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Czech Republic: HateFree Zones combat rising intolerance

Prague, 13.2.2015 0:53, (ROMEA)
A visual image from the HateFree Zone campaign. (Photo:  HateFree Culture)
A visual image from the HateFree Zone campaign. (Photo: HateFree Culture)

Places that are open to all irrespective of their ethnicity or other group affiliation can become branded HateFree Zones. The branding is a new activity of the HateFree Culture campaign being run by the Human Rights Section of the Minister for Human Rights, Equal Opportunities and Legislation Jiří Dienstbier (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD).

The initiative is focused primarily on youth and its purpose is to combat manifestations of intolerance and racism in society. The HateFree Culture campaign was launched last November and is 80 % financed by the Norwegian Funds.

Until now the campaign has been working through social networking, which those who designed it assessed as the most appropriate way to communicate with today's young people; it has 11 000 fans on Facebook so far. The coordinator of the project for the Campaign against Hate Violence, Jaroslav Valůch, answered our questions about the new HateFree Zone brand:

Q:  Isn't this a brand that will take hold only amongst those who are already convinced?

A:  It's clear that owners and operators will label their spaces a HateFree Zone who are already inclined toward the idea of life without hatred and violence. Nevertheless, their customers are frequently people from different groups with various opinions. That's why it's not possible to say this will just be about preaching to the choir, as the responses from the people who have signed up for this branding have already confirmed. They tell us that people of the broadest possible range of convictions visit their spaces, definitely not just people who love diversity and minorities. At the same time there are also grudges and prejudices at play between various minority groups here. It's good to work with them on intolerance as well.

Q:  How are these zones supposed to impact the target group?

A:  The spaces we are contacting are often those visited by young people, such as cafés, clubs, galleries or sports facilities. We are not closed to other options and we are also open to branding spaces visited by other age groups - for example, in Písek one of the churches has become a HateFree Zone, which is attended mostly by older people.    

Q:  Will the HateFree Zone also turn up in the bars and restaurants in northern Bohemia, for example, in towns like Nový Bor, Rumburk or Varnsdorf?

 A:  Our aim is for this to show up all over the Czech Republic. We have negotiated several zones in parts of the country where coexistence is not now or has not previously been exactly ideal, such as, for example, the areas around České Budějovice and Ostrava, and we are planning to contact places in the regions of northern Bohemia. Our aim is for the brand not to be Pragocentric, which is why we are focusing in the regions in particular. Moreover, at this moment we ourselves don' t know who will apply to us or from where.

Q:  What is the point of this brand? After all, the law establishes that hate crimes are illegal.

 A:  The law exists, as we know, on paper. It's another matter entirely how things work in real life. Many Romani people, especially in the regions, experience problems when they patronize the hospitality industry - the service staffs refuse to serve them or won't even let them into the business in the first place. We would like to offer an alternative and show that even in the regions there are many places where Romani people or members of other groups are very welcome, just like any other customer. They can expect to be treated kindly and with respect in these places. Another of our main aims goes even beyond the idea of classic discrimination as it is defined by law. Hatred and intolerance are rising in society, and it is easy to feel like that's just a fact and that nothing can be done about it. Today a large part of society is bothered by this intolerance and radicalization, but doesn't have an effective, meaningful way to express that. The HateFree Zones network is a practical option for these people.  

brf, ČTK, HateFree Culture, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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