"G" is for Gypsy on Czech records

07 December 1999

Following an article in the Czech weekly Respekt, the Czech media reported on October 19, 1999, that Czech Airlines had confirmed that until mid-1999, the company marked lists of passengers with the letter "G" for "Gypsy" next to names of persons they believed to be Roma. The lists were reportedly intended for use by British authorities. Mr David Thomas, the manager of Czech Airlines at London's Heathrow Airport told members of the press that tickets belonging to Romani passengers were marked by staff in order to warn British immigration officials of potential asylum-seekers. Mr Thomas told the Czech News Agency on Monday that airline staff regularly marked tickets with the letter "G" for "Gypsy" if passengers had Romani-sounding names or looked Romani. Mr Ladislav Weidner, the airline´s chief representative in London, said the practice had been discontinued in spring 1999. All Czech Airlines officials quoted by the press denied allegations that the measures had been discriminatory against Roma. British officials denied that they sought the information. Czech Romani activists subsequently undertook a campaign to distribute badges with the letter "G" on them for people to wear while crossing international borders. The following week, on October 26 and 27, Czech media reported that "for years", Czech unemployment offices had pursued the practice of marking persons who appeared to be Romani with an "R". The private television station TV Nova reportedly procured lists of Romani job-seekers from offices in Prague and the southern Czech city of České BudÄ›jovice, indicating that authorities were keeping records of the ethnicity of applicants. Social and Labor Affairs Minister Vladimír Ĺ pidla told the daily Lidové Noviny on October 27 that he did not know about the practice. He added that action should be taken "as quickly as possible" against those offices that use such techniques. The practice of keeping records on ethnicity was widespread during Communism, but is widely held to have been discontinued after 1989. Various Czech politicians denied that documenting ethnicity indicated racial discrimination on the part of Czech authorities. ERRC research conducted in 1999 into the situation of Roma in the school system indicated that the practice of registering the ethnicity of Romani pupils is widespread in the Czech Republic.

(ČTK, ERRC, Lidové noviny, Radio Prague, Radio Free Liberty/Radio Liberty, TV Nova)


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