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Grandson of Holocaust survivor says he experiences racism on a daily basis in the Czech Republic

16.2.2020 17:33
Svět Lustig Vijay, the grandson of Arnošt Lustig (PHOTO: Deník N)
Svět Lustig Vijay, the grandson of Arnošt Lustig (PHOTO: Deník N)

The grandson of the late Czech Jewish author and Holocaust survivor Arnošt Lustig, 24-year old Svět Lustig Vijay, was born in Switzerland, where he currently lives. His mother is Lustig's daughter and his father, Vijay Raghavan, is from India.

The famous author's grandson has given an interview to Czech news server Deník N in which he discusses the racism he has personally encountered in the Czech Republic. He says he feels half-Czech and half-Indian.

He considers both identities to be equally important to him. "I call it a personal blend. Mom calls us 'scrambled eggs', and that's what we feel like. I feel half-Czech and half-Indian. I don't feel very Swiss. Apart from the fact that I show up on time," he told the daily.

Because of his Indian origins, in Bohemia he has also encountered racism, which he says is quite common in the Czech Republic: "It's rather common in the Czech Republic. Sometimes it's mild - for example, in a restaurant they say they won't serve us because there's no room, even though we see the tables are empty."

He also told the news server the story of his experience with visiting a festival here, which he preferred not to name. "I was, for example, at a festival several years ago, I won't name it, and a security guy grabbed me and wanted to beat me up. I was lucky that my uncle, Josef Lustig, pulled out his press pass, and the security guy - or rather, the ape - calmed down," he told the news server.

Svět Lustig Vijay encounters casual prejudice and racism in Bohemia: "It's almost a daily occurrence for me, for example, to speak Czech to somebody who answers in English. Sometimes that kind of conversation can go on for five minutes. If I explain to somebody that my mother is Czech and my Dad is Indian, people are frequently absolutely confused, they cannot comprehend that sex also functions between races and that the child can then speak more than one language."

In the interview, he talks about a situation he experienced during a visit to the Czech Republic on the occasion of celebrating the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz:  "I walked into a restaurant in the center of Prague on my own just before 10 PM and asked the waiter if they could give me an order of goulash to go because I saw they were closing. He said the kitchen was closed and I couldn't order anything, but I saw white tourists were ordering pork neck while he was refusing me. That was outrageous. I verified that the tourists had actually placed an order, and I told the waiter it was evidently racism. He said to me: 'If you wanna see what racism is, then come outside and I'll kick your ass.' Then the other waiters joined in, and some other people outside. That was in the center of Prague on a Sunday at 10 PM."

He describes nobody in the restaurant standing up for him and the hatred aimed at him coming from more than one person: "Nobody stood up for me in that restaurant. It's not like that everywhere, but it happens. For example, my friends from university in Edinburgh, where I studied, came here for vacation and New Year's. We wanted to go into a restaurant, and the same thing happened to us in Hradčany."

The family used to regularly travel to the Czech Republic to visit Svět's grandfather, who survived the horrors of Auschwitz. "We used to come to the Czech Republic for the weekend every three weeks or so, because the plane ticket cost 30 dollars. He always brought me to a pub and gave me beef goulash and some beer," Svět recalled.

The bio-medicine graduate told the daily he is considering settling in Bohemia for a while: "That depends on how it's going to be here. If I feel safe and get the opportunity, then I'd be glad, because I am half Czech. I never had the option of living here, and now the possibility is opening up for me. I could find a job here for a few years, maybe. That would be fine."

Svět Lustig Vijay also believes young people in the Czech Republic are more open, compared to their elders:  "Certainly young people are more malleable, they accept change better. If I experience racism here, it is never from people who are 24 years old like me. It's from people who are maybe 40 years old. They have never been younger than I am. So I believe it's changing."

In his view, the Czech Republic could be even more successful if it took advantage of the potential of gifted young people regardless of their differences in appearance. "The Czech Republic would certainly be much more successful if all the minorities present could be integrated. There are a lot of Roma and Vietnamese, who, of course, are as capable as we are and have the same potential. We should make use of it," he told Deník N.

Svět Lustig Vijay believes the Czech Republic should begin with this change in the schools: "It begins in schooling. Subjects such as discrimination, equality, and tolerance should be integrated into instruction from the very beginning and society should gradually change."

vhl, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Auschwitz, Holocaust, Racism, Scotland, segregation, Switzerland



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