Interview with activist Míra Brož: "In a real democracy, teachers earn more than police"
News server Romea.cz is republishing in full an interview with activist Míra Brož that was first published on the website of his "We Don't Want Neo-Nazis in Ústí" Initiative. Here Brož discusses the recent events in Brno, Krupka, and Nový Bydžov, as well as Christians, NGOs, the police, and the present state and possible future of Czech anti-fascism.
Q: I have to start by asking you about the blockade of Brno. Are you enthusiastic about how that all went?
A: Certainly. The organizers are top-notch, they did brilliant mobilization, organized the blockade, managed to get the support of many distinguished personalities, it was perfect work, there's nothing more to say. My biggest wish is that some of the unequivocally competent people who worked on the Brno initiatives get involved with civic anti-fascism over the long term, that could be the biggest contribution the Brno blockade could make and it would be very needed. My big thanks go to the people of Brno for what they pulled off.
Q: Does it strike you that the "activist community" needs "new blood"?
A: It needs "blood" in the first place. I believe a breakthrough is occurring in the Czech non-radical antifascist scene. During the past 20 years the civil sector did not pay much attention to the Nazis, that "responsibility" was shifted onto the backs of a few nonprofits who were paid by the state to focus on the topic. We have one nonprofit in the Czech Republic that photographs the Nazis at demonstrations, another that helps the people whom the Nazis beat up and a third that reports about Nazi actions. These nonprofits are doing what they can and cannot be expected to do more.
The "fresh blood" and strength for the antifascist scene has to be sought elsewhere. I believe that the costly-won victories in Krupka and Nový Bydžov are the way forward. Many people, active individuals, participated in a demonstration like that for the first time ever. For the first time ever, they experienced that terrible atmosphere of fear and hatred that a Nazi march brings with it, and they were confronted with violence. That woke those people up, they have started to take an interest, to be active, to write blogs, to educate themselves in the issue, many of them participated in Krupka even after being beaten in Nový Bydžov, they got beaten up again but even so they went to Brno - not knowing whether the police would be beat them up a third time... I hope the participation in the Brno blockade will have the same effect on other people. Then there is the fantastic fact that the Christians are joining us.
Q: Elaborate a bit. You said the Ústí initiative organized Nový Bydžov with the nonprofits and Krupka with the Christians. Why the change?
A: Well, change… Since the beginning, since 2009, several clergy of various churches have been engaged in our initiative. The first ecumenical service was given under the rubric of our initiative in April 2009 at the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary in Ústí. Then we organized another religious gathering on the football pitch in Trmice near Ústí nad Labem in May 2010 on the day the DSSS held its "election rally" there.
What I want to say is that our initiative has a very diverse composition, we have right-wingers and left-wingers, conservatives and liberals, students and teachers, and the religious element has been there the whole time. Our initiative has always gone in the direction that its active members take it, the activities are formed by them. In our first year, People in Need was a very active, strong member, and that first year was very much directed by them in their style. In our second year, the most active member of the initiative was our fabulous Museum in Ústí. That's why most of the activities were commemorative and took place at the museum. This year Christians and clergy are active and doing a lot of work for the initiative, so logically they are imprinting it with their content and shape.
Q: And the change? Why weren't the nonprofits that joined in the organization of Nový Bydžov with you in Krupka?
A: Nonprofits didn't participate in organizing Nový Bydžov even though we begged them for help. There was really a lot of work to do and Nový Bydžov is much further away from us than it is from Prague. Nový Bydžov was organized by a team from our initiative together with o.s. Romea, which ensured media support for the whole thing and rented a bus to bring people up from Prague for the day. However, some human rights NGOs did support us at least by writing a press release or inviting their promoters to participate. There were many people from Prague-based nonprofits in the 200-person crowd in Na Šarlejích before police charged them on horses. The police intervention was a heavy shock to them, they were not prepared for it. Suddenly they learned that real anti-fascism is different than it seems from the warmth of an office in Prague. Even though the nonprofits like to call themselves "non-governmental", in reality many of them are completely dependent on government grants, money and subsidies, or they might also be dependent on friendly contact with state bodies. During the intervention they realized that all of a sudden they were standing on the "other side", against the police, who were beating them and driving them away. They started to fear for those contacts, grants and subsidies. Some of them wrote to us, that they don't want to communicate with us anymore, that they would never break the law again (disobey the police), or even distanced themselves from us in writing. I was very relieved and pleased to see that some of them did come to Brno after all to commit that same misdemeanor again in Cejl street.
I also learned that some Prague nonprofits that claim to be interested in the issue of neo-Nazism (which, however, does not have to be true) regularly meet at the Interior Ministry as members of a group called Task Force C together with bureaucrats from the Security Policy Department. That department is the entity in charge of elaborating the theoretical argumentation and standpoints on the basis of which people protesting against Nazi marches are then beaten up and dispersed. They conduct the interventions against those opposed to Nazis. The police officers who dispersed the religious services on 9 April in Krupka did so on the basis of background materials produced for them by that department. After dispersing the religious service, that department issued a declaration in which it said that the dispersal of the service and the subsequent intervention against the Roma residents of the housing estate in Krupka had been "maximally correct" (!!!). The Prague nonprofits involved in that working group are compromising themselves there and in my opinion this is about maximum conformity, its a denial of the role that NGOs should play in a democratic society.
Q: And the Christians in Krupka?
A: Fabulous, unbeatable. When organizing Krupka our initiative was completely isolated. The Christians helped us with everything. Before the Nazi march we visited Krupka regularly and the local Roma people, who are believers, told us about their fabulous clergyman, Father Šťastný. When we called to ask whether he would hold a religious service for his followers on 9 April in Krupka, he agreed immediately. Another clergyman, Pavel Šindler of Humpolec, also agreed and they held the ecumenical service together. Unfortunately, it was first disturbed by the police's so-called anti-conflict team and then brutally dispersed by the special riot police units.
I have participated in many demonstrations and I have see a lot of things happen at them, but I have never encountered the kind of courage that Father Šťastný and Brother Šindler displayed during the police intervention. They saw that hundreds of masked riot police holding collapsible nightsticks in their hands were approaching them and that an armed police vehicle was behind them, ready to attack. They turned their backs to them and continued to pray and sing until the moment the riot police silenced them and the police stun grenades started to explode under their feet.
Even though the Christians and the clergy were being attacked for the first time ever in Krupka, just like the people from the nonprofit sector were in Nový Bydžov, the Christians maintained their bravery, their convictions, and their spines even after the intervention. Church authorities spoke out about the scandalous dispersal of the service and the Christians themselves started to collaborate with us even more intensively. I believe the Christians have enormous potential for protecting the vulnerable and defending against hatred and violence. That potential is starting to be activated, to wake up. In my opinion, this is their natural role in society.
Q: Some of your critics and the police claim that the service was fake and that you were abusing a loophole in the law by holding a religious gathering.
A: That is ridiculous and I can easily refute that claim. As I already said, our initiative has had a Christian element involved in it from the beginning because of the clergy who participate. Over time, on the basis of hard-earned experience, we came to the conclusion that a religious service is the ideal format for an assembly to be held during a Nazi march into a Roma ghetto.
There are several very essential reasons for this: 1) People have always held religious gatherings and services at times when humanity was in jeopardy and when there was a risk of violence , 2) A religious service is essentially nonviolent and has great potential to calm and soothe the aggression of those participating in it , 3) The vast majority of the Roma residents of socially excluded localities - and we are primarily concerned with their protection - are believers. They want and welcome religious services.
We used to say that religious assemblies were also privileged in the law on assembly... However, we have learned that riot police do not respect the religious character of such assemblies and disperse them anyway, along with the clergy, as everyone could see in both Krupka and Nový Bydžov. We don't use that reason anymore, now we organize religious services only for those first three reasons. I am convinced that with the exception of holidays like Christmas and Easter, there is no more appropriate moment for a religious service than when a community is directly threatened by hate violence. The Bible and many other religious texts say people should hold services and common prayer in those moments when they are at risk of impending violence.
The police have started claiming that the ecumenical service that was given on 9 April was not a religious service, because allegedly it did not serve the purpose of expressing religious belief, but was allegedly actually a protest gathering. Naturally this is a ridiculous claim, because whether a gathering is religious or not is primarily determined by the content. The content of the religious service in Krupka was clear - readings from the Bible, prayer, sermons, and the singing of religious songs. Some of the prayers said in Krupka are hundreds of years old and were written for exactly such an occasion - impending violence, "the enemy at the gate". In my opinion, the police unfortunately have no experts who are educated and familiar with religious questions, liturgy, theology, etc. They don't know what is and is not a religious service. I believe the police lawyer or officer who wrote on 8 April, the day before our service, that our service in Krupka is not a service and could be dispersed - whoever gave that evaluation had no qualifications for it, he very probably had never participated in a religious service in his life…
Q: What do think of the Police, their work, their role during the Nazi marches? Does your initiative communicate with the police?
A: Until recently I had respect for the police, I thought a great deal of their work. In the past I have given lectures for the police, trained police officers about the issue of extreme poverty and impoverished ghettos, and I did it out of my own good will, for free, I even paid for my own travel…
When I saw the police use force to disperse a religious service in Krupka and throw stun grenades at those participating and at the clergy, my opinion was that the police are now completely out of control. They are not operating according to the principles that govern police in a democratic state.
Until the events of 9 April in Krupka, our initiative always communicated with the police, gave them all the information they requested, did our best to accommodate them. However, after Krupka, we have fundamentally re-evaluated that approach. The police always just tried to get information out of us without giving us any in return, we never got any guarantees from them, they would even lie to us. The information the police got from us was used for one thing only, to place the riot police at the spot where they would be able to disperse us easily. We have broken off communications with the police and in the future we will keep our plans secret from them so we can protect the health and safety of those who participate in our actions.
I recently read somewhere that a functioning democracy can be recognized by whether teachers make more money than police officers. In the mature democracies to the west of us, teachers do have the higher salaries, while to the east, in the Balkans, in the countries of the former Soviet Union and in the Asian dictatorships, police officers have higher salaries. It's the same in the Czech Republic, where the entry-level salary of a police officer is higher than the salary of a young teacher even though police officers only have high school diplomas and the teacher has a university diploma and his work is much more demanding. It is scandalous to me that young police officers, without college educations, have higher salaries than PhDs who teach at colleges or scholars at the Academy of Sciences. In democratic states where police "help and protect", that is not normal. Naturally I realize the police also need highly qualified professionals in certain positions, which must be well paid.
The police have other advantages, though. The last time I gave a lecture to police it was at a police recreation center in the Protected Landscape Area of Czech-Saxon Switzerland (Česko-saské Švýcarsko). I wanted to order a coffee at the bar, but I didn't have a lot of money and I knew that the prices in the surrounding recreation facilities were really very high. I asked the barmaid how much an espresso cost at the police recreation center. It was CZK 5. That really surprised me, because that price is less than an espresso cost before 1989. I asked the barmaid how much a shot of the expensive liquors would be that she had at the bar (Scotch whiskey, Mexican tequila, Jamaican rum…) but before she could tell me, the police officers standing around me gestured dramatically to me that she was not to answer my question… I'd guess that police officers drink those liquors there for CZK 10 a shot maximum - with our taxes.
Things like that, extravagant salaries and other additional advantages give police officers the feeling that they are not our servants, not employees whom we pay to help us, but that they are something more, a privileged caste. Police officers who intervene against a peaceful assembly are just obeying orders like robots, without reflection, because they don't want to lose their jobs, they know that with their qualifications they would never get the salaries anywhere else that they do from the police…
There are other reasons why the Czech Police work the way they do. I travel to Germany frequently and I know the police there work in a completely different way, much better than the Czech Police do. They are light years ahead of the Czech Police. That has to do with the demands made on the German police. German police officers are trained to use their minds, to make independent decisions, to take responsibility for their behavior. The Czechs are trained to mechanically obey orders without reflection.
It is interesting to me that if someone wants to work for the German Police, he or she has to perfectly speak at least one for ign language (i.e., not speak it at middle school level). That is necessary to be a beat cop, or a traffic cop. If he or she wants to become an officer and command something, he or she has to know two foreign languages well. Many of the people in the Czech Republic who are working as high police dignitaries and commanding these interventions against demonstrators couldn't even work as beat cops in Germany...
Q: What about your initiative, what shape is it in, aren't you tired already?
A: It is with great joy and pride that I can say that the events of 2011 have strengthened us. Our initiative is running better and stronger than ever before.
I already mentioned that in Krupka and Nový Bydžov there were many "first-time demonstrators" present. Those events really lit a fire under them, motivated them to more activity. Our staff has been greatly strengthened by several very capable people who have started working for our initiative.
We have finally succeeded in solving our lawyer problem. For a long time we kept running into the barrier, the obstacle, that we did not have good, reliable lawyer available to give us top-quality legal service. That has changed and will become apparent in the next few days, when we file a constitutional complaint for the first time. We were able to "borrow" our brilliant lawyer before the Brno blockade from the BRNO BLOCKS initiative to help us with whatever was needed
We would like to see through to the bitter end the investigation into the dispersal of the services in Krupka by police. We wrote an open letter to the Interior Ministry to which we have not received a response, and we asked Czech MP František Bublan to question the Interior Minister in Parliament, and I wrote a motion for the intervention to be investigated and sent it to the Interior Minister's Inspectorate.
Q: What do you believe you will achieve with a constitutional complaint? Will it help?
A: I don't want to comment on the details, I am not a lawyer and I don't understand them. However, I believe our constitutional complaint will really surprise many people with what it contains… I don't want to reveal any more, but if it succeeds, it will bring about a big, fundamental change with respect to these Nazi marches, to the anti-fascists who take action against them, and to the police who provide protection to Nazi marches and clear the citizens who disagree with the Nazi marches out of the way.
Q: What next? Are you planning something?
A: In the next few months we would like to hold something like a conference in Ústí about what to do about the Nazis. Confront one another with our experiences, exchange them, learn something from them. Naturally we are prepared to take action against Nazi marches targeting localities inhabited by poor Roma people or in our area.
Q: What to do about the Nazis? What's your prescription?
A: I am convinced that the problem with (neo)Nazism and fascist trends in society will not be solved by bans and repression, not by imprisoning the Nazis or banning their marches. That just doesn't work. Ideas and ideology cannot be banned, but they can be controverted, their bases can be revealed. In the case of the National Socialist (Nazi) ideology, the bases are hatred, racial inequality and violence. If that is unmasked, then people - with the exception of the 5 % who are agressive, frustrated and unhappy - will reject Nazism. I believe this was very well summarized by Dr Charvát in one of his writings. In my opinion he is by far the best expert on (neo)Nazism in the Czech Republic and I identify completely with his opinions.
The only thing that helps against Nazism is when the majority society understands what it is based on, sees through its lies and realized what the result would be of that ideology coming to power. People who hate the Gypsies - and such people are unfortunately the majority in the Czech Republic - have to ask themselves the question "After the Gypsies, who will come next?"
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