I began this morning by going with Ruzena by bus to the downtown area of Bratislava. It is a very nice area and somewhat typical of a European city center where new and old stand side-by-side.
The reason for going downtown was to meet Tomáš Hrustič, another former student of Tom Nelson’s from his time teaching in Slovakia. Tomáš was in the same year as Eva, who has been one of my hosts during my time here. That group of students must have been fun to have because not only are they enjoyable, but are also highly successful. Eva is an oncological surgeon, and Tomáš has become probably the most respected people in the nation when it comes to the Roma people, having published many papers and a book on the topic. Roma, or Romani peoples would be known to Americans probably as “gypsies.” However, this word has a perjorative connotation and should not be used.
We chatted for nearly two hours at a bookstore coffeeshop on many topics. It was interesting to hear him speak about his time living with the Roma. The prejudice and oppression they suffer is akin to many of the injustices minorities have endured in America (and other places, of course). Stereotypes certainly exist, and I learned that some are myths. For example, the Roma are not one big group, but instead have different sects based on where they live. Also, when we think of Roma we tend to think of those we travel from place to place, committing thievery and generally causing problems. The Roma in Slovakia are not nomadic and instead firmly rooted where they live, mainly (I think) in central and eastern parts of the country. Tomáš indicated that part of the reason for this was due to the fact that travel was so restricted from after WWII and before the time of the Velvet Revolution in 1989, when Slovakia was a part of the communist controlled Czechoslovakia. He says there are, of course, thieves who are Roma but I got the impression he thought it would be an overgeneralization to say it is their way of life.
Discrimination is institutionalized in that children who are Roma are quite often classified as having “problems” that require them to attend schools for those with disabilities, “special schools” for those who are mentally handicapped. This segregation, and the other discriminatory practices and attitudes brings to mind what life must have been like for African-Americans during the civil rights movement.
I should mention that I think the general public, and most certainly the older generation would likely take a different point of view. I spoke with a few people and asked general questions about the Roma and my impression was that they did not think of them favorably. I would say their opinion is that the Roma are a lazy people who “work the system.” Those in a young generation seem to see it differently. Either way, it is a topic well worth researching. And I had an opportunity to have coffee with the guy who wrote the book on the subject. . . literally. . .
Another interesting thing about Tomáš is that he was a coordinator for composer Hans Zimmer’s visit to Slovakia. Mr. Zimmer was preparing the soundtrack to “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” starring Robert Downey Jr. and required some traditional Slovak/Roma music. So Tomáš showed him around to various places and helped him meet a band of musicians who eventually helped him greatly. Mr. Zimmer was so appreciative he brought the band, and Tomáš, to London for the premiere of the film!
After a wonderful discussion, Eva (my guide for the day) and I saw a bit of old town Bratislava before meeting her brother, Pavol, for lunch at a traditional Slovak restaurant.
Pavol Rovensky is a software engineer who lives and works in the UK but was in town visiting. We laughed at what a small world it is when he mentioned one of the products he uses for his job was made in Lenexa, KS!
I had the veal schnitzel with mashed potatoes and fizzy water. It was AWESOME!
Eva took me around the rest of the old town and showed me the sights, including St. Martin’s Church, the Opera House, the Danube River, and the U.S. Embassy.
But maybe I should back up. If you are like me, you weren’t really sure where Slovakia was. This should help. . .
You can see it is situated near Hungary, Austria, Poland, and the Czech Republic. Bratislava, the capitol, is on the far west side of the country and is only 34 miles from Vienna! Residents here speak Slovak, which is similar to Czech. Many also know German and English.
Here are some of the sites we saw as we toured the town. . .
Now it was time to wind down and relax. Eva had heard of this new coffeehouse that had an interesting twist. In Slovak, Mačka = Cat and kafé = coffee. So, it stands to reason that the Mačkafé is a coffeehouse in Bratislava that has, as its residents, many cats. The idea is for you to come in to relax, pet a cat, and have some coffee.
It was pretty nice. It did not smell like cats one bit, and the food preparation area was separated from the main area by closed doors at all times. There was a map by the door where all visitors could indicate from where it was they traveled. I was the first in central Kansas!
All in all it was a great day.
I arrived back at Dusan and Ruzena’s house around dark (5pm) and went with them to walk their dog. The view of the city is wonderful on their walking trail. You can see the castle at night in the picture.
And now I am off to bed. Tomorrow is a big day. I will have the opportunity to tour the school connected with the ELCA (Evangelical Lyceum), and speak with some of the teachers and students. Then I will have an opportunity to meet the Bishop of the Church.
Until then. . .