Twelve years ago today we were decompressing from a 5 week trip to Eastern Europe and a 5 hour trip across Denver in a snowstorm from the airport to our house. We've been thinking about that trip since dinner last night. Some coincidence, or possibly subconscious thinking, had us making borscht from local root vegetables for dinner and renting a Czech film, Up and Down, for the evening's entertainment. We have fond memories of that fall trip ... European castles and palaces around the Czech republic, visiting the birth place of pilsner, fall colors on the Danube bend in Hungary, small wineries in hillsides where it cost more to use the public bathroom than to buy a glass of wine, the open-air market in Vienna. We had wanted to visit the Czech Republic and Hungary before they became too-Westernized and as expensive as the rest of Europe.
Last night's movie was a reminder, however, that as tourists we let ourselves be distracted by the architecture and scenery and overlooked the poverty and social problems that these countries faced then and still face. The movie, while entertaining, is a commentary on the struggle of Czechs to accept immigrants and on the black market that runs on either exploiting the immigrants or importing them illegally. The gypsies, or more appropriately, Romanies, have wandered this part of the world for centuries seeking a home and acceptance. That was clear when we arrived, especially at the large train and bus stations. Romanie women and children approached tourists with open hands.
While some Czechs have never accepted the Romanies, they are now confronted with people fleeing Asia and Africa in search of employment and a better life. The resulting changes in neighborhood character and a continuing struggle by some to recover from the economic effects of communism cause some of the movie characters to blame the immigrants for all past, current, and future downfalls of Czech society. At the beginning of the movie, it seems clear who is the bigot and who is 'nobly helping' the refugees. Events show, however, that prejudice is lurking just beneath the surface for all. All, that is, except the person who left the Czech republic for sunnier shores.
I thought the message that getting away is the only way to escape the bigotry was a little harsh toward the Czech people. The country to which that character emigrated has its own prejudices against the dark-skinned people who were there first. If we all have to flee to someplace without prejudice to change ourselves, where will we go? I do agree that sometimes travel gives someone a different perspective that you can't get by staying home. But if we can't change ourselves in our homeland, we'll all be wandering lost and disaffected like the Romanies.