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Charges against creator of Czech-Romani flag exhibit don't stick

Prague, 24.1.2015 19:54, (ROMEA)
The exhibition of the Artwall Gallery project
The exhibition of the Artwall Gallery project "Selection Procedure for Czech-Roma Flag" ("Výběrové řízení na česko-romskou vlajku") opened on 16 July 2013 at the National Technical Library in Prague. (PHOTO: ROMEA TV)

Prague City Hall has refused to uphold a fine levied by the Prague 7 Municipal Department against an exhibition of designs for a Czech-Romani flag. The decision to levy the fine has been overturned and the proceedings in the matter halted.

The designs for the Czech-Romani flag were exhibited in Prague by Slovak artist Tomáš Rafa, who disagreed with the Prague 7 fine. Another case of misdemeanor charges for defacing the state flag were pressed against the exhibition after it was shown at a gallery in Prague 1, where the Municipal Department found that the work was protected as art and held the artist harmless, according to spokesperson Veronika Blažková.

The exhibition, called "Selection Procedure for a Czech-Romani Flag", was held in the summer of 2013 on the Edvard Beneš embankment of the Vltava River, where the Artwall Gallery exhibited the designs for a Czech-Romani flag on their outdoor wall space. The project, according to those who designed it, was meant to embody the idea that Romani people are also Czechs and that the country is their home.

Representatives of the ultra-right Workers' Social Justice Party (DSSS) had filed a criminal report against the organizers of the exhibition. They believe those who designed it broke the law on how the state symbols of the Czech Republic are to be used.

According to an expert opinion commissioned by the police, the alterations to the flag constituted not a felony, but a misdemeanor. Because the Artwall Gallery is located in Prague 7, that municipality then handled the misdemeanor charge.

The Prague 7 Administrative Agenda Department found Rafa guilty of the misdemeanor of depicting three "defaced" flags. The Czech News Agency reported that he was fined CZK 2 000, which is on the lower end of the possible range of fines.

The artist was said to have infringed upon the law, which states that no inscriptions or symbols may be placed on the state flag. Critics of the local authority's decision say the same law is often infringed upon by sports fans who write the name of their town on the Czech flags they bring to sports matches.  

Last January Rafa said his exhibition had neither damaged nor defaced state symbols. "I have long followed the growing hatred of national minorities here and drawn attention to it in my artistic work. It is sad that instead of addressing that state of affairs, the state authorities have focused on prosecuting my activity," he said.

The flags were also exhibited in the Art Space Gallery on Lázeňská Street in Prague's Lesser Quarter, which is run by Anglo-American University. Three of the seven flags exhibited there were confiscated by police straight from the gallery on 27 February 2014.

The Prague 1 Municipal Department was reviewing a citizens' complaint that the state flags in the exhibit had been defaced. Unlike Prague 7, Prague 1 found the artist harmless.

ČTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Česko-romská vlajka, Policie, svoboda, Výstava



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