When trying to prevent crime, it is definitely good to think of all possible variations of dangerous situations, especially where children are concerned. However, when a colouring book intended for children in nursery school and the lower grades of primary school features a figure whose face is prominently reminiscent of a representative of the Romani minority, and when such a figure plays only one role – evidently that of a dangerous pedophile – that really does call for some reflection.
Czech daily Lidové noviny (LN) reports that dark skin and curly black hair are synonymous with danger in “The Cop’s Colouring Book” (Poldový omalovánky), which is being distributed to children during crime prevention events. The character with Romani features is presented exclusively in a negative role in the colouring book.
The police, who are supposed to take action against stereotypes, primarily racial ones, are instead disseminating and supporting these dangerous prejudices. Lída, a resident of Prague, noticed that her daughter received a copy of the colouring book at her nursery school.
“When she told me she got it from a police officer, I was unpleasantly surprised,” the girl’s mother told LN. Children have been receiving the colouring books for several years, but activists and some human rights organizations are now harshly criticizing them.
“It is alarming that an institution whose preventative work is supposed to include fighting against prejudice and stereotypes is reinforcing them instead. To draw a guy harassing a child in such a way that he prominently resembles a Romani man, and to then target such edification at children during today’s tense times is terribly irresponsible,” said Jarmila Balážová of the ROMEA association.
Martin Šimáček, director of the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion, has also spoken out against the choice of such a one-sided context for a Roma character in the colouring book. Šimáček believes the book unnecessarily reinforces stereotypes about both Arab terrorism and Romani criminality.
“It doesn’t make the least bit of sense, it just teaches children to think with prejudices, reflexively,” the director told LN. However, Andrea Zoulová, currently the director of the Preventive Information Division of the Prague Police Directorate, whose people came up with the outreach project several years ago, has given an interesting defense of the colouring book.
“I see a multi-cultural environment in that image – after all, that man could be Cuban,” Zoulová explains. She also defends the nursery-school materials by saying another criminal in the colouring book is depicted with white skin.
The argument is poorly grounded. Adult white figures appear in the colouring book in essentially positive roles, while the lone representative of the Romani minority represents “the force of evil”.
Children are therefore being presented with a biased, incomplete, negative image of “those with dark skin.” However, LN reports that officer Jan Holub, the author and illustrator of the colouring book, doesn’t see anything wrong with it.
“The drawings reflect the actual situation on the streets. Perpetrators like this are the reality. If dark-skinned people never committed crime, I wouldn’t draw it that way,” he said.
On the basis of the negative response to the current design of the colouring book, Zoulová and her collective admit that after discussing the issue, they are now willing to redesign it. Some teachers have also objected that Holub should also portray a woman as a criminal too.
“It could be recommended to him that he feature a trio, white man – swarthy man – woman, in the role of police officers,” says Klára Kalibová of the legal organization In IUSTITIA. She also points out that the character of “Cop” (Polda) in the colouring book is white-skinned in all situations.
Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Minister Jiří Dienstbier (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD) would also be in favor of changing the characters depicted. “Generally speaking, nothing undertaken by public officials should be based on racial (ethnic) stereotypes,” he said.
translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Roma rights groups and Amnesty International have welcomed a decision by Cluj-Napoca County Court which ruled the forced eviction of more than 300 Roma from the city was illegal.
In December 2010, around 350 people from 76 families, the majority Roma, were forcibly evicted from the center of the city of Cluj-Napoca.
Many of the families were re-housed in newly built housing units on the outskirts of the city, close to the city’s garbage dump and a former chemical waste dump, in a place called Pata-Rât.
The inadequate housing provided no hot water or gas while the bus stop was about 2.5 km away.
This week judges at the tribunal ruled the mayor’s decision to forcibly evict the family was illegal and ordered the city authorities to pay damages to the Roma applicants for their eviction and relocation.
The Court also ruled the city should provide applicants with adequate housing in line with the minimum standards set out in Romanian law, read a release by the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC).
The ERRC supported a local law firm Podaru, Buciuman and Associates, to take the case on behalf of about 200 Roma applicants, and previously helped the community to set up an association to fight for their rights.
Florin Stancu, Executive Director of the Community Association of Roma from Coastei (the street where the families were evicted from) said he was grateful the Romanian justice system based their findings on the evidence and didn’t consider political interests.
Claudia Greta, a Roma rights activist and member of the Community Association of Roma from Coastei, added: “This decision is very important as we have been continuously fighting for three years now. We finally got a favorable result and we see that justice can be fair in Romania. Despite the traumatic effect of the eviction, this judgment gives us the strength to continue advocating for our rights, which were violated in December 2010. We will keep fighting until we can return to the city, where we belong.”
The ERRC and Amnesty International are now calling on the city authorities to implement the judgment – which is not final – as a matter of urgency.
“We welcome the court’s decision that this forced eviction was illegal,” said Dezideriu Gergely, executive director of the ERRC.
Both ERRC and Amnesty International have called on all Romanian authorities to take note of the decision of the Court in relation to the illegal eviction from Coastei Street.
They appealed to authorities to cease all evictions which target Romani communities in this way, pointing to an incident in Eforie Sud last September when 101 people, including 55 children, were made homeless in severe weather conditions after their houses were demolished ostensibly due to lack of building permits.
Shaun Turton firstname.lastname@example.org