Nina Pavelčíková: romové v českých zemích v letech 1945–1989 (Roma in the czech lands 1945–1989)

Blanka Soukupová

The issue under review represents the

most compelling synthesis of the Ostrava

historian Nina Pavelčíková to date. The

subject of her research after 1989 became

Czech (Czechslovak)-Romani coexistence

covering the period from the end of

the Second World War to the present. In

the pages of Urban People we mention

this work, especially because the Romani

national minority (in Pavelčíková’s

concept, an ethnic group), during the

period of so-called communism from the

early 1950s, went through an insensitive

process of a very rapid and revolutionary

form of urbanization. As a result of

a postwar advertising campaign looking

for an unqualified labor force, the culturally

distinct, linguistically – at least in

the first years – different, educationally

and, therefore, also socially handicapped

minority came from Slovakia to Prague,

Ústí nad Labem, Most, Kladno, Pilsen,

Děčín, and other northern and western

Czech border cities. In Moravia, they

headed for Ostrava, Brno and Karviná.

The special subject of interest of Nina

Pavelčíková, however, became the relation

of state organs to the Roma and

to the so-called Romani question. As

a historian, she emphasized the idea

that problems of coexistence with the

majority population have historic roots.

Increasing Romani unemployment, the

non-functioning family, various forms of

addiction (to drugs, slot-machines, etc.),

parasitic ways of supporting themselves,

usury, etc., are the result of complicated

historic development and also of different

traditions. Pavelčíková characterizes

Romani otherness as a difference in

origin, physiognomy, language, a lack of

written culture, a different socio-cultural

system, a system of family, relatives and

mentality and norms of behavior.

Despite usage of some sources which

are routinely considered non-standard

in historiography (Romani literature,

memoirs, remembrances, interviews,

data from the fieldwork among Roma in

Vitkovice, Ostrava and southern Moravia

[1999], musical recordings, film, but surprisingly

no sayings and proverbs), this is

a historic work based mainly on archival

research of sources of authoritative provenance

(the most interesting of which are

printed in the concluding supplements

and expanded with eight photographs of

a Romani school and model pupils, Romani

workers, a Romani family in Ostrava

in the 1950s, and Romani officials).

Meanwhile it is very significant that

only few of the sources used are of Romani

provenance and these are, as a rule,

stimulated by the interest of the majority:

Romani officials claim to be among

the builders of socialism; they justify

their parasitic way of living by blaming

their poverty or the relation of the majority

society to Gypsies as to an inferior,

isolated group. As a warning, the Romani

holocaust is recalled. The majority


is then called upon to be patient

and to express good will toward allegedly

timid and mistrustful co-citizens.

Pavelčíková’s analysis of the postwar

period is original, especially in her

attempt at periodization of the official

majority attitude toward the Roma,

which, to a certain extent, corresponds

to the historic periodization of the postwar

period (1945–1948, 1948–1957,

1958–1968, 1969–1977, 1977–1989), and

further, her refusal to make a superficial

evaluation of the former regime and call

it a regime of ill will. On the other hand,

Pavelčíková actually reveals the roots in

those times of the contemporary crisis of

Romani society: she sees them in the broken

or disturbed institution of family and

neighborhood and in the deformation

of traditional Romani values of solidarity,

cooperation, absence of egotism and


A key period was, according to the

Ostrava historian, the late 1950s, a time

of urbanization, balancing itself with

the unfriendly environment of an industrial

city full of unknown elements of

civilization. As a result of the zeal (often

well-meant) to create a model educated,

hard-working and healthy socialist

citizen, however, there arose tense

coexistence between the majority and

the minority as well as the rise of new


ghettos. The Sovietization of

national politics led to a new discrimination

law that forbade a traveling lifestyle

(1958), emanating from the myth

about traveling Roma in the past (page

15 – actually we have documents about

Roma who had already settled in the

14th and 15th centuries). While the postwar

period, when only 583 Czech and

Moravian Roma returned to the Czech

lands from concentration camps, oscillated

between suggestions of repressive

measures that were comparable to Protectorate

policies (a register of persons

of Gypsy origin, forced-labor camps, reeducation

centers, removal of children

from Romani families) and an attempt

to respect Roma as a special nation with

its own culture and language, the second

stage was characterized by unconditional

assimilation. The first era was

shaped by the first migration waves of

socially handicapped Slovak Roma. At

the time of creation of the communist

conception of a solution of the so-called

Gypsy question after February 1948

when another stream of migration came,

important personalities came forward to

push for liquidation of the Romani handicapped.

Several original pedagogical and

educational institutions with remarkable

consequences for Romani children

and Romani parents were founded. The

most popular of them became the Gypsy

School of Peace in Květušin near České

Budějovice and then later in Dobrá Voda,

linked to the famous pedagogue Miroslav

Dědič. The next period beginning in

1958, on the other hand, formed the socalled

dispersal (1965–1968) or, more

precisely, the forced urbanization of the

Romani population. It was divided into

three groups: the settled Gypsies, the

most numerous semi-settled Gypsies and

the most problematic (from the point of

view of the majority) traveling Gypsies, at

whom a law regarding permanent settlement

(1958) was aimed. A positive aspect

of that era was the rise in the health,

social and educational level of the Roma,

although the Roma never achieved the

majority’s average. The period around the

so-called Prague Spring activated Romani

activity of its own. The Roma created

for themselves the Union of Gypsies

(Roma) (1968–1973) and made contact

with international organizations. This

promising development was interrupted

during the time of normalization when

there was a return to the model of the

controlling, socially generous state rejecting

individuality and permitting, in its

beginnings, only small cultural activities

(the rise of Romani bands, organizing of

exhibitions of Romani crafts). The turnaround

of state policies toward the Roma

in 1989 was already foreshadowed

in the

document called Charta 77, which criticized

the state concept of the so-called

social and cultural integration of the

Roma which also devalorized the Romani

past (in fact, between 1972 and 1974,

a large-scale pig farm was built in Lety on

the land where there had been a concentration

camp for Roma under the Protectorate).

Probably the largest memorial of

unreal notions of that era was the realization

of the idea of a Romani prefabricated

housing development in the Chánov section

of the town of Most. Romani families

of very different social levels were unable

to find a modus vivendi and, for integrated

Roma, Chánov changed into a space from

which they wanted to escape. An official

party document that appeared at the end

of the 1980s was reflected in an increase

of Romani activity plus realistic thinking

about the state of the Romani community

and the causes of the failure of assimilation,

including criticism of state paternalism.

Pavelčíková’s book is thus new proof of

the fact that the generous social policy of

the totalitarian state of excluding private

activity despite the declaration of a scientific

and complex solution of the problem

does more harm than good. At this point,

one can also regret that Pavelčíková did

not consider a comparison of Czechoslovak

state policies toward the Roma

with state policies of other Soviet satellites

and with state policies of advanced

capitalist states. The attentive reader,

familiar with the gains and state of contemporary

schooling and culture must,

however, come to the conclusion that

everything here has already been, even

if, e.g., a Romani boarding school in the

1950s would not be successful in the light

of postmodern pedagogy with its accent

on child nurturing in the family. At the

same time it would be very interesting

to follow the life stories of Romani children

reared in such schools, the degree of

their involvement in the majority society

and the degree of their assimilation or,

more precisely, the functioning or nonfunctioning

in direct proportion of the

help of the majority and social involvement

to the satisfaction of the minority.

Subtle anthropological research could

then, on the bases of oral-historic interviews,

augment the fascinating testimony

of the Romani activist and author Elena


and record how the state-created

“great” history was reflected in the

fates of ordinary people.

Throughout the book, which is a useful

picture of the dark postwar period, Nina

Pavelčíková promotes a thesis about the

improvement in education of the Roma

as an assumption of the improvement of

their social success. And this intellectual

cliché is an illustration of our underestimation

of the importance of the quality

of the majority population, the degree of

their prejudices, xenophobia and racism.

It is shown that the quality of coexistence

is a two-sided matter, even if the greater

responsibility falls on the shoulders of the

advantaged (majority). Undoubtedly it

would, therefore, do the text good if the

postwar position of the Roma were followed

in comparison with the position

of other minorities and certain patterns

were revealed in the coexistence of unequal


Blanka Soukupová

Poslední změna: 25. červenec 2018 11:30 
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