Past is present: haunted by a land’s dark legacy

129 comments

in community,identity,multicultural,origin

Wings by SKoehler

By SEZIN KOEHLER

In the Communist days, Prague’s trams were rife with secret servicemen who would listen in on conversations, looking for dissidents. The carriages are still silent as tombs. With the exception of tourists or drunk adolescents, Czech people don’t usually talk above a whisper, even generations born after the Velvet Revolution.

Other things haven’t changed with the fall of Communism. Like the treatment of the Romani, or gypsy, community. Though their nationality is Czech or Slovak, the Roma are discriminated against, forcibly sterilised in hospitals, and their children are placed in schools for the handicapped. Being Roma is considered a handicap. A conservative Czech party tried to pass legislation to buy a plot of land in India to send all the Romani ‘home’.

The Neo-Nazi movement is strong. I see them on the trams, their skulls shaved and uncovered in spite of the cold, their trousers tucked into their combat boots and laces wound round in their distinctive style. I was frightened when the head of the movement encouraged them to dress like everyone else, grow their hair.

As a mixed breed Asian woman, I won’t wear my bindis unless I’m with my European-looking husband. When it’s warm I show my hugely tattooed shoulders. The ink under my skin gives me some street cred. I dress smartly, putting more effort into my appearance than anywhere else I’ve lived.

When a place’s dark legacy affects you, what ways have you found to cope?

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Sezin Koehler is a half-American half-Sri Lankan global nomad and novelist whose first novel is American Monsters.
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  • http://www.expatharem.com/identity-messages/ Anastasia

    If anyone wants to learn more about Roma history and culture take a look at Silk Road Gourmet — a blog which traverses the cuisines people and nations that traded goods along this “lifeline of the ancient world”.

    • http://www.dutchessabroad.com Judith van Praag

      Anastasia, Thank you for this link. In the comments a German reader mentioned remembering the “Zigeuners”. The Dutch use the same word or name for Roma or Sinti. To see a blog post on the topic of food in connection to zigeuners is a surprise.
      When I think of the fate of Zigeuners tears come to my eyes. Of the Sinti who lived in the Netherlands before WWII only 30 returned from concentration camps. At the Holocaust monument in Westerbork Sinti and Roma are remembered alongside Jews and Gays who were murdered by the Nazis.
      It wasn’t until 2000 that then Priminister Kok apologized for the way the Zigeuners had been treated during WWII and after. Since then survivors received reimbursement for lost property.
      The Dutch government pretty much forced Zigeuners to settle down in “wagon camps”. As a child I lived for a few years in an idyllic area in the province Drenthe, “up north” from Amsterdam, near one such a community. Scrap metal, old cars, and such was their business, hidden from the view from the street by a forest. One of the chapters of the memoir I’m working on is about the camp’s “bicycle man”. He created “new” bikes out of total-loss two-wheelers, recycling parts so to speak.

  • http://www.expatharem.com/identity-messages/ Anastasia

    If anyone wants to learn more about Roma history and culture take a look at Silk Road Gourmet — a blog which traverses the cuisines people and nations that traded goods along this “lifeline of the ancient world”.

    • Anonymous

      Anastasia, Thank you for this link. In the comments a German reader mentioned remembering the “Zigeuners”. The Dutch use the same word or name for Roma or Sinti. To see a blog post on the topic of food in connection to zigeuners is a surprise.
      When I think of the fate of Zigeuners tears come to my eyes. Of the Sinti who lived in the Netherlands before WWII only 30 returned from concentration camps. At the Holocaust monument in Westerbork Sinti and Roma are remembered alongside Jews and Gays who were murdered by the Nazis.
      It wasn’t until 2000 that then Priminister Kok apologized for the way the Zigeuners had been treated during WWII and after. Since then survivors received reimbursement for lost property.
      The Dutch government pretty much forced Zigeuners to settle down in “wagon camps”. As a child I lived for a few years in an idyllic area in the province Drenthe, “up north” from Amsterdam, near one such a community. Scrap metal, old cars, and such was their business, hidden from the view from the street by a forest. One of the chapters of the memoir I’m working on is about the camp’s “bicycle man”. He created “new” bikes out of total-loss two-wheelers, recycling parts so to speak.

      • http://www.expatharem.com/identity-messages/ Anastasia

        This issue continues to resound in the news. Sounds like the fate of the Romani — called “Europe’s fastest growing minority” at 10 million — may be determined by France’s recent deportation of them to Bulgaria and Romania, described here as a vote-currying move that will cost right-wing EU governments nothing.

  • Mr T

    Hey Sezin,

    I believe you will be delighted to know that authorities made decision to dismantle the special schools system. It should be done gradually within next five years.

    The current system, in which the most disadvantaged children were in special schools with classes of 8-12 children and usually at least 1 assistant to aid teacher, while normal schools have up to 30 children per class (with 80% gypsy/Roma children in normal schools) provided next to 100% literacy of CR inhabitants, including gypsy/Roma (not counting recent new immigrants). Let us all hope that the reform will provide suitable model also for the disadvanteged children, not only put them in normal classes to calm down international criticism.

    • Marty

      Mr t. How interesting that your tone has changed a bit. however it is not international pressure you or your government should be concerned about. It is the lives of the children concerned. if as you say it is a policy to be implemented during a 5 year timeframe, how many lives will be affected by this delay. To be frank, once a child is labeled as a “special child” it is hard to change that. While in principal, good decision…..5 years will destroy the future for hundreds, maybe thousands of children.

      • Mr T

        I am sorry Marty, but this children really need special attention. They are not put into the special school because they are darker, but because too often their parents care about the children only so much as they have to to receive the state wellfare, they too often see in their families abuse of alcohol and drugs as well as criminal activity leading to imprisonments, and in many cases the children are so deprived, that when entering the first class at 6 years old, they are on the level of 3 years olds. Therefore there were also the “zero” classes opened for such deprived children in which teachers are trying to catch up with everything that the caring parents (into the category of caring parents fall also about 80% of gypsy/Roma parents) normally provide.

        These children have very little chance to catch up with children who hadn’t had so hard preschool time. They are special in the way that they get MUCH MORE teacher attention than ANY child in standard school can ever dream of. And their curriculum doesn’t show that they went through the “special” learning process, however they still can decide to go and study the 2 final years of any standard school and get curriculum thereof. What I am afraid of is that if these children are just put into standard schools without changing the system of standard schools in a way that can provide the care this children really do need, it will totally destroy their chances of any education. I myself saw it happen to a fellow pupil when I was in grammar school (the parents consent is obligatory for placing a child to school with special educational program, and in this case they didn’t give it). Well, he definitely wasn’t subject to any discrimination, however he hadn’t learn almost nothing in the 9 years. His literacy level didn’t get above the level of 3rd class in the years (in special school he would be on the level of 7.5). And his parents cared only so much to cover his truancy (otherwise they would loose the wellfare and be subject to criminal prosecution).

        Although putting 20% gypsy/Roma children into the schools for children with special needs is from statistical point of view horrifying, it was bringing to these children the education they needed. And in the end nobody asks them if they went through special education process, but they will be asked if they can read and count and etc. And the system which will be abandoned was achieving that.

  • Mr T

    Hey Sezin,

    I believe you will be delighted to know that authorities made decision to dismantle the special schools system. It should be done gradually within next five years.

    The current system, in which the most disadvantaged children were in special schools with classes of 8-12 children and usually at least 1 assistant to aid teacher, while normal schools have up to 30 children per class (with 80% gypsy/Roma children in normal schools) provided next to 100% literacy of CR inhabitants, including gypsy/Roma (not counting recent new immigrants). Let us all hope that the reform will provide suitable model also for the disadvanteged children, not only put them in normal classes to calm down international criticism.

    • Marty

      Mr t. How interesting that your tone has changed a bit. however it is not international pressure you or your government should be concerned about. It is the lives of the children concerned. if as you say it is a policy to be implemented during a 5 year timeframe, how many lives will be affected by this delay. To be frank, once a child is labeled as a “special child” it is hard to change that. While in principal, good decision…..5 years will destroy the future for hundreds, maybe thousands of children.

      • Mr T

        I am sorry Marty, but this children really need special attention. They are not put into the special school because they are darker, but because too often their parents care about the children only so much as they have to to receive the state wellfare, they too often see in their families abuse of alcohol and drugs as well as criminal activity leading to imprisonments, and in many cases the children are so deprived, that when entering the first class at 6 years old, they are on the level of 3 years olds. Therefore there were also the “zero” classes opened for such deprived children in which teachers are trying to catch up with everything that the caring parents (into the category of caring parents fall also about 80% of gypsy/Roma parents) normally provide.

        These children have very little chance to catch up with children who hadn’t had so hard preschool time. They are special in the way that they get MUCH MORE teacher attention than ANY child in standard school can ever dream of. And their curriculum doesn’t show that they went through the “special” learning process, however they still can decide to go and study the 2 final years of any standard school and get curriculum thereof. What I am afraid of is that if these children are just put into standard schools without changing the system of standard schools in a way that can provide the care this children really do need, it will totally destroy their chances of any education. I myself saw it happen to a fellow pupil when I was in grammar school (the parents consent is obligatory for placing a child to school with special educational program, and in this case they didn’t give it). Well, he definitely wasn’t subject to any discrimination, however he hadn’t learn almost nothing in the 9 years. His literacy level didn’t get above the level of 3rd class in the years (in special school he would be on the level of 7.5). And his parents cared only so much to cover his truancy (otherwise they would loose the wellfare and be subject to criminal prosecution).

        Although putting 20% gypsy/Roma children into the schools for children with special needs is from statistical point of view horrifying, it was bringing to these children the education they needed. And in the end nobody asks them if they went through special education process, but they will be asked if they can read and count and etc. And the system which will be abandoned was achieving that.

  • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

    Greetings All,

    I found a link that I think you’ll all find interesting and one I feel really ties the whole discussion about the various threads I’ve mentioned about Prague and the Czech Republic together: http://praguemonitor.com/2010/05/21/helsinki-committee-extremism-rise-%C4%8Dr-last-year

    The Helsinki Committee, an internationally regognised human rights watchdog, has released its report on the Czech Republic for last year. The link is to a summary of their findings, which are horrifying and tragic.

    Thank you all again for participating in this fascinating discussion on dark legacies!

    Sezin

    • Mr T

      Although I reagard Helsinki Committee very higly, there are some mistakes in their findings.

      “There is no law on the provision of legal aid.” Not true. Whoever can not afford to pay for a lawyer is ENTITLED a free atorney. Many people often use it.

      “This benefits the perpetrators who apply their criminal practices to next victims, it added.” I don’t get where this leads. Criminal prosecution differs from civil cases.

      “Nevertheless, they were only qualified as breach of the peace, not as attempted murder, the CHV writes.” Not true, THEY ARE TRIALED FOR ATTEMPTED MURDER, you can check any newspaper. They face up to life in prison, if found guilty. That is why their defendats are trying with story about not knowing who is inside and only wanting to burn a stash with stolen things. (BTW from 4 adults inside 3 were already in prison for violent crimes. Grandpa of the poor little girl 14 times imprisoned, father 12 times imprisoned. This is what is behind most of Czech racism towards gypsies, not the dark skin itself. Nevertheless it doesn’t excuse the skinheads act in any way and I hope that if found guilty, the punishment will be exemplary).

      “The position of foreigners worsened due to the recession.” True. However state is not responsible for people who come seek work here. If they don’t succeed, it is their problem (and still the state is paying plane tickets back home for them nowadays). On the other hand the system for asylants (not economic refugees) is very generous.

      “Romani children are systematically placed in the schools for children with minor mental disorder.” True. About the reasons behind that one of my previous posts (i.e. in special school there is 1 teacher per 8-12 children, standard up to 30…). The idea behind this is good, although I understand that it is disliked.

      “A disproportionately high number of children live in institutes.” Now think. Romani parents disproportionately cast children aside. The state provides care for them (as well as for the white children casted aside by their parents) in institutes. Is the state to blame? It would be lovely if there were enough foster families for them. Unfortunately there are not.

      “Czech prisons are 130-percent overcrowded.” True. Where they are not overcrowded?

      “People with mental disorder are too often placed under restraint, the report said.” That is true, however this is issue of specific nature which needs to be dealt with by specialist. While in some states the dangerous patients spend whole life under strong medication not comming to their sences for long years, here they are put in restraints to save whatever lucidity they still might have. I am no specialist, I will not judge the practise.

      “Attacks due to hatred or sexual orientation are almost ignored in the Czech Republic. It is an aggravating circumstance, but the perpetrator is not liable to a stiffer punishment as in the case of a racially motivated attack, the report said.” Not true. It is cause for stiffer punishment, read the penal code, go see some criminal cases at courts (all are heard publicly) and see for yourself.

      “The law on registered partnership prevents homosexual couples from adopting children, although an individual who does not live in such a couple can adopt a child if he/she fulfils the conditions, it added.” True. I hope that all homos will be able to adopt children soon. And this will strike away also the problem with children in institutions. BTW any catholic to join debate on this? ;)

      • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

        Hi Mr. T,

        Thank you for taking the time to comment on the Helsinki Committee findings. While I appreciate that you have a different take on their results, I think you are missing the bigger human rights picture here. The Helsinki Committee is one in many international human rights bodies who present the same picture of the Czech Republic year upon year.

        What I have presented is only a summary of the report, which has further been translated from Czech. Maybe it is worthwhile for you to read the entire report, as that will be far more detailed than the summary and may address your concerns. Also, I’m sure that the Helsinki Committee has a forum or contact person you could get in touch with to voice your thoughts on the multitude of issues you mention above.

        • Mr T

          Dear Sezin,

          I tried to focus on issues which are plainly untrue in the report, i.e. what charges the arsonists face. Originally I didn’t want to comment on that, but it really struck me that an institution with such a great reputation can simply miss important facts, which can be moreover very easily verified (i.e. by simply reading the Penal Code in case of lamenting about the state of Czech statutes). Such a great mistakes unfortunatly overshadow rest of the work, as it doubts the whole report.

          I would definitely read it all if I had more time these days. I always read reports by Council of Europe Committees on CR. They have system in which they first write a draft, which they give to the state to dispute, and then they correct possible mistakes. Which still leads into critisism of things such as disproportionate number of gypsy/Roma children in special schools, but helps to avoid such a nonsence like “hatred attacker is not liable to a stiffer punishment” (they don’t have google translator in Helsinki so that they cannot check i.e. Penal Codex 40/2009 Art 140/3/g etc.). Or to critisize the state that there is disproportionate number of gypsy/Roma children in institutes. What should the state do? Make their parents take care of the children by force?

          You are saying “read the horrifying and tragic summary”. I only put some counterarguments to that. I hope that I haven’t offended anyone, have I?

  • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

    Greetings All,

    I found a link that I think you’ll all find interesting and one I feel really ties the whole discussion about the various threads I’ve mentioned about Prague and the Czech Republic together: http://praguemonitor.com/2010/05/21/helsinki-committee-extremism-rise-%C4%8Dr-last-year

    The Helsinki Committee, an internationally regognised human rights watchdog, has released its report on the Czech Republic for last year. The link is to a summary of their findings, which are horrifying and tragic.

    Thank you all again for participating in this fascinating discussion on dark legacies!

    Sezin

    • Mr T

      Although I reagard Helsinki Committee very higly, there are some mistakes in their findings.

      “There is no law on the provision of legal aid.” Not true. Whoever can not afford to pay for a lawyer is ENTITLED a free atorney. Many people often use it.

      “This benefits the perpetrators who apply their criminal practices to next victims, it added.” I don’t get where this leads. Criminal prosecution differs from civil cases.

      “Nevertheless, they were only qualified as breach of the peace, not as attempted murder, the CHV writes.” Not true, THEY ARE TRIALED FOR ATTEMPTED MURDER, you can check any newspaper. They face up to life in prison, if found guilty. That is why their defendats are trying with story about not knowing who is inside and only wanting to burn a stash with stolen things. (BTW from 4 adults inside 3 were already in prison for violent crimes. Grandpa of the poor little girl 14 times imprisoned, father 12 times imprisoned. This is what is behind most of Czech racism towards gypsies, not the dark skin itself. Nevertheless it doesn’t excuse the skinheads act in any way and I hope that if found guilty, the punishment will be exemplary).

      “The position of foreigners worsened due to the recession.” True. However state is not responsible for people who come seek work here. If they don’t succeed, it is their problem (and still the state is paying plane tickets back home for them nowadays). On the other hand the system for asylants (not economic refugees) is very generous.

      “Romani children are systematically placed in the schools for children with minor mental disorder.” True. About the reasons behind that one of my previous posts (i.e. in special school there is 1 teacher per 8-12 children, standard up to 30…). The idea behind this is good, although I understand that it is disliked.

      “A disproportionately high number of children live in institutes.” Now think. Romani parents disproportionately cast children aside. The state provides care for them (as well as for the white children casted aside by their parents) in institutes. Is the state to blame? It would be lovely if there were enough foster families for them. Unfortunately there are not.

      “Czech prisons are 130-percent overcrowded.” True. Where they are not overcrowded?

      “People with mental disorder are too often placed under restraint, the report said.” That is true, however this is issue of specific nature which needs to be dealt with by specialist. While in some states the dangerous patients spend whole life under strong medication not comming to their sences for long years, here they are put in restraints to save whatever lucidity they still might have. I am no specialist, I will not judge the practise.

      “Attacks due to hatred or sexual orientation are almost ignored in the Czech Republic. It is an aggravating circumstance, but the perpetrator is not liable to a stiffer punishment as in the case of a racially motivated attack, the report said.” Not true. It is cause for stiffer punishment, read the penal code, go see some criminal cases at courts (all are heard publicly) and see for yourself.

      “The law on registered partnership prevents homosexual couples from adopting children, although an individual who does not live in such a couple can adopt a child if he/she fulfils the conditions, it added.” True. I hope that all homos will be able to adopt children soon. And this will strike away also the problem with children in institutions. BTW any catholic to join debate on this? ;)

      • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

        Hi Mr. T,

        Thank you for taking the time to comment on the Helsinki Committee findings. While I appreciate that you have a different take on their results, I think you are missing the bigger human rights picture here. The Helsinki Committee is one in many international human rights bodies who present the same picture of the Czech Republic year upon year.

        What I have presented is only a summary of the report, which has further been translated from Czech. Maybe it is worthwhile for you to read the entire report, as that will be far more detailed than the summary and may address your concerns. Also, I’m sure that the Helsinki Committee has a forum or contact person you could get in touch with to voice your thoughts on the multitude of issues you mention above.

        • Mr T

          Dear Sezin,

          I tried to focus on issues which are plainly untrue in the report, i.e. what charges the arsonists face. Originally I didn’t want to comment on that, but it really struck me that an institution with such a great reputation can simply miss important facts, which can be moreover very easily verified (i.e. by simply reading the Penal Code in case of lamenting about the state of Czech statutes). Such a great mistakes unfortunatly overshadow rest of the work, as it doubts the whole report.

          I would definitely read it all if I had more time these days. I always read reports by Council of Europe Committees on CR. They have system in which they first write a draft, which they give to the state to dispute, and then they correct possible mistakes. Which still leads into critisism of things such as disproportionate number of gypsy/Roma children in special schools, but helps to avoid such a nonsence like “hatred attacker is not liable to a stiffer punishment” (they don’t have google translator in Helsinki so that they cannot check i.e. Penal Codex 40/2009 Art 140/3/g etc.). Or to critisize the state that there is disproportionate number of gypsy/Roma children in institutes. What should the state do? Make their parents take care of the children by force?

          You are saying “read the horrifying and tragic summary”. I only put some counterarguments to that. I hope that I haven’t offended anyone, have I?

  • Marty

    Hey Sezin, What a great discussion!
    Just a few thoughts:
    Silence of the “trams:” I have ridden on public transport all over the world and to be frank, maybe this is one of the common features worldwide. Taking a tram or bus to work, school, shopping whatever is a tedious process…when one does it everyday. But try a tram/bus after a sports match, or a group of school kids getting on together, or a group after a nite on the town…..then one might wish for the more quiet soulful faces of the day! And well, try NYC….the only ones who smile, look others in the eye and who look up…..are of course the tourists….who can be spotted a mile away.

    Mr. T has given great thought on his comments….many of which do have an element of the situation. Sadly though, the bottom line, Roma throughout Europe face tremendous discrimination in basically every aspect of life. For the children ending up in “special schools” as in Czech R and other countries as well, what does the future hold for them…..they cannot join another stream, will not have higher education options…..the cycle of poverty and deprivation will continue. The European solutions to the problems need to be rethought…..and I would suggest that the roma groups, together with government, both local and national work together…perhaps looking together at options for change….as there are many solutions to the issues facing both groups. And solutions may emerge from looking at development successes in countries other than Europe. Yes, other countries like say India may offer interesting alternatives. And another thought: where are the minorities (eg. Roma, mixed race, other races, or even people with disabilities) in the media: TV shows, movies, even TV commercials, magazines, news, schoolbooks…..and if they are there, how are they projected: as equal, normal to everyone else or as different/special? Many fear what is different, and so great and small efforts are needed to help us understand each other and that maybe we are not really as different as we have been led to think.

    • Mr T

      Hey Marty,

      About minorities in media.
      The most influential private TV employed in 1994 a man whose father is from Ghana, and who looks more like a black man than a mixed breed to most Czechs (mostly they don’t know that his mother is Czech). He is speaker for the main evening news and he is quite popular http://tv.nova.cz/clanek/tvare/reynolds-koranteng.html

      This has put also some pressure on public TV to employ more members of minorities in other than minorities-oriented programmes. The public TV employed one Roma to be their speaker of the main evening news, and he was quite succesful at the begining. Unfortunately he get imprisoned for defraudation and for abuse of wellfare system (the latter is usually stressed by extremists as one of the most common mischiefs among gypsy/Roma population). Taken into consideration that 60% of prison population consists of gypsies/Roma (while they make only 3% of population) this hasn’t helped the cause to change view of the ethnicum. Since then they employed many others who didn’t follow the same path, though no gypsies/Roma got as high position as their former collegue yet (in the public TV).

      More to education
      The biggest issue in education is little or no interest of the gypsy/Roma kids’ parents. The special schools are designed to coop with that (also by the fact that there are less students per class 8-12 special school vs 24-30 normal one). I had 3 fellow gypsies (they don’t like to be called “Roma” in the part of CR where I live) in my class and I witnessed everything that is usually described as the main problems of gypsy/Roma children education. First of all the parents send the children to school in many cases only because otherwise they would loose wellfare and would be prosecuted (it is criminal offense in the CR not to send your children to school unless you register him as homeschooled, which is rather complicated). We were good friends and we had a great deal of fun together, unfortunately for the guy after 8 years he had knowledge comparable to 4 years of education (we got to same class in his last year). The teacher had other 25 children to take care of, and by my opinion many white children were far less inteligent compared to my gypsy friend, but they were working hard and especially their parents were spending whole afternoons to help them keep up. If he would be in special school he would probably end 9 years there with knowledge of excellent 7th grader of standard school (which is still far better than comparable US student), as he stayed he had problems with reading and basic maths. He could eventually finish the 2 last years of grammar school and be much better than being all the time in grammar school. Of course, the system could be all changed, unfortunately right now there is not enough money to have all classes with only 12 children and 1 or more assistents helping the teacher. (and all the time please keep in mind that 80% gypsy children are in standard schools and most of them don’t have the described problems)

      As I have already written the parent must always give consent for the child to go to special school instead of the standard one. Many hesitate to do so and send them there only after their children are totally failing in standard school (this scenario happens to both white or other families). What happens then is that the parent recognizes that his child needs more attention only after it is way behind the other students. They send him to special school where he is also way behind the special school students. Usually it means that the initial time spent in standard school is good for nothing and the child has to start almost from the very “special” beginning.

      You don’t see any other ethnicity disproportionally in special schools. Especially the Vietnamese children have it hard since their parents often speak very little Czech, yet they keep up in standard schools.

      About “fears of what is different”
      Other feature of Czech racism is that it is most spread in places where there is more gypsies/Roma (there are parts of country where there are none while in other it may reach up to 25%, like the place where I live). This of course goes hand in hand with high criminality rates. Here where I live there is virtually NOBODY who either wasn’t target of gypsy/Roma crime or whose close relative wasn’t target (I was 3 times twice only for being white, my grandma twice and my mom once, both were robbed). Around my former highschool, which is situated in mostly gypsy/Roma part of the town, there is wired fence to prevent potential intruders entering the premises as well as police all around during time the students go to school or leave it (the attacks on students were common and only after there were serious life threatening injuries to one of students the authorities provided requested police coverage). Here people don’t fear “different”, they fear the crime which unfortunately goes hand in hand with large part of the gypsy/Roma population. Then we can be only sorry that also those gypsies/Roma who live normal and orderly lives are also target of such a racism. But it won’t be better as long as 3% of population of certain ethnicity make about 60% of prison population.

      There is also high racism among gypsy/Roma population itself. Partly it is due to caste system (the higher often extort money from the lower who usually don’t ask white authorities for help), but especially here where I live it is directed from those who live here 3rd-4th generation (-> higher life standards, have jobs, take care of children’s education) towards 1st generation of mostly Slovakian gypsy/Roma immigrants (who came mostly after Slovak state restricted wellfare). They are the same ethnicity but the hatred is way above level of Czech-gypsy/Roma animosity. (I know some from those 3rd and latter generation personally)

      In the same time African population here is represented by respected black dentist, and therefore the perception of black Africans is much different from the one that many Praguers have http://www.czechfocus.cz/2010/4/6/art51620.html In my opinion the Czech xenophoby isn’t comming from fears of the unknown, but from experience the people get in day to day life. The minorities here are not in some kind of ghettoes that don’t mix with majority population (like i.e. Washington D.C. suburbs, as far as I can say from reading blog by one white Czech who lives there).

      What I personally see as largest problem is that in the last decade or so the xenophoby gets worse (also due to the newcommers), even though the government is pushing hard with positive discrimination in state jobs (e.g. Police) etc. And looking in other European countries, I don’t see a way to follow to get out of this. Is there such in India? Hell, I will contribute my money to implement it here, if it works. Could you describe it with more details?

  • Marty

    Hey Sezin, What a great discussion!
    Just a few thoughts:
    Silence of the “trams:” I have ridden on public transport all over the world and to be frank, maybe this is one of the common features worldwide. Taking a tram or bus to work, school, shopping whatever is a tedious process…when one does it everyday. But try a tram/bus after a sports match, or a group of school kids getting on together, or a group after a nite on the town…..then one might wish for the more quiet soulful faces of the day! And well, try NYC….the only ones who smile, look others in the eye and who look up…..are of course the tourists….who can be spotted a mile away.

    Mr. T has given great thought on his comments….many of which do have an element of the situation. Sadly though, the bottom line, Roma throughout Europe face tremendous discrimination in basically every aspect of life. For the children ending up in “special schools” as in Czech R and other countries as well, what does the future hold for them…..they cannot join another stream, will not have higher education options…..the cycle of poverty and deprivation will continue. The European solutions to the problems need to be rethought…..and I would suggest that the roma groups, together with government, both local and national work together…perhaps looking together at options for change….as there are many solutions to the issues facing both groups. And solutions may emerge from looking at development successes in countries other than Europe. Yes, other countries like say India may offer interesting alternatives. And another thought: where are the minorities (eg. Roma, mixed race, other races, or even people with disabilities) in the media: TV shows, movies, even TV commercials, magazines, news, schoolbooks…..and if they are there, how are they projected: as equal, normal to everyone else or as different/special? Many fear what is different, and so great and small efforts are needed to help us understand each other and that maybe we are not really as different as we have been led to think.

    • Mr T

      Hey Marty,

      About minorities in media.
      The most influential private TV employed in 1994 a man whose father is from Ghana, and who looks more like a black man than a mixed breed to most Czechs (mostly they don’t know that his mother is Czech). He is speaker for the main evening news and he is quite popular http://tv.nova.cz/clanek/tvare/reynolds-koranteng.html

      This has put also some pressure on public TV to employ more members of minorities in other than minorities-oriented programmes. The public TV employed one Roma to be their speaker of the main evening news, and he was quite succesful at the begining. Unfortunately he get imprisoned for defraudation and for abuse of wellfare system (the latter is usually stressed by extremists as one of the most common mischiefs among gypsy/Roma population). Taken into consideration that 60% of prison population consists of gypsies/Roma (while they make only 3% of population) this hasn’t helped the cause to change view of the ethnicum. Since then they employed many others who didn’t follow the same path, though no gypsies/Roma got as high position as their former collegue yet (in the public TV).

      More to education
      The biggest issue in education is little or no interest of the gypsy/Roma kids’ parents. The special schools are designed to coop with that (also by the fact that there are less students per class 8-12 special school vs 24-30 normal one). I had 3 fellow gypsies (they don’t like to be called “Roma” in the part of CR where I live) in my class and I witnessed everything that is usually described as the main problems of gypsy/Roma children education. First of all the parents send the children to school in many cases only because otherwise they would loose wellfare and would be prosecuted (it is criminal offense in the CR not to send your children to school unless you register him as homeschooled, which is rather complicated). We were good friends and we had a great deal of fun together, unfortunately for the guy after 8 years he had knowledge comparable to 4 years of education (we got to same class in his last year). The teacher had other 25 children to take care of, and by my opinion many white children were far less inteligent compared to my gypsy friend, but they were working hard and especially their parents were spending whole afternoons to help them keep up. If he would be in special school he would probably end 9 years there with knowledge of excellent 7th grader of standard school (which is still far better than comparable US student), as he stayed he had problems with reading and basic maths. He could eventually finish the 2 last years of grammar school and be much better than being all the time in grammar school. Of course, the system could be all changed, unfortunately right now there is not enough money to have all classes with only 12 children and 1 or more assistents helping the teacher. (and all the time please keep in mind that 80% gypsy children are in standard schools and most of them don’t have the described problems)

      As I have already written the parent must always give consent for the child to go to special school instead of the standard one. Many hesitate to do so and send them there only after their children are totally failing in standard school (this scenario happens to both white or other families). What happens then is that the parent recognizes that his child needs more attention only after it is way behind the other students. They send him to special school where he is also way behind the special school students. Usually it means that the initial time spent in standard school is good for nothing and the child has to start almost from the very “special” beginning.

      You don’t see any other ethnicity disproportionally in special schools. Especially the Vietnamese children have it hard since their parents often speak very little Czech, yet they keep up in standard schools.

      About “fears of what is different”
      Other feature of Czech racism is that it is most spread in places where there is more gypsies/Roma (there are parts of country where there are none while in other it may reach up to 25%, like the place where I live). This of course goes hand in hand with high criminality rates. Here where I live there is virtually NOBODY who either wasn’t target of gypsy/Roma crime or whose close relative wasn’t target (I was 3 times twice only for being white, my grandma twice and my mom once, both were robbed). Around my former highschool, which is situated in mostly gypsy/Roma part of the town, there is wired fence to prevent potential intruders entering the premises as well as police all around during time the students go to school or leave it (the attacks on students were common and only after there were serious life threatening injuries to one of students the authorities provided requested police coverage). Here people don’t fear “different”, they fear the crime which unfortunately goes hand in hand with large part of the gypsy/Roma population. Then we can be only sorry that also those gypsies/Roma who live normal and orderly lives are also target of such a racism. But it won’t be better as long as 3% of population of certain ethnicity make about 60% of prison population.

      There is also high racism among gypsy/Roma population itself. Partly it is due to caste system (the higher often extort money from the lower who usually don’t ask white authorities for help), but especially here where I live it is directed from those who live here 3rd-4th generation (-> higher life standards, have jobs, take care of children’s education) towards 1st generation of mostly Slovakian gypsy/Roma immigrants (who came mostly after Slovak state restricted wellfare). They are the same ethnicity but the hatred is way above level of Czech-gypsy/Roma animosity. (I know some from those 3rd and latter generation personally)

      In the same time African population here is represented by respected black dentist, and therefore the perception of black Africans is much different from the one that many Praguers have http://www.czechfocus.cz/2010/4/6/art51620.html In my opinion the Czech xenophoby isn’t comming from fears of the unknown, but from experience the people get in day to day life. The minorities here are not in some kind of ghettoes that don’t mix with majority population (like i.e. Washington D.C. suburbs, as far as I can say from reading blog by one white Czech who lives there).

      What I personally see as largest problem is that in the last decade or so the xenophoby gets worse (also due to the newcommers), even though the government is pushing hard with positive discrimination in state jobs (e.g. Police) etc. And looking in other European countries, I don’t see a way to follow to get out of this. Is there such in India? Hell, I will contribute my money to implement it here, if it works. Could you describe it with more details?

  • http://www.dividingmytime.typepad.com Jennifer Eremeeva

    This was a very good discussion, and one I think we need to have more of. I live in RUssia where xenophobia is part of the DNA, but I am always taken aback by the real cruelty European Russians show to the imported laborers from Tadzhikistan, who are so clearly frightened by everything they see, keep their heads down and walk around in packs. I’m not comfortable with it at all.

    • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

      Yikes! You bring up a great point: It is so easy to be complacent in the face of xenophobia when you can blend in with locals even if you aren’t. At the same time, I wonder if there is a safe way to engage in these discussions with those doing the victimisation.

      Although that said, I don’t think that xenophobia and racism are genetic, these are practices that are learned and reinforced during the course of an individual’s life. The good thing about that is people do have the ability to change how the see the world and interact with those who are different. The bad thing is that the choice to change is a hard shift and most times it is easier to go with the status quo.

      Thanks for contributing, Jennifer!

  • http://www.dividingmytime.typepad.com Jennifer Eremeeva

    This was a very good discussion, and one I think we need to have more of. I live in RUssia where xenophobia is part of the DNA, but I am always taken aback by the real cruelty European Russians show to the imported laborers from Tadzhikistan, who are so clearly frightened by everything they see, keep their heads down and walk around in packs. I’m not comfortable with it at all.

    • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

      Yikes! You bring up a great point: It is so easy to be complacent in the face of xenophobia when you can blend in with locals even if you aren’t. At the same time, I wonder if there is a safe way to engage in these discussions with those doing the victimisation.

      Although that said, I don’t think that xenophobia and racism are genetic, these are practices that are learned and reinforced during the course of an individual’s life. The good thing about that is people do have the ability to change how the see the world and interact with those who are different. The bad thing is that the choice to change is a hard shift and most times it is easier to go with the status quo.

      Thanks for contributing, Jennifer!

  • http://www.sarahmelamed.com Sarah

    Enjoyed the post and the discussions.
    We had a very disconcerting experience in Romania when we were mistaken for Roma.
    We had gone hiking all day and looked scruffy, unkept and brown from the sun when we entered an empty restaurant- Nobody was willing to serve us and we were basically ignored even after speaking directly with the waiter.We left. This hightlighted to me what the Roma have to face in their daily lives, even as tourists visiting for a short time.

    • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

      What a horrible experience, Sarah. I’m constantly amazed by how people will treat another person based on their physical appearance. The Internet has such power these days for us to share these stories and for me, I’d like to know which restaurant it was in Romania to make sure that when I finally do the Dracula tour I will be sure not to go there. Thanks for sharing!

    • http://www.dutchessabroad.com Judith van Praag

      Hi Sarah, I’m sure being ignored was a very unpleasant experience. But I do wonder, what made you think you were mistaken for Roma in Romania?
      While I don’t condone the attitude of the waiter, I’m not that surprised that being under dressed, or worse, looking “scruffy and un-kept” would invite such behavior.
      Do you think that elsewhere a gerant might have considered showing you the washroom and offering you a coat and tie, before giving you a seat?

      • Anastasia

        Judith I agree being underdressed invites baser reactions across the board. (Which is why Sezin “dresses smartly” — more than she ever has — to counteract her own situation.) I believe you get better service/treatment most everywhere when you’re dressed up*. It must intimidate people (you might be *someone*!), or you fit in better. *Except places where to be overdressed is to be fish out of water….

  • http://www.sarahmelamed.com Sarah

    Enjoyed the post and the discussions.
    We had a very disconcerting experience in Romania when we were mistaken for Roma.
    We had gone hiking all day and looked scruffy, unkept and brown from the sun when we entered an empty restaurant- Nobody was willing to serve us and we were basically ignored even after speaking directly with the waiter.We left. This hightlighted to me what the Roma have to face in their daily lives, even as tourists visiting for a short time.

    • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

      What a horrible experience, Sarah. I’m constantly amazed by how people will treat another person based on their physical appearance. The Internet has such power these days for us to share these stories and for me, I’d like to know which restaurant it was in Romania to make sure that when I finally do the Dracula tour I will be sure not to go there. Thanks for sharing!

    • Anonymous

      Hi Sarah, I’m sure being ignored was a very unpleasant experience. But I do wonder, what made you think you were mistaken for Roma in Romania?
      While I don’t condone the attitude of the waiter, I’m not that surprised that being under dressed, or worse, looking “scruffy and un-kept” would invite such behavior.
      Do you think that elsewhere a gerant might have considered showing you the washroom and offering you a coat and tie, before giving you a seat?

      • http://www.expatharem.com/identity-messages/ Anastasia

        Judith I agree being underdressed invites baser reactions across the board. (Which is why Sezin “dresses smartly” — more than she ever has — to counteract her own situation.) I believe you get better service/treatment most everywhere when you’re dressed up*. It must intimidate people (you might be *someone*!), or you fit in better. *Except places where to be overdressed is to be fish out of water….

  • Mr T

    I am sorry Sezin that I have to say this but in this post you twist the facts in the manner which is similar to what the Czech neonazis often do when debating aching issues.

    Firstly about the silent trams – Czechs like to talk to each other quietly because they don’t like to disturb other people around, who are mostly not interested to listen to other’s talks. It is not whisper, but silent talk. Taking tram and having to listen to some tourists talking about what they have been drinking last evening is nothing that Czechs enjoy. Especially when the tourist is on the other end of 30m long streetcar. You can pass your message to the listener without bothering people around. It is not about secret police, it is about cultural customs.

    The Czech racism towards Gypsies also true, but pointing it out on the education system is common misconception. 80% gypsy/Roma children are attending standard grammar schools. Though the 20% in special schools is highly disproportionate to “white” population, it must be mentioned how the special schools for disadvantaged are run – usually there are 8-12 pupils in special school class (while 24-30 in standard grammar class) and in special school the teacher usually also has help of assistent (mostly assigned to children with greatest disadvateges as well as gypsy/Roma assistents assigned to help deal especially with not only children, but also gypsy/Roma parents school officials relations). Although many of gypsy/Roma children that attend special schools lack any mental deprivations, they often lack the parent’s interest in their education. The teachers and assistents in special schools have to deal with special tasks, like teaching the children from socially disadvantaged families (not only gypsy/Roma, but mostly) all the basic things that children who go to grammar school are expected to know (even things like basic hygiene; especially gypsy/Romas who come from east Slovakia where they often had lived in conditions worse than those of poor African countries; those gypsy/Roma families who live 2nd or 3rd generation in CR usually don’t have these problems). The education in standard grammar schools is on high level (in international comparison, i.e. far better than in USofA) and only the most inteligent children fare well without their parents effort in the afternoons after the classes. Although there are some NGO’s providing after-school education to gypsy/Romani children, there is not enough of them to balance the general lack of gypsy/Roma parents’ lack of interest into their children’s education. One special reason for this is that the parents are afraid that in case their children get economically better, they will leave them. It really is happening and gypsy/Roma who gain higher education and get well paid jobs (or who are succesful enterpreneurs) try to separate from their gypsy/Roma roots (it is common that they try to find “white” spouses for their offspring). Which again leads to lack of persons within the community to which the gypsy/Roma children could look up during their education. The international pressure however seems to lead to dissolution of current system within next few years. Today there is next to 100% literacy in CR. Placing disadvantaged children to standard classes will need a lots of money to maintain their current education level. The current budget deficit is 6,4%… (BTW the special school testimonial doesn’t say that the child attended special school; children can be placed there only with consent of parents, and in case the child fares well it can change to standard school, or after finishing the special school’s 9 year attendance go to the 2 last years of standard school and get certificate thereof).

    The sterilization issue – in all cases the sterilization was conducted on women who already had a few children in cases, when the doctors considered that having more children would pose health risk for the women. All the women gave written consent, however it was given in situations when they were not informed and couldn’t rationally decide (mostly during or shortly after giving birth). The state has apologized for it and the women got damages (although it was after lengthy lawsuits). Now the situation is in other extreme – it would be probably very hard to find doctor who would sterilize gypsy/Roma woman even when she would ask for it.

    The issue of sending gypsies/Roma to India – it was not conservative, but extremist party. They have no seats in parliament, and therefore they could not even try to start legislative process of passing such a norm. They are political wing of neonazis, they have no influence in the CR (which is shown also by the fact that they were recently dissolved by the Supreme administrative court mostly due to their xenophobic programme).

    This comment is rather lengthy, but I had to write it. There is A LOT wrong in the Czech republic and there is A LOT of latent racism especially to gypsies, but simplifying the issue and writing it down the way you did it is a bit too much. (the racism against gypsies is European problem, not only Czech, as recent burning of their villages by Italian authorities shows now; whenever there is criminal offense against them commited in the CR, the perpetrators are prosecuted, as there will shortly start the trial against 4 silesian arsonists in Ostrava who might face life in prison for attempted murder).

    The issue of neo-nazi skinheads is true though. You never know what you can expect from them even when you are white Czech.

    • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

      Hi Mr. T,

      Thanks for your comments and for taking the time to provide all of this further information for us.

      Just a bit of background for you on the expat+HAREM site itself: These blogs are not meant to be extensive treatises on the culture, politics, etc., of a given place. They are supposed to be brief snapshots about how we as expat women engage with or see our host country. These posts are the bare bones of an issue, experience, or event and are put together in this way to promote discussions that span place and culture, as you will see from all the comments from around the world below.

      About the silent trams, this is something I have heard from many Czech people, although I do appreciate that you take a different position on this. Thanks for helping expand our understanding.

      With regards to your comments on the treatment of the Romani here in the Czech Republic, while I do appreciate that in theory what you say is true, the reality of their discrimination is another story that has been well documented by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, UNICEF, the WHO, the European Commisson on Human Rights and other international bodies. Yes, the Czech government has paid reparations to a few women who were forcibly sterilised, but not to all of them. I am happy to hear that now because of heightened awareness on this issue a doctor will likely not perform the operation at all. It’s a bit extreme, but better than putting women on the spot when they may not have the presence of mind to make a good decision for the long term or taking the decision out of their hands entirely. The more people discuss the nuances, the more likely there will be a middle ground reached eventually.

      As I mention in one of the previous comments, I do say that the extremist party who wanted to send the Roma back to India has since been outlawed, but this has not stopped them from organizing demonstrations in Prague and other places in the Czech Republic.

      Thank you again for taking the time to offer us such a detailed Czech perspective!

      All the best,

      Sezin

      • Mr T

        Dear Sezin, I believe that it is possible to bare bone an issue without twisting it. I have myself lived outside CR and I probably will in next 10 years, and I am opened to criticism, but I simply refuse fact-twisting, that’s all.

        There are already 21 years from collapse of totalitarian state and the new generation in trams still talk in a manner which aims not to disturb other passangers. Maybe it is also connected to the fact, that Czechs use public transport extensively (Prague has highest proportion of use of mass transport vs cars among European cities) and therefore as the people use it daily they expect certain amount of peace on board (unlike people who don’t commute daily and are just moving from one fun place to another). The secret police story is silly, although it really is entertaining.

        I am not disputing the current state of gypsy/Roma community with the Czech republic nor the attitude of majority population towards them. I just believe that it can be manifested on hard evidence facts and unfortunately you have picked issues which are contrary to what you are saying (school system, which is highly effective, though controversial to certain amount) or which are things of the past (sterilization).

        The number of forcibly sterilized women is high, therefore the reparations went only to a few. If there is any left who didn’t get damages they can claim it in the court of law. The court system has proven effective for those who already prevailed with their cases, I don’t see any reason to dispute that any other who might have undergone any mistreatment shouldn’t expect the same.

        With neonazis I disputed the sentence “A conservative Czech party tried to pass legislation to buy a plot of land in India to send all the Romani ‘home’.” It makes CR look like US south in 1960′s. This kind of extremists are in every society, and unlike you put it in the Czech republic they have no influence. And they have never tried to pass any law as it is not in their capacity, as they have never reached more then 1% of votes (which was in European parliament election which always have low turnout).

        They of course can demonstrate. Neonazis are free to march, gypsies/Roma are free to march, expats are free to march. The fact you don’t agree with somebody is not reason to take aways the somebody’s rights. The Czech republic has faults, but it is democracy, and also the neonazis are beneficiaries of the freedoms that all can enjoy here (unless they resort to criminal activities which was the reason of dissolution of the “workers party”).

        All the best,

        Mr T

        • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

          Hi Mr. T,

          Like I mentioned, I heard from a number of Czech people, old and young, that the reason people are so quiet on the trams relates back to Communist times. I appreciate that you have a different take on the social significance of this, and your point has been well received.

          It seems to me that we are approaching these issues from two very different standpoints – you from the point of view of a Czech national and me from the perspective of an outsider as well as human rights activist.

          There are a number of ways to interpret the information you’ve presented and from where I stand much of what you say and the statistics you present in fact further highlight the truth of my statements.

          That said, I think we will have to just agree to disagree on how the information is interpreted and its subsequent social ramifications regarding Czech society.

          And with reference to the US south in the 1960s: many people would say that segregation is still hugely rampant in America, although the way it is performed is a different beast than the one that existed pre-Civil Rights movement. This is one of the USA’s dark legacies and one that educators and activists are still struggling to remedy even today.

          All the best,

          Sezin

      • Mr T

        Adendum to sterilization issue

        About 4 000 women undergo sterilization in the Czech republic every year. This procedure is most commonly used in cases, when a woman underwent caesarian section already at least twice, she has ill heart or ill lungs or other problems which make pregnancy life threatening. Also when a woman have chromozomal malfunction which would threaten the child’s life. In any case the person must give written consent.

        About 80 gypsy/Roma women claimed that they have been sterilized without being properly informed what the procedure means. These women already had children and doctors considered that another pregnancy would be life-threatening. In all cases the women signed the papers. They disputed that they were not able to make “informed decision” as they are entitled to. The czech government issued official apology and those who sought reparations got it. It was never state policy nor individual racist eugenic evil plan, but medical failure.

        T

    • http://www.dutchessabroad.com Judith van Praag

      Mr T,
      You’re remark about the silent trams made me smile in recognition. And not in the first place because I remember the general quietness on Czech trams and busses. As a matter of fact I made a few nice contacts with Czech citizens on the bus! No, I thought of public transportation in Western Europe, in particular the Netherlands and France. For there as well talking with one another in public, whether it’s while riding on the tram, meeting in a public place such as a cafe, or restaurant, is done much less loudly by locals than is common by Americans, whether they’re at home or abroad.

      While that’s a generalization, I notice people of other nationalities tend to talk out loud in their mother tongue when they think others don’t know what they’re saying.
      Still, while living in the U.S. I notice most Americans display a loudness and openness in the general English, that surpasses my understanding.

      At times I wonder whether it’s a matter of being deaf (not hearing their own voice) or just plain wanting the world to know what they’re up to. Perhaps the latter works in a society where looking for attention is much more acceptable, no, even appreciated, but in other countries drawing attention to yourself may show a lack of etiquette, and putting your belongings on display may lead to unfavorable focus of people one might want to keep at a distance.

      I agree talking quietly in public must be a cultural custom, but does that make talking out loud in public a cultural custom as well?

      • http://bazaarbayar.blogspot.com/ Catherine Bayar

        Your turn to make me smile, Judith! It’s absolutely a cultural custom. I think American loudness in public is a mixture of both an unconsciousness that anyone else may be bothered by the intrusion (or worse, not caring) PLUS thinking that all eyes on you is a good thing. It’s amusing for me to watch groups of traveling Americans wherever I happen to be abroad – no need to ask where they are from.

        My husband has commented on my increase in decibel level and speed in speaking English when I’m chatting with a group of Americans I’ve just met, versus my reserve with Turks or others I don’t know. Clearly I do it too when I know better – how embarrassing!

      • Mr T

        Hey Judith,

        I lived for 4,5 years in dormitory mostly with foreign students. They usually come for 1 or two semesters and also I moved a few times through different apartments so I met many interesting people from all around the world. I got used to many things while sharing kitchen and bathroom, hell I was even cleaning dishes after my french and spanish friends as I couldn’t live in a messy place (and I wasn’t being angry about it), but I never got used to foreigners being SO LOUD in trams. I am quite talkative so I have conversation everytime I commute with people I know, but I take care not to bother other people with my bulls*it. It is enough that my friends have to listen to that.

        I spent about half year in Graz, Austria, and almost the same time in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and about the same time in Switzerland, and I never noticed that people there would be any louder than in the Czech public transport. Actually I remind one episode in train from Zurich, when a guy got so pissed off that he started shouting on loud youngsters in a manner which made me wonder, if they haven’t wet their trousers ;) He didn’t seem to me to be some kind of Ordnungspolizei, and I wouldn’t believe that even if some Swiss would tell me.

        I agree with you that talking quietly in public transport is just a cultural custom (Czechs do not whisper in trams!). On the other hand I usually have to shout in pub to get my message through, so I wouldn’t say that Czechs are always quiet. They just don’t like bothering fellow commuters with bulls*it they are saying to their friends. (but still, I am from Silesia, and in Prague it might be different. Foreigners make about 10% of Prague’s population and with annual 4 million tourists only to Prague I guess it is quite hard to find what is the aboriginal behavior of Bohemians any more)

  • Mr T

    I am sorry Sezin that I have to say this but in this post you twist the facts in the manner which is similar to what the Czech neonazis often do when debating aching issues.

    Firstly about the silent trams – Czechs like to talk to each other quietly because they don’t like to disturb other people around, who are mostly not interested to listen to other’s talks. It is not whisper, but silent talk. Taking tram and having to listen to some tourists talking about what they have been drinking last evening is nothing that Czechs enjoy. Especially when the tourist is on the other end of 30m long streetcar. You can pass your message to the listener without bothering people around. It is not about secret police, it is about cultural customs.

    The Czech racism towards Gypsies also true, but pointing it out on the education system is common misconception. 80% gypsy/Roma children are attending standard grammar schools. Though the 20% in special schools is highly disproportionate to “white” population, it must be mentioned how the special schools for disadvantaged are run – usually there are 8-12 pupils in special school class (while 24-30 in standard grammar class) and in special school the teacher usually also has help of assistent (mostly assigned to children with greatest disadvateges as well as gypsy/Roma assistents assigned to help deal especially with not only children, but also gypsy/Roma parents school officials relations). Although many of gypsy/Roma children that attend special schools lack any mental deprivations, they often lack the parent’s interest in their education. The teachers and assistents in special schools have to deal with special tasks, like teaching the children from socially disadvantaged families (not only gypsy/Roma, but mostly) all the basic things that children who go to grammar school are expected to know (even things like basic hygiene; especially gypsy/Romas who come from east Slovakia where they often had lived in conditions worse than those of poor African countries; those gypsy/Roma families who live 2nd or 3rd generation in CR usually don’t have these problems). The education in standard grammar schools is on high level (in international comparison, i.e. far better than in USofA) and only the most inteligent children fare well without their parents effort in the afternoons after the classes. Although there are some NGO’s providing after-school education to gypsy/Romani children, there is not enough of them to balance the general lack of gypsy/Roma parents’ lack of interest into their children’s education. One special reason for this is that the parents are afraid that in case their children get economically better, they will leave them. It really is happening and gypsy/Roma who gain higher education and get well paid jobs (or who are succesful enterpreneurs) try to separate from their gypsy/Roma roots (it is common that they try to find “white” spouses for their offspring). Which again leads to lack of persons within the community to which the gypsy/Roma children could look up during their education. The international pressure however seems to lead to dissolution of current system within next few years. Today there is next to 100% literacy in CR. Placing disadvantaged children to standard classes will need a lots of money to maintain their current education level. The current budget deficit is 6,4%… (BTW the special school testimonial doesn’t say that the child attended special school; children can be placed there only with consent of parents, and in case the child fares well it can change to standard school, or after finishing the special school’s 9 year attendance go to the 2 last years of standard school and get certificate thereof).

    The sterilization issue – in all cases the sterilization was conducted on women who already had a few children in cases, when the doctors considered that having more children would pose health risk for the women. All the women gave written consent, however it was given in situations when they were not informed and couldn’t rationally decide (mostly during or shortly after giving birth). The state has apologized for it and the women got damages (although it was after lengthy lawsuits). Now the situation is in other extreme – it would be probably very hard to find doctor who would sterilize gypsy/Roma woman even when she would ask for it.

    The issue of sending gypsies/Roma to India – it was not conservative, but extremist party. They have no seats in parliament, and therefore they could not even try to start legislative process of passing such a norm. They are political wing of neonazis, they have no influence in the CR (which is shown also by the fact that they were recently dissolved by the Supreme administrative court mostly due to their xenophobic programme).

    This comment is rather lengthy, but I had to write it. There is A LOT wrong in the Czech republic and there is A LOT of latent racism especially to gypsies, but simplifying the issue and writing it down the way you did it is a bit too much. (the racism against gypsies is European problem, not only Czech, as recent burning of their villages by Italian authorities shows now; whenever there is criminal offense against them commited in the CR, the perpetrators are prosecuted, as there will shortly start the trial against 4 silesian arsonists in Ostrava who might face life in prison for attempted murder).

    The issue of neo-nazi skinheads is true though. You never know what you can expect from them even when you are white Czech.

    • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

      Hi Mr. T,

      Thanks for your comments and for taking the time to provide all of this further information for us.

      Just a bit of background for you on the expat+HAREM site itself: These blogs are not meant to be extensive treatises on the culture, politics, etc., of a given place. They are supposed to be brief snapshots about how we as expat women engage with or see our host country. These posts are the bare bones of an issue, experience, or event and are put together in this way to promote discussions that span place and culture, as you will see from all the comments from around the world below.

      About the silent trams, this is something I have heard from many Czech people, although I do appreciate that you take a different position on this. Thanks for helping expand our understanding.

      With regards to your comments on the treatment of the Romani here in the Czech Republic, while I do appreciate that in theory what you say is true, the reality of their discrimination is another story that has been well documented by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, UNICEF, the WHO, the European Commisson on Human Rights and other international bodies. Yes, the Czech government has paid reparations to a few women who were forcibly sterilised, but not to all of them. I am happy to hear that now because of heightened awareness on this issue a doctor will likely not perform the operation at all. It’s a bit extreme, but better than putting women on the spot when they may not have the presence of mind to make a good decision for the long term or taking the decision out of their hands entirely. The more people discuss the nuances, the more likely there will be a middle ground reached eventually.

      As I mention in one of the previous comments, I do say that the extremist party who wanted to send the Roma back to India has since been outlawed, but this has not stopped them from organizing demonstrations in Prague and other places in the Czech Republic.

      Thank you again for taking the time to offer us such a detailed Czech perspective!

      All the best,

      Sezin

      • Mr T

        Dear Sezin, I believe that it is possible to bare bone an issue without twisting it. I have myself lived outside CR and I probably will in next 10 years, and I am opened to criticism, but I simply refuse fact-twisting, that’s all.

        There are already 21 years from collapse of totalitarian state and the new generation in trams still talk in a manner which aims not to disturb other passangers. Maybe it is also connected to the fact, that Czechs use public transport extensively (Prague has highest proportion of use of mass transport vs cars among European cities) and therefore as the people use it daily they expect certain amount of peace on board (unlike people who don’t commute daily and are just moving from one fun place to another). The secret police story is silly, although it really is entertaining.

        I am not disputing the current state of gypsy/Roma community with the Czech republic nor the attitude of majority population towards them. I just believe that it can be manifested on hard evidence facts and unfortunately you have picked issues which are contrary to what you are saying (school system, which is highly effective, though controversial to certain amount) or which are things of the past (sterilization).

        The number of forcibly sterilized women is high, therefore the reparations went only to a few. If there is any left who didn’t get damages they can claim it in the court of law. The court system has proven effective for those who already prevailed with their cases, I don’t see any reason to dispute that any other who might have undergone any mistreatment shouldn’t expect the same.

        With neonazis I disputed the sentence “A conservative Czech party tried to pass legislation to buy a plot of land in India to send all the Romani ‘home’.” It makes CR look like US south in 1960′s. This kind of extremists are in every society, and unlike you put it in the Czech republic they have no influence. And they have never tried to pass any law as it is not in their capacity, as they have never reached more then 1% of votes (which was in European parliament election which always have low turnout).

        They of course can demonstrate. Neonazis are free to march, gypsies/Roma are free to march, expats are free to march. The fact you don’t agree with somebody is not reason to take aways the somebody’s rights. The Czech republic has faults, but it is democracy, and also the neonazis are beneficiaries of the freedoms that all can enjoy here (unless they resort to criminal activities which was the reason of dissolution of the “workers party”).

        All the best,

        Mr T

        • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

          Hi Mr. T,

          Like I mentioned, I heard from a number of Czech people, old and young, that the reason people are so quiet on the trams relates back to Communist times. I appreciate that you have a different take on the social significance of this, and your point has been well received.

          It seems to me that we are approaching these issues from two very different standpoints – you from the point of view of a Czech national and me from the perspective of an outsider as well as human rights activist.

          There are a number of ways to interpret the information you’ve presented and from where I stand much of what you say and the statistics you present in fact further highlight the truth of my statements.

          That said, I think we will have to just agree to disagree on how the information is interpreted and its subsequent social ramifications regarding Czech society.

          And with reference to the US south in the 1960s: many people would say that segregation is still hugely rampant in America, although the way it is performed is a different beast than the one that existed pre-Civil Rights movement. This is one of the USA’s dark legacies and one that educators and activists are still struggling to remedy even today.

          All the best,

          Sezin

      • Mr T

        Adendum to sterilization issue

        About 4 000 women undergo sterilization in the Czech republic every year. This procedure is most commonly used in cases, when a woman underwent caesarian section already at least twice, she has ill heart or ill lungs or other problems which make pregnancy life threatening. Also when a woman have chromozomal malfunction which would threaten the child’s life. In any case the person must give written consent.

        About 80 gypsy/Roma women claimed that they have been sterilized without being properly informed what the procedure means. These women already had children and doctors considered that another pregnancy would be life-threatening. In all cases the women signed the papers. They disputed that they were not able to make “informed decision” as they are entitled to. The czech government issued official apology and those who sought reparations got it. It was never state policy nor individual racist eugenic evil plan, but medical failure.

        T

    • Anonymous

      Mr T,
      You’re remark about the silent trams made me smile in recognition. And not in the first place because I remember the general quietness on Czech trams and busses. As a matter of fact I made a few nice contacts with Czech citizens on the bus! No, I thought of public transportation in Western Europe, in particular the Netherlands and France. For there as well talking with one another in public, whether it’s while riding on the tram, meeting in a public place such as a cafe, or restaurant, is done much less loudly by locals than is common by Americans, whether they’re at home or abroad.

      While that’s a generalization, I notice people of other nationalities tend to talk out loud in their mother tongue when they think others don’t know what they’re saying.
      Still, while living in the U.S. I notice most Americans display a loudness and openness in the general English, that surpasses my understanding.

      At times I wonder whether it’s a matter of being deaf (not hearing their own voice) or just plain wanting the world to know what they’re up to. Perhaps the latter works in a society where looking for attention is much more acceptable, no, even appreciated, but in other countries drawing attention to yourself may show a lack of etiquette, and putting your belongings on display may lead to unfavorable focus of people one might want to keep at a distance.

      I agree talking quietly in public must be a cultural custom, but does that make talking out loud in public a cultural custom as well?

      • http://www.bazaarbayar.blogspot.com Catherine Bayar

        Your turn to make me smile, Judith! It’s absolutely a cultural custom. I think American loudness in public is a mixture of both an unconsciousness that anyone else may be bothered by the intrusion (or worse, not caring) PLUS thinking that all eyes on you is a good thing. It’s amusing for me to watch groups of traveling Americans wherever I happen to be abroad – no need to ask where they are from.

        My husband has commented on my increase in decibel level and speed in speaking English when I’m chatting with a group of Americans I’ve just met, versus my reserve with Turks or others I don’t know. Clearly I do it too when I know better – how embarrassing!

      • Mr T

        Hey Judith,

        I lived for 4,5 years in dormitory mostly with foreign students. They usually come for 1 or two semesters and also I moved a few times through different apartments so I met many interesting people from all around the world. I got used to many things while sharing kitchen and bathroom, hell I was even cleaning dishes after my french and spanish friends as I couldn’t live in a messy place (and I wasn’t being angry about it), but I never got used to foreigners being SO LOUD in trams. I am quite talkative so I have conversation everytime I commute with people I know, but I take care not to bother other people with my bulls*it. It is enough that my friends have to listen to that.

        I spent about half year in Graz, Austria, and almost the same time in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and about the same time in Switzerland, and I never noticed that people there would be any louder than in the Czech public transport. Actually I remind one episode in train from Zurich, when a guy got so pissed off that he started shouting on loud youngsters in a manner which made me wonder, if they haven’t wet their trousers ;) He didn’t seem to me to be some kind of Ordnungspolizei, and I wouldn’t believe that even if some Swiss would tell me.

        I agree with you that talking quietly in public transport is just a cultural custom (Czechs do not whisper in trams!). On the other hand I usually have to shout in pub to get my message through, so I wouldn’t say that Czechs are always quiet. They just don’t like bothering fellow commuters with bulls*it they are saying to their friends. (but still, I am from Silesia, and in Prague it might be different. Foreigners make about 10% of Prague’s population and with annual 4 million tourists only to Prague I guess it is quite hard to find what is the aboriginal behavior of Bohemians any more)

  • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

    Thank you all for this rich discussion on dark legacies! I am amazed by these revelations from around the world and hope our dialogue will continue.

    In related news, my husband found a thread on our local expat website and when I cross-posted this blog it started quite a heated discussion on racism in Prague. Here’s the link in case you’re interested in the stir this blog caused: http://www.expats.cz/prague/showthread.php?t=287170&page=1&pp=7 :-)
    .-= Sezin’s latest blog ..Why? =-.

    • http://bazaarbayar.blogspot.com/ Catherine Bayar

      Sezin, love your “Why” post and the way you’re stirring it up on that thread! I’ll be czeching back (sorry!) to read further comments. I think those of us with lighter skin have no idea what it’s like until we are in Africa or India for extended lengths of time – anywhere where we’re the only one of non-color (and am I the only one to wish we didn’t have to use terms like ‘people of color’? We are ALL colorful, inside and outside…but as usual, I digress).

      A ‘just curious’ vibe caused by one’s appearance is quite different than a hostile one – you know it when you feel it. But I sadly agree with Isao’s assessment: “I think expatriates with pale skin are protected by a biased view against “Western” foreigners—don’t bother them because they are different/upper—just like those with darker skin are harassed by an equally biased view against “Southern” foreigners—bother them because they are different/lower.”

      For some reason, this reminds me of that Antipodean map http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/6496/2150/1600/map_lg.jpg which shows the world “upside down” from the way we Northern Hemisphere residents perceive the world to be. That change of perspective is at first disconcerting, then enlightening in changing our point of view. How do we turn our dark legacies upside down as well?

      • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

        Hi Catherine! Ah yes, well I live to stir up controversy. :-) When I joined the discussion on Friday afternoon there were only two pages on the thread, now there are 13! Just call me a pot-stirrer woman.

        The interesting thing I’ve noticed about many Asian and African nations when it comes to white people is that they tend to defer to white people, and I wonder if this is because of their dark legacy of colonialism. In Sri Lanka it’s crazy how having a white person with you will totally change one’s experience there. The first time I visited with my husband everyone kept saying, “Make sure Steve sits in the front passenger seat because police won’t stop the car for a random check with a white person inside.” That angered me! So even around brown people there’s discrimination. Sheesh! It’s this kind of internalised racism that bothers me and frightens me because it shows just how much damage colonial rules have done to the nation’s psyche.

        I love that map, and it’s so relevant to this discussion. So many ways to look at the world, it’s so important to remember that there’s always a new way to see old things.

        “How do we turn our dark legacies upside down as well?” I am not really sure, but open and honest discussions like these are certainly on the right track. For me this blog was about expressing a view that we don’t normally hear from Prague expats and one that many Prague expats are mostly unaware of since the majority that come here are white. What a strange synchronicity of events that this blog was released, the woman freaked out at me and that bi-racial couple posted their thread on expats.cz. Something is definitely going on here!
        .-= Sezin’s latest blog ..Why? =-.

        • http://bazaarbayar.blogspot.com/ Catherine Bayar

          I agree that the hierarchy of skin color is a dark legacy of colonialism. You’ve inspired me to write a post about my two countries and this subject…stay tuned!

          And more synchronicity – in my very brief time driving today, a tribute to recently deceased Howard Zinn was on NPR. Back at the laptop, I saw this
          and thought of you and this post:

          “As he wrote in his autobiography, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train (1994), “From the start, my teaching was infused with my own history. I would try to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted more than ‘objectivity’; I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it. This, of course, was a recipe for trouble.”"

          Keep stirring that pot, Sezin!

          • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

            “Recipe for trouble” indeed! The “discussion” at the forum I mentioned has devolved into Bash Sezin Day, where they’re now taking other things I’ve written out of context and making personal attacks against me. The funny thing is that I don’t think they even realise that with every out-of-context comment, they are only confirming my original point and making themselves look like morons. But still, upsetting! This pot-stirring is hard (and a bit scary) work.

            Aaaaanyway, I’m so glad that you’ll be writing something on the hierarchy of skin color and look forward to your thoughts. I’ll happily give you a few quotes. Apparently, I would have fetched a very good bride price had I wanted an arranged marriage in Sri Lanka on account of my fairer-than-the-average-Tamil’s skin and American passport. :-)
            .-= Sezin’s latest blog ..Why? =-.

        • Anastasia

          Apologies Sezin, I’ve been traveling and am late to this juicy discussion.

          How a nation’s dark legacy has affected me as an expat: the ghosts of British colonialism (actually protectoratism) in Malaya definitely gave me the willies as a ‘white’ woman. I never felt whiter or more a conspicuous mark than in Asia, and most of the time I had no idea what associations and assumptions people were drawing on when dealing with me.

          In modern Malaysia I detected a major distrust between the races (*all* of them, with ads for roommates specifying which race they’d accept). Whenever I met someone my race seemed to be an issue of some kind. Among strangers, everything was more expensive for me, or if I was interested in something historical (that they were throwing in the trash) it was off-limits to me. I came to rely heavily on internal introductions but even then my Asian colleagues were advised — in front of me — how to cheat me.

          A way I dealt with it was to find out more about what had happened in the past. I was intrigued by the story of Ethel Proudlock, the real-life woman portrayed in Somerset Maugham’s scandalous short story, and play (and the Bette Davis film) “The Letter.”

          Reviewing a book about her for the Asian Wall Street Journal I was moved to hear how much race played a role in the real events if not in the dramatized version. She was a mixed breed Eurasian woman trying to pass for white in 1911 Kuala Lumpur, and she killed her white lover. The trial captivated the entire British empire. She was like a hot potato, no one wanted to claim her.

          The rest of Murder on the Verandah set the scene for her story, revealing hardships of Asians at the hands of insensitive British masters. Cruel indentured servitude of Tamils on rubber plantations. Chinese rickshaw pullers. The author also exposed how alienated the British made themselves.

          Apparently they couldn’t surrender control to an Oriental even for a short ride across town and believed a rickshaw puller “used the opportunity not just to avenge every wrong he had suffered at their hands, but to avenge as well every wrong done to every member of his race.”

          As a person of European descent, I find that perception embarrassing and unnecessary, and I’ve also experienced something like it.

          • http://hopefilledjars.blogspot.com/ Judith van Praag

            Anastasia, Painful, infuriating, frustrating and at the same time liberating (for self realization and acknowledgment) to recognize situation in World Lit?

            Thanks for good links. Read with interest about Maugham’s search for story in Asia and use of IRL event. All lit and films about imperialism/ colonialism make me cringe, skin crawl et cetera with shame for all parties involved.

            A friend in the Netherlands (an RM, son of Java royalty) commented recently on sense of guilt and shame expressed in attitude of whites who visit comprehensive exhibit on view at Uni of Amsterdam on Multatuli’s Max Havelaar –focus on Dutch colonial past, coffee trade/auctions and relationship with Indonesia.

            Another friend though perhaps I became *designer to the minority theater companies* out of a sense of guilt, wanting to make up for what had been done wrong in the past.

            My Javanese friend agrees such (subconscious) behavior is common for PC Dutch.

          • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

            Thanks for sharing your own experience of a dark legacy, Anastasia. Indeed, the colonial history in Asia and Africa has stained the land and people irrevocably. There is such a double standard where Asians and Africans can tend to defer to European-looking people, while doing their best to exploit their financial resources at the same time. An uncomfortable paradox. That said, even here in the Czech Republic many places have two menus, one with prices for tourists and one with prices for locals. While economics could explain part of this, it doesn’t explain everything, as your Malaysian example points out.

            The Ethel Proudlock example is an interesting one, especially with regards to her being of mixed heritage and issue of being “claimed” during the scandal. We see this dynamic even now and it’s such a subtle form of racism. A person is claimed by all when considered successful, but rejected by all when considered a troublemaker. I’m sure her being a woman placed a role in her treatment as well. So many intersections of race, class and gender in this one example!

            This really has been a wonderfully juicy discussion! I’ve so much enjoyed watching all these conversations unfold from so many different places where the past really is present. I never would have thought this post would strike so many chords around the world. Thank you, Anastasia, for giving me this space! I have learned and continue to learn from this experience.

            • Mr T

              The double prices have its origin in post-communist times. The socialist system was exploiting the working people and the wages were really small compared to the western standards (though the living standard iself wasn’t bad; the fact that Czechoslovak economy as one of the most developed was backing whole socialist block by endlessly giving other socialist countries both money and high tech ware and guns and ammo for free also didn’t help). Take as example Austria, before WW2 Czechoslovakia was much wealthier state, but after 40 years of communist party rule it was totally otherwise. It was impossible for most Czechs to buy a lunch in Austrian restaurant and on the other hand for Austrians the price of a lunch here was… well too low to believe. The restaurants wanted to make money and at the same time didn’t want to loose their clients, so they came up with double prices (interesting example is from Slovak Tatra mountains, which at the time had the core of tourists from CR, so they had double prices for CZ tourists and for other foreigners even after the split of the federation). Especially after the monetary reform in the initial post-revolution time the Czech currency totally lost its value. You can see it in some American movies from that era which are situated in Eastern Central Europe how they are mocking how cheap everything is, and that even despite the double prices (i.e. joke from movie Eurotrip – “I have a few bucks left, I think I will BUY myself a hotel.”).

              Now when both Czech economy and position of Czech currency are better it is just a sad remnant of the past time. It is not only sad, but also unlawful. Sezin, if you find a restaurant with double prices I recommend you to write an official email to the Czech bussiness inspectorate – they are obliged to start inquiry, and if you expressly ask for being informed about the outcome of the inquiry, they are obliged to write that to you (otherwise you can pursue it through the Court of law). The address is here: http://www.coi.cz/en/consumer-1/e-filing-registry-1.html

  • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

    Thank you all for this rich discussion on dark legacies! I am amazed by these revelations from around the world and hope our dialogue will continue.

    In related news, my husband found a thread on our local expat website and when I cross-posted this blog it started quite a heated discussion on racism in Prague. Here’s the link in case you’re interested in the stir this blog caused: http://www.expats.cz/prague/showthread.php?t=287170&page=1&pp=7 :-)
    .-= Sezin’s latest blog ..Why? =-.

    • http://www.bazaarbayar.blogspot.com Catherine Bayar

      Sezin, love your “Why” post and the way you’re stirring it up on that thread! I’ll be czeching back (sorry!) to read further comments. I think those of us with lighter skin have no idea what it’s like until we are in Africa or India for extended lengths of time – anywhere where we’re the only one of non-color (and am I the only one to wish we didn’t have to use terms like ‘people of color’? We are ALL colorful, inside and outside…but as usual, I digress).

      A ‘just curious’ vibe caused by one’s appearance is quite different than a hostile one – you know it when you feel it. But I sadly agree with Isao’s assessment: “I think expatriates with pale skin are protected by a biased view against “Western” foreigners—don’t bother them because they are different/upper—just like those with darker skin are harassed by an equally biased view against “Southern” foreigners—bother them because they are different/lower.”

      For some reason, this reminds me of that Antipodean map http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/6496/2150/1600/map_lg.jpg which shows the world “upside down” from the way we Northern Hemisphere residents perceive the world to be. That change of perspective is at first disconcerting, then enlightening in changing our point of view. How do we turn our dark legacies upside down as well?

      • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

        Hi Catherine! Ah yes, well I live to stir up controversy. :-) When I joined the discussion on Friday afternoon there were only two pages on the thread, now there are 13! Just call me a pot-stirrer woman.

        The interesting thing I’ve noticed about many Asian and African nations when it comes to white people is that they tend to defer to white people, and I wonder if this is because of their dark legacy of colonialism. In Sri Lanka it’s crazy how having a white person with you will totally change one’s experience there. The first time I visited with my husband everyone kept saying, “Make sure Steve sits in the front passenger seat because police won’t stop the car for a random check with a white person inside.” That angered me! So even around brown people there’s discrimination. Sheesh! It’s this kind of internalised racism that bothers me and frightens me because it shows just how much damage colonial rules have done to the nation’s psyche.

        I love that map, and it’s so relevant to this discussion. So many ways to look at the world, it’s so important to remember that there’s always a new way to see old things.

        “How do we turn our dark legacies upside down as well?” I am not really sure, but open and honest discussions like these are certainly on the right track. For me this blog was about expressing a view that we don’t normally hear from Prague expats and one that many Prague expats are mostly unaware of since the majority that come here are white. What a strange synchronicity of events that this blog was released, the woman freaked out at me and that bi-racial couple posted their thread on expats.cz. Something is definitely going on here!
        .-= Sezin’s latest blog ..Why? =-.

        • http://www.bazaarbayar.blogspot.com Catherine Bayar

          I agree that the hierarchy of skin color is a dark legacy of colonialism. You’ve inspired me to write a post about my two countries and this subject…stay tuned!

          And more synchronicity – in my very brief time driving today, a tribute to recently deceased Howard Zinn was on NPR. Back at the laptop, I saw this
          and thought of you and this post:

          “As he wrote in his autobiography, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train (1994), “From the start, my teaching was infused with my own history. I would try to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted more than ‘objectivity’; I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it. This, of course, was a recipe for trouble.”"

          Keep stirring that pot, Sezin!

          • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

            “Recipe for trouble” indeed! The “discussion” at the forum I mentioned has devolved into Bash Sezin Day, where they’re now taking other things I’ve written out of context and making personal attacks against me. The funny thing is that I don’t think they even realise that with every out-of-context comment, they are only confirming my original point and making themselves look like morons. But still, upsetting! This pot-stirring is hard (and a bit scary) work.

            Aaaaanyway, I’m so glad that you’ll be writing something on the hierarchy of skin color and look forward to your thoughts. I’ll happily give you a few quotes. Apparently, I would have fetched a very good bride price had I wanted an arranged marriage in Sri Lanka on account of my fairer-than-the-average-Tamil’s skin and American passport. :-)
            .-= Sezin’s latest blog ..Why? =-.

        • http://www.expatharem.com/identity-messages/ Anastasia

          Apologies Sezin, I’ve been traveling and am late to this juicy discussion.

          How a nation’s dark legacy has affected me as an expat: the ghosts of British colonialism (actually protectoratism) in Malaya definitely gave me the willies as a ‘white’ woman. I never felt whiter or more a conspicuous mark than in Asia, and most of the time I had no idea what associations and assumptions people were drawing on when dealing with me.

          In modern Malaysia I detected a major distrust between the races (*all* of them, with ads for roommates specifying which race they’d accept). Whenever I met someone my race seemed to be an issue of some kind. Among strangers, everything was more expensive for me, or if I was interested in something historical (that they were throwing in the trash) it was off-limits to me. I came to rely heavily on internal introductions but even then my Asian colleagues were advised — in front of me — how to cheat me.

          A way I dealt with it was to find out more about what had happened in the past. I was intrigued by the story of Ethel Proudlock, the real-life woman portrayed in Somerset Maugham’s scandalous short story, and play (and the Bette Davis film) “The Letter.”

          Reviewing a book about her for the Asian Wall Street Journal I was moved to hear how much race played a role in the real events if not in the dramatized version. She was a mixed breed Eurasian woman trying to pass for white in 1911 Kuala Lumpur, and she killed her white lover. The trial captivated the entire British empire. She was like a hot potato, no one wanted to claim her.

          The rest of Murder on the Verandah set the scene for her story, revealing hardships of Asians at the hands of insensitive British masters. Cruel indentured servitude of Tamils on rubber plantations. Chinese rickshaw pullers. The author also exposed how alienated the British made themselves.

          Apparently they couldn’t surrender control to an Oriental even for a short ride across town and believed a rickshaw puller “used the opportunity not just to avenge every wrong he had suffered at their hands, but to avenge as well every wrong done to every member of his race.”

          As a person of European descent, I find that perception embarrassing and unnecessary, and I’ve also experienced something like it.

          • Anonymous

            Anastasia, Painful, infuriating, frustrating and at the same time liberating (for self realization and acknowledgment) to recognize situation in World Lit?

            Thanks for good links. Read with interest about Maugham’s search for story in Asia and use of IRL event. All lit and films about imperialism/ colonialism make me cringe, skin crawl et cetera with shame for all parties involved.

            A friend in the Netherlands (an RM, son of Java royalty) commented recently on sense of guilt and shame expressed in attitude of whites who visit comprehensive exhibit on view at Uni of Amsterdam on Multatuli’s Max Havelaar –focus on Dutch colonial past, coffee trade/auctions and relationship with Indonesia.

            Another friend though perhaps I became *designer to the minority theater companies* out of a sense of guilt, wanting to make up for what had been done wrong in the past.

            My Javanese friend agrees such (subconscious) behavior is common for PC Dutch.

          • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

            Thanks for sharing your own experience of a dark legacy, Anastasia. Indeed, the colonial history in Asia and Africa has stained the land and people irrevocably. There is such a double standard where Asians and Africans can tend to defer to European-looking people, while doing their best to exploit their financial resources at the same time. An uncomfortable paradox. That said, even here in the Czech Republic many places have two menus, one with prices for tourists and one with prices for locals. While economics could explain part of this, it doesn’t explain everything, as your Malaysian example points out.

            The Ethel Proudlock example is an interesting one, especially with regards to her being of mixed heritage and issue of being “claimed” during the scandal. We see this dynamic even now and it’s such a subtle form of racism. A person is claimed by all when considered successful, but rejected by all when considered a troublemaker. I’m sure her being a woman placed a role in her treatment as well. So many intersections of race, class and gender in this one example!

            This really has been a wonderfully juicy discussion! I’ve so much enjoyed watching all these conversations unfold from so many different places where the past really is present. I never would have thought this post would strike so many chords around the world. Thank you, Anastasia, for giving me this space! I have learned and continue to learn from this experience.

            • Mr T

              The double prices have its origin in post-communist times. The socialist system was exploiting the working people and the wages were really small compared to the western standards (though the living standard iself wasn’t bad; the fact that Czechoslovak economy as one of the most developed was backing whole socialist block by endlessly giving other socialist countries both money and high tech ware and guns and ammo for free also didn’t help). Take as example Austria, before WW2 Czechoslovakia was much wealthier state, but after 40 years of communist party rule it was totally otherwise. It was impossible for most Czechs to buy a lunch in Austrian restaurant and on the other hand for Austrians the price of a lunch here was… well too low to believe. The restaurants wanted to make money and at the same time didn’t want to loose their clients, so they came up with double prices (interesting example is from Slovak Tatra mountains, which at the time had the core of tourists from CR, so they had double prices for CZ tourists and for other foreigners even after the split of the federation). Especially after the monetary reform in the initial post-revolution time the Czech currency totally lost its value. You can see it in some American movies from that era which are situated in Eastern Central Europe how they are mocking how cheap everything is, and that even despite the double prices (i.e. joke from movie Eurotrip – “I have a few bucks left, I think I will BUY myself a hotel.”).

              Now when both Czech economy and position of Czech currency are better it is just a sad remnant of the past time. It is not only sad, but also unlawful. Sezin, if you find a restaurant with double prices I recommend you to write an official email to the Czech bussiness inspectorate – they are obliged to start inquiry, and if you expressly ask for being informed about the outcome of the inquiry, they are obliged to write that to you (otherwise you can pursue it through the Court of law). The address is here: http://www.coi.cz/en/consumer-1/e-filing-registry-1.html

  • http://bazaarbayar.blogspot.com/ Catherine Bayar

    What a powerful post, Sezin…and your photo speaks as much as your words.

    The “dark legacies” of my birth country are many, but like Brian, I’ve not been smacked in the face with them. That sort of awakening did not happen until I experienced a quazi-uniformed, jack-booted mob of Grey Wolves marching through our small Aegean town one day, not long after I arrived and just after Abdullah Ocalan had been captured. They swarmed our shop and others, since many are owned by Kurds, yelled and threatened and told my husband to “go home”. Odd, since his people have lived in Anatolia for millenia; he certainly thought he was home. He’s had to deal with such his whole life, I haven’t. So now like Judith I write, to attempt to make sense of the senseless.

    Other than these goons, Turkey is fairly a mellow place to live. We have Roma neighbors, and though certain family members will make derogatory comments about them making this politically correct Californian cringe, everyone socializes together. Few would think of telling them to go back to Rajasthan!
    .-= Catherine Bayar’s latest blog ..Parallel worlds =-.

    • http://www.dutchessabroad.com Judith van Praag

      Catherine, And what a rude awakening that must have been! Members of the Dutch(!) Grey Wolves you mention sat in the front row at theaters in Amsterdam on opening night, “making sure the plays could ‘pass’!” The fear backstage palpable. How did Vasif Öngören cope? By writing plays that left room to wonder…

      • http://bazaarbayar.blogspot.com/ Catherine Bayar

        Yes, but I read that he died of a heart attack at the age of 46…perhaps that fear did some damage?

        • http://hopefilledjars.blogspot.com/ Judith van Praag

          OMG You’re right, I remember the day he died, the director of Theater the Engelenbak, producer of Vasif’s plays, weeping in the stairwell. “He was such a gentle man,” he said.
          I was so much younger then, but still he looked 20 years older than he actually was!

    • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

      Thanks, Catherine! It’s actually the first time I’ve published a photo of my wings in public; I was nervous about it, but you have allayed my apprehension. Thank you!

      Wow, the Grey Wolves sound scary! And I can’t believe they would threaten your family like that. A similar thing happened to my mom in the late 1970s when the war in Sri Lanka was starting and they were burning down Tamil homes (my dad is Tamil). So scary! Much scarier than anything I could come up with in my scary stories. How does your husband cope? And what about your kids? Have you had to explain these difficult issues with them yet?

      I remember in Turkey how people also were full of distaste for the Roma and it’s contributed to my feeling so universally awful for them. I just don’t understand why everyone everywhere in the world hates them with such an unbridled passion. I’ve written before on expat+HAREM about the dream I had of one of my ancestors who danced the Flamenco in yellow who was a Romani woman from South India. I feel a kindred spirit with them and it bothers me so much that they’ve got such a misunderstood reputation. Maybe this is something I need to explore here in Prague, there are a number of Roma organisations with whom I could probably get involved. And again, here you are bringing inspiration!

      Thanks for commenting!
      .-= Sezin’s latest blog ..Transitions Abroad Essay Competition Winner =-.

      • http://bazaarbayar.blogspot.com/ Catherine Bayar

        My husband actually tries to talk to them, or will at least stand his ground and stare them down. He’s astoundingly fearless and can look pretty scary and tough when he has to. After this incident, he went around and talked to local leaders, which worked to a certain extent since he has a huge family and some political influence. We were not able to have kids of our own, but have 13 (and counting!) nieces and nephews in Turkey. The oldest are only 13 and 11…but they cope by blending in. At home where Kurdish is spoken, they understand but respond only in Turkish; they speak Turkish in school and in public. Their generation may not experience the fights and discrimination their fathers did, but they are at risk of losing their heritage. Though maybe it’s just because at that age no one wants to be different than their friends!

        As for the Roma, some of my Kurdish relatives are just relieved there is someone lower on the ethnic totem pole than they are. Maybe by being nomads (even if they’ve lived in a place for generations), they will forever be outsiders. I’d love to hear more about the Roma in the Czech Republic from you, and will see how I can get involved with Roma women in Istanbul too. It’s funny, if they happen to be musicians and singers, they have some respect in Turkey. Actually, that goes for the Kurds as well. Music as a unifier…

        • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

          That’s so heavy, Catherine. It just seems so wrong that he would have to do all that for the families safety, and then now the kids risk losing touch with their heritage. These dark legacies are so tragic, aren’t they. Reminds me of what’s happened with Native Americans. Too much assimilation and not enough cultural sensitivity from the people who’ve become the majority by default in many ways. Then again the Kurdish kids in your town and family have a luxury of being able to blend in if they want to. But like you said, this comes with the risk of losing their history in the process.

          How “funny” about the Kurdish position on the Roma! In Spain the only Roma who are accepted are the famous flamenco musicians, and other than that small few the Spanish hate all the rest. Such a contradiction! I have much to learn about the Roma here and I will keep you posted, if you’ll do the same about Roma in Turkey. Maybe we can even co-author something? What do you think?

          Music has always been the great unifier, but so are these dark legacies, no?
          .-= Sezin’s latest blog ..Transitions Abroad Essay Competition Winner =-.

  • http://www.bazaarbayar.blogspot.com Catherine Bayar

    What a powerful post, Sezin…and your photo speaks as much as your words.

    The “dark legacies” of my birth country are many, but like Brian, I’ve not been smacked in the face with them. That sort of awakening did not happen until I experienced a quazi-uniformed, jack-booted mob of Grey Wolves marching through our small Aegean town one day, not long after I arrived and just after Abdullah Ocalan had been captured. They swarmed our shop and others, since many are owned by Kurds, yelled and threatened and told my husband to “go home”. Odd, since his people have lived in Anatolia for millenia; he certainly thought he was home. He’s had to deal with such his whole life, I haven’t. So now like Judith I write, to attempt to make sense of the senseless.

    Other than these goons, Turkey is fairly a mellow place to live. We have Roma neighbors, and though certain family members will make derogatory comments about them making this politically correct Californian cringe, everyone socializes together. Few would think of telling them to go back to Rajasthan!
    .-= Catherine Bayar’s latest blog ..Parallel worlds =-.

    • Anonymous

      Catherine, And what a rude awakening that must have been! Members of the Dutch(!) Grey Wolves you mention sat in the front row at theaters in Amsterdam on opening night, “making sure the plays could ‘pass’!” The fear backstage palpable. How did Vasif Öngören cope? By writing plays that left room to wonder…

      • http://www.bazaarbayar.blogspot.com Catherine Bayar

        Yes, but I read that he died of a heart attack at the age of 46…perhaps that fear did some damage?

        • Anonymous

          OMG You’re right, I remember the day he died, the director of Theater the Engelenbak, producer of Vasif’s plays, weeping in the stairwell. “He was such a gentle man,” he said.
          I was so much younger then, but still he looked 20 years older than he actually was!

    • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

      Thanks, Catherine! It’s actually the first time I’ve published a photo of my wings in public; I was nervous about it, but you have allayed my apprehension. Thank you!

      Wow, the Grey Wolves sound scary! And I can’t believe they would threaten your family like that. A similar thing happened to my mom in the late 1970s when the war in Sri Lanka was starting and they were burning down Tamil homes (my dad is Tamil). So scary! Much scarier than anything I could come up with in my scary stories. How does your husband cope? And what about your kids? Have you had to explain these difficult issues with them yet?

      I remember in Turkey how people also were full of distaste for the Roma and it’s contributed to my feeling so universally awful for them. I just don’t understand why everyone everywhere in the world hates them with such an unbridled passion. I’ve written before on expat+HAREM about the dream I had of one of my ancestors who danced the Flamenco in yellow who was a Romani woman from South India. I feel a kindred spirit with them and it bothers me so much that they’ve got such a misunderstood reputation. Maybe this is something I need to explore here in Prague, there are a number of Roma organisations with whom I could probably get involved. And again, here you are bringing inspiration!

      Thanks for commenting!
      .-= Sezin’s latest blog ..Transitions Abroad Essay Competition Winner =-.

      • http://www.bazaarbayar.blogspot.com Catherine Bayar

        My husband actually tries to talk to them, or will at least stand his ground and stare them down. He’s astoundingly fearless and can look pretty scary and tough when he has to. After this incident, he went around and talked to local leaders, which worked to a certain extent since he has a huge family and some political influence. We were not able to have kids of our own, but have 13 (and counting!) nieces and nephews in Turkey. The oldest are only 13 and 11…but they cope by blending in. At home where Kurdish is spoken, they understand but respond only in Turkish; they speak Turkish in school and in public. Their generation may not experience the fights and discrimination their fathers did, but they are at risk of losing their heritage. Though maybe it’s just because at that age no one wants to be different than their friends!

        As for the Roma, some of my Kurdish relatives are just relieved there is someone lower on the ethnic totem pole than they are. Maybe by being nomads (even if they’ve lived in a place for generations), they will forever be outsiders. I’d love to hear more about the Roma in the Czech Republic from you, and will see how I can get involved with Roma women in Istanbul too. It’s funny, if they happen to be musicians and singers, they have some respect in Turkey. Actually, that goes for the Kurds as well. Music as a unifier…

        • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

          That’s so heavy, Catherine. It just seems so wrong that he would have to do all that for the families safety, and then now the kids risk losing touch with their heritage. These dark legacies are so tragic, aren’t they. Reminds me of what’s happened with Native Americans. Too much assimilation and not enough cultural sensitivity from the people who’ve become the majority by default in many ways. Then again the Kurdish kids in your town and family have a luxury of being able to blend in if they want to. But like you said, this comes with the risk of losing their history in the process.

          How “funny” about the Kurdish position on the Roma! In Spain the only Roma who are accepted are the famous flamenco musicians, and other than that small few the Spanish hate all the rest. Such a contradiction! I have much to learn about the Roma here and I will keep you posted, if you’ll do the same about Roma in Turkey. Maybe we can even co-author something? What do you think?

          Music has always been the great unifier, but so are these dark legacies, no?
          .-= Sezin’s latest blog ..Transitions Abroad Essay Competition Winner =-.

  • http://www.dutchessabroad.com Judith van Praag

    Dear Sezin,
    Power to you grrrl! I’ve known the Prague of communist times, and of the Prague of late. What you write and what I read in the articles you link to doesn’t surprise me, but I’m shocked nevertheless. The way I’m shocked to find there’s a certain dark presence in the Netherlands. Imagine this, I’m all for creating hyperlinks, but when it comes down to putting a link in this comment, to the website where the followers of this group meet, I hesitate, can’t and won’t. Would you call that coping?

    The only way that I can cope with dark legacy is by writing about it. Next comes publishing. What a struggle that is. For someone who was raised by parents for whom WWII never ended, the computer is a black hole, akin to a hiding place, in which all stories of witness disappear. That, I fear is both coping and not.

    • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

      Thanks, Judith! Nice to see you’ve resurfaced as well!

      Sometimes I wonder if the Czechs would be better off under Communism, seeing how badly damaged their cultural psyche is from the resonances of the experience. Funnily enough just now I was on the tram, as usual the only person of color, and I bumped into an old lady who was standing right in the doorway. Even though many other people bumped into her as well (I mean, why would you stand in the tram doorway if you aren’t getting off at the next stop?), she started shouting, though I have no idea what insults were being hurled, the look on her face was evidence enough. First I got angry with her and told her I was getting off at the next stop and to relax. She screamed even more. I was trembling with rage but all that came out of my mouth was laughter. When I got off at my stop, which was the next stop, I laughed again and told her to have a nice day. Her jaw dropped open and hit the floor, she looked mortified and I heard a few chuckles as I stepped off the tram. Sheesh. Sometimes I really do wonder what I am doing here. :-)

      Anyway! I do agree with you that the best way to deal with these violent legacies and stereotypes is to write about them. Thankfully we are carving niches in the Internet where the stories of witnesses and survivors have a home and we can find people who care to read and engage. It’s not easy though! And I imagine even more so for you with the horrifying experience of your family in WWII. Let’s keep speaking about and confronting these dark legacies, what do you say?
      .-= Sezin’s latest blog ..Transitions Abroad Essay Competition Winner =-.

      • http://hopefilledjars.blogspot.com/ Judith van Praag

        Sezin,
        I love that you laughed at that nasty bubbi. She probably swallowed her nasty tongue. You’re a bright light!
        In 2006 the cashier at the Jewish museum told me she thought they had been better off during communism, at least they were taken care of, they knew what they could count on, she said. She was disgusted that she, in her seventies still had to work to get by.
        From earlier visits I remember both the cabins available to workers and the queues for necessities.

        • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

          “Nasty bubbi”! I love that! It was either laugh or punch her and I needed my good hand to hold onto the tram bar. :-)

          I think if they had remained under Communism they never would have had to worry about being exposed to a modern world they seem ill-suited to deal with. But then again, I am sure there are Czechs who are very progressive and modern, I am just having a harder time finding those examples. I’ve never spoken with my Czech university colleagues about these issues and I will do that next time, just to see what their take is on the whole thing. Thanks for that inspiration, Judith!
          .-= Sezin’s latest blog ..Transitions Abroad Essay Competition Winner =-.

      • http://hopefilledjars.blogspot.com/ Judith van Praag

        “Sometimes I wonder if the Czechs would be better off under communism…”

        In 2006 I chatted with the cashier at the Jewish museum in Prague. She said she thought they were better off before, yes there were disadvantages, but at least they knew what they had. That she, as seventy-plusser still had to work made her mad.
        From visiting with friends in the early 80s I remember the benefits employees received, such as use of vacation homes etc. I wonder whether that still exists these days.

  • Anonymous

    Dear Sezin,
    Power to you grrrl! I’ve known the Prague of communist times, and of the Prague of late. What you write and what I read in the articles you link to doesn’t surprise me, but I’m shocked nevertheless. The way I’m shocked to find there’s a certain dark presence in the Netherlands. Imagine this, I’m all for creating hyperlinks, but when it comes down to putting a link in this comment, to the website where the followers of this group meet, I hesitate, can’t and won’t. Would you call that coping?

    The only way that I can cope with dark legacy is by writing about it. Next comes publishing. What a struggle that is. For someone who was raised by parents for whom WWII never ended, the computer is a black hole, akin to a hiding place, in which all stories of witness disappear. That, I fear is both coping and not.

    • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

      Thanks, Judith! Nice to see you’ve resurfaced as well!

      Sometimes I wonder if the Czechs would be better off under Communism, seeing how badly damaged their cultural psyche is from the resonances of the experience. Funnily enough just now I was on the tram, as usual the only person of color, and I bumped into an old lady who was standing right in the doorway. Even though many other people bumped into her as well (I mean, why would you stand in the tram doorway if you aren’t getting off at the next stop?), she started shouting, though I have no idea what insults were being hurled, the look on her face was evidence enough. First I got angry with her and told her I was getting off at the next stop and to relax. She screamed even more. I was trembling with rage but all that came out of my mouth was laughter. When I got off at my stop, which was the next stop, I laughed again and told her to have a nice day. Her jaw dropped open and hit the floor, she looked mortified and I heard a few chuckles as I stepped off the tram. Sheesh. Sometimes I really do wonder what I am doing here. :-)

      Anyway! I do agree with you that the best way to deal with these violent legacies and stereotypes is to write about them. Thankfully we are carving niches in the Internet where the stories of witnesses and survivors have a home and we can find people who care to read and engage. It’s not easy though! And I imagine even more so for you with the horrifying experience of your family in WWII. Let’s keep speaking about and confronting these dark legacies, what do you say?
      .-= Sezin’s latest blog ..Transitions Abroad Essay Competition Winner =-.

      • Anonymous

        Sezin,
        I love that you laughed at that nasty bubbi. She probably swallowed her nasty tongue. You’re a bright light!
        In 2006 the cashier at the Jewish museum told me she thought they had been better off during communism, at least they were taken care of, they knew what they could count on, she said. She was disgusted that she, in her seventies still had to work to get by.
        From earlier visits I remember both the cabins available to workers and the queues for necessities.

        • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

          “Nasty bubbi”! I love that! It was either laugh or punch her and I needed my good hand to hold onto the tram bar. :-)

          I think if they had remained under Communism they never would have had to worry about being exposed to a modern world they seem ill-suited to deal with. But then again, I am sure there are Czechs who are very progressive and modern, I am just having a harder time finding those examples. I’ve never spoken with my Czech university colleagues about these issues and I will do that next time, just to see what their take is on the whole thing. Thanks for that inspiration, Judith!
          .-= Sezin’s latest blog ..Transitions Abroad Essay Competition Winner =-.

      • Anonymous

        “Sometimes I wonder if the Czechs would be better off under communism…”

        In 2006 I chatted with the cashier at the Jewish museum in Prague. She said she thought they were better off before, yes there were disadvantages, but at least they knew what they had. That she, as seventy-plusser still had to work made her mad.
        From visiting with friends in the early 80s I remember the benefits employees received, such as use of vacation homes etc. I wonder whether that still exists these days.

  • http://thechangingman.livejournal.com/ Joe

    “The carriages are still silent as tombs. With the exception of tourists or drunk adolescents,”

    That sounds like London’s tube, where you can spot a tourist because they make eye contact with strangers.

    • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

      Haha, Joe! Indeed it does. Here there’s also a characteristic frown that all Czech and long-term expats wear when out and about. Only tourists smile here. :-) Thanks for commenting!
      .-= Sezin’s latest blog ..Transitions Abroad Essay Competition Winner =-.

  • http://thechangingman.livejournal.com/ Joe

    “The carriages are still silent as tombs. With the exception of tourists or drunk adolescents,”

    That sounds like London’s tube, where you can spot a tourist because they make eye contact with strangers.

    • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

      Haha, Joe! Indeed it does. Here there’s also a characteristic frown that all Czech and long-term expats wear when out and about. Only tourists smile here. :-) Thanks for commenting!
      .-= Sezin’s latest blog ..Transitions Abroad Essay Competition Winner =-.

  • http://www.isaokato.com/ Isao

    As a Japanese living in Taiwan, I feel the ghosts from the past, on the other side, on daily basis. Several decades have passed since Japan tried to occupy all of Asia, and today we don’t see that movement and there aren’t people who remember those days vividly.

    But the past appears everywhere. I meet an old Taiwanese gentleman who speaks Japanese as fluently as a native speaker and suppress the urge to ask him why he speaks such good Japanese before it is too late. I hear the word “日治年代” (Japanese occupation era) popping up in an innocent conversations and find out I am the one with a stiff face, while my Taiwanese friends keep on talking.

    Admittedly not having enough knowledge about those dark days makes me respond too sensitively. All I can do is to keep listening, acknowledging, and engaging. It’s over but it’s not over, unless I face it to the fullest.

    • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

      Nice to see you here again, Isao!

      My goodness, you certainly feel the ghosts of the pasts in a far more personal way than I do here. That must be so hard: To wonder what they think of you as a Japanese person in Taiwan, then of course your worry about whether it is appropriate to discuss these issues with them. Do you have any Taiwanese friends you feel comfortable enough with to broach a discussion? Maybe it could help not just you to process the past, but them also? Is this possibly a topic you could write about in the future?

      I never realised that I am quite lucky being an outsider on so many levels. I never hesitate to ask uncomfortable questions and will play the ignorant foreigner card in case the reaction is an explosive one. But even I have learned not to even broach the subject of the Roma with most of the Czech people I know. The responses are to me totally inappropriate, and how do I begin to combat hundreds of years of stereotyping, racism and discrimination?

      “It’s over but it’s not over, unless I face it to the fullest.” That is an amazing piece of wisdom we can apply to all aspects of life. Thank you.
      .-= Sezin’s latest blog ..Transitions Abroad Essay Competition Winner =-.

      • http://www.isaokato.com/ Isao

        Nice to see you here too, Sezin. I have many good Taiwanese friends and none of them (I mean, zero) brings up that dark history for the sake of doing so. They are modest and respectful for everybody – that’s probably why I have also never met an expatriate hating Taiwan.

        We seldom talk about those eras, and I guess the reason is that we both want to put the history behind us and see each other as who we are now (things change when I step into China). But I am recently thinking; you can stop seeing what’s in that toilet by closing the lid, but you can’t stop smelling it. We can’t conveniently flush it either.

        Maybe the key is, as always, communicating how exactly I feel now with my friends…not just my “point of view” but also my mixed emotions, hesitations, the dark shade of shame – everything.

        When I am in it, I might be able to write something here. Thank you for your encouragement.

        • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

          I absolutely agree with you about closing the lid on the toilet. What a great analogy!

          I definitely agree that if you feel comfortable with your friends then yes, you should mention your feelings and the breadth of your emotions on this topic. I am sure they all have so much to share as well, it’s possible that they also worry about your feelings too.

          This reminds me of the first time I met my husband’s godchild, whose parents are German. I really hesitated to ask them about WWII era because I wasn’t sure how they would respond. But they ended up discussing their feelings, their horror, their inability to understand how Hitler and the Holocaust could have happened. They said that they never talk about this with other Germans, but because I was an outsider they felt comfortable enough to open up. It was one of the most powerful conversations I’ve had in my life, even though I’ve not met them again in years.

          Communication is key, as well as a sense of fearlessness when one is ready to share.

          Looking forward to more from you!
          .-= Sezin’s latest blog ..Transitions Abroad Essay Competition Winner =-.

    • http://www.dutchessabroad.com Judith van Praag

      Isao,

      You score high, wanting to “face it to the fullest”.
      It seems you feel shame for what happened in the past, how wonderful to have Taiwanese friends who put you at ease by continuing the conversation!

      As a reporter for The International Examiner in Seattle, I’ve covered the stories —and am therefore aware of the suffering— of Japanese-Americans who were interned in the U.S. during WWII. This while some close Dutch friends suffered brutalities (and lost relatives who were killed) in Japanese camps in Indonesia during that same World War.

      One of my dearest friends in the Netherlands is of Japanese-American descent. Her father Shinkichi Tajiri fought the Nazis in Europe during WWII. Finding his own people in camps in America after the liberation, he refused to settle there after the war.

      His children have felt hurt by the notion that the Dutch could literally *see* their family as the enemy, while they knew he was in truth one of the liberating army’s heroes. But, they didn’t know about the history of Dutch Indonesians and the role that the Japanese played in their lives! Until we had a conversation about this subject, nobody had told them!

      Communication is a two-way road don’t you agree?

  • http://www.isaokato.com/ Isao

    As a Japanese living in Taiwan, I feel the ghosts from the past, on the other side, on daily basis. Several decades have passed since Japan tried to occupy all of Asia, and today we don’t see that movement and there aren’t people who remember those days vividly.

    But the past appears everywhere. I meet an old Taiwanese gentleman who speaks Japanese as fluently as a native speaker and suppress the urge to ask him why he speaks such good Japanese before it is too late. I hear the word “日治年代” (Japanese occupation era) popping up in an innocent conversations and find out I am the one with a stiff face, while my Taiwanese friends keep on talking.

    Admittedly not having enough knowledge about those dark days makes me respond too sensitively. All I can do is to keep listening, acknowledging, and engaging. It’s over but it’s not over, unless I face it to the fullest.

    • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

      Nice to see you here again, Isao!

      My goodness, you certainly feel the ghosts of the pasts in a far more personal way than I do here. That must be so hard: To wonder what they think of you as a Japanese person in Taiwan, then of course your worry about whether it is appropriate to discuss these issues with them. Do you have any Taiwanese friends you feel comfortable enough with to broach a discussion? Maybe it could help not just you to process the past, but them also? Is this possibly a topic you could write about in the future?

      I never realised that I am quite lucky being an outsider on so many levels. I never hesitate to ask uncomfortable questions and will play the ignorant foreigner card in case the reaction is an explosive one. But even I have learned not to even broach the subject of the Roma with most of the Czech people I know. The responses are to me totally inappropriate, and how do I begin to combat hundreds of years of stereotyping, racism and discrimination?

      “It’s over but it’s not over, unless I face it to the fullest.” That is an amazing piece of wisdom we can apply to all aspects of life. Thank you.
      .-= Sezin’s latest blog ..Transitions Abroad Essay Competition Winner =-.

      • http://www.isaokato.com/ Isao

        Nice to see you here too, Sezin. I have many good Taiwanese friends and none of them (I mean, zero) brings up that dark history for the sake of doing so. They are modest and respectful for everybody – that’s probably why I have also never met an expatriate hating Taiwan.

        We seldom talk about those eras, and I guess the reason is that we both want to put the history behind us and see each other as who we are now (things change when I step into China). But I am recently thinking; you can stop seeing what’s in that toilet by closing the lid, but you can’t stop smelling it. We can’t conveniently flush it either.

        Maybe the key is, as always, communicating how exactly I feel now with my friends…not just my “point of view” but also my mixed emotions, hesitations, the dark shade of shame – everything.

        When I am in it, I might be able to write something here. Thank you for your encouragement.

        • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

          I absolutely agree with you about closing the lid on the toilet. What a great analogy!

          I definitely agree that if you feel comfortable with your friends then yes, you should mention your feelings and the breadth of your emotions on this topic. I am sure they all have so much to share as well, it’s possible that they also worry about your feelings too.

          This reminds me of the first time I met my husband’s godchild, whose parents are German. I really hesitated to ask them about WWII era because I wasn’t sure how they would respond. But they ended up discussing their feelings, their horror, their inability to understand how Hitler and the Holocaust could have happened. They said that they never talk about this with other Germans, but because I was an outsider they felt comfortable enough to open up. It was one of the most powerful conversations I’ve had in my life, even though I’ve not met them again in years.

          Communication is key, as well as a sense of fearlessness when one is ready to share.

          Looking forward to more from you!
          .-= Sezin’s latest blog ..Transitions Abroad Essay Competition Winner =-.

    • Anonymous

      Isao,

      You score high, wanting to “face it to the fullest”.
      It seems you feel shame for what happened in the past, how wonderful to have Taiwanese friends who put you at ease by continuing the conversation!

      As a reporter for The International Examiner in Seattle, I’ve covered the stories —and am therefore aware of the suffering— of Japanese-Americans who were interned in the U.S. during WWII. This while some close Dutch friends suffered brutalities (and lost relatives who were killed) in Japanese camps in Indonesia during that same World War.

      One of my dearest friends in the Netherlands is of Japanese-American descent. Her father Shinkichi Tajiri fought the Nazis in Europe during WWII. Finding his own people in camps in America after the liberation, he refused to settle there after the war.

      His children have felt hurt by the notion that the Dutch could literally *see* their family as the enemy, while they knew he was in truth one of the liberating army’s heroes. But, they didn’t know about the history of Dutch Indonesians and the role that the Japanese played in their lives! Until we had a conversation about this subject, nobody had told them!

      Communication is a two-way road don’t you agree?

  • http://inesedesign.com/Home.html Inese Liepina

    Latvia also still has the Post-Communist silence, information is given on a need to know basis. That I can somewhat get used to, but the discrimination against gays is shocking and appalling. I studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and have worked in the fashion industry and lived in San Francisco, so since adolescence I have been surrounded by gay friends.

    Coming from SF to Riga I was so shocked at the local attitude against gays that for the first time ever I felt an obligation to walk in the gay pride parade. I however didn’t, local friends warned me not to. They feared I would get beat up, and I realized that as a divorced woman with no boyfriend I will immediately be branded as gay and in a country with only 2.3 million people there is a real small town attitude. I chickened out, and am mad at myself.

    Each spring some farmers burn their fields instead of plowing then. Its faster, easier but polluting and dangerous. I heard on the radio that the woman in charge of stopping the practice of burning claims that if you burn you fields your children will be gay. At first I thought it was a joke, until I heard it being repeated. How do you deal with the stupidity of people who say and think things like that? Is it even worth trying? Can I change anything? Can Sezim do anything to change the attitude of Neo-Nazis? Why do people hate and fear what they don’t know?

    • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

      Dear Inese,

      Wow, I also had no idea that it was so bad in Latvia with regards to homosexuality. Do you know if there is a cultural reason behind their hatred? Does it come from Orthodox Christianity or something like that?

      You should never be angry at yourself for making a decision that keeps you safe, or makes you feel safer. There does come a point where we have to decide whether a public action is worth our health or life and decide accordingly. I think you made the right decision for you. It is a really hard balance, to bring a sense of openness into a closed place and it is hard to know what we can really accomplish.

      I don’t think I can do anything to change Neo-Nazis, but writing this piece certainly made me feel like I was taking control of my experience. Also, very few people of colour move to the Czech Republic and I think it’s important that we explore why that is and how it really feels to live here.

      I wish I knew why people fear what they don’t know. Luckily we have places like the expat+HAREM where we can come to discuss these issues and be the kinds of people who are encouraged by what we don’t know and use those experiences as stepping stones towards a greater understanding of ourselves and the human experience in general.

      And about dealing with stupid people, well, I suppose their stupidity is punishment enough, no? ;-)

      Thank you so much for commenting!

      Stay strong,

      Sezin
      .-= Sezin’s latest blog ..Transitions Abroad Essay Competition Winner =-.

      • http://inesedesign.com/Home.html Inese Liepina

        I really don’t get the extreme fear of homosexuality. Latvians are pretty much still pagan/mother earth /summer solstice worshipers, 800 years of crusades and forced Christianity haven’t really put a dent in the beliefs. If anything the churches have taken up pagan traditions to get people to show up once in a while. This was one of the first countries that allowed women to vote, and in the 1920′s there were alternate days of nude sunbathing for men and women on the beach, so far sounds very liberal. I guess thats why I was so stunned about the homophobia.

        My mom said that Roma, Jews, Latvians and everyone else (the last pre WWII president was gay) got along as friends and neighbors until WWII set them against each other. I don’t think that 50 years of Soviet occupation did any good either.

        A lot of countries have had some tyrant destroy perfectly good and peaceful relations, and sadly the hatred and prejudice can last generations – Turks and Armenians, Serbs and Croats, Palestinians and Jews, Hutu and Tutsi, the list goes on…

        This is why it is so important to not give in to the Neo-Nazis but to educate, communicate, ask the uncomfortable questions until they are no longer uncomfortable.

    • http://amikeco.ru/pro/eo Amikeco

      Why would you call that „Post-Communist silence“, it’s just a feature of local culture, as the thrown on the face when going in the street. I see so many attitudes even in different regions of Russia, to say nothing of different countries.

      And it’s so natural for tourists, who go for a trip mostly to escape from the everyday routine, keep smiling and talk all the time. Not because they come frome a freer or friendlier place/culture.

      • http://inesedesign.com/Home.html Inese Liepina

        Amikeco, I first visited Latvia in 1977 as a teenager and went back almost every other year since. The hotel room was bugged, we were followed by KGB, when visiting relatives blankets were wrapped around the phone because an agent came to “fix” it a few days before I arrived. People only had conversations in parks or woods away from the cameras and bugged park benches. Everything was said between the lines or in silence so that anyone who overheard would not understand.

        It was not like that pre-Communism, and I have slowly watched the fear of speaking out loud fade. The younger generation does not remember, but those 50-60 have what we call a “Soviet hangover” where at times they have irrational fears, like telling their last name, or speaking to someone new. If I pass the same person in the stairwell every day I should not get my head bitten off for saying “good morning”. Latvians themselves complain about the bad attitude, silence, and lack of smiles. They hate that they were forced to be like to survive and want to change. Latvian culture is very vocal with songs and poetry being very important to the national psyche.

        • http://amikeco.ru/pro/eo Amikeco

          I would tell apart the real past and the popular ethnic narratives about it. Of course life in Soviet Union was not all fear and bugged rooms.

          Speaking of smaller ethnic cultures, it’s been one of the most tolerant and caring in the world, creating written tradition and folklore ensembles for douzens of ethnicities that would fade away in other conditions.

  • http://inesedesign.com/Home.html Inese Liepina

    Latvia also still has the Post-Communist silence, information is given on a need to know basis. That I can somewhat get used to, but the discrimination against gays is shocking and appalling. I studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and have worked in the fashion industry and lived in San Francisco, so since adolescence I have been surrounded by gay friends.

    Coming from SF to Riga I was so shocked at the local attitude against gays that for the first time ever I felt an obligation to walk in the gay pride parade. I however didn’t, local friends warned me not to. They feared I would get beat up, and I realized that as a divorced woman with no boyfriend I will immediately be branded as gay and in a country with only 2.3 million people there is a real small town attitude. I chickened out, and am mad at myself.

    Each spring some farmers burn their fields instead of plowing then. Its faster, easier but polluting and dangerous. I heard on the radio that the woman in charge of stopping the practice of burning claims that if you burn you fields your children will be gay. At first I thought it was a joke, until I heard it being repeated. How do you deal with the stupidity of people who say and think things like that? Is it even worth trying? Can I change anything? Can Sezim do anything to change the attitude of Neo-Nazis? Why do people hate and fear what they don’t know?

    • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

      Dear Inese,

      Wow, I also had no idea that it was so bad in Latvia with regards to homosexuality. Do you know if there is a cultural reason behind their hatred? Does it come from Orthodox Christianity or something like that?

      You should never be angry at yourself for making a decision that keeps you safe, or makes you feel safer. There does come a point where we have to decide whether a public action is worth our health or life and decide accordingly. I think you made the right decision for you. It is a really hard balance, to bring a sense of openness into a closed place and it is hard to know what we can really accomplish.

      I don’t think I can do anything to change Neo-Nazis, but writing this piece certainly made me feel like I was taking control of my experience. Also, very few people of colour move to the Czech Republic and I think it’s important that we explore why that is and how it really feels to live here.

      I wish I knew why people fear what they don’t know. Luckily we have places like the expat+HAREM where we can come to discuss these issues and be the kinds of people who are encouraged by what we don’t know and use those experiences as stepping stones towards a greater understanding of ourselves and the human experience in general.

      And about dealing with stupid people, well, I suppose their stupidity is punishment enough, no? ;-)

      Thank you so much for commenting!

      Stay strong,

      Sezin
      .-= Sezin’s latest blog ..Transitions Abroad Essay Competition Winner =-.

      • http://inesedesign.com/Home.html Inese Liepina

        I really don’t get the extreme fear of homosexuality. Latvians are pretty much still pagan/mother earth /summer solstice worshipers, 800 years of crusades and forced Christianity haven’t really put a dent in the beliefs. If anything the churches have taken up pagan traditions to get people to show up once in a while. This was one of the first countries that allowed women to vote, and in the 1920′s there were alternate days of nude sunbathing for men and women on the beach, so far sounds very liberal. I guess thats why I was so stunned about the homophobia.

        My mom said that Roma, Jews, Latvians and everyone else (the last pre WWII president was gay) got along as friends and neighbors until WWII set them against each other. I don’t think that 50 years of Soviet occupation did any good either.

        A lot of countries have had some tyrant destroy perfectly good and peaceful relations, and sadly the hatred and prejudice can last generations – Turks and Armenians, Serbs and Croats, Palestinians and Jews, Hutu and Tutsi, the list goes on…

        This is why it is so important to not give in to the Neo-Nazis but to educate, communicate, ask the uncomfortable questions until they are no longer uncomfortable.

    • http://amikeco.ru/pro/eo Amikeco

      Why would you call that „Post-Communist silence“, it’s just a feature of local culture, as the thrown on the face when going in the street. I see so many attitudes even in different regions of Russia, to say nothing of different countries.

      And it’s so natural for tourists, who go for a trip mostly to escape from the everyday routine, keep smiling and talk all the time. Not because they come frome a freer or friendlier place/culture.

      • http://inesedesign.com/Home.html Inese Liepina

        Amikeco, I first visited Latvia in 1977 as a teenager and went back almost every other year since. The hotel room was bugged, we were followed by KGB, when visiting relatives blankets were wrapped around the phone because an agent came to “fix” it a few days before I arrived. People only had conversations in parks or woods away from the cameras and bugged park benches. Everything was said between the lines or in silence so that anyone who overheard would not understand.

        It was not like that pre-Communism, and I have slowly watched the fear of speaking out loud fade. The younger generation does not remember, but those 50-60 have what we call a “Soviet hangover” where at times they have irrational fears, like telling their last name, or speaking to someone new. If I pass the same person in the stairwell every day I should not get my head bitten off for saying “good morning”. Latvians themselves complain about the bad attitude, silence, and lack of smiles. They hate that they were forced to be like to survive and want to change. Latvian culture is very vocal with songs and poetry being very important to the national psyche.

        • http://amikeco.ru/pro/eo Amikeco

          I would tell apart the real past and the popular ethnic narratives about it. Of course life in Soviet Union was not all fear and bugged rooms.

          Speaking of smaller ethnic cultures, it’s been one of the most tolerant and caring in the world, creating written tradition and folklore ensembles for douzens of ethnicities that would fade away in other conditions.

  • http://www.istanbulblogger.com istanbulblogger

    sezin , firstly great post short yet covers a variety of topics . the neo nazi movement i think this so called revival has tried to exist since the post world war II it is found in many countries yet they are a menacing minority but enough to create fear when crossing their paths. any uprising im sure would be quickly suppressed ,the days of nazi idealogy from the minds of himmler,goebels,goring,ribbentrop,heydrich and hitler which based their beliefs and ways on thinking on that dreaded prison written monalogue Mein Kampf I personally hope never re-appears.if you get chance or may be you have already watched the film American History X again about a minority of so called Neo Nazi’s .
    The evacuation of Romani’s has that awful reminiscance of the Nazi plot to send jews to madagascar.
    Has for the Tatau looks nice I also wear a full sleeved armed tatau a polynesian design from wrist to shoulder I make no effort to hide it yet it gets much curiosity among many turks when commuting about istanbul.
    As for living with a dark legacy here in istanbul the armenian issue has reared its head in recent months but it doesnt have that Neo Nazi stigma threatening appearance YET!,Ive yet to experience or come across a dark legacy but I am not ignorant of the past just it has not smacked me in face yet .Brian
    .-= istanbulblogger’s latest blog ..Istanbul:A Diverse Photographic City =-.

    • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

      Hi Brian,

      Yes, indeed the Neo-Nazi movement is a strange one in this day and age and yes I have seen “American History X”. Unfortunately here in the Czech Republic the objects of Nazi hate/rage aren’t like in America, where they think minorities are stealing jobs. Here it is more towards creating mayhem and being outrageously violent, hence my fear of them. They are so unpredictable.

      Thankfully the party that tried to send the Roma “home” has been banned from politics recently, but this hasn’t stopped them and their Neo-Nazi supporters from arranging demonstration upon demonstration. This is a part of life here I find very difficult to understand.

      It’s interesting what you say about your tattoos and that you display them. When I was in Turkey I did the opposite as I do here: I kept everything covered up. Someone told me that tattooed women are culturally seen as being prostitutes and I certainly didn’t need anyone getting that impression of me. :-)

      Here’s hoping that you never have to experience a dark legacy in your travels and life.

      Thanks for commenting and all the best,

      Sezin

  • http://www.istanbulblogger.com istanbulblogger

    sezin , firstly great post short yet covers a variety of topics . the neo nazi movement i think this so called revival has tried to exist since the post world war II it is found in many countries yet they are a menacing minority but enough to create fear when crossing their paths. any uprising im sure would be quickly suppressed ,the days of nazi idealogy from the minds of himmler,goebels,goring,ribbentrop,heydrich and hitler which based their beliefs and ways on thinking on that dreaded prison written monalogue Mein Kampf I personally hope never re-appears.if you get chance or may be you have already watched the film American History X again about a minority of so called Neo Nazi’s .
    The evacuation of Romani’s has that awful reminiscance of the Nazi plot to send jews to madagascar.
    Has for the Tatau looks nice I also wear a full sleeved armed tatau a polynesian design from wrist to shoulder I make no effort to hide it yet it gets much curiosity among many turks when commuting about istanbul.
    As for living with a dark legacy here in istanbul the armenian issue has reared its head in recent months but it doesnt have that Neo Nazi stigma threatening appearance YET!,Ive yet to experience or come across a dark legacy but I am not ignorant of the past just it has not smacked me in face yet .Brian
    .-= istanbulblogger’s latest blog ..Istanbul:A Diverse Photographic City =-.

    • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

      Hi Brian,

      Yes, indeed the Neo-Nazi movement is a strange one in this day and age and yes I have seen “American History X”. Unfortunately here in the Czech Republic the objects of Nazi hate/rage aren’t like in America, where they think minorities are stealing jobs. Here it is more towards creating mayhem and being outrageously violent, hence my fear of them. They are so unpredictable.

      Thankfully the party that tried to send the Roma “home” has been banned from politics recently, but this hasn’t stopped them and their Neo-Nazi supporters from arranging demonstration upon demonstration. This is a part of life here I find very difficult to understand.

      It’s interesting what you say about your tattoos and that you display them. When I was in Turkey I did the opposite as I do here: I kept everything covered up. Someone told me that tattooed women are culturally seen as being prostitutes and I certainly didn’t need anyone getting that impression of me. :-)

      Here’s hoping that you never have to experience a dark legacy in your travels and life.

      Thanks for commenting and all the best,

      Sezin

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