Roma Rights Activists Score Successes in Hungary and the Czech Republic
10 April 1997
The Roma rights movement showed further signs of vibrancy and creativity in the winter of 1996/1997 as Roma rights activists successfully organised and rallied Roma against the discrimination and degradation which they face on a daily basis.
In Hungary, activist Aladár Horváth of the Foundation for Romani Civil Rights gathered a group of Roma in the Eastern Hungarian town of Bogács for an impromptu filming of the exclusion of Roma from local pubs and cafés in the town. Roma reported that they were consistently not served, that they were served but not allowed to drink in the various pubs in Bogács, or that they were served from plastic cups while non-Roma were served from glasses.
In addition to the actual refusal of service at two bars, Horváth managed to document one bar owner driving around and warning the other pub owners in Bogács that a Romani activist was in town filming. By the time the Roma activists arrived in the fourth café visited that afternoon, they were greeted by a pub owner who announced to one of the local Roma in the group, „Long time, no see! I’m glad you’ve come! Why have you been discriminating against us for so long?”
Horváth’s film has formed the basis for exposure of the situation in Bogács, and for a wider debate on the issue of the exclusion of Roma in Hungary. Indeed, in March 1997, the Legal Defense Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities (NEKI) reported that on January 22, 1997, an appellate court had raised a fine imposed by a first instance court on a pub owner in Pécs in southern Hungary, in Hungary’s first successful court case against restaurant discrimination. A civil lawsuit against the pub owner for non-material damages is pending.
Similar activity was visible in Rokycany in western Czech Republic, in a more advanced stage: on February 6, 1997, a closed sitting of the regional court in Plzeň reversed a decision of a lower court to acquit pub owner No Blahout of incitement to national and racial intolerance under Article 198a (1) of the Czech Penal Code. The suit against Blahout was the result of persistent Roma rights activism in the form of sit-ins and legal action by Ondřej Giňa and the Council of Rokycany Roma.
Pub lock-outs of Roma have been a regular feature of the Czech scene since 1989. One member of the Czech parliament, Free Democrat Rudolf Baránek, was the subject of political scandal in 1996, when it was discovered that a pub which he owned in the Hotel Terezka in the town of Breclav in southern Moravia had a sign on the door barring entry to Roma. He was not forced to resign his post, but merely bumped down the local parry list for the subsequent parliamentary elections. A criminal procedure against Baránek was halted by a presidential pardon.