Czech city fines local activist for hanging artwork combining the Czech and Romani flags on International Romani Day
An art project combining elements from the Czech and Romani flags which began in the year 2013 is becoming a never-ending story as the City of Ústí nad Labem has issued an absurd decision fining local activist Miroslav Brož CZK 1 000 [EUR 40] for flying such a flag from his own balcony. Brož wanted to mark International Romani Day on 8 April 2021 and used the artwork to do so.
According to city hall, however, he has committed the desecration of a state symbol, a misdemeanor offense. Different versions of flags combining elements of the Czech and the Romani flags were created in 2013 by artist Tomáš Rafa of Slovakia to critique the situation in which the majority society does not consider Romani people to be Czechs and they end up in forced isolation.
"I fly the Czech-Romani flag designed by Tomáš Rafa every International Romani Day. I want to demonstrate that Romani people are an integral part of our society, and I also want to express solidarity and support for them in the difficult position they occupy in our country," the activist explained to news server Romea.cz.
Brož posted a photograph of his balcony with the Czech-Romani flag and a text about International Romani Day to the Facebook social network, where another user noticed it and reported the image to the City of Ústí nad Labem in September, alleging that he believed it broke the law on state symbols and their use. Because the report was first filed against an "unidentified perpetrator", city hall asked the police to identify the person responsible.
The activist was summoned to the police, who then returned the case to city hall as a misdemeanor. "This administrative body, after studying the file materials and assessing all pieces of evidence, both on their own terms and as they relate to each other, has come to the conclusion that Mr Brož has broken Section 13 paragraph 1 letter a) of the law on the Czech Republic's state symbols and their use," explained City Hall in its order about the fine.
"I believe I am innocent, I do not think I have broken any laws and I am naturally appealing this punishment," the activist said in response to being fined. According to the administrative body, his hoisting of the Czech-Roma flag as a reminder of International Roma Day was "dangerous" for society - although, as stated in the justification, it was just "slightly" dangerous, and such a degree of danger is enough to qualify as a misdemeanor offense.
Miroslav Brož: Antigypsyism is systemic
"This case of mine reveals there is a double standard - for example, during sports matches the fans, especially hockey fans, usually change the flags of their states by adding the names of the places they come from to the flags and so forth. They wave those flags around during television broadcasts where thousands of people see them. The authorities here tolerate that, they never interfere with it. However, if you post an artwork resembling this Czech-Romani flag in a gallery, a police commando arrives and closes the exhibition, and if you hang such a flag from your balcony, the authorities react and try to punish you. If this isn't antigypsyism of a systemic sort, then I don't know what is," the activist commented on the behavior of more than one local authority.
Brož was referencing the problems experienced by Rafa with his artwork from the beginning. In 2013 the extremist Workers' Social Justice Party filed a crime report against him because of the piece.
Rafa has also faced several misdemeanor proceedings himself. His flags were exhibited in the Art Space Gallery on Lázeňská Street in the Lesser Quarter of Prague, which was established by the Anglo-American University.
Three of the seven pieces were confiscated directly from the gallery by the police in February 2014. The Municipal Department of Prague 1 also reviewed the adaptation of the flag after citizens complained, but declined to fine Rafa.
The Municipal Department of Prague 7 fined the artist from Slovakia CZK 2 000 [EUR 80] in 2013 for exhibiting his flags at the Artwall Gallery. Later, however, that fine was overturned as unlawful by the City of Prague and the proceedings was halted.
Romani activist Ivana Čonková also had problems with the Czech-Romani flag and was arrested by police more than once for holding it at demonstrations. They later apologized to her.
The "cherry on top" of the ongoing saga of the Czech-Romani flag artwork is the behavior of the Facebook social network. In 2021, administrators there censored a link to a commentary by Miroslav Brož on the ROMEA organization's website about International Romani Day featuring an image of the Czech-Romani flag, alleging that by posting the photograph, ROMEA had violated Facebook's "community principles".
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