'Common Journey' seeks to spread message of tolerance

Part of the effort mentioned above to educate Czech society and involve citizens is a project called the 'Spolecna Jizda', or 'Common Journey.' For the last 12 months, an ethnically-mixed group of students has been travelling round the country, talking to secondary school pupils about racism and xenophobia. Nick Carey has this report:

The Spolecna Jizda project, organised by the charity organisation Tolerance, targeted vocational high schools throughout the Czech Republic, concentrating mainly on industrial and rural areas with a history of racial tension between the majority white population and the Roma minority.

In the first phase of the project, students were given anonymous questionnaires about racial issues in the Czech Republic. The results from this research were cause for concern. Almost sixty percent of those asked said that the Roma minority was one of the biggest problems in the country. More than fifty percent said the Roma didn't belong in Czech society. The most radical views were expressed by young Czech men, while Czech women demonstrated greater tolerance.

In the second phase, groups of ethnically mixed lecturers, especially from the Roma minority, themselves students in their early twenties, travelled round the country, talking to students about racial issues and problems. Following this phase, the students were asked to fill in another questionnaire, and forty percent of respondents stated that their opinions had been changed following the lectures.

I spoke to Jan Vavra, the general director of Tolerance, and asked him first of all to describe idea behind Spolecna Jizda: