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August 19, 2022



Czech Republic: Art is fined, but flags defaced by sports fans don't bother bureacrats

Prague, 6.1.2014 3:05, (ROMEA)
Tomáš Rafa (collage by
Tomáš Rafa (collage by

The artist Tomáš Rafa has been fined over his recent exhibition of Czech-Roma flags. The same treatment should of course be given to those who write the names of their towns on the state flag or otherwise deface it, as the law on the use of state symbols says the flag must never be soiled, torn, or written on.

Which of the following is a greater disgrace to one of our most important symbols, the state flag?

1) When the artist Tomáš Rafa drafts designs of Czech-Roma flags for an exhibition in the center of Prague to point out the importance of majority-minority coexistence and tolerance?

2) When someone gets drunk at a football match waving a Czech flag over his head which has been scribbled on, then drags its hem along the ground on the way home?

3) When someone displays a Czech flag at a demonstration of the ultra-right Workers' Social Justice Party (Dělnická strana sociální spravedlnosti - DSSS), writes on it, then throws it across the barrier railing of a metro station and lets it become mangled on the cobblestones?

Unbelievably, from the point of view of the law, the greatest "sinner" of all these examples is evidently the Slovak artist, Mr Rafa. What is essential is whether people deface, mark up, or somehow transform a piece of fabric that has been sewn from the correctly proportioned pieces of blue, red and white. If Rafa had shortened the blue fields on his artwork by just a few centimeters, he could have avoided a fine for defacing the state flag.

"Many football fans use flags with a blue field of a different size than the flag as a state symbol has," says flag expert Zbyšek Svoboda. Rafa has now been fined by the Prague 7 municipality.

Zuzana Chramostová, the superintendent of administration there, referred in her decision to fine the artist to an expert evaluation authored by Svoboda that considers the artist's work to be a desecration of the state symbol. The bureaucrat assessed a low-level fine of CZK 2 000 and attached a postal money order form to the letter she sent to Rafa so he could pay up.

"The case and the evaluation were given to us by the police, who received a criminal report and evaluated this as a misdemeanor," Prague 7 spokesperson Martin Vokuš says. Rafa does not want to pay the fine, even though it is low, because he is convinced he has not done anything wrong. 

"My behavior poses no risk to society's interests, on the contrary, it was socially beneficial," the artist emphasizes. His exhibition in Prague was organized by the Artwall Gallery.

Curator Zuzana Štěfková considers Prague 7's decision to be too formalistic. Vladimír Franz, an artist and college educator, goes so far as to call it stupid.   

"This was art, after all. The flags showed that Romani people are a part of Czech history. I don't know what the desecration was supposed to have consisted of," he said, pointing out that artists have a right to use even state symbols to create new works.   

Franz said he himself could theoretically have been fined for his production of a painting of the state flag with the inscription "Stop Joking" and an image of the character of the Good Soldier Schweik hanging from a noose. "Prague 7 is going to have to punish the [19th century] composer Antonín Dvořák for disgracing the national anthem, because in the overture to the play Josef Kajetán Tyl he asks the question 'Where is my homeland?' and answers it with the words 'In our courtyard," Franz said.[Kde Domův Můj - Where is my homeland? - is the Czech national anthem - Eds.] 

The law on the use of state symbols says the flag must never be inscribed with any images, symbols or texts, that it must never be bunched up into a rosette or be torn or soiled. Rafa has been fined for placing the Czech lion and a Romani symbol on the state flag.  

"The gentleman is unfamiliar with the issue and both he and the gallery just wanted publicity," argues Svoboda. However, the same could be said of the DSSS, which filed a criminal report against Rafa.  

"I consider it scandalous that the authorities are willing to serve as tools of the extremists in their efforts to terrorize an artist promoting tolerance," Rafa says. Ordinarily no one ever files criminal reports against the people who behave inappropriately toward the state flag during celebrations of sports victories on Prague's Old Town Square, or during demonstrations on Wenceslas Square, or at hockey games, or at Slavia football matches, or at the Sparta stadium.

Kateřina Frouzová,, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
Views: 830x

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