PRAGUE – Padraic McCroudi, self-identified Afro-English DJ, was one of over 80 performers turned away from Prague’s infamous Klub Vzorkovna on a Tuesday night last month. Unlike the other unlucky locals and study abroad students, the 32-year-old, London-based artist was allegedly not denied entry for being underage. He was denied entry for being Black.
Located in Old Town, the smoky, alternative dive bar regularly features underground artists like McCroudi. However, the multi-ethnic group of performers, attracted by this year’s End of the Weak International festival, described the behavior of Klub Vzorkovna’s staff to be violent and unprovoked, according to McCroudi.
“After complaining about the behavior of the door staff to the manager, we overheard the manager complaining that there were about 60 ‘n*ggers’ downstairs,” said McCroudi. “We all cancelled our performance and left with our entire group.”
This incident occurred around the same time that several other xenophobic incidents were cited in the Czech Republic.
Over half of the Czechs interviewed for a recent European Commission survey admitted that discrimination based on ethnic origin remains “widespread” in their country, though attitudes elsewhere in Europe towards minority groups are statistically much more positive than previous years. For instance, Europeans claim to feel increasingly more comfortable with the possibility of electing someone to the highest political position from a group at risk of discrimination.
Likewise, in 2017, the United Nations criticized the Czech political elite for not working hard enough to fight systemic "racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia" by integrating minority populations. This collective xenophobic sentiment could be reaching a head following the results of the Czech parliamentary election.
In an unprecedented victory for the populist businessman, Andrej Babis and the ANO movement decisively won the election with 29.65 percent of votes. The most vocally anti-migration, anti-Muslim party, Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) came in fourth place with 10.64 percent. SPD party leader Tomio Okamura openly opposes the “Islamization” of the Czech Republic and even compared Islam to “Hitler-style Nazism,” according to Bloomberg. The party campaigned on the agenda of purging the Czech Republic of Islam altogether.
The political dynamic of SPD is particularly interesting since Okamura, Tokyo-born and half-Japanese, has become the face of Czech nationalism. In fact, the politician suffered from severe racist bullying in both Japan and the Czech Republic, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
Okamura’s close collaborator and SPD secretary, Jaroslav Stanik, asserted that homosexual, Jewish, and Roma citizens should be “gassed and liquidated.” Stanik was allegedly intoxicated in a restaurant reserved for members of parliament at the time. Marek Cernoch, Usvit member of parliament, claimed Stanik proceeded to verbally attack the women that were present, according to Britske listy. The intensity of his hateful statements ultimately prompted a police investigation, the results of which are unknown.
Daniel Prokop, Czech sociologist and faculty of social sciences at Charles University, credited this political atmosphere for the surge in xenophobic incidents in the Czech Republic. “Political figures and really anyone who appears in the media need to realize that what they say will resonate with Czech society,” said Prokop.
Jan Hamacek, former Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, also emphasized the increase of xenophobia from a political standpoint and from personal experience. Hamacek was heavily criticized after seemingly showing support for minorities in the past. “People are afraid of the unknown, and the Czech Republic is a very homogenous society.” Hamacek feared the direction parliament has taken will only serve to aggravate the issue even more in the foreseeable future.
Following decades of communist rule and severe limitations on immigration, the Czech Republic remains one of the most ethnically homogeneous nations in the world with over 90 percent of the population identifying as ethnically Czech. “Czech people see their country as uniquely Czech,” said Prokop. “The idea of a multicultural society is difficult for many Czechs to fully grasp.”
A xenophobic Facebook page called "We Don't Want Islam in the Czech Republic" was ultimately blocked by Facebook after gaining a large enough following, according to Romea.cz. Even still, several racist profiles continue to post content reflecting Okamura’s negative stance towards Islam without issue.
A multiracial primary school located in Teplice even received hundreds of death threats via social media for posting a picture featuring its Czech, Romani, and Arab students.
Miroslav Mares, an expert on extremism at Brno’s Masaryk University, blames political elite for the rise of racist sentiments on social media. “Comments made by Czech officials may open the door wider to racism in the Czech Republic,” said Mares. “We saw an increase in hate speech on social networks and it seems like it has expanded from the social media environment to the country’s official politics.”
Hate and fear of the unknown is not confined to the Internet. The amount of criminal offences motivated by racially-based hatred has increased from two in 2014 to five in 2015 in a nation with consistently reported no hate crimes in the past, according to the Police of the Czech Republic. According to Mares, this indicates a growing movement toward violence as an expression of the Czech population’s xenophobic attitude.
Though surveys portray the Czech Republic to be overtly xenophobic, statistically speaking, the nation reports little violence and could even be considered tolerant in comparison to other European nations. Other European countries report a spike in hate crimes; according to Germany’s Interior Industry, asylum shelters were attacked 1,031 times in 2015. The Spanish Federation of Islamic Religious Entities reported anti-Islam attacks increased from 48 in 2014 to 534 in 2015.
Far-right agendas are represented by Hungary’s ruling party and Slovakia’s People’s Party, whose leader openly praises the nation’s World War II fascist regime, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. The issue of xenophobia is a European issue, demonstrated by the emergence of anti-immigrant extremist parties across the continent, that has taken a unique, non-violent form in the Czech Republic.
Tallah Nadeem, for instance, has never experienced violence towards his religious beliefs, though he feels uncomfortable openly practicing his religion around Czechs. The Muslim practicing doctor and freelance writer from Britain reported feeling scorned for not drinking alcohol for religious purposes. However, he continues to believe coexisting with the population of Prague is a possibility despite the increasingly xenophobic political climate.
“I never felt unsafe in Prague, but I did feel uneasy at times for the way I looked and acted,” said Nadeem.
McCroudi, however, would disagree; he called on all of Prague to boycott Klub Vzorkovna, saying the dive bar was representative of a blatantly xenophobic culture pervading the Czech Republic. “This city is supposed to be safe, but we definitely experienced aggressive, violent behavior,” McCroudi said. “Anyone who give's a f*ck about social justice in this world needs to stand with us and do something about it.”