Romanies in Český Krumlov


 

Within the territory of the Czech Republic (as well as former Czechoslovakia) Český Krumlov represents a town where the coexistence of Romanies (gypsies) with other inhabitants
 Romany girl, Český Krumlov, 1970's
has achieved the most positive results and where the Romany community has lived for more than twenty years without any internal or external conflicts, enjoying a good social standing which, among others, has resulted in the highest proportion of Romany-Czech marriages. Moreover the vast majority of Roma profess gypsyhood (romipen) and do not find their origin shameful, which is good and right. Český Krumlov has then set an example to the fact that the positive coexistence of the bulk of population with the minority, Romanies, is indeed possible. What has happened during the past decades to lead to such a result and confirmation of this possibility? Why was and is it possible in this historical town and why, on the contrary, has there been a significant increase in number of problems with Romany communities, ethnic tension and mutual relations in many other towns and villages recently?

For thirty years Romanies have represened the largest minority among all ethnic groups which live in the Český Krumlov region and in the town itself, directly after the Czech majority.

In the post-war years there were radical changes in gypsy population living in Czechoslovakia which included internal structure, number and territorial density, intensification of internal differentiation - not only in each group but also according to the level of possible adaptation and mainly changes of some of the components of the lifestyle and culture and the complete character of the group as compared with the previous situation. However, this does not mean that members of the group are no longer Roma though some of them have already ceased to identify themselves with the gypsy community as a result of the pressure of the former society. It was particularly the environment of industrial and border towns that achieved even more radical and significant changes. As for Český Krumlov a high proportion of gypsies lives here at present, usually in the third and forth generation.

Young Romanies on the town square in Český Krumlov, 1970's

The end of the Second World War was a historical milestone in the development, position and living conditions of the Czechoslovakian Romanies. They were coming back home – in Slovakia from work camps; Czech, Moravian and German Roma – Sintos returned from concentration camps if they survived (most of them were murdered by fascists; only a few dozen families remained alive). Vlachike Roma, who until 1959 represented a migratory group, in most cases returned to their migratory or nomadic life. Part of the settled or the so-called half-settled Romanies from the gypsy settlements in Slovakia had therefore left – either straight after 1945 or in the following years – for Bohemia not only to find jobs in the industrial and other urban areas but also to settle border areas – in the Southern Bohemia mainly the Český Krumlov and Kaplice regions. The exodus of Romanies to this region was spontaneous, uncontrolled and unorganized. After the Second World War it was a part of a great migration of Romanies from Slovakia, especially from the eastern part, to Bohemia in order to find jobs and ensure better housing and living conditions for their families.

While in Slovakia most Romanies still live in villages or colonies of the so-called „gypsy settlements„ known as „romane gava„ (though this proportion decreased over the years of 1970 – 1990), in Bohemia and Moravia the vast majority of Romanies live in towns. This proportion is three times higher than in Slovakia and continuously increases both in total and Český Krumlov.

In the post-war years Romany families were influenced by their original localities (i.e. in most cases „gypsy settlements„ and other types of their concentration), namely by their „family groups„ – „fajty„ which lived there and they originate from and with whom they moved (at least part of them) to Bohemia in the post-war years. Such an influence was evident in all Romany settlers for a long time after their arrival in new the Czech environment; in some members of the oldest generation of migrants, the impact is evident up till now. Their group – „family„ they belonged or belong to was or still is a wider family and real home and it was the family that gave them the feeling of safety. For a long time they were not able to get used to the new environment, namely to the town and the Český Krumlov region. This fact was the reason for their behaviour towards the local majority and the feeling of having no roots which, consequently, resulted in other migrations of some of them. It was not until the change in this feeling – acceptance of the environment as their new home – that caused the process of gradual adaptation and enabled a certain coexistence of the minority Romany community with the bulk of the local population. This turning point began during the 1960´s when the first generation watershed - the intergeneration growth - began. At that time a new generation of Romanies who were born in this environment began to grow up. The main reason and motivation for the migration of Romanies to the industrial and border towns in Bohemia was, apart from job-seeking and possibilities of better wages, especially the desire for the life among the state population where they would not be isolated and concentrated in „gypsy settlements„ and where they expected to gain better social positions. This reason, regarding their largely spontaneous and voluntary migration, usually played an even more important role than the social conditions. An important determinant of their habitation is undoubtedly the territorial lay-out – even within each town, but mainly the fact that through the life in the new home the Romany settlers got a chance to establish contacts with the majority; on the other hand this type of habitation required Romanies to adapt at least to a certain extent to the given circumstances. Until recently Romanies lived mainly in the historical centre of the ancient town which was settled by most Romanies – new citizens – from 1945 till the beginning of the 1990´s. The first place of their highest concentration was Rybářská street where they were allowed to reside in houses of great historic value – irrespective of level of previous experience with living in this type of habitation. Not only Romany families, who came from primitive „chalets„ without any knowledge of how to use modern sanitary installations and who lived in the way they were used to, are to blame for devastation of many of these houses during the first post-war years. Now, it should be said that the blame for that situation is to be born mainly by representatives of the then first national committee (or Settlement Authority) who rashly assigned such houses to them. On top of all this, they were not able to teach gypsy families – because of many other problems – how to live in the new conditions.

Romany wedding in Český Krumlov, 1977

Small houses situated in the street called Pod kamenem next to the entrance to Český Krumlov in the direction from České Budějovice wasanother place where a large number of Romanies lived. However, these dwellings were demolished at the end of 1950´s in order to enlarge the access road; from this place Romany families were moved back to the historical core of the town – to streets Kájovská and Široká and to old Plešivec (where they live up till now) and to two houses in Vyšné II. above the town. However, Romanies have not lived here for a long time. At the present only a small number of Romanies live in the historical centre while most of them live in housing quarters in Plešivec II. During the last few years other families moved into the flats in housing quarters called Mír in Domoradice above the town.

It is widely known that people begin to feel at home in a place where their children were born and grow up and where the graves of their parents and relatives already are. For Romanies in the Český Krumlov region this came to the large extent at the beginning of 1960´s.

Český Krumlov, Restaurant Cikánská jizba, gypsy band 
Their identification with their own group, family – „fajta„ and larger family has always been, and still is – though in different dimensions – very strong and represents their natural environment which is the reason for such firm ties. During last twenty or thirty years, when in their new home in the Český Krumlov region the cohesion of these families as well as their dependence on it gradually diminishes, Romanies began to search for their own place which was not easy at all.

Český Krumlov became famous thanks to the fact that the Romany settlers gradually really stabilized, that most of them feel at home in the town for a long time, that they have lived without conflicts with other citizens of the original settler families which increased in number in the last fifty years and consequently also in next generations. At the present there are 303 families or, in other words, 580 – 600 registered Romanies have been born in Český Krumlov as children and grandchildren of first settlers in Kotlar, Dunka, Červeňák, Rakaš, Bílý and other families. Among these main families of the Český Krumlov Romany settlers are the most stabilized and settled the „family„ groups of Kotlar and Dunka. They were the first families who came from East Slovakian district Sabinov (later the Prešov district) and Stará Lubovňa in the course of 1945 – 1948.

Festival of the Five-petalled Rose in Český Krumlov 1998, dancing gypsy children   Festival of the Five-petalled Rose in Český Krumlov 1998, dancing gypsy children   Festival of the Five-petalled Rose in Český Krumlov 1998, performance of the Romany group Orient

At present, about 600 members of the Romany ethnic group live in Český Krumlov and have been permanent residents for many years. They create almost 4 percent of the total number of the town citizens. Till 1990 most of them lived in the historical core of the town preserve. (In the Český Krumlov district there live 1260 – 1300 Romanies in total – in small towns and villages, however half of them live in Český Krumlov. The highest relative number of Romanies lives in Větřní which is 6 percent of the inhabitants of this industrial area). During the post-war years the Romany community in Český Krumlov increased in number from 150 in 1947 to 226 in 1967; from 362 gypsies in 1970 to 515 in 1983 and to565 in 1987 (within the district to 1260); the number of about 600 gypsies who live in the town is approximately on the same level in last ten years.

Another characteristic of the Český Krumlov town is the increasing proportion of mixed couples, relatively the highest within our country, in last 20-25 years; in 1988 it was 30 percent and at the present it is almost a third. Such mixed marriages or bonds are common from the 1970´s whereas before that time it was rare.
 Český Krumlov, Gypsy group in front of Cikánská jizba restaurant, foto: Libor Sváček
One of the partners of the Czech citizen is of occassional Slovakian and Hungarian nationality, in 1970´s and 1980´s also of Polish or other nationality. The highest proportion of such marriages is in Český Krumlov. The continuously increasing proportion of mixed marriages in which one of the partners is a Romany demonstrates a stabilization and increasing improvement in social position of the Romany community and also greater openness of this ethnic group in the environment of the Český Krumlov town. Although a certain mutual prejudice and bias - especially from the side of the Czech and other citizens against Romanies persists to a small extent, mixed marriages are the proof of radical changes in public opinion and attitude to Romanies.

Previous experience showed how difficult is to stop belonging to the ethnic group as an individual regarding the so-called „integrated„ or adapted families which live in Český Krumlov. The prestige of each individual can be earned through the increase of prestige of the whole group, through advancement of the ethnic society as a complex and establishment of its position among the majority and therefore the coexistence with it. The so-called „gypsy-Roma„ problem does not concerned only the majority society nor the Roma themselves but is a mutual problem. The situation cannot be solved either through increase and gradual settlement of socioeconomic level nor through the restraint of their specific lifestyle and the specificity of their culture, as did the previous totalitarian Czechoslovakian society.
Cikánská jizba restaurant in Český Krumlov 
On the contrary it is necessary at this stage of development to take into account positive viable elements of the Romany community, support their sound self-assurance resulting in ethnic integration and therefore – without losing the ethnic conscience – assist in positive mutual coexistence. For most Romanies there is a tendency and need to proceed from the present ethnic endogamy (though impaired) and through the ethnic integration aspire to equal coexistence - this has been recently proved by most of the Romany families in Český Krumlov.

Much as the process of settlement, adaptation to new living conditions and establishment of social position of romanies in Český Krumlov in the last fifty years was difficult and complicated, they have been able to get used to local people but still retain their Romany ethnic conscience.

If we were to sum up the internal and external influences which resulted in this positive situation among the most important factors would belong the following :

influence and impact of former authorities of the government – town national committee from the years 1960 – 1989 which gave gypsies „the chance„, gradually began to trust and help them; this positive influence and good mutual relations are followed by the present town authority, i.e. the Český Krumlov town hall

internal influences inside the gypsy community which had soon adapted to the new living conditions did not cause any conflicts, did not commit any crimes and slowly learned how to live and coexist with the majority; in the course of years this earned even the social prestige of Romanies and won more and more Czech citizens around, instead of setting them against themselves;

internal influences from the Český Krumlov Romanies include also the fact that they „looked after„ their earned prestige and did not let new migrants who were coming in 1950´s – 1970´s and moved to different places in Bohemia and Moravia spoil it; they prevented them from coming and settling in the town in which have settled and live several Romany families, extended families which increase in number in following generations – this is an important fact;

the good position of the Romany community in Český Krumlov which is not being discriminated against is also reflected by the highest proportion of mixed Romany–Czech marriages which at the present reaches up to one third (at the beginning of 1980´s it was 30 percent marriages) which is the convincing proof of the significant change in attitude of the Czech majority and good attitude of public opinion to Romanies.

This recent trend of position of Romanies in Český Krumlov is continuously improving much as there are problems namely in the unemployment of some of them.

Recently many successful Romanies in Český Krumlov offer those who are unemployed jobs – e.g. the well-known Romany businessman Dezider Dunka who owns the firm „Dunka„ and carries out building activities and took on responsibility for part of the cleaning of the town which he and his forty employees (mainly Romanies) manage well. A good name is connected with the tavern "Cikánská jizba"
 Restaurant Cikánská jizba, bar with owner Milan Kotlár and Krumlov beer
in Široká street which is run by a married couple Milan Kotlar and Věra Kotlarová. Arnošt Kotlar runs gypsy wine bar „U Báry„ situated in Panská street. The religion in the Český Krumlov region is looked after by deacon Vojtěch Vágai - a Romany who operates in St. Vitus Church in Český Krumlov or in the monastery and other parochial districts – in Větřní, Kájov and other places.

Local Romanies usually do not differ from others in housing culture, clothing or other ways of material life style. On the other hand their family and social relations within their community are different, particularly the preservation of their culture and folklore, music and dance. There are two bands, children´s choir „Gilori„ (The Ditty), musicians and singers who perform traditional gypsy folklore (Jolana Siváková, Gejza Kotlar, František Čarný and others) which is necessary to preserve and develop. Specificity and originality of Romanies could bring significant elements to the culture life of the historical town of Český Krumlov.

(ed)

Further information :
Contemporary Activities of the Romanies in Český Krumlov
Guest-house Věra

 



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