Category: roma

Police Brutality Against Roma in Slovakia

Some days you hear stories about things in the world, and you’re filled with hope for humanity. Maybe we’re finally getting it. Learning to get along and accept one another.

This isn’t one of those days.

I asked my brother in law yesterday about what would happen if a Roma teen in Slovakia were accused of a crime. How people would treat him. (You can read into the question what you will, as long as it isn’t “book deal for Vodnik sequel.” Because it’s definitely not that, or anything like unto it.) He got back to me fairly quickly after he asked around with some of his connections. (I was wondering specifically if the kid would get arrested right away, or go to trial, etc.)

He sent me a link to this story. Judging by my web analytics, hardly any of you will click through to read that. Let me sum it up for you.

Around five years ago, an elderly woman in Eastern Slovakia was mugged and injured. Police picked up a group of 6 Roma teens (age 10-16) and were convinced they were the perpetrators. In Slovak law, children younger than 14 can’t be prosecuted for a crime. (Note–I’m not a Slovak lawyer. I could be wrong on this, but it’s my understanding at the moment.) So the police knew at least three of these teens weren’t going to be punished, even if they could prove they did the mugging.

So the police decided to get creative and inventive, all on their own. They also decided it would be fun to film their creativity. I don’t believe many stories that start out with this premise end well, and it didn’t end well here, either.

They brought the teens to the police station, sent a police dog at them, intimidated them into beating each other up, forced them to strip naked, and then beat some of them up personally for good measure. Among other things. 9 Slovak police officers (8 men, 1 woman) participated in this. All of them lost their jobs. (That’s something.) This week, all of them were also acquitted of any legal wrongdoing. Why? Because the video the police had shot of the act was the main piece of evidence, and it was thrown out. Deemed inadmissible because of how it had been obtained.

(Another note: comments in Slovak are just as bad–if not worse–than comments in English.)

I suppose this shouldn’t surprise me–not when in America, you still have cases like Ferguson or Eric Garner’s choking going on. But here’s an example where there’s extensive video coverage of the crimes. Faces are visible. The acts are despicable–and still nothing happens. I’d really hoped Vodnik could make more a ripple in Slovakia itself. Every now and then a Slovak blogger will come across it, and it’s been well received when that happens. (Here’s a review that was published a month ago online. It’s a good one, though Google translate doesn’t work too well for it.) But good luck getting a Slovak or Czech publisher to commit to it.

I know people sometimes roll their eyes at me a bit when I start speaking up for Roma rights, but the vast majority of Americans don’t realize Roma even exist. Would the problem be solved if Americans did? I’m not sure what the immediate impact would be, but I know bringing attention to it could help, and America could certainly do that.

Then again, when we can’t even figure out our own problems, what hope do we have of helping to solve other nations’ difficulties?

Sorry. Just a bit down and depressed about this today . . .

We Need Diverse Books Because

Some of you following my Facebook or Twitter feeds probably saw me post about the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign yesterday. I’ve been really pleased to see so many people retweeting the topic and spreading the word. As an author of a book published by Tu Books (an imprint of Lee and Low, one of the publishing leaders in diversity), I’ve watched the conversation about diverse books with no small amount of interest over the last few years. I’m not particularly good at coming up with pithy statements that can summed up in a photograph–lengthy blog posts are more my cuppa. So going on the “a picture is worth a thousand words” maxim, here’s my picture’s worth of words for the campaign.

I’m continually surprised and disappointed that campaigns like #WeNeedDiverseBooks need to exist in this day and age, though I suppose I shouldn’t be. It’s just too easy to sit back and let the status quo stay right where it is.

When Vodnik was published, I’ll admit I had high hopes. Not that it would smash records in the US (though what author wouldn’t like to give JK a run for her money?) but that it would get published where it needed to be: Europe. Americans read the story of a part-Roma boy who moves to Slovakia and encounters racism first hand, and they have an easier time dismissing it. The sad truth is that for many Americans “Gypsies” are characters in fantasy books, not people in real life, and “Roma” might possibly be people from Romania? Maybe? (Then they go looking for a map.)

Why do we need diverse books? Because there are still plenty of people out there who are unable or unwilling to realize that we’re all the same at heart. That we’ve got the same desires and aspirations. The same dreams and the same nightmares. It’s ironic that we need diversity in literature to prove to people that we’re the same–and I recognize that we’re not all the same. But this was an issue as far back as you can go. I’m continually reminded of Shakespeare when Shylock says:

He hath disgraced me

and hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses,

mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my

bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies—

and what’s his reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew

eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions,

senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same

food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the

same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed

and cooled by the same winter and summer as a

Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If

you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do

we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not

revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will

resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what

is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a

Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian

example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me I

will execute—and it shall go hard but I will better

the instruction.

It’s the same thing, played out again and again over the course of history. The Other is less. The Other is wrong. The Other is Other. But one of the wonderful things about literature–something that sets it apart from other arts like film or music or painting–is that it can throw us into the point of view of someone other than us. You can try to get the same effect in other ways, but books help us see the world through someone else’s eyes.

If books let down diversity, then what else do we have?

I was disappointed by the response to Vodnik. Not disappointed by readers. You’ve all be genuinely lovely. The book has garnered great reviews from established institutions, book bloggers, and Goodreads alike. It’s won awards, and many people have written me to tell me how much they enjoyed it. Kids have sought me out at signings, coming just to see me and to talk to me about writing the book. I couldn’t possibly be disappointed by that.

But my agent’s taken Vodnik overseas. He’s gone to publishers in Slovakia, Czech Republic, Spain, France, England–and he’s been told the same thing. They see the reviews, they see the awards, and they get interested. Right up until they find out it’s about a Roma. Then the interest switches off, and that’s that.

“People won’t read a book about Roma,” is what they’re told. To which I say, “They won’t if no one will publish it.” That’s the only 100% foolproof way to make sure no one reads a book. Smother it. Stifle it. Never let it get out. Could I self-publish in Slovakia or Spain? Sure, if I could find someone to translate the book well. Publishing abroad is a fair bit more difficult than publishing here in America.

Vodnik might be a more extreme example than what you typically encounter in America, but I think that by going to that extreme, it illustrates the point more quickly and more effectively than it would by using some of the American examples. Because the same thing is certainly still happening in America. It might not be so blatant at times (or at times it is), but it’s still here. And that’s why campaigns like this are so important.

But do you know what’s even more important? Your pocketbook. I don’t mean to be crass, but it’s true. The publishing business is just that: a business. You vote with your wallet. Before JK came out with Harry Potter, common consensus was that school books were dead dead dead. People didn’t read them. And then came the Boy Who Lived, and suddenly you couldn’t print enough of them.

There are a ton of great books with diverse characters out there. A ton of fantastic authors from diverse backgrounds. But until we as a people start buying those books and sharing them with our friends, they’ll never be heard. Literature might have the power to equalize things, but it can’t do it if it isn’t read.

I’m not saying we all should read things just because it’s diverse or supports a cause. These books are awesome books. If you put one of them into a cage match with a “non-diverse” book, they’d totally go the full number of rounds. I’m a librarian. I don’t have time for bad books. But I also can’t afford to ignore good ones. Neither can you.

I’ve already gone above and beyond my thousand words, but I wanted to end on a positive note. A few months ago, I got a review on Goodreads that I really loved. It’s in Slovak, written by a Slovak, so I’ll just quote a snippet:

No jedna vec bola možno trochu moc. A možno to tak vnímam len ja. Rómska problematika bola podaná dosť drsne. Ja viem, že to je drsné, a viem, že ako našinec to inak vnímam, ale dve či tri scény boli fakt trošku moc. Otázka je, či by sa to tak mohlo stať aj naozaj. A najhoršie je, že by to nemuselo byť také neuveriteľné. A to ma dosť desí. A pre cudzincov to musí byť ešte horšie, keď netušia ako to tu je naozaj. (read the whole thing)

TRANSLATION: (Thanks to Google Translate. It’ll give you the general idea) But one thing was maybe a little too much. And maybe this is just me, I see. The Roma issue was made pretty rough. I know it’s rough, and I know how our people perceive it differently, but two or three scenes were really a bit much. The question is whether it could happen so i really. And the worst part is that it might not be so incredible. And it scares me enough. And for foreigners it must be even worse when they have no idea how it really is here.

Don’t get me wrong: my main goal isn’t to change the world. It’s to write a great book. One that entertains and captivates. But a review like that, by a Slovak, about a book like Vodnik?

It made the disappointment about the book not coming out in Europe a little easier to bear.

I’m Bryce Moore, and I believe #WeNeedDiverseBooks

An Underground Railroad in Trencin in World War II

Today’s post is going to have to be a short one, alas. I got a migraine yesterday evening, soon after posting about how “It could always be worse” on my blog. *Coincidence?*

I think not. (For a laugh, check out the comments on Facebook for that post. They’ve started to reflect the Monty Python sketch quite well . . .)

In any case, looking at a computer screen and thinking aren’t exactly high on my list of “Things that Make Bryce Feel Good” today, so thankfully there’s a link I’ve been wanting to share with you since I came across it yesterday. I was reading Cracked, as I am wont to do from time to time on my iPad, and imagine my surprise when one of the articles was about Slovakia in World War II. (Slovakia doesn’t get many articles written about it. Period.) So of course I had to read it, and then I discovered that not only was it about Slovakia–it was about Trencin! (The city where VODNIK takes place, also the city where my wife is from.)

Being in the Underground was stressful (surprisingly few water slides and ping pong tables in “the Underground”), and betrayal was always a worry. While small towns like Katarina’s were relatively safe since everyone knew everyone else, in the bigger cities paranoia was rampant. Katarina went to college at the University in the city of Trencin, less than half an hour away. That meant she got to know some people well outside of her comfort zone. Rich, powerful folks — who weren’t always the ’80s-style movie villains you might expect.

Going to school, this girl, Tanya, was there. Her dad was a mayor of a big town, so she was wealthy. We always wondered, though: Why would she come from 100 miles away just for school? She was even friends with this girl who was the girlfriend to a member of the Hlinka Guard. She, despite being rich, would go to the poor areas at night. We always wondered why she went there. It wasn’t until after the war we found out why.

Check the rest of it out.

It never says exactly what village the girl lived in, but there’s really only one road to the Czech Republic from Trencin, and it’s right where my mother in law lives and where we go to stay each time we visit. It was fascinating reading the article and seeing what the region was going through then–a side of the city’s history I hadn’t seen yet. (Also interesting that so few Roma were killed in the country in World War II, judging from the book that’s cited in the article. Of course, just after the part that notes that in the book, it goes on to say how Roma were treated after the war, but I’m focusing on the positive here . . .)

Anyway–just thought you might find that all interesting, too. Now I’m off to find a cold cloth and a dark room. Catch you all on Monday!

Policing the Roma: Catching Up on Old News

So while I was off rubbing elbows with Mickey, Eeyore and friends, I missed word of a huge blow up involving a number of Roma families from Greece to Dublin. This might all be old news to you, but it’s new to me, and I wanted to take a moment to blog about it.

The basic facts run as follows: Greek police performed a raid on a Roma settlement, looking for illegal drugs and weapons. During the raid, they came across a blonde haired, blue eyed girl that a Roma couple claimed had been given to them. The couple were arrested on suspicion of kidnapping. Now it appears that the girl is the daughter of a Bulgarian couple who had given her away to another family because they couldn’t afford to feed her. It appears the story was much more complicated than it was at first glance.

Meanwhile, police in Dublin thought they’d found a similar case. Seven year old blonde girl living with a Roma family. So they snatched the girl to safety, away from those evil child stealing gypsies. (Deep breaths, Bryce. I gotta calm down a bit here.) Another boy was taken from a Roma family in Ireland around the same time. Both children were returned a day  or two later. Why? Because it turned out they were actually the children of the Roma couples in question.

People like to say it’s okay to portray “Gypsies” in fairy tales, because no one actually believes they exist. But the stereotype of the child-stealing Gypsy is exactly what everyone’s knee jerk reaction was in these instances–and it’s why more people need to be made aware of what’s actually happening.

Police have been taking children away from their parents because they think the kids don’t look enough like the parents. There’s no doubt racial profiling was involved here, and it’s just plain wrong. I don’t walk around with birth certificates of all my children handy on a moment’s notice, ready for when the police demand to see them. Why would I? They’re my children. And yet Roma couples need to, on the off chance that their kid’s skin isn’t dark enough?

Don’t get me started.

(That all said, I realize child trafficking is a thing, and it’s abhorrent. I just wish the focus were on the trafficking, and not the race of the accused–which seems to be why the story gained some much traction. Especially since it seems in hindsight that this huge trafficking ring police were worried about was just a wild overreaction, based on stereotypes.)

I’m irate about this, and I need to settle down some. But I didn’t want it to slip back into the newsblur without me at least highlighting it and addressing it somewhat. Did I miss some parts of the story in my absence? What else did people hear about this? I’d be very interested to know.

Dear Guillermo Del Toro: Please Don’t Use Racial Slurs Throughout Your Films

Who was the genius who decided to give the main robot in Pacific Rim the name “Nygger Danger”?

Did that catch your attention? I hope it did, and I apologize if it offended, but I really want to make a point here, and it’s an important one. The main robot doesn’t have that name. It’s called “Gipsy Danger.” I cringed the moment I heard the name, hoping I’d misheard it. But they said it often enough and flashed it on the screen enough that I quickly knew there was no mistake.

Folks, “Gypsy” is a racial slur. It’s still a racial slur if you spell it with an “i”–especially when you’re talking about a movie, where pronunciation is really all that matters.

In America at least, I think a lot of us like to think of ourselves as enlightened. We try not to discriminate against other people. We try to be understanding of what they want, what their worldview is. We go out of our way to make laws that level the playing field. In light of the George Zimmerman trial, clearly this is something we’re working our way through still–but the goal is there. The ideal.

Which is why I continue to be appalled that Americans have no problem throwing around the g-word like it’s no big deal.

Do we only care about minorities if they’re a big enough group? Isn’t that kind of the whole point of watching out for minorities? Because their voice gets drowned out?

I’m no idiot (most of the time). I understand that Roma (the preferred term) are almost a non-issue in America. There are approximately 1 million people of Roma descent in the US, but by and large, Americans don’t even understand that Roma are a people and not a profession. Case in point? I did some internet searches to see what people were saying about the racial slur plastered all over Pacific Rim. Hardly anything came up. There was one post actually making fun of people who were upset about it, explaining that:

Gypsy isnt an ethnic group. Gypsy is a lifestyle. I worked in retail. When there are groups that go around and steal by deceptoion and distraction. Retailers refer to them as gypsys. They come in all sorts of race and colr. Black, White, Asian. It dont matter. (source)

This right here? This is the problem. Because it’s 100% wrong, but it just shows how ignorant Americans are of the problem. Do me a favor and read this article to become better informed. And that’s just about the experience of Roma in America. Don’t get me started on what they face in Europe, although I can give you a brief example from my own experience.

You all know I wrote the book VODNIK. It’s YA fantasy that takes place in Slovakia and is based on Slovak folklore. Its main character happens to be 1/4 Roma. He moves to Slovakia and discovers just how real the racism is against Roma in Europe. But that’s not what the book is about. It’s a YA fantasy/adventure, and the main character happens to be Roma.

My agent has been shopping it around European publishers. They’re all interested in the book–until they find out the main character is part Roma. It’s a deal breaker, it seems. As soon as they hear that, they lose all interest. Publishing this book in Europe would be like publishing a book about an African American in the deep south fifty or a hundred years ago. Roma are literally ghettoized. They are beaten and killed, and it’s happening today. Now. Not fifty years ago. In such obscure places like France–that’s an article that was published a month ago.

This is real, people.

Gypsy is a racial slur. Fact. It’s used against a group of people so marginalized in America that Americans are convinced they’re make believe. They’re just a made up fantasy, and arguing for their rights would be like arguing for Leprechaun rights or Werewolf rights. Americans complain about being “gypped” when they get a bad deal, and they don’t even understand they’ve just used a form of that racial slur.

And Guillermo Del Toro decided to have his main robot be called “Gipsy Danger.”

I’m not Roma. I don’t have Roma family. I don’t have Roma friends. But that name in Pacific Rim pissed me off enough that it spoiled what was otherwise a fantastic film. (I’ll be posting a review tomorrow or the day after.) Roma already face severe discrimination abroad. Is it too much to ask Americans to start paying attention to what’s happening elsewhere in the world? Scratch that–to what’s happening even here in America?

Apparently, it is. Apparently, minorities are only worthy of notice if there’s enough of them to be politically relevant.

And that’s just enormously disappointing.


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