Magda’s mum is angry with her. She disapproves of Jami, even though she has never met him. We encounter this kind of attitude very frequently in life. People are easily influenced by various simplistic explanations and half-truths regarding the members of a particular group (in the case of Jami, this involves the group “foreigners”). What is Magda’s mother scared of? What reasons does she have for preventing Magda from going out with Jami? What does she have against Jami? Is it true that Jews are miserly, blacks are less intelligent, Roma people don’t want to work, and Vietnamese are all stallholders who can’t speak Czech??

  • What is...?

Xenophobia means fear of foreigners. The word is usually used to indicate an intolerance of people from other countries and a lack of respect for their traditions and cultures. Xenophobia can also be understood as a prejudice which creates a negative opinion without any previous knowledge.

Racism is an opinion which claims that certain people are superior and others are inferior because of they are of a certain race. Racists define race as a group of people of the same origin. They distinguish various races according to physical character, such as colour of skin or quality of hair. The work “racism” is used to indicate aggressive or derogatory behaviour shown to people of other races.

Anti-Semitism is an expressions for hostility or prejudices against Jews, be this the hatred displayed by an individual or a group (i.e. institutionalised persecution) towards Jews. The most extreme example of anti-Semitism was the Nazi ideology of Adolf Hitler, which led to the genocide of 6 million European Jews during the second world war.

  • Topic

When we don’t know something we tend to be afraid of it and not to trust it. Nobody in the world likes situations which they are unfamiliar with and in which they feel insecure as to how to act. Insecurity is experienced as unpleasant, sometimes as dangerous. At the same time we relatively frequently find ourselves in situations in which we do not know what we can expect and what is expected of us. This might involve a visit to a high-class restaurant, where we hesitate over what cutlery we should use to eat what courses. It might involve an encounter with a group of friends who have known each other a long time and have their own sense of humour, their own slang, their own system of catchwords an innuendo, values and attitudes, which we do not know and to which we are not privy. Or perhaps we find ourselves amongst a family which has a different lifestyle, a different set of table manners, different rules of conduct between children and parents. These kinds of experiences usually evoke in us anxiety, suspicion, and a feeling of being threatened.

The simplest way of getting rid of this fear is to start proclaiming our dislike of different lifestyles, to join forces with “our” people so as to be able to claim that “they” (those who go to high-class restaurants, or have a different group of friends, or a different family) are strange and are doing things wrongly. This gives us the feeling that our own conduct is ok, and that the mistake must therefore be on the side of the “other”. This way we avoid having to give consideration to the possibility that not everything we do is self-evidently right and correct, that things can be done in completely different ways and still be “correct”. Fear of the unknown and foreign is called xenophobia (from the Greek: xenos – foreign, phobia – fear). Every person and every society has a certain inclination to xenophobia. Quite simply, we are afraid of the unknown. However, this inclination can become very dangerous when it affects large groups of people. We most frequently hear about xenophobia in connection with other ethnic groups, different cultures, people of different religious persuasions and sexual orientation, and even “only” in respect of the opposite sex.

Xenophobia gives rise to ideologies which proclaim the superiority of one group of people over another: racism, anti-Semitism, Nazism. When xenophobia wins out in a society and people who know how to use and encourage this xenophobia in others attain a position of power, the result can be the systematic slaughter of entire groups of the populations, as happened in Europe in the case of the Holocaust or ethnic cleansing in Serbia. And it all starts in such an inconspicuous way: “Foreigners are taking our work”, “The Jews have stolen our country”, “The gypsies are living off the tax we pay”.

Xenophobia is an attitude which cannot be banned, just as prejudices and stereotypes cannot be banned or subject to punishment. A criminal act takes place only at such time as these tendencies result in concrete discriminatory conduct, when an individual is discriminated against on the basis of their language, colour of skin, nationality, religion or gender. However, this does not mean that xenophobia in itself is not dangerous. It is xenophobia which creates the necessary environment for hate, mass injustice and violence to flourish. For this reason a civil and democratic society should defend itself against xenophobia.

Clearly, xenophobia and prejudices will never be completely eradicated. But we can actively defend ourselves against them: firstly by acknowledging difference and by realising that people of another appearance or faith often have similar pleasures, problems, plans and hopes as us; and secondly by making the effort to perceive everyone above all as an individual and unique personality, and only after that as a member of a group, be this Muslim, Roma, homosexual, Vietnamese, etc. Finally we shall be in a position to realise that the unknown, even though it can provoke anxiety at the beginning, is a source of new information, new outlooks and opportunities, all of which can enrich the world we have become used to.

The reward for this will be not only the fact that we can prevent the difficulties and suffering of many people who are different in some way, but above all our own personal development. A development in the direction of greater openness, knowledge and the courage to really see the world, without having to use deforming and falsifying images which have been given to us in the form of xenophobic prejudices and stereotypes.

  • Stories and examples

Taken from http://www.detskaprava.cz

Everyone knows someone who looks different to them, or who acts differently, speaks differently, or dresses extravagantly: quite simply someone who is “strange” in some way. It may be a fellow pupil, it could be a neighbour, or it could be people who have recently moved into our neighbourhood. Before arriving at an opinion about them, let’s follow the following steps:

- We’ll find out who they are on the basis of our own experience
- We’ll talk with them about whatever it is we don’t understand
- We’ll ask them about their family

Perhaps you are a child or adolescent who has to put up with insults simply because you look a bit different to other people. Perhaps you have your own experience with racism, maybe you are ashamed as a result or you would like to be the same as the rest. If you feel this way, you should remember the following principles:

- The value of a person is not measured by how they look, but what they do.
- The fact that you are different to other people means that you are special.
- Make yourself known, show that you are just as good as the rest.
- If someone ridicules you or ill-treats you because of your nationality or origin, tell an adult that you trust immediately.
- If you don’t have any such person, get in touch with one of the following contacts:

Who to contact:
Security line 800 155 555
Czech Police Force 158
Czech Helsinki Committee – legal advice 224 372 338
Emergency calls from a mobile telephone 112

  • Sources


Buryánek et al. (2004). Interkulturní vzdělávání: příručka nejen pro středoškolské pedagogy: projekt Varianty. Praha: Lidové noviny.

Novák, T. (2002). O předsudcích. Brno: Doplněk.

Žantovský (ed.) (1998). Česká xenofobie [Czech xenophobia]. Praha: Votobia.






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