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Guest Post — Past is present: haunted by a land’s dark legacy

Zuzu and Wings, self-portrait

This piece originally appeared at expat+HAREM in May of 2010 and ended up sparking a very lively discussion. The comments are still archived on the site.

In the Communist days, Prague’s trams were rife with secret servicemen who would listen in on conversations, looking for dissidents. The carriages are still silent as tombs. With the exception of tourists or drunk adolescents, Czech people don’t usually talk above a whisper, even generations born after the Velvet Revolution.

Other things haven’t changed with the fall of Communism. Like the treatment of the Romani, or gypsy, community. Though their nationality is Czech or Slovak, the Roma are discriminated against, forcibly sterilised in hospitals, and their children are placed in schools for the handicapped. Being Roma is considered a handicap. A conservative Czech party tried to pass legislation to buy a plot of land in India to send all the Romani ‘home’.

The Neo-Nazi movement is strong. I see them on the trams, their skulls shaved and uncovered in spite of the cold, their trousers tucked into their combat boots and laces wound round in their distinctive style. I was frightened when the head of the movement encouraged them to dress like everyone else, grow their hair.
As a mixed breed Asian woman, I won’t wear my bindis unless I’m with my European-looking husband. When it’s warm I show my hugely tattooed shoulders. The ink under my skin gives me some street cred. I dress smartly, putting more effort into my appearance than anywhere else I’ve lived.

When a place’s dark legacy affects you, what ways have you found to cope?

©2010 Sezin Koehler


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