The effort to defend the public space can take various forms, ranging from individual action in response to a specific impetus (violence, significant manifestations of discrimination), to long-term activities undertaken by concrete individuals or informally-organised people striving for better coexistence in the given space, to politically-motivated anti-fascist activity or the organised activity of NGOs.
Just like the racist and Neo-Nazi movements, the anti-fascist and anti-racist movements have undergone significant changes and various cycles of development and continue to develop dynamically.
Public anti-racist activities focused on the protection of the public space are (with some exceptions) long-term activities that, in order to emerge, need an external impetus in the form of action by Neo-Nazi or racist groups.
Modern Czech anti-racism and anti-fascism can essentially be divided into two groups: civil anti-racism and anti-fascism in the form of spontaneous civil initiatives or organised by NGOs, and revolutionary political anti-fascists represented by the organisation Anti-Fascist Action.
The democratic anti-racist movement is represented foremost by NGOs. The first important NGO to fundamentally improve the situation in the public space and to ameliorate the situation in public administration by repeatedly drawing attention to misconduct there was the Movement for Civic Solidarity and Tolerance (Hnutí občanské solidarity a tolerance (HOST)). As well as monitoring the activities of the extreme right and racially-motivated violence, HOST has generally concentrated on improving the situation of discriminated minorities in the Czech Republic and strengthening the attitudes of the public against racism and intolerance in general. Many more specialised NGOs have picked up on the umbrella activities of HOST. The civic association Tolerance and Civil Society has long been involved in monitoring and analysing the public activities of the extreme right (demonstrations, concerts of white power music). This is essentially the only non-state and non-political expert organisation specialising in this area. The archive of the organisation has long been used by other NGOs as a source of material for creating anti-racist campaigns and educational programmes. Tolerance and Civil Society has long been engaged in shedding light on the situation in the extreme right scene, explaining the substance of its verbal propaganda to the public, and documenting the approach of public authorities to the undemocratic activities of the extreme right, or drawing attention to mistakes on the part of the public authorities or the police. The organisation also focuses on the education of young people and teachers. In recent years Tolerance and Civil Society has organised several anti-racist happenings in direct response to significant threats to the public space from the extreme right. Public activities focused on the development of tolerance and non-violence are also prepared by the NGOs Romea and Slovo 21, which have long been engaged in trying to improve the media-distorted image of the largest minority living in the Czech Republic – the Roma. The People in Need organisation supports the protection of human rights, and combats xenophobia through various educational and informational projects, including thematic talks organised as part of the One World documentary film festival on human rights. The Czech Helsinki Committee looks at right-wing extremism on the Internet. In IUSTITIA, a newly established NGO, has chosen to focus on educating state administrators as a tool for protecting the public space, and it provides legal assistance to victims of hate-motivated violence and support to communities threatened by Neo-Nazism and the extreme right.
Spontaneous civic initiatives against racism and xenophobia are positive reactions from civil society to the threat to the space posed by subjects promoting racism and xenophobia. Civic initiatives can organise a wide range of activities: demonstrations, happenings, exhibitions, concerts, and educational seminars. These usually arise out of an urgent need to protect the public space or give voice to the rejection of violence and racism. In most cases civic initiatives are active in protecting those targets that society as a whole regards as requiring protection. It is therefore easier to organise a civic initiative in cases where Neo-Nazis try to march through the Jewish Quarter in Prague on the anniversary of the Nazi pogrom Crystal Night than it is to get a clear rejection of an attempted pogrom against Roma inhabitants in socially-excluded localities. When it is the Roma who fall within the Neo-Nazis’ scope of vision, with some exceptions the public does not react. Among the reasons for this fact is the generally persistent belief that there is a causal relationship between the problems in socially excluded localities inhabited to a significant degree by Roma and the activities of the extreme right, and the generally high level of intolerance towards Roma inhabitants in the Czech Republic. The argument that it is the Roma’s own fault that they are the targets of xenophobia and verbal and ultimately physical attacks because they refuse to adapt to the norms set by the majority society is just as inhumane an argument as the claim that the Jews brought the Holocaust on themselves.
In the Czech Republic revolutionary anti-fascism is represented mainly by the unregistered Anti-fascist Action (AFA), which is often described in the media and by public administration as the political opposite of the Neo-Nazi movement, spreading the same evil and hatred. When we look more closely at its activities we can see that, while two aspects of the AFA’s actions fundamentally differ from democratic anti-racist and anti-fascist initiatives, nevertheless the group cannot simply be likened to Neo-Nazi militant groups. The first potentially problematic point is the fact that the AFA does not conceal its left-wing orientation, rejects the state apparatus, does not trust the state’s security units, and sees capitalism as the cause of fascism and Neo-Nazism. The second, more problematic aspect of the AFA is its principle of combating Fascism by any means. The AFA even allows for physical confrontation with activists in the Neo-Nazi movement. Accepting violence as a method of combat has made the AFA a group that the Ministry of the Interior and the police see as a security threat. The violent and political nature of the AFA renders cooperation between them and NGOs impossible, and the latter moreover refuse to cooperate with the movement owing to their dogmatic political orientation. Yet criticism of the actions of the AFA must also take account of the fact that they are largely engaged in activities geared at information and activism, and that the organisation works from the ground up, locally, and therefore effectively. Since the group was founded in the Czech Republic in 1999 it has been among the most active and persistent opponents of the Neo-Nazi and racist movement. It is generally forgotten that the AFA confronts Neo-Nazis and Neo-Fascists not for who they were born as but for who they decided to become – people promoting racism, discrimination, and violence. This is significantly different from the violence generated by Neo-Nazi groups, whose attacks on citizens in the Czech Republic are driven by racially- or ideologically-motivated hate. It is also impossible to overlook the fact that since 1989 Neo-Nazi activists have more than 30 racially- or ideologically- motivated murders under their belts; only one skinhead has died in a conflict with a revolutionary anti-fascist, but the skinhead himself provoked the confrontation. As long as the AFA does not reject violence as a way of acting against racism and Neo-Nazism, it will continue to be viewed by a large part of the public as just as bad as the Neo-Nazi movement. However, it must be kept in mind that in localities where civil society is not very active the AFA often represents the only subject actively taking a stand against racism and xenophobia. Its active stance continues to make it an attractive option for many young people who do not agree with violence themselves but consider it necessary to publicly reject racism and xenophobia. Czech anti-racist and anti-fascist groups tend just to react to external stimuli – actions from the extreme right. As a result they are in the situation of being defined in terms that are negative, as activists who are acting against something, not for something. In the future, the anti-racist and anti-fascist movement should focus more on supporting and developing positively-defined activities targeting communities in localities threatened by violent racism and Neo-Nazism.
Archiv občanského sdružení In IUSTITIA
Charvát, J.(2007). Současný politický extremismus. Praha: Portál.
Kulturbüro Sachsen e. V (2009). Nebezpečné známosti. Pravicový extremismus v malém příhraničním styku. Drážďany: Kulturbüro Sachsen e. V. Dostupné z: http://www.nebezpecne-znamosti.info/herausgeber.html