Czech anti-Islam movement figures experience some social exclusion of their own
When he was running for election with the "Bloc against Islam", he declared he would "grind Muslims into bone meal" if he won - that was just the first of many outrageous remarks by Martin Konvička, and he has faced criminal prosecution for the more excessive ones. Ultimately, however, his biggest political success was to come in second-to-last in the Tábor district in last year's elections to the Czech Senate.
What is one of the Czech Republic's biggest opponents of Islam up to today? Konvička first drew attention to himself two years ago with his Facebook posts about concentration camps for Muslims where he proposed they be ground into bone meal or gassed to death.
Today the media covers him only very sporadically. A couple of weeks ago, according to him, he and the founder and chair of the "Angry Mothers" (Naštvaných matek) group, Eva Hrindová, were thrown out of a pub in the city of Olomouc.
How is society responding today to this activist, who is now all but invisible? Does he still have a chance of reaching people?
Mecca for the Czech underground
In Olomouc the U Musea pub, which is better known locally as "Ponorka" (The Submarine), is a cult location of sorts. Almost all of the famous names of the Czech(oslovak) underground are said to have spent time there.
Today its regulars are intellectuals, older oddballs, and people from the very bottom of society. Primarily, Ponorka has always attracted individuals who stand out.
Both Hrindová and Konvička spent part of their lives in Olomouc, so they got the opportunity to soak up the genius loci of this underground pub, which has made a name for itself over the past few decades. For that reason, apparently, they decided to make a nostalgic visit there after Konvička gave a lecture in Olomouc on 26 May.
Manipulation and misinterpretation of information
Konvička is currently working at the University of South Bohemia and also presenting himself as a member of a group called the "Seventh Republic" (Sedmá republika) chaired by David Nepimach. That group sets copies of the Quran on fire in public, comments on current events through online social networks, and occasionally holds talks.
He has been frequently called a "fascist", a "Nazi" and a "racist", labels he strictly rejects. He has been charged with inciting hatred, but that has not caused any self-reflection, apparently.
The public has also condemned his staging of the occupation of the Old Town Square in Prague by actors dressed as members of the so-called Islamic State. The Czech Interior Ministry, in its quarterly reports on extremism for 2015, mentioned his projects more than once: "With the aim of winning support from the voters, information was intentionally, tendentiously used that was frequently taken out of context, generalized or misinterpreted" the ministry writes about the platform called "We Don't Want Islam in the Czech Republic", linked to the "Bloc against Islam" and its former coalition partner, "Dawn-National Coalition" (Úsvit-Národní koalice).
Hrindová, meanwhile, is famous as an "angry mother" who blogs about the state of society and warns against what she perceives as the threat of Islam. She has long appeared alongside Petr Hampl and Konvička as a political activist.
Despite his public stances, Konvička had no concerns about visiting a pub whose regulars are known for their liberal opinions. "I didn't take seriously at all the reputation that the regulars there had all become 'optimists'. When I used to go to Ponorka I experienced representatives of all imaginable opinions and I was never afraid to sit at a table with people with whom I was not 100 % in agreement," he told the editors of HlidaciPes.cz.
Hrindová, on the other hand, says she had certain doubts. "Their regulars have just one certain type of opinion, and personally I didn't much want to go there," she told HlidaciPes.cz.
In an article written after their visit, called "Report on the State of Democracy in Olomouc", Hrindová complained that the Ponorka is no longer what it used to be. "I live in Olomouc and I know that today there aren't any rebels going there, because today the rebels have become supporters of the system and what's more, they've learned to narc on people, and their previously free-thinking ways and discussions about controversies have changed into closely-policed debates about matters we already approve of, they don't go against the system," she writes.
A dissatisfied customer intervenes
"Everybody was waiting for their orders when the waiter came over to our table. He said something about it being closing time and that he didn't want us there," Konvička described their visit to Ponorka.
The entire matter is said to have been arranged by another customer who has been a regular of the pub since the totalitarian days. Konvička himself claims to have recognized the man.
"It was a certain Jaroslav Vinický, an aging fop who has been sitting in the same chair in that pub for 30 years, bothering women who are even drunker and younger than him with his same old speeches - and with less and less success," he told HlidaciPes.cz. He made to secret of his antipathy for the man.
Although the waiter had announced the pub was closing, he allegedly continued to serve other customers. When Konvička and his friends stayed put, they claim that the waiter turned up the music until it was unbearably loud, which they considered a clear incitement to leave.
I gagged on my own beer
Vinický, the "dissatisfied customer", has also given us his side of the story. "When I ascertained that a group had arrived in which I recognized Mr Konvička and Ms Hrindová, I gagged on my own beer. To me, those people represent the same evil as fascism, Nazism and communism," he said.
"I clearly told the bartender that those people are absolutely against everything the spirit of Ponorka stands for and that if trash like that is going to start drinking there I wouldn't be returning," he said. The waiter is refusing to make a public statement on the issue and also refused to provide us with the contact information for the manager of the business.
However, the waiter has apologized publicly to Konvička on his Facebook page. "It seems that today's censors, narcs and bouncers are people who wear the badge of free-thinkers but who actually have never comprehended the spirit of Bohemianism, of freedom, of urbane people-watching and pub life," Konvička said.
Konvička asked to be shown this piece prior to publication so he could "authorize" it. When the editors refused, he said he would not be communicating with this journalist again.
From the "Bloc against Islam" to "Alternative" to the "Seventh Republic"
It has been roughly one year since the political movement "Bloc against Islam" fell apart after its planned collaboration with the political party "Dawn -National Coalition" never happened. Representatives of the "Bloc" ultimately withdrew from a coalition agreement with the party.
They accused politician Jana Volfová in particular of causing an irreconcilable dispute. The then vice-chair of the "Bloc", Hampl, even called her an agent of the Security Information Services (BIS).
Last year the "Bloc" unsuccessfully attempted, along with the newly-created "Alternative for the Czech Republic 2017", to be elected to the Senate. Hampl then resigned and Konvička left the movement some time later.
In April the activity of the "Alternative" was halted by the Czech Supreme Administrative Court because their financial reports were incomplete. Political scientist Miroslav Mareš, who works at Masaryk University in Brno, says of these groups: "They have wasted their chances through arguing and bad policy marketing-wise, other figures have overtaken them, especially Tomio Okamura.“
"We will create a country more successful than the First Republic of Czechoslovakia"
After every possible recombination of nationalist initiatives and parties, there is now something called the "Seventh Republic" on the scene, and in March it broadcast a video online fundraising for its electoral campaign. Its transparent bank account is owned by Konvička, and as of 8 June 2017 it holds CZK 8 000 [EUR 304].
"Seventh Republic" cannot participate in the autumn parliamentary elections independently, however. The Czech Interior Ministry's list of registered political parties or movements does not include "Seventh Republic", which appears there just as a registered association.
"Seventh Republic has little chance of reaching people. The name strikes most people as odd, they are not visible in the mass media, and there is left-wing competition to them in the form of the 'Security, Responsibility, Solidarity' movement, etc.," political scientist Mareš believes.
These days Konvička is traveling to Berlin, allegedly following the example of Martin Luther, to "nail" his theses against the European Union to the door of the office of the German Chancellor, but his right-hand man and the movement's "economic ideologue", Hampl, has apparently stepped aside. Hampl was last heard of as one of the main organizers of an event called the "Day of the Heterosexual White Male".
A seminar on that topic played itself out in the lower house under the auspices of Czech MP Tomio Okamura. As for Volfová, she is now working as chair of the Czech Sovereignty (Česká suverenita) movement.
She recently delcared that during the upcoming elections she would support a group called "Bloc against Islamicization - Homeland Defense". Last month these figures also appeared together in Prague expressing public support for French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen.
After Le Pen was defeated, Volfová announced that she would no longer eat macaron pastries because of their similarity to the surname of the winner of that contest. "A bigger temptation for society might be the Freedom and Direct Democracy party [Svoboda a přímá demokracie] and there exist many small projects (Rozumní, BOS, Řád národa), and the DSSS is still persisting,“ Mareš sums up the current nationalist scene in the Czech Republic.
First written for the Institute of Independent Journalism, an independent, nonprofit organization and registered institute providing information, news reporting and journalism to all. The articles, analyses and data outputs of the Institute are available for use under prescribed conditions.
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