Class photo in Teplice daily sparks hate speech on social networks

Illustrative photo: Lucie Hochmanová

Police are investigating an incident of hate speech on social networks and in the media after a class photo of first-graders in a school in Teplice, which appeared in a regional daily, sparked threats and racist comments. The school has been given heightened police protection, but the children’s parents say they still fear for their offspring’s safety.

Illustrative photo: Lucie Hochmanová / Czech Radio
The class photo of first graders at a primary school in Teplice was meant to be a source of pride to their parents; instead it has filled them with dread and made national headlines. The reactions to the mix of Czech, Romany, Vietnamese and Arab children in the group photo sparked a shocking and unprecedented reaction on social networks. “A class of terrorists – a hand grenade would come handy” and “just shoot them all” were some of the remarks that appeared in response to the photo’s publication.

The incident was quickly picked up by the media, sparking widespread condemnation and a strong show of support from Education Minister Stanislav Stěch who issued a statement to the effect that attacks against innocent young children and institutions of learning were cowardly and would not be tolerated.

Meanwhile, in sharp contrast to this was the stand of a newly-elected MP for the SPD Party, Tereza Hythová who told the weekly Směr that she understood the reasons behind the negative sentiments against foreigners. “There are many excluded localities here. Some foreigners and members of minorities often do not send their children to school, they are out of work and live off taxpayers money. That’s what fuels the anger against them,” she noted.

This has not been the only racist remark from a high placed official in recent days. Last Thursday President Zeman said in an interview for commercial TV Barrandov that the country’s unadaptable inhabitants are 90 percent Romanies.

Miroslav Mareš,  photo: archive of Charles University
So are Czech top officials, including the newly elected SPD party, opening the door wider to racism in the Czech Republic? Miroslav Mareš is an expert of extremism at Brno’s Masaryk University.

“Partially that is true, because now we can see such statements expressed by official authorities. Two or three years ago we could see the huge spread of hate speech on social networks and now it is something like an expansion of hate speech from the social media environment to part of the country’s official politics.”

What are the dangers of that?

“Of course there is a danger of worsening ethnic and religious relations in the country and there is a stable danger that the so-called online hate can be transferred into offline actions. Only recently we had an example of that in a violent attack committed by football hooligans in Prague against a dark-skinned man. There has been a growing tendency to violent activities in the Czech Republic, though fortunately up to now it is still more verbal aggression than real physical violence.”