The long road of active resistance to racist marches in the Czech Republic
The anti-Romani marches in the Czech Republic were the winning subject in the "News" category of this year's World Press Photo competition here. More than 30 such marches have been held around the entire country this year.
The marches have become one of the main topics of the news media and are noted abroad as a characteristic of the Czech Republic. However, few people will ever learn from the media what a small group of people has organized civil protests against every single one of these marches, or that significant organizations and political parties are also gradually joining their efforts.
In the beginning there was just the small civic association Konexe, created last year from the Hate is No Solution (Nenávist není řešení) civic platform, which was established by people from all walks of life at the end of the summer of 2011 when a wave of anti-Romani marches was cresting in the Šluknov district. The members of that platform, and later the members of Konexe, have traveled to visit those targeted by these marches, and have done their best, with games and music, to prevent the children at risk of attack from being traumatized and to gradually create structures similar to those that have for several years prevented, with large numbers of participants, the main annual action of the German neo-Nazis in Dresden, a march of mourning for the victims of the mass bombing of that Saxon metropolis during WWII.
Only the Czech Police block the neo-Nazis for now
During the first attempt this past May by neo-Nazis to force their way into a predominantly Romani locality in the North Bohemian town of Duchcov, Konexe and its collaborators organized a "happening" there. Aware that police would not permit aggressive persons into the neighborhood while the Konexe event was underway, they prevented clashes between obviously aggressive racists and the significantly terrified targets of these marches (most of whom were Romani).
Just like the organizers of the anti-Romani marches, those opposed to racism then moved to the town of České Budějovice at the end of June, where a banal conflict between small children on a playground at the Máj housing estate had unleashed what up to now has been the longest-lasting sequence of anti-Romani unrest in the country. Konexe organized a peaceful assembly and religious service to protect local families there, where people of all skin colors took advantage of the opportunity to speak publicly about their situation and options for constructively solving problems.
Other actions by local residents then developed out of that assembly. During the next neo-Nazi march there, locals covered the march route with various humorous anti-racist slogans.
Prior to the neo-Nazi march in the Silesian town of Vítkov - the place where four years ago young neo-Nazis burned down the home of a Romani family and almost burned a two-year-old girl to death - a new platform arose called Blokujeme.cz ("Let's Block the Marches"), which joined with Konexe and other organizations such as the internationally famous Amnesty International and the ROMEA association. Gradually, just like the Green Party, which is so far the only larger political party to condemn these racist manifestations in the Czech streets, other public figures began to do the same.
To blockade or to help
Despite its name, this new platform has organized various other "happenings" but has yet to physically block the route of anyone's march. At the end of August, a diverse local group of citizens opposing the neo-Nazis in Plzeň did d just that before police arrested them (and not the proponents of Nazism).
Blokujeme.cz, together with other organizations, also deserves credit for the successful second year of the Roma Pride event in Prague, where Romani people and other citizens took to the streets to demonstrate for their rights. Their march to Prague Castle was attended for the first time by more politicians, including the chairs of the Equal Opportunities Party, the Green Party, and the Romani Democratic Party.
To this day only a handful of people in the Czech Republic have ever participated in similar events. Fear of taking a public stance and indifference have won out, as has obedience to police instructions to leave the streets to their riot units.
Recently, of course, cases have been multiplying in which the number of "blockaders" has exceeded the number of neo-Nazi marchers, as well as the number of cases in which the neo-Nazis are no longer being joined by so-called "ordinary people". Now a new coalition has formed called Colorful Ostrava (Barevná Ostrava), expanding the numbers of those counter-protesting even more.
Two of the country's largest churches, the small parties not seated in parliament, and other nonprofit groups are promoting this protest against the fascists, who will be demonstrating in Ostrava on Monday's state holiday commemorating the anniversary of the founding of Czechoslovakia. Police once again are pressuring the organizers of this counter-protest to stay home, but Romani people will be turning out for it even in the UK, where emigrants from the Czech Republic are planning to address this topic at a public hearing in the British Parliament on Monday as well.
After several months of preparations, the Czech Bishop's Conference, the Ecumenical Council of Churches and the Federation of Jewish Communities issued a joint statement at the end of October on "rising extremism in society". In this statement the religious organizations declared: "From historical experience we know that populism, accompanied by hateful manifestations of racism and xenophobia, leads to tragedies that sooner or later affect all of society."
However, just like the previous declarations by the individual representatives of these eminent institutions, their most recent joint declaration also did not call on people to stand up to these marches directly in the streets. This is true even though, as a response to these very dangerous social phenomena, the path of anti-racist assemblies attended by 10 000 people or more was chosen long ago in North America and Western Europe.
In the Czech Republic, such developments are taking a long time. The good news is they have begun.
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