Far-right focus on migrants taking heat of Roma at least for now, says
Czechs Against Czechs maker Tomáš Kratochvíl|
One of the most thought-provoking documentaries to hit local cinema screens
in recent months has been Czechs Against Czechs by Tomáš Kratochvíl. In
the highly personal film, the young director – a member of the majority
population – goes to live in a desperately poor Romany ghetto in north
Bohemia. Along the way, he also encounters far-right activists who organise
anti-Roma demonstrations, as well as members of the public who don’t hide
their hatred of the ethnic minority. When we spoke, I asked Kratochvíl
what had first led him to set up home in a Romany community.
“Well, my aim was to help myself. To solve my situation. My wife had left
me and I really needed some change.
“I was really thinking about hitchhiking around the world or something
“But then I thought, You are a filmmaker, you should make use of this
situation and make a film.
“I knew that the situation of Romany people in the Czech Republic was
really bad. So I decided to move to them and to do both.”
Did you ever feel that there was a danger that it could be a kind of
tourism, in the ghetto? You could come in your car and leave at any time if
you don’t like it or it gets unpleasant.
“Yes, it is a danger, of course. But my situation was that I didn’t
have a car in the beginning. I didn’t have money. I had nothing – just
a small camera and my backpack.
“I didn’t come to tell them that I was a saviour, or that I was going
to tell them how to behave or what to do – which white people normally do
if they are visiting the ghetto.
“I was like, Hey, help me – I need help. And gypsy people are very
good at helping people.”
It’s a very personal film. You talk about the fact that in the 1990s
your father supported [Miroslav] Sládek, the far-right politician who very
often targeted Romanies. When you were growing up was there much
anti-Romany feeling, anti-Romany prejudice around you?
“Of course there was. And the funny thing was that in my area [a village
in the Vysočina] there are no Roma people.
“My brothers and I didn’t meet them, but we knew from our father that
they were dangerous and they were bad. Which is crazy.”
Did you ever have a period in your life when you were small when you
actually believed what your dad was saying about the Romanies?
“Yes, I think so. I had one friend who was older than me and one time he
was beating me and I didn’t know how to fight back, so I said to him, You
“I knew that some people said that his mother was a gypsy. I don’t
know if it was true – maybe not. But I used it as the worst swear word
that I could imagine.
“He was like, Oh. He just stopped fighting with me. It was really bad,
what I said.”
Before you went to stay in the ghetto in Ústí nad Labem, you must have
had some expectations of what you would find there. How close was the
reality to what you had expected?
“Normally people expect that those who live in the ghetto are thieves
and violent people, that their behaviour is not compatible with
“It’s not true. In the ghetto there are normal people.
“If any of us grew up in the ghetto, we would all behave like that.
“Their way of surviving is different from ours because they have a
“They can’t get normal work – they have to work on the black market,
for little money.
“They don’t have role models of people who studied, worked hard, made
good money and had a good life – nothing like this exists.
“Everybody is poor, everybody is addicted to something, everybody has
problems with money.
“That’s their reality. But they are normal people. Good people. In a
Speaking of money, your main character Jarda seems to be atypical as a
Romany. He’s a landlord and a tough businessman and seems more interested
in making money from his community than any kind of community spirit, at
least at the beginning.
“Jarda isn’t a millionaire – he has to earn money to pay some
executors who are trying to kill his business.
“It’s true that in the beginning he didn’t pay attention to these
marches and neo-Nazi stuff. But when it also started to be a reality in
Ústí, in his place, he got involved.”
You mention neo-Nazis. Over the years we’ve seen many demonstrations,
some of them violent, against the Romany population in several Czech cities
and towns. And it’s the people who organise these demonstrations that are
also one of the main subjects of your film. Could you describe some of the
people that you met in the making of the film?
“One of these guys is called Jindřich Svoboda. He was organising these
marches and his position was, Listen people, I’ve been saying this for
years, the Romanies are really bad.
“He said, It’s a problem, let’s do something, let’s make laws in
our city to move them out. We don’t want them here.
“People listened, they voted for him and now he is a member of the city
council. And the laws and the rules in this city are really so bad that if
you are black, or if you are living in the ghetto area, you can’t sit on
a bench, you can’t speak in the park, you can’t have a barbeque.
“And they have succeeded – most Romany people have emigrated.”
Are these people who demonstrate against the Romanies mainly ideologically
driven? Or they just frustrated and uneducated people?
“Both. These people are frustrated because it’s 25 years since the
revolution and the media and the elites from Prague are telling them, We
are in Europe, we have democracy, we are rich.
“But they are not rich. Their salary is shit. They see that we don’t
earn half or even a third of the salary that people earn in Germany or
“They don’t know what will be tomorrow. They can easily end up in the
ghetto with the gypsies. And that’s why they are upset and scared and
“On the other hand, xenophobia is part of the Czech mentality. We saw it
in the 19th century against Jews. Now we don’t have Jews so it’s
“We pretend that it doesn’t exist, that we are fine, nice people. But
we should look at it and confess that it’s reality.
“For example in WWII there were concentration camps for gypsies and we
were organising that – we Czechs, not the Germans.
“At the place where one of these concentration camps there is a huge pig
This is at Lety in South Bohemia?
“Lety, yes. And we, as the state, are not able to buy this farm from the
owner and destroy it and build some statue or something instead of it.
“Czech people don’t know about this history. We don’t teach it in
school. That’s the problem.
“Now we are surprising, saying, What’s this neo-Nazi stuff, what’s
this [anti-Muslim campaigner] Konvička and what is [President] Zeman
doing? What happened?
“But it is in us. It always was.”
This leads me to my next question. People say that Czech society has
become increasingly divided and over the last year we have seen a lot of
anti-refugee and anti-migrant sentiment. Do you have any sense that these
people on the far-right who you documented in your film are now kind of
transferring their hatred away towards refugees and migrants?
“Yes, of course, because it’s the topic number one. But it doesn’t
mean that they love Romany people. Of course they hate them like before;
they hate everything different.
“It’s quite funny that this is happening in the Czech Republic because
there are no Muslims here, no migrants here. They don’t want to come
“To me it seems very strange that so many Czech people are so
This may seem like an odd question, but have things in a way improved for
the Romanies, if there are fewer demonstrations against them, in their
cities and towns, because these far-right people are focusing their
“Yes, it’s true. Right now it’s good for them. Because there are no
marches to the ghetto, no marches to social housing buildings.
“But as I said, it doesn’t mean that they are OK forever.”
Do you have any optimism for the future as regards Romanies?
“I think generally we are standing at the beginning of something new and
we don’t know – nobody knows – what it will look like.
“Everybody says we have about two months to solve the migrant question
and we don’t know what will happen.
“But I was thinking… I don’t know if I can explain it in English,
but in the 19th century there was a working class trying to get more power.
“And now it’s a non-white Western class – in global terms – trying
to get their rights and economic benefits. So it hurts – but it’s