Thursday 1 October 1998

A School Unlike Any Other

On 1 September 1998, a new school opened up in the city of Kolín in Bohemia. In marked contrast to other educational institutions in the Czech Republic, this one aimed to be Roma-friendly. In fact, the Romani High School for Social Affairs was the first secondary school in the country established by and for Roma. Local Czechs looked on suspiciously, while others asked if this new school heralded the development of a Roma elite in the Czech Republic or provided a means of self-segregation that simply confirmed the inability of the two groups to live together. This piece first appeared in The New Presence, a Czech/English monthly where I was editor, in October 1998, and then it was republished in a number of places throughout Central Europe.


"This is a completely normal school," says Doctor Tluchorova.

As the educational director of the new Romani High School for Social Affairs in the Central Bohemian town of Kolín, Tluchorova is trying hard to present the school's best image. We sit in the staff room of the new school, as her office is still a jumble of paint cans and building tools. Everything in the building smells of drying paint and carpet adhesive.

Wednesday 26 August 1998

Jizvy po normalizaci se nezhojily

This article, looking at Czech attitudes toward the 30th anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia, originally appeared in the Czech daily Slovo on 26 August 1998.


Tak minulo vzpomínání na třicáté výročí Sověty vedené invaze do Československa. Zde v Praze se výročí připomínalo výstavami, zvláštními pořady v televizi a jedinečnými přílohami novin. Přesto se však zdá, že si lidé nebyli jisti, co si o tom všem mají myslet.

Thursday 19 March 1998

Kosovo Shows What Divides Europe Today

This article appeared in both Czech and English in Britské listy on 19 March 1998, and then it ended up in various forms in Central European outlets like Prostor, Svobodné slovo and the Hungarian magazine Beszélő.


At London University's School for Slavonic and East European Studies on Wednesday evening, a roundtable discussion was held on the subject of Kosovo. Seated on the panel and in the audience of perhaps 150, were not just dusty academics but also diplomats and activists highly involved in the issue.

Speakers included the Albanian ambassador in London, the director of the London Kosovo Crisis Centre (a lobbying initiative), BBC correspondents, an official from the UK foreign office and the former British ambassador to Belgrade. The panel was admittedly lopsided because the invited Serb representatives declined their invitations, but that hardly prevented the conversation breaking out into a boisterous argument.

Its true that everyone in the room agreed that the situation in Kosovo was desperate, and everyone agreed that Belgrade's intransigence was the major barrier to solving the problem. Everyone in the room who opened his or her mouth noted the parallels between Bosnia in 1990-1 and Kosovo today. Still, a heated argument took place, and several speakers eventually left in a huff.

Right from the beginning, as speaker after speaker made his or her points, the seeds of the disagreement were sown, and it was clear to this observer that two sides were clearly lining up for a strong debate during the following question period.

Wednesday 11 March 1998

A Tribal State

This originally appeared in both Czech and English in Britské listy on 11 March 1998, and a few days later in the Czech daily Slovo. It's important to note that Germany reformed its nationality law in 1999, making it a bit easier for people to claim citizenship based on birthplace.


Before his flight to Poland, Czech President Václav Havel made several interesting comments in front of reporters, and his most intriguing words concerned Czech racism and EU entry. The country had to decide, he said, whether it wanted a "tribal state" or if it wanted to choose a democratic path which respected the rights of minorities. According to Havel, only the latter would bring the Czech Republic in line with the EU.

It would be nice if this were true, but in reality, the EU is far from a paradise of racial and ethnic harmony. Leaving aside the more bloody examples of Northern Ireland and the Basque region for the moment, it is clear that many countries in the EU have serious problems with racism not only in society at large but also in their legal systems. Germany is a perfect example.