HISTORY OF THE HOUSE OF NATIONAL MINORITIES
The idea of the House of National Minorities first came into being in the early nineties. Simultaneously with the creation of national minority civic associations in connection with the democratization process and the enacting of the rights of national minorities regarding their existence and the specificity of expression, there arose the need to find a location for civic associations and their activities. That is why in the mid-nineties national minorities welcomed the opportunity to acquire a house on Celetná Street for their headquarters. This opportunity was elaborated in such detail so as to even determine which room a civic association would have. Hopes were dashed by privatization by a restituent, who had a legal claim to the house.
All that remained were documents that would never be relevant, which in 1997 were handed over to the new official in charge of national minorities, the then head of the Education Department.
New hope for the creation of a House of National Minorities in Prague arose in 2000, when the Children and Youth Fund, in liquidation, offered children and youth its buildings for their activities under new terms and conditions. The then Education, Youth and Sports Department of Prague City Hall (which back then managed the official in charge of national minorities) responded and requested that Prague receive 50 buildings. This request also included a request for house number 602 on Vocelova Street in Prague 2 for the purpose of creating a House of National Minorities. The final result was that, of the 50 requested buildings, the City of Prague only received one, and this was the building designated for the purposes of the House of National Minorities in Prague.
A new situation arose for the City of Prague. It was necessary for the Parliament of the Czech Republic to pass an exception that was proposed by the government of the Czech Republic. This comprised the prerequisite that the House of National Minorities serve national minorities and not solely the children and youth of the majority of society. This exception was adopted. Up to 2002, a concurrent process took place regarding the conception of the activities of the House of National Minorities in Prague and the transfer of ownership to the City of Prague. This process was completed in 2002. In November 2002, the Municipal Assembly of Prague approved the Policies of Prague with regard to national minorities, which also included the framework of activities of the House of National Minorities. In 2002, the architectural plan of reconstruction according to planned activities was prepared, along with the selection of companies that would carry out the reconstruction and other construction preparations by the Prague City Investor Department. All these activities were regularly discussed at the production meetings of the Prague City Investor Department and the Prague Council Committee for National Minorities. All of this was closely coordinated with the Government Council for National Minorities of the Czech Republic. This Council requested that the government release funds for reconstruction in the amount of CZK 20 million. Simultaneously, CZK 15 million from Prague’s budget was earmarked for reconstruction. The technical parameters of the building’s operation after reconstruction were discussed with the Economic Administration Department.
This process was stopped the moment the Czech Association of Electrical Engineers initiated legal proceedings against the City of Prague, suing to have the real estate cleared out because of legal entitlement to this building. The dispute, which the City of Prague won, ended at the beginning of 2006. The Czech Government Council for National Minorities immediately filed a renewed application for a financial grant in the amount of CZK 20 million. On 22 February 2006, Prague City Hall council member Mgr. Hana Halová convened a meeting of stakeholders at which a plan of how to proceed further was agreed upon and the anticipated date of the completion of reconstruction, 10 October 2006, was set. However, this deadline was extended because the reconstructed house was in much worse shape than it was in before the commencement of judicial proceedings. Subsequently, the House of National Minorities, after extensive reconstruction, was inaugurated on 21/6/2007. Currently, the House of National Minorities operates as a public benefit organization, which provides facilities for individual national minority civic associations. The City of Prague is the owner of the building.
National minorities represented in the House of National Minorities: Bulgarian national minority, Hungarian national minority, German national minority, Polish national minority, Roma national minority, Ruthenian national minority, Russian national minority, Greek national minority, Slovak national minority, Serbian national minority, and Ukrainian national minority.
Philosophy of the House of National Minorities in Prague
THE HOUSE OF NATIONAL MINORITIES:
- is a Prague facility that facilitates inter-ethnic understanding and overcoming any prejudices that citizens might have regarding certain ethnic groups and nationalities
- is a facility where the primary work involves the activities of national minorities in Prague
- is a facility where the activities of national minorities aimed at children and the youth of national minorities play an essential role
- is a facility where communication and cooperation with the children and the youth of Prague schools and other leisure-time educational and cultural facilities play a very important role
- is a facility where communication and cooperation between national minorities in Prague play an essential role
- is a facility that will seek cooperation with other organizations with a multicultural focus and organizations that integrate foreigners. These activities will be contingent upon the capacity and programmes of the House of National Minorities in Prague, so that the fulfilment of the activities of national minorities comes first.
The House of National Minorities offers programmes for adults and for children and youth, such as:
- visits to the exhibitions of artists that take place in the exhibition halls of the House of National Minorities
- the viewing of films in the social hall, which has a capacity of 98 seats
- meetings and club evenings with representatives of national minority civic associations
- selected cultural programmes produced in the House of National Minorities, conferences, meetings and seminars dealing with the issue of national minorities
- cultural programmes for primary and secondary schools (theatrical performances, educational concerts, lectures, and screenings)
- language courses
- the mediation of contacts and information
- the opportunity to utilize the social hall, exhibition halls, refreshment facilities (“cafe”), conference rooms, and library.
The Prague House of National Minorities, Past and Present and its Relationship with the Roma National Minority
Abstract: This paper introduces the reader to the history and the present of the House of National Minorities in Prague as a unique multicultural institution of its kind. Particular emphasis is placed on the activities of the Roma minority in the House and programmes with regional and supra-regional importance for the general public.
Keywords: House of National Minorities, multicultural, Prague, Roma, national minorities, City Hall of Prague
Prague has always been a city with a long multicultural tradition. Figures such as Bernard Bolzano, father and son Dientzenhofer, Jan Jesénius, Tycho de Brahe, Johannes Kepler, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Josip Plečnik, Bertha von Suttner, Franz Kafka and Roman Jacobson all had something in common. Despite not being of Czech nationality, they spent a major part of their lives in Prague and had a warm relationship with the city. Prague became a temporary or permanent home for them. Likewise, in the pre-war period the city provided generous asylum for refugees from Nazi Germany and the communist Soviet Union. Prague could only establish a tolerant and open policy towards its minorities in the years after the fall of the Communist regime in 1989.
Perhaps the most interesting result of this policy was the emergence of a public benefit corporation called the House of National Minorities. Its existence was the result of intensive and long-lasting cooperation of the City Hall of Prague, the Government of the Czech Republic and, of course, representatives of national minorities. The building on Vocelova Street in Prague 2 was acquired by the city for free by transfer from the State Children and Youth Fund, the state contributed CZK 20 million to its reconstruction and redevelopment, and the municipality added another CZK 15 million. It was inaugurated for minorities and the public in June 2007. It is also worth mentioning that the costs associated with the use of the office are paid by Prague to individual national minorities through a grant which minorities annually request. The grant from the City of Prague (as well as the grant programmes of the Government, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports and the Ministry of Culture) pay for the educational, social and publishing activities of the various organizations of national minorities and for integrating foreigners.
The House of National Minorities is a unique institution in the Czech Republic and indeed even in Europe. It is not customary for the civic associations of national minorities and the editors of their magazine to be housed in the same place. Individual associations furthermore use for their educational, cultural and social activities shared spaces such as a gallery, community hall (cinema), meeting room, coffee shop and library. The House is home to organizations representing a total of 11 national minorities: Slovak, Polish, German, Roma, Ruthenian, Ukrainian, Russian, Hungarian, Serbian, Bulgarian and Greek. In somewhat simplified terms, one could say that our House is a place where our minorities constitute a majority.
One of the most active minorities (not only in the House of National Minorities) is the Roma minority. It's not only the size of this community (estimates range up to about 20,000 Roma in the capital), but also the activity of the associations and their representatives. The situation of Roma in the capital is generally better than in other parts of the Czech Republic. Roma are more dispersed among the majority population (the highest concentrations are in Prague 3, 4, 5 and 8) and there are virtually no special problem areas, as in northern Bohemia and the Ostrava agglomeration. Thanks to plentiful job opportunities employment is also above average. A positive factor influencing the integration of Roma is also the cosmopolitan character of Prague and the resulting lower level of racism and xenophobia faced by Roma. Finally, the better community situation of the Roma community is thanks to the high proportion of Roma intelligentsia in Prague.
One of the main tasks of the House of National Minorities is to spread a positive image of Roma among the majority population and to contribute to a better understanding and perception of the community and reduce prejudice and misunderstanding. It is no coincidence that for the entire four years (since the institution opened in 2007 until May 2011) specialist for national minorities Mgr. Jana Hajná and Roma coordinator for the City of Prague, Božena Filová, have had their offices next to the House of National Minorities. Its role is to coordinate the work of Roma advisers in various districts in the preparation of conceptual, methodological and analytical data for the needs of the City Council. Individual Roma advisors and the integration policy of Prague in relation to the Roma community performing daily work with Roma clients, advising on social and health issues, helping in educational choices and future employment, information on retraining courses or regular contact with Roma families and schools with a higher proportion of Roma pupils. The Roma coordinator also works closely with the Roma umbrella organization ROM Prague, which represents the Roma ethnic group in the House of National Minorities. Since mid-2011 the Roma coordinator has been located directly in the City Hall building of Prague, which better reflects its involvement in the administration of municipalities and facilitates cooperation and coordination of individual activities.
And what specific actions related to the Roma minority take place in the House? There are of course many of them. An important part of programming is educational programmes and film screenings connected with discussions with the filmmakers and actors. Some programmes primarily for elementary and secondary schools have been implemented in the framework of National Minorities in Film, which was supported by a grant from the City of Prague. Screened films with a Roma theme in the recent past have included Dilino and the Devil (2009) (Dilino a čert), Who Fears, Runs (1986) (Kdo se bojí, utíká), Marian (1996), The Indian and the Nurse (2005) (Indián a sestřička), Radical Cut (1983) (Radikální řez) and Roming (2007). Movies and subsequent discussions are among the most popular and sought after programme format not only by the school management, for which it is an appropriate supplement to the curriculum, but of course for students, who welcome the opportunity to attend an educational programme outside the school building. In the broader debate it also reflects the position of the Roma minority in the Czech Republic and the importance of education for future careers and professional life. The students debated with Ladislav Goral, head of the ROM Prague association, and Iveta Demeterová, chief editor of the Roma section of Czech Radio.
Also popular is a series of educational and awareness lectures called Safety in the Streets, which is implemented in cooperation with the Czech Police. Its aim is to alert and inform primary school pupils in a fun and informative way about the risks and threats associated with pathologies such as drug addiction, crime and violence. During the programme, children also learn how to react to dangerous situations and the policemen demonstrate and teach them self-defence. These activities are of course very popular with children and some of them even revealed that they want to one day join the police force.
This past season was full of Roma events of supra-regional importance. For example, there was the Ethnic Friendly Awards in November 2011. The goal of the event, which was held in the social hall of the House of National Minorities, was arranged by the Romeo organization and attracted a lot of public and media interest. It rewards companies that promote the principle of equal treatment and a proactive approach to finding and employing Roma by providing a positive example for others. The certificate associated with the logo, which the winning companies can use on its products, was officially handed over to nine new companies. The number of awarded companies therefore reached nearly 50.
The awards and Ethnic Friendly Employer brand are given not only to private entities, but also state institutions or non-profit organizations that act fairly and without prejudice to their employees. The sponsor of the event was the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and the certification ceremony on 15 November 2011 at the House of National Minorities was directly under the auspices of the Czech ombudsman Pavel Varvařovský.
The annual programme on the occasion of International Roma Day celebrated on 8 April (the day of the establishment of the International Romani Union) has become a tradition. This year the gallery in the House of National Minorities for a whole month featured an exhibition called I Am Roma, lent by the Museum of Roma Culture in Brno. The exhibition on the history of the Roma in Central and Eastern Europe also featured the announcement of the art competition I Am Roma - Changing Mindsets that was held for children in the House of National Minorities in cooperation with Prague City Hall and the European Development Agency. Drawings and other creations inspired by Roma children, past and present, will be on display throughout the summer at the House of National Minorities and their exhibition in the City Hall is also being discussed. So please accept this information as an invitation to visit us! We believe that you will find our offer of cultural, musical and educational programmes fascinating. And if you can't choose a specific programme, then at least come and enjoy the unique atmosphere of a tolerant multicultural and cosmopolitan spot in the middle of Prague, whose mission is truly unique and exceptional.
1) In a moment the Roma band will start to play. From the opening of the “I am Roma” exhibition (caption to picture)
2) Regular lectures on Roma history complement the school curriculum (caption to picture)
Mgr. Jakub Štědroň (33) is the director of the House of National Minorities. He has worked at Prague City Hall since 2006 as a specialist on national minorities and later as an assistant to the Prague social ombudsman. From 2008 to 2010 he completed two six-month internships in the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights in Vienna and the European Parliament in Brussels. He is currently finishing his doctorate at the Faculty of Arts of Charles University and is dedicated to the issue of affirmative action (positive discrimination).