Czech Republic: 2 000 demonstrate against racism in Prague after neo-Nazis graffiti "HateFree" cafés
On 25 April as many as 2 000 people assembled on Jiřího z Poděbrad Square in Prague to protest against the fact that several businesses and metro stations in Prague were spray-painted with neo-Nazi slogans and symbols over the weekend. Organizers of Monday's event, called "Prague is Not Afraid", wanted to demonstrate that there is no place in Czech society for Nazi ideology and violence.
Cafés supporting the Czech Government's "HateFree" campaign, which calls for tolerance of minorities and refugees, were spray-painted with hateful messages. The neo-Nazi symbols appeared around Prague late Saturday night.
Those participating in Monday's demonstration began assembling on the square before 18:00 CET. Police officers supervised order there.
"We do not want a city where people have to be afraid. We do not want a country where the concept of equality is considered an extremist opinion. I have a message for the people who commit these kinds of hate crimes: We will stand up to you, because our solidarity is stronger than you," one of the organizers told those assembled.
Criticism of Czech President Miloš Zeman was also expressed at the demonstration. According to the demonstrators, Zeman has communicated the idea, through his press spokesperson, that some kind of "civil war" is underway in the Czech Republic.
The demonstrators rejected that notion. "There is no place in the Czech Republic for hate. It does not make us look good," another organizer told the protesters.
People from other parts of the country also spoke at the demonstration. "It's not just Prague that is not afraid - Pardubice is not afraid either," said Olga Pavlů, director of the Kašpárek Family Center in that city.
Somebody also attacked that center, which has been collecting donations for refugees, over the weekend using paint and posted a fictional obituary of the director on its storefront. In addition to anti-racist banners and flags, those attending the protest also hung a sign expressing support for Prague's Autonomous Center Klinika on the banisters in front of the church on the square.
That center was attacked in February with Molotov cocktails and rocks by still-unidentified perpetrators. On Monday afternoon dozens of people also participated in demonstratively cleaning up the Nazi symbols and vituperative words spray-painted onto the building of the Café v lese in Prague.
The spray-painted building and café was cleaned up by owner Ondřej Kobza together with Mayor of Prague Adriana Krnáčová (ANO) and Domink Feri (TOP 09), who is a member of the local council in the town of Teplice. "They won't scare me. I'm not going to make some sort of declaration about it, I have to count on this kind of attack because I'm running a café that has its own opinions about things. I decidedly will not close and I will not stop," said Kobza, who has also come up with ideas such as making pianos available on the streets for people to play or the "poesiomat" on náměstí Míru ("Square of Peace"), which plays recordings of poetry.
The cleaning of the graffiti began at roughly 15:00 CET. Kobza and the volunteers took up rags and paint thinner and began washing away the abusive symbols and words.
Councillor Feri played the piano in the street as they worked. He then joined the mayor and spelled Kobza on the stepladder to wash the graffiti off of the advertising banners outside the venue.
"I don't do anything, I'm a politician," Feri joked. He and the mayor then borrowed cleaning supplies to wash the red paint off of the cup at the entrance to the café.
The mayor said the city needs to officially distance itself from such displays of hatred. The municipal police are her only option for preventing such behavior.
"We must first and foremost initiate and lead a discussion to prevent these kinds of displays," she said. Police officers are currently investigating seven cases of hate graffiti that occurred on Saturday night and looking for those responsible.
Tomáš Hulan, spokesperson for the Prague Police, said today that the perpetrators are suspected of using spray-paint to cause property damage, inciting hatred against a group of persons, inciting the restriction of human rights and freedoms, and committing the criminal offense of expressing sympathy for a movement aimed at suppressing human rights and freedoms. Should they be apprehended, charged, tried and convicted, those responsible face up to three years in prison.
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