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October 20, 2016
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Analysis: Czech Police are confusing lawful behavior with "left-wing extremism"

4.3.2016 18:55
Demonstrator in Prague, 2016. The sign reads
Demonstrator in Prague, 2016. The sign reads "I'm a LEX, you should be too". The term "lex" is Czech Police shorthand for "left-wing extremist", a term ascribed by them to many people who are not extremists at all. (PHOTO: Saša Uhlová)

In September 1998, 17 years ago, the Antifa initiative held a march in the Czech city of Brno under the slogan "Blacks, whites, let's unite!" and "Why see difference when nothing divides us?!" The organizer of that march, Dušan Rosenbaum, said at the close of the demonstration that racism and fascism were more than just a problem for Jews, Roma and other persons of color here, but had also become a problem for LGBT people, those living with disabilities, ethnic minorities, humanists and human rights defenders:  "Let's prevent conflict arising from natural human diversity, whether it be ethnic, cultural, national, racial or sexual," he warned.

Among the targets of publicly-declared hatred today, groups unknown to us in 1998 are now predominant, namely, the imaginary, virtual refugees, the "economic migrants", the so-called "welcomers", and less directly, the "optimists". In recent months Angela Merkel has become her own, independent enemy "group" and target as well.

Who is "inadaptable" here?

For 25 years, the media and politicians running for election have defined themselves as being against homeless people, welfare recipients, "trailer trash", "idlers" and even people released from serving prison sentences. All these people are covered by the comfortable, general label of "inadaptables".

Romani people, however, have also been put into that category so matter-of-factly and to such a massive extent that the term "inadaptable" has become the preferred term used by those making public appearances to incite hatred who also want to avoid criticism - they prefer to use that term instead of the expression "Roma". The two words have become all but synonymous.

There have been vain attempts, including by me, to achieve public condemnation and repudiation of the word "inadaptable", for example, with the aid of the board of public broadcaster Czech Television, or the Council on Radio and Television Broadcasting, an administrative body whose decisions are subject to judicial (cassation) review. Because criminal prosecution for incitement to hatred against a group or the restriction of a group's rights is apparently an inaccessible legal instrument for redress in our traditionally nationalist, ethnocentric Czech society, it would be significant if we were to have a ruling on this from the Supreme Administrative Court for other administrative and court proceedings to be guided by.

Such a ruling would confirm to the public and to state bodies that the expression "inadaptable" is based on a fictional, collective notion of a non-existent, collective incapacity and that the very grammatical form of this term assesses the alleged position of the person to whom it is ascribed as immutable. It is a stigmatizing expression.

Have we been able, during the independent existence of the Czech state, to note at least some progress in the reporting by the media, politicians and Government about the social groups to which the people involved in public clashes and demonstration situations either actually or apparently belong? The sources of information for the media about these public clashes are frequently police officers, who are usually not very educated and are also very traditional when it comes to culture and politics, and it is precisely they who promote the expressions used when informing the public about public conflicts and clashes involving Romani people, foreign nationals, or various politically-motivated groups - and the media, after all, is only interested almost exclusively in conflicts.

The Interior Ministry's fight against totalitarians in 2016

It is rank-and-file police officers who are usually both witnesses to and regulators of public conflicts, and their informing of the public about those conflicts is based on a black-and-white worldview, expressed through an appropriate one-word or two-word (at the most) labeling of the "quarreling" groups involved in these public conflicts. (Media confusion arises whenever there are more than two "quarreling" groups in one place.)

Starting in the mid-1990s, the shorthand terms used for these groups were "skinheads" and either "Roma" or one "Rom" (whether the person actually was Romani or was assumed to be) whom the skinheads had beaten up, drowned, or killed in some other way, as well as skinheads versus anarchists. Media outlets that were a bit more serious used to add "and their sympathizers" when mentioning anarchists, until some people protesting against racist threats and violence in Ústí nad Labem issued a statement that they were not sympathizers of anarchists, but were protesting against public appearances by persons inciting hatred (persons who were, therefore, violating the Constitution and the law) not as sympathizers of anarchy, but in the name of human decency.

This terminology stuck for many years, but gradually references to skinheads and anarchists were pushed aside by a new term, "extremists". This word is used in other countries too, although in Germany the expression "right-wing/left-wing radicals" is more frequent, and in France most media write and speak about the ultra-right or the ultra-left.

What is interesting is that in Germany, where the Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union are considered simply right-wing from a French or Czech perspective when compared to the Social Democrats, Liberals or Greens, the term "right-wing" implies the same thing as what the French mean by the "ultra-right" and what is frequently spoken of as the fascistoid right or even as neo-Nazis. The terms "extremism" and "extremists" are not recognized by Czech law, and I hope they are not recognized by the legal order in any other countries - they were disseminated here thanks to the efforts of the Czech Interior Ministry and the Security Information Services in the mid-1990s.

Czech Interior Minister Jan Ruml and his spokesperson (later Deputy Interior Minister) Martin Fendrych were personally responsible for that. Ever since then, these terms have flooded the reports of the Security Information Services and various concept notes published by the Interior Ministry.

The most recent of those notes, which has applied since last May, is called the "Concept for Combating Extremism". One if its chapters poses the following challenge:  "Anti-totalitarian awareness".

This reminds me of the fight against the bourgeoisie that began a few years after the coup of February 1948 in Czechoslovakia, the class war. The Interior Ministry today is still fighting against things that don't exist, and that includes Czech Interior Minister Milan Chovanec and his ministry today.

Lexes versus pexes

Today there are no longer skinheads and anarchists, but extremists, both right-wing and left-wing - or in police jargon the "pex" and the "lex". The police seriously use those terms in their reports.

These terms are similar to the modern German nicknames "Ossi" and "Wessi", used to refer to the inhabitants of what used to be Eastern Germany and Western Germany (who, however, are fortunately not fighting each other). Thanks to the police, in Czech combat conditions we have these great labels for each side of what are mostly street conflicts, "lex" and "pex".

On Saturday, 27 February, a demonstration of solidarity with the Autonomous Social Center Klinika took place in Prague, estimated at anywhere between 2 000 and 2 500 people. I went out to support the "lexes" and noticed a sign being carried by a demonstrator on Vinohradské Square:  "I'M A LEX, BE ONE TOO" (JSEM LEX, BUĎ TAKY) that also included several slogans explaining what that means - voluntary activity, lectures, collections in aid of refugees, solidarity with anarchists, passive protests against right-wing extremist actions.

I could subscribe to all of that, as I am aware that all of those requirements for being a "lex" are actually in accordance with the principles of democracy and the rule of law - but the police vision considers "pex and lex" to be two equivalent evils, which actually means the police vision does not accord with the principles of democracy and the rule of law at all. I can also state that the police here have sympathy for the "pex" because many police officers have made that blatantly clear and it has been proven in the ongoing criminal matter against Kateřina Krejčová, who has protested in support of receiving refugees.

When I was part of Charter 77, we used to frequently wave legal regulations and international treaties at the members of the Czechoslovak State Security (StB) and explain to them that they were behaving illegally. "You won't get away with this criminal activity," I told the StB at one of the "interrogations" they brought me to.

The time has probably arrived for us to reject the practices and attitudes of today's police officers with those same arguments. They are ascribing the negative intentions of illegality and harmfulness to the "lexes", who are really just striving for the realization of Constitutional principles, when it would actually be appropriate to ascribe those intentions to the hateful sedition of the "pexes" - and mainly, the police officers themselves are basically right-wing extremists.

This approach may be the way to ameliorate and bring to an end the current incitement against Islam and refugees. It might even succeed in precluding the belligerent militants from finding another scapegoat or from returning en masse to their traditional anti-Gypsyism.

Petr Uhl, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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