Prague municipality says author of Czech-Roma flag exhibit abused state symbols
An exhibition entitled "Selection Procedure for Czech-Roma Flag" ("Výběrové řízení na česko-romskou vlajku") has resulted in its author, Tomáš Rafa, being prosecuted. According to a decision by the Office of the Municipal Department of Prague 7, the artist has been found guilty of committing a misdemeanor, specifically, of abusing state symbols of the Czech Republic, and has been fined.
Representatives of the Artwall Gallery announced the outcome on Facebook. "The decision was issued on the basis of criminal charges filed by Antonín Friedrich, an active member of the Workers' Social Justice Party (DSSS). It is paradoxical that the final result here is that an artist challenging people to be tolerant of other nationalities is found guilty of abusing state symbols, instead of the people who exploit those same symbols to spread racial hatred being found guilty of their abuse. The author has appealed the decision by the Office of the Municipal Department within the time frame prescribed by law. We are convinced that state bodies should not accommodate such efforts, which are intended to terrorize artists criticizing racism in Czech society," the Facebook page of the Artwall Gallery reads.
The art project "Selection Procedure for Czech-Roma Flag" is part of a long-term project entitled "New Nationalism at the Heart of Europe" through which Rafa has been testing the borders between nationalism, patriotism, racism and xenophobia since 2009. "At a certain point in 2008, ultra-right groups decided to enter electoral politics. In Slovakia it was Slovak Solidarity (Slovenská pospolitosť - SP), in Bohemia it was the Workers' Party (Dělnická strana - DS). Even though both parties were dissolved by the courts for promoting racism and xenophobia, they both continue to exist in different forms. I began mapping this situation and keeping an archive online of recordings from the actions held by Czech, Polish and Slovak extremists and neo-Nazis," Rafa told news server Aktuálně.cz in an interview earlier this year.
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"The reason I chose a flag in particular is because nationalist groups abuse state flags at their demonstrations," the Slovak artist explained. The aim of the project was to create an open platform for discussing the current and future coexistence of the majority population with minorities in Bohemia.
"I want to remove this discussion from the realm of nationalist groups and bring it into a broader public space. The flag can be an impulse for that discussion. At demonstrations discussions are not held. I want to spark dialogue without aggressive approaches," Rafa said in the Aktuálně.cz interview.
The seven proposed flags exhibited in the Artwall Gallery and at the National Technical Library were selected from a series of several dozen designs. Voting took place online for the winning design.
In October Tomáš Rafa sent the winning visual depiction of the flag (see http://www.artwallgallery.cz/sites/default/files/images/rafa/vlajky/rafa_4.jpg) to the appropriate department of the Czech Government Inter-ministerial Commission for Roma Community Affairs, together with an open letter summarizing the course of the project and its results. In the letter, Rafa described his standpoint on the flags and on questions of Romani minorities in a broader context.
The project sparked a stormy discussion in the Czech Republic this summer among both Czech and Romani people. It was primarily criticized by Czech neo-Nazis, but also by some Romani people led by the Konexe association, who said the project was not sufficiently discussed with impoverished Roma.
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