Czech Roma still seeking justice for communist sterilizations

A campaign is gathering steam in the Czech Republic for Roma women persecuted under the country's former communist regime, as an investigation has confirmed they were subjected to systematic sterilization.

Despite an apology from the government, the possibility of compensation for the victims remains remote.

The typical sterilization scenario was as follows: a Roma woman would come into hospital for childbirth and, as she suffered in labour, an unknown document would be put in front of her to sign. When the woman recovered after giving birth, she was told she had agreed to be sterilized, and could have no more children – a common story repeated by Roma women all over the Czech Republic.

Elena Gorolova was just 21 and had given birth to her second child when she was sterilized. Like many, she was initially ashamed to speak out about what happened for years before becoming a campaigner.

“I felt like I wasn't a proper woman anymore. My sense of self was destroyed. I believe we deserve justice,” she explained to RT.

A hospital in the country where a lot of these sterilizations took place still exists. In fact, some of the doctors responsible still work here. The hospital refused to talk to journalists about what happened there in years past.

Condolences, but no compensation

An ombudsman's report has discovered that sterilization was systematic during the Czech Republic's Communist period. Its aim was to “control” the socially-excluded and economically-disadvantaged Roma population, where big families are traditional.

Over eighty cases have been investigated so far: the most recent was in 2003. The real number of victims may be significantly higher.

The government has apologized for the actions, but has not agreed to widespread compensation for the women.

“When these women apply to the court, it usually decides in their favor, and the hospitals have to apologize, but when it comes to financial compensation, the court decides to rule against them, because the time limit has passed,” says Czeslaw Walek, Human Rights Department Deputy.

Any further rectification is likely to be complicated by persistently negative social attitudes towards the Roma.

For example, a big anti-gypsy demonstration was held by the radical Workers' Party last year.

“The government shouldn't say sorry for this. We don't know if these sterilizations really happened, or how widespread they were,” believes Tomas Vandas, leader of the Delnicka Strana Party, adding, “If there was anything wrong, it should have been addressed through the courts at the time.”

After the initial burst of publicity, the issue has been neglected by most Czech politicians and the media alike.

Whatever measures are agreed to rehabilitate those who both suffered under the regime and were betrayed by doctors, it is of little comfort to those who have borne the brunt of totalitarian eugenics.