Tolerance 2003 campaign aims at fighting racism|
This autumn, the Czech government started another national campaign aimed
at combating xenophobia and racism. Very much like last year's campaign,
Tolerance 2003 focuses on two areas - delivering free books on ethnic
minorities to public libraries and promoting discussion among students on
racial stereotypes. Under what's called the Tolerance Ride, ethnically
mixed teams of foreigners, refugees, asylum seekers, the Roma - as well as
members of the majority population - travel around the country to share
their experiences, customs and cultures with secondary school students.
Dita Asiedu spoke to the Czech Republic's Human Rights Commissioner Jan
"Well, of course the stereotypes mainly concern the Roma and there are
also stereotypes, which concern Ukrainians, Africans, and Asians, although
the Africans and Asians were not that much part of our society so we don't
have any historically fixed stereotypes and roles. But there is a kind of
a general mistrust. Czechs start out in almost every situation with deep
scepticism. It has served them well under the dictatorship but towards
foreigners, migrants, asylum seekers and minorities, it can be seen as
cold and hostile. When the people then react in kind, then the Czech
public says 'we told you, we knew it, the other people are the problem. We
didn't do anything against them but stare and not greet them and now they
are making a problem.' So, it is this closed set of mind, which we see not
just in relation to minorities or foreigners but in relation to all things
But wouldn't you say that most Czechs with stereotypes are older?
"Surely. I'm afraid that it is far more difficult to influence
middle-aged and older people and even to find a mechanism to do it, to get
them into a group where they could be addressed. So, one of the
possibilities, of course, is through the public libraries. As we know, who
goes to public libraries are the very young and the very old. We're quite
proud of the part of the project that concerns public libraries because it
is something to stay."
So would you say that the main reason why people here in the Czech
Republic have stereotypes is not because they are racist but simply
because there is a lack of information?
"I think that there are many people in this society who are racist.
But that racism is not the root cause of Czech xenophobia as such. The
root cause is a kind of closed mind, the deep provincialism of our people,
which is linked to simply having very superficial knowledge or ideas of
what the other people are like."