's head open because they are black.

On the other hand, what irritates me is that a large number of Romanies receive free, permanent incomes. While I get up at half past five, do not make it back home before five and will my above average earnings, two children and a wife on maternity leave I receive only about twenty percent more than a Romany family on social security.

I would therefore be very happy if people did not only noisily fight for the rights of minorities, but also for the rights of the majority. In other words, let anyone be punished if he smashes somebody's face, no matter whether it is black, yellow or white.

And let the minority do whatever it wants, as long as the majority population does not need to finance their existence, while the minority keeps yelling that the handouts are not enough. I will gladly support those people by my taxes who want to get out from all that shit. The Czech racists would be much more tolerant towards the Gypsy minority if the minority tried a little harder.

Zdeněk Maštalíř

When you criticise the work of the Czech police and judiciary, you are also making generalised assumptions and spread collective guilt


You have said, 'we must not generalise and ascribe certain features to a whole social group, marked by the colour of their skin'. And you have also said, "There must be something wrong with a society which tolerates that people should be maimed or killed for the colour of their skin. I do not have confidence in the Czech police and the Czech judiciary in this matter."

There is a contradiction between these two statements. If you talk about the "Czech police", the "Czech judiciary", you are generalising. I think that you are very sensitive to the position of the Romanies in the Czech Republic and you are being unfair to the majority Czech society. This is based on the widespread Czech assumption that a weaker person is always right. I think that the Romanies do have a problem in the fact that the Romanies need the white people (they need their money, their jobs) but the whites do not need the Romanies.

The Romanies are not independent and it is neccesary for them to be so, otherwise, after their social security payments are curtailed, the fragile social peace will collapse and the whole situation will be worse. That is why it is necessary to criticise the Romany ethnic group, trying to make them independent.

Jan Kaštánek

What about the racism of the European Union?

The reviewed programme interested me because of its background. I have been following the cases that the British programme featured and they depressed me maybe more than anyone else. It may well be that the British do not like these immigrants and the authors of the film are trying to present them as poor, victimised and tormented persons. A typically racist attitude - generalisations were being made in the programme on the basis of individual cases.

I personally feel that collective responsibility is quite closely related to collective guilt. If we are all responsible, why aren't we all guilty? What about the antiracist credentials of the European Union as manifested in the fact that EU immigration officials at the frontier refuse entry to coloured people and use excuses that allegedly these people do not have enough subsistence funds? Has the BBC ever made a programme about this? I am convinced, incidentally that Czech police is quite fascist.

They carefully give protection to skinheads in their conflicts with anarchists. The police regard the anarchists as much more dangerous, although I have not heard that anarchists have ever kicked anyone to death. I know that there is no chance for a fair trial in the Czech Republic now. Scandalous verdicts are issued very often (approximately one per week). Yet I do not believe that in Orlová the court was racially biased against the Romanies. Whenever I followed some of these cases, there were close ties between the judges and the parents of the accused skinheads. The court simply decided in favour of their friends.

I do not think that the Romanies will be ever capable of integrating themselves into European society. A specialist in the cultures of India has written in one book that the Romanies simply have different customs, a different culture, a different morality, and so they are encoutering problems. I do not know what attitude the Western governments will assume towards people who will not want to accept their civilisation. Will they drive them away? Will them kill them? Will they set up reservations? Will they ignore them? Will they give them social security?

It is a fact that the Czechs behave as racists on the basis of experience. I do not know what could be done about it. This is a matter of self-preservation. If somebody beats you up three times without a reason and speaks Russian while doing it, you will simply start being afraid of the Russians.

Ludvík Vavřina

Decent Gypsies should be a little ashamed of being Gypsies


I am probably not the only one who is constantly irritated by the cultivation of the equation "The Czechs are racist" in the British and other allegedly objective media. Why doesn't British television go and make a film about the "good situation" of the Romanies in multiethnic Kosovo after last year's bombardment by NATO?

Why does the BBC never make a film with an emotive title "When there are 10 million of them" - about what a real problem it would be for the British if it had so many Romanies as the Czech Republic or the Slovak Republic? And when a certain country imposes visas on another country, is that not transferring "collective guilt" on the inhabitants of that country?

Those who are suprised that a flat in a tenement inhabited by Gypsies is practically impossible to sell to a non-Gypsy should go and explain to the insurance companies that it is politically incorrect to charge a sick seventy-year-old a higher life insurance premium than a healthy thirty-year-old.

And why does the British government do not give grants to allow a few Romany children from the Czech Republic to study at some of the British private schools! What a gesture that would be!

I have just had a visitor here from Bangladesh, she does look like a Gypsy. She arrived worried and embittered about Czech racism. I cannot really tell what was the difference - maybe behaviour and her way of speaking. People in the streets - even in Karlín and Smíchov - were on the whole nice to her. They mostly did not understand her English, but they could see that she was not saying things like "Fuck yourself, you stupid prick", which is what you can usually hear from the young ladies on the streets of the above-mentioned multicultural parts of Prague.

You are insulting the Czechs if you write that they judge their fellow human beings by the colour of their skin. They judge them by their behaviour, by their ways of speaking, by their customs, by how they work. For instance, I do not think that the Czechs are being racist towards the Vietnamese here... I think that decent Gypsies should be a little ashamed of being Gypsies and decent Czechs (and the state institutions, of course) should show a maximum understanding and give maximum help to those Gypsies who have at least a little good will to get along with the majority society.

A former fellow student of mine is a teacher and a mayor in a small village int the Frydlant area. She has been working for the benefit of the local Gypsies for many years. She put on theatrical performances for them, kept lending them money (which they usually did not return).

Recently, I said to her that with regard to labour camps, it is a pity that certain institutions have been so discredited by Hitler that nobody can use them in the forthcoming decades. She replied, "A few years ago I would have hit you with the first thing at hand." It seems to me that she emphasised the first part of the sentence.

I am writing this in the multicultural Karlín, a cleaning lady has just been in here, a good woman, pleasant, speaking idiosyncratic Czech, sharp-sighted, with "tanned cheeks" and black eyes. When she sometimes tells me to get out of my room as she is doing the cleaning, I perhaps go to buy something and I leave all the drawers - even those with the money in them - unlocked. And then I go and write racist e-mails...

It is really important to ask the Romanies what they really want themselves, do they wish at all to integrate themselves into the majority society, etc. I do not know whether it would be possible to organise a referendum for the Romanies in which they would decide where the further development of the Romany population should go... It would be very nice if there was no racism in the world, but it is obviously impossible to achieve such a state. Something will always awaken racism...

There will always exist attempts to improve the situation of the individual national groups. This does not only concern the Czech Republic. Such attempts are hardly successful and the loud noise generated by various "interest groups" (starting with various "activists" and ending with the members of the "ostracised" minority) rarely means anything at all. These groups make noise in order to attract attention to themselves, but they often fight for their own vested interests. Emphasising only one aspect of the problem will never contribute to its solution.

Name Withheld

The Romany leaders do not know what they want

Dear Sir,

The debate on racism is absolutely irrational. This is also your fault. I daresay that Britské listy readers on the whole are not racist. Skinheads do other things rather than read this electronic daily. Why, then, are you trying to convince the already convinced? Why do you make undifferentiated statements such as "Czech society is racist" or "The Czechs attack the Romanies?" etc.

Somebody has said here that the Romanies themselves should express a view in a referendum how it should be with their population. You criticised this. But the Romany leaders are absolutely incapable of reaching any decisions on anything. Many members of the so called white majority are nervous and uncertain. What is expected of them? Are they supposed to support the Romany minorities' social integration efforts? Will they not be accused of attempts to forcibly assimilate the Romany minority? And what do the Romanies want themselves? A total assimilation? Or social integration without cultural assimilation? Or a separate development (in Afrikaans: Apartheid?) Or a little bit of everything?

Yet another "racist" affair broke out recently. The unemployment bureau registers Romany unemployed. That is said to be racism. But these unemployment bureaus have been told by the government, within the framework of affirmative action to give preference to Romany applicants for jobs. How can they give them preference if they are not allowed to register that they are Romanies?

Your undifferentiated attacks against racism is ineffective. You give your readers only two possibilities: Either they can hide somewhere and be quitely ashamed for being racist or - even if they are not racist, to argue with you, to radicalise their terminology and attitudes and let themselves be manipulated into the position of racists.

Everyone smells a little different. Ask your dog. I remember that once I visited my black fellow student in his room at the Halls of Residence. After a certain time he opened the window. Simply, my white man's smell was different from his black man's smell and it was not pleasant to him, obviously.

You call for humanising television programmes, showing Romanies from a better, human angle. Maybe British viewers need this, but not the Czechs, who are in daily contact with Romanies. (With the exception of the noblest of us, living, for instance, in the leafy suburbs of Prague 6, where even under communism Romanies were banned from settling.)

People know Romanies very well. I myself have met many Romanies, starting in my childhood, hop picking field trips, the military service (where I spent weeks in a military hospital on a bed next to a Gypsy who of course had in the pocket of his pyjamas his indispensible knife) and ending with our small town where I go for the weekend and do my shopping mostly in Gypsy shops. They are quite assimilated there, very good, probably also because there are not too many of them, in the town a statement made by one local Romany woman speaking to her children circulates. She told them "You must be ten times cleaner than the white children."

Still, I have my prejudices, as you have seen. Maybe an impact could be made on them by the institutions which impress on them most conspicuously: the school, the army and the prison service. In all these areas, the communists did more. I am thinking of "labour camps," organised in such a way that they would not produce repeated offenders.

Useful crafts should be sought for the Romanies, which would appeal to their nature (they live their lives from day to day, without planning) and which would give them a feeling that they were useful. I happily remember one Gypsy, who, when asked where he worked, always said proudly, in a tin factory, the operation of the whole factory depends on me! (He worked at the end of a conveyer belt, taking down complete tins from the belt.)

And when you say that it is wrong to state the race of a criminal in newspaper articles and on television, how would it help if it was done the other way about? There are only two main communities in the Czech Republic...OR is it even impermissible to mention the sex of the perpetrator of a criminal deed? That may be super correct, but for instance in the case of rape it would be a little absurd.

Name Withheld

The Romanies suffer from hepatitis and ignore hygienic rules

It is true, we find the smells of other races unacceptable and our smells are unacceptable to other races. A friend of mine had a sexual relationship with a black girl, a student from one African country. Always he needed to have a shower and use deodorants. The girl did the same thing. It also depends on what you eat.

You are not bothered when you see Pakistanis in British corner shops earning their crust by hard work. But if a Czech sees a dark skinned child at a swimming pool, he will not think this is an Indian, but will assume he sees a Gypsy. And he will remember a newspaper report that in certain areas the Romanies suffer from infectious hepatitis and that they ignore the quarantine and the hygienic rules. Or they demolish the hospital and take the infectious children home. Maybe, you would be happy to feel that you did not behave like a racist but in order to avoid infection I will in cases when health is threatened behave like a racist.

But anyway, is it racism when they advise you before travelling to Africa not to eat or drink anything local, or when they warn you not to have sex with local women because forty per cent of them have AIDS? You will say that this is racism because a woman who you might happen to meet need not be sufferng from AIDS.

Name Withheld

Jan Čulík, 5 February 2000

The author is the publisher of the Czech Internet daily Britské listy.

Archive of Jan Čulík's articles in CER




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