Czech Police confiscate three Czech-Roma flags from art exhibit
On the afternoon of 27 February, the Police of the Czech Republic confiscated three of the seven exhibits of Czech-Roma flags that are currently on display at the Art Space gallery, which is run by Prague's Anglo-American University. The flags were being exhibited there as part of the "Selection Procedure for Czech-Roma Flag" project, which was presented from June to September 2013 at the outdoor Artwall gallery in Prague.
The designer of the flags, Tomáš Rafa, used the project to warn of rising xenophobic sentiment in Czech society and to remind the public of the fact that Romani people are as much at home in the Czech Republic as are members of the majority population. Several reports of criminal activity for defaming a state symbol were filed against the artist in relation to the project, most of them by the right-wing extremist Workers' Social Justice Party (DSSS).
Rafa was found guilty and fined for allegedly "violating the rules for using the state flag of the Czech Republic"; he then appealed the decision. During his appeal before the Prague 7 local authority, Rafa said the flags had been vandalized during the Artwall exhibition more than once, including by the addition of a Nazi swastika, which a radical right-wing group claimed credit for.
The local authority told Rafa it was not interested in such incidents and found the artist guilty of defamation a second time. Rafa is now appealing again.
Local officials said during the first appeal that every violation of the law on state symbols is a misdemeanor irrespective of its magnitude. Rafa's legal representative has therefore filed a report of suspected misdemeanor activity against the local authority because the state flag on the building of the Prague 7 office is being flown incorrectly.
"No one is surprised that the followers of [DSSS chair] Vandas are coming after an artist who promotes racial tolerance. What is tragicomic is that bureaucrats from Prague 7 and the Police of the Czech Republic are willing to aid them in harassing Tomáš Rafa while they themselves flagrantly violate the very law they are supposed to protect. This reached its full heights when the Prague 7 officials made it possible for Tomáš Rafa's personal data to be provided to ultra-right activists," said Jan Rovenský, who is representing Rafa in the misdemeanor proceedings.
The confiscation of the art works by the Police of the Czech Republic is yet another in a series of absurd steps undertaken against the artist by representatives of the local administration. "It is especially startling that a guilty verdict has been handed down a second time. It has never been my intention to abuse or defame the flag. It is absurd that the police, 25 years after the revolution, are confiscating works from a gallery space without their author's knowledge. I gave a statement to the police in Holešovice, I am not avoiding communicating with them, those in charge of the investigation have my contact information. No one ever contacted me. This process is already bordering on repression," Rafa said.
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