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Letter to the Editor: Roma need to be heard on their own situation

Dear Editor

I have just finished reading the letters to the editor regarding the Sharon Otterman piece ["Roma minority unrest boils over," Vol. 5 No. 29, August 2-15] and the Matheson letter about the Roma ["Roma plight needs a closer look"] that ran in the same edition. I, too, was surprised that you published Matheson's letter that put into print what one hears daily, and to see it contrasted against the Otterman article on the unrest of the Roma.

I was interested to read that there was nothing in the Otterman article to explain to any observer why so many people have, apparently erroneously, drawn negative conclusions about the Roma. Why do other western nations turn away the Roma, yet receive other refugees, equally poor?

I am interested in hearing the anti-Roma stereotypes explained away. I am interested to know why that little four or five-year-old boy is left alone on the blanket in the Bratislava Old Town, cup in hand, to beg. Why, on school days, children are panhandling and picking pockets (something which has happened to me three times, each time unsuccessfully, on the #1 tram). Why mothers don't bathe themselves and their children before they set out in the morning to beg. Unemployment is bad here, for Slavic Slovaks as well as the Roma. Yet I don't see very many Slavic Slovak children left on blankets in Old Town begging.

Every Slovak and visitor like me has seen the apartment buildings trashed by the Romas and standing next to identical ones built at the same time which are occupied and maintained by Slovaks. Yet no one from the Roma community ever explains the cultural imperatives of these choices. Skin color alone is not the reason why there is and has been long-standing prejudice against the Roma. Nor does the fact that they lived a nomadic life and enjoy a different culture.

I would be interested to hear what the Roma have to say, not to hear stories of their victimhood, but to hear why their community appears as it does, to get explanations of behavior, to have stereotypes explained away, and to hear what they are doing to change themselves, their community and how the wider community sees them.

The Gypsies are not just victims. They have now and have had in the past a role in this whole twisted relationship. I completely agree that the prejudice has to stop, that the Slovaks must change their attitudes and act with compassion. Indeed, the Slovaks, and the rest of the world community, must work harder to open their societies to the Roma.

At the same time, the Roma are going to have to put in an effort to enter into other societies. Not only will they have to police their own individual behavior, but they must do something to change their image as enemies, pariahs, sneak thieves, beggars and predators. You cannot ask or expect the larger society to change their stereotypical attitudes when they have those stereotypes reinforced every day.

I would be interested in reading about the upper and middle class Roma, and their thoughts and opinions on their people's condition, commonly held stereotypes and prejudices held by non-Roma, and what they think needs to happen. What conclusions have they drawn?

Michael D. Scoggin
Bratislava

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