The Rise of the Racists: how Czech docs are capturing the chaos

8. 6. 2017

Author: Mark Pickering

This year’s Karlovy Vary festival sees the premiere of Vít Klusák’s controversial new documentary, The White World According to Daliborek – a fascinating exposé of an outspoken neo-Nazi living in the Czech Republic. The film – released by Hypermarket Film – unearths the racist underbelly that lurks beneath the tourist-friendly cobbles of the Czech Republic.

Whilst the film is a provocative piece about both race and relationships, it is certainly not shocking in terms of its subject matter. The Czech populace’s fractious relationship with its immigrant community is something that has been heavily documented over the past few years. Tensions between white ‘gadjos’ and black ‘gypsies’ have escalated in certain cross-cultured ghettos, and refugees continue their attempt to traverse Czech borders, causing the radical incarnation of nationalist identity to rocket.

This unsettling yet ripe topic for Czech documentary makers has resulted in some incredible pieces of Czech film making. In fact, Klusak’s previous project, Life and Death in Tanvald explored the death of a young Roma and its incensed, nationalistic aftermath; Adéla Komrzý’s Teaching War showed how real a war against Islam could be and how military training was being reintroduced in preparation for the eventuality; and Andran Abramjan’s upcoming Empire Builders is a docu-fiction piece about how immigration and Islamic terrorism confront people’s emotions.

The most striking factor of all the documentaries is the many forms in which racism is evident. Young white skinheads may typically be the baseball bat-wielding purveyors of hate and intimidation, but it is often the elderly community that harbor the greatest vitriol – a feature that Tomáš Kratochvíl expertly captured in his compelling 2015 documentary, Czechs Against Czechs.

“I’d throw a grenade at them because they breed like rabbits,” says a female Ostrava resident about the Roma community. “You know what Hitler should have done? Left the Jews and shot the gypsies. There’s too many of them.”

Kratochvil’s documentary, in which he spends months living in a Romany ghetto, explores the rising tensions between the Roma and non-Roma citizens of the Czech Republic. These tensions manifest themselves in numerous demonstrations – both neo-Nazi and pro-Roma – and also through the exposure of organisations such as the Workers Party in Duchkov.

Decked out in high visibility jackets and carrying air pistols, this Neighbourhood watch style anti-Roma group patrols the streets at night in an attempt to “keep those assholes away”. The co-leader of this group, Jindrich Svoboda, tells Roma activist and sympathizer Mira Broz that he hopes him and his white girlfriend will be “beaten up by gypsies” to make Broz change his mind – before his bullish friend adds, “Then they’ll be an uprising and we can kill all of them.”

The most worrying aspect of the documentary is not the racist scrapping or even the undiluted hate speech, but the fact that by the end of it, Svoboda gets elected to the city council. This inclusion, as Czechs Against Czechs closes, chillingly echoes the documentary’s opening in which Miroslav Sladek, a member of the Czech parliament in the late 90s, tells his constituency that “Gypsies should be held criminally liable from birth because that is their most egregious crime.”

The influence of racism – or at least xenophobia – on Czech politics is something that Zuzana Piussi also highlighted in this year’s excellent Czech Allah. The documentary, filmed over two years, followed the evolution of an anti-Muslim movement, Block Against Islam, juxtaposed with the efforts of a Prague volunteer organisation helping to settle and accommodate refugees.

Block Against Islam, fronted by diminutive figure of hate Martin Konvička, hoped to rally the support of the Czech population – their profile bolstered by a high profile appearance as President Zeman’s honoured guests at the Velvet Revolution Celebrations. In joining forces with Usvit the National Coalition – who are in opposition to “’sunny’ people who won’t say Islam is evil” – the two groups placed anti-Islam as their main agenda, illustrated by their organisation’s logo of a mosque picture with a line through it.

However, in making this coalition, the party’s ideology soon became divided. Radical anti-Muslims screamed that immigrants are “dangerous bacteria” who “leech on the body and weaken the body as a whole”. Other activists, such as Angry Women campaigner, Eva Hrndova, while insisting that “the source of all the evil is Islam” claimed that she and other members do have some humanity too.

In the documentary, the refugee volunteer movement mostly just laugh it off. Apart from one suspicious race attack against one of their Muslim group that gets “swept under the carpet” by the police, the prejudicial efforts of the anti-Muslim activists are fairly toothless.

In fact, the film’s closing scene is a case in point. The publicity stunt, which brought worldwide disdain from the press, shows Konvička on a tank, replete with Muslim-style beard, a fake machine gun and a random camel shouting “Allah Akbah” in Prague’s Wencesclas Square. Despite some tourists thinking that the stunt was in fact an actual terrorist attack, the spectacle is laughable, and fortunately exposed Konvička and Block Against Islam’s ineptitude as a serious political force.

Racism in football is yet another dark avenue within European culture that has recently come under the Czech documentary spotlight. Last year’s FC Roma, directed by Rozálie Kohoutová and Tomáš Bojar, exposed the plight of a lower-league soccer side whose interaction with other teams fell drastically foul of UEFA’s ‘Say No to Racism’ campaign.
The documentary, based around the Romany-based team in Decin, detailed the team’s difficult relationship with other clubs, who in a number of cases, preferred to forfeit the game and pay a fine, rather than play against them. The underlying racism towards the Romany community – driven partly out a sense of injustice in relation to alleged social benefit discrepancies, disgust at certain social order problems, and fear of a community that many non-Roma Czechs neither know or are willing to understand, is shown to be evident in the country’s sporting system – in the players and the fans.

“Czechs are raised to be racists” says FC Decin’s goalkeeper, Pat. “They’re born, wrapped in a blanket and there’s a swastika on there already.”
While this is, of course, a sweeping generalization, FC Roma director Kohoutova says that unfortunately there is some truth in it. “Racism is an issue in the Czech Republic,” she told VICE magazine. “Though it is sometimes discreet, it can be very dangerous. The majority of people say, ‘We are not racist, we just don’t like gypsies.’ They say they don’t want to live close to them, or don’t want their kids to go to same school… Often they don’t even know why.”

In considering Kohoutová’s point – and looking at all these documentaries as a whole – it is evident that the race issue in the Czech Republic is far from a straightforward one. The hate speech, the prejudice and the racial discontent is not trenched in any long standing, historical grievance but fueled by frustrations with the hardships of life, and undoubtedly from fear. The protagonist in The White World According to Daliborek is a prime example of this, says Vít Klusák; his frustrations with life and relationships are the main catalyst for his racial hatred. Dalibor, like a lot of Czech citizens is frustrated and angry, and in the absence of nullifying that anger, it is simply directed at those around him who are different.

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