Antisemitism in the Czech Republic Low

Ten years ago, an international conference was held in Prague with the aim of examining the role of antisemitism in the history, politics and society of Central and East Europe. Last week, a follow-up conference was held at the Radio Free Europe headquarters in the Czech capital on the topic "Antisemitism in Post-Totalitarian Europe - 10 Years Later."

While the level of antisemitism varies among the countries of Central and East Europe, experts at last week's conference agreed that antisemitism in today's Czech Republic is not widespread. However, it is still demonstrated by extremist groups and individuals on both sides of the political spectrum. An interesting perspective on the situation in the Czech Republic was provided by Dr. Michael Riff, the director of the Centre for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Ramapo College in the United States.

"My general feeling is that antisemitism as such has become an almost inert issue in the Czech Republic nowadays. There are of course some fanatics who continue to espouse antisemitic views. But if you believe public opinion surveys, if I am to believe what I encounter when I am here once a year, I don't feel that there is any appreciable amount of antisemitism in the Czech Republic."

Dr. Riff is the son of Czech Jews from Ostrava who managed to flee Nazi persecution in 1939. He candidly recalled the time when his father came home one day and told his mother that German tanks had arrived in Ostrava:

"He told my mother that Adolf was in town. And my mother's first reaction - God bless her - was "Oh, how nice!" And she believed, actually, that it was my uncle Adolf who perhaps was visiting from Slovakia. As it turned out, my father said "Not that Adolf, but Adolf Hitler!""

Dr. Riff's parents settled in the United States, where he grew up. However, in 1968 and 1969, he came to Czechoslovakia as a student, and his direct experience of antisemitism at that time inspired him to study the issue further:

"It came from fellow students. One of the first things I heard when I came here was that Hitler gave the Czech people a great gift in getting rid of the Jews and also making it possible in the last analysis for Czechoslovakia to be rid of its German minority. That remark, plus some other things that I heard from students at the time, made me realise that antisemitism was still somewhere in the fabric of this society. And then it also came out in newspaper articles against the Prague Spring, from some neo-Stalinist elements. Later on after the invasion it came out in articles of a similar nature, actually by some of the same people. It also was - as almost everywhere in Eastern Europe - especially under the cloak of anti-Zionism."