Czechoslovakia


Czechoslovakia
   In 1399 the first Gypsy on the territory of Bohemia is mentioned in a chronicle. There are further references, and then in 1541 Gypsies were accused of starting a fire in Prague.
   In general, while the provinces were under the Habsburg and Holy Roman empires, Gypsies were seminomadic in the Czech lands- Bohemia and Moravia. They were largely protected over the centuries against central legislation by noblemen who found their services useful on their estates, even though Leopold I in the 17th century, for example, declared that all Gypsies were outlaws, ordering them to be flogged and then banished if found in the country. In Slovakia they were pressed to settle by both Maria Theresa and Joseph II.
   The modern state of Czechoslovakia was formed in 1918. In 1921 Gypsies were recognized as a minority and allowed to organize some sports clubs. However, both the nomads and those living in settlements were viewed with mistrust by the majority population. Nineteen Gypsies were tried for cannibalism in Kosice in 1924 (and eventually found not guilty). In 1928 there was a pogrom against Gypsies in Pobedim after some crops had been pilfered. Slovak villagers killed four adults and two children and wounded 18 more.
   Nomadism by Vlah Romanies was strongly discouraged. Law 117 of 19 July 1927 placed controls on a wide variety of nomadic tradesmen. All Romany nomads had to carry a special pass and be registered if they were over the age of 14. Over the next 13 years, the number of identity cards issued reached nearly 40,000. Local regulations prohibited Gypsies from entering certain areas.
   Germany invaded Czechoslovakia in 1938. The country was divided, and the Czech lands (Bohemia and Moravia) became a German protectorate in 1939. The first anti-Gypsy decree during the Nazi occupation by the Protectorate Ministry of the Interior on 31 March 1939, prohibited nomadism in the border zones and in groups larger than an extended family. In May 1942 a further decree was passed (on the Fight to Prevent Criminality) by which Gypsies were not allowed to leave their residence without permission and all Gypsies could be taken into "protective custody." A count of Gypsies on 2 August 1942 registered 5,830 pure and "half-breed" Gypsies. Two existing work camps at Lety and Hodonín were turned into concentration camps for Gypsies. Gypsies were also sent to the main camp at Auschwitz in December 1942 and January 1943. The Lety camp received a total of more than 1,200 prisoners, and Hodonín a similar number. Conditions in these camps were poor. Food and medical attention were in short supply, and the Czech guards brutally beat the inmates. More than 500 prisoners died in the camps before they were closed in 1943. Then the majority of the surviving inmates were transferred to the Gypsy Family Camp in Auschwitz, together with more than 3,000 Czech Gypsies who had previously been leit in supervised liberty. Only some 600 persons all told survived the Nazi occupation of the Czech lands.
   In contrast to the multinational state that had existed before World War II, Czechoslovakia in 1945 was restored as a state for the Czechs and Slovaks, and there was no place in it for the Romanies as a nationality or even as an ethnic group. Little changed with the takeover in 1948 by the Communists, who decided on a policy of assimilating the Gypsies.
   The first step was to end nomadism, and a law to this effect was passed in 1958. The penalty for disobedience was imprisonment. The 10,000 nomads saw their horses taken away and the wheels removed from their caravans. In 1958, too, the Communists issued a statement saying that Gypsies constituted a socioeconomic group (not an ethnic group), which had problems to be solved in a specific manner. In 1965 the government passed the Resettlement Law. It was decided that no town or village should contain more than 5 percent Gypsies. This meant that large numbers would have to be resettled from Slovakia to the Czech lands. Both the Gypsies and the potential host communities resisted this transfer, although some Romanies had already moved west in search of work in the postwar years.
   The government did allow the setting up of the Svaz Cikan Rom (Union of the Romany Gypsies) in 1968, operating throughout Czechoslovakia. Some 20,000 members joined in the first two years.
   The Union established a recommended orthography for the Romani language, and for a time a number of publications were produced. A Czechoslovak delegation attended the first World Romany Congress, but no one was allowed to travel to the second or third congresses. Lessons in Romani for teachers were organized from 1971 to 1974.
   The Soviet invasion of 1968 led, however, to a change in the liberal policy, under Gustav Husak's government. In 1973 Gypsy and other independent organizations were closed, the magazines ceased to appear, and from then until 1989 there were to be very few publications in Romani.
   The next attempt to control the Gypsy population was a sterilization program linked to a decree of 1972. Hints were passed on by word-of-mouth to social workers and doctors that Gypsies and other mothers of large families should be encouraged to be sterilized. Special inducements were offered to Romany women-classed as "socially weak" under the decree. After bearing a fourth child, a Czechoslovak woman could be sterilized on payment of 2,000 crowns; Romany women, on the other hand, were offered 2,000 crowns to be sterilized after the second child. Some women were operated on without them being aware that the procedure was irreversible. The civil rights movement Charter 77 organized protests against this program. It is believed that 9,000 Romany women were sterilized during the program, including some who had had no children. In 2004 more than 50 persons came forward to ask for compensation for their sterilization under the Communist regime. In November 2005, in the first ruling of its kind, the District Court in Ostrava found that the rights of "Helene F." had been violated when she was sterilized in 2001 shortly after giving birth to her second child.
   In the last years of the Czechoslovak Republic, a revival of organizations and publications took place. In the 1990 elections the Romani Civic Initiative gained two seats in the federal parliament. In the period 1990-1992, there were 11 Roma in the three parliaments-national and federal. In 1992-1993, Czechoslovakia broke up into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Historical dictionary of the Gypsies . .

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