Court charges, fines activist for hoisting Czech-Romani flag from his balcony

Every year, without fail, Miroslav Brož hangs a Czech-Roma flag on his balcony on the occasion of International Romani Day, a celebration of the ethnic group’s culture. He intends to do so again this year – despite having been fined for “violating a state symbol”.

International Romani Day – held on April 8 now since the fall of Communism in the Eastern bloc – is not just about celebrating Romani culture. It also highlights the persecution and discrimination member of the minority group often face in all areas of life.

The Czech national flag features a horizontal band of white (on the top) another of red (on the bottom) and a blue isosceles triangle based on the hoist side. The red represents courage during times of war, the white peace and honesty, and the blue justice, truth and loyalty.

Different versions of the Czech-Romani flag, all of which include a 16-spoked chakra, were created in 2013 by artist Tomáš Rafa to highlight that many do not consider Romani citizens to be Czechs.

An exhibition that he staged in Prague at the time led to the artist to being charged with committing a misdemeanour – namely, abusing state symbols of the Czech Republic. He was fined but ultimately the decision was overturned, says activist Miroslav Brož of the non-profit group Konexe.

“Those new flags were confiscated by the police and removed from the Prague gallery. An investigation took place and various institutions assessed the situation.

“The result was a decision that the flags were perfectly fine and that there had been no violation of the law, because they were works of art. In the Czech Republic, we have the freedom of artistic expression.”

Flags by Tomáš Rafa | Photo: Miroslav Brož

But last year, someone filed a complaint against Miroslav Brož for flying the Czech-Romani flag outside his home in Ústí nad Labem on International Romani Day.

And a court recently ruled that he had broken Section 13 paragraph 1(a) of the law on state symbols and ordered him to pay a fine of 1,000 crowns.

Mr Brož plans to appeal the decision on principle. He doubts any court has ever charged a hockey fan, for example, with “violating a state symbol” for waving a Czech flag with the name of their club emblazoned on it.

What’s more, he notes that a public exhibition of artist Tomáš Rafa’s flags was also held in the House of Arts in Ústí nad Labem two years ago – with no objection from the municipality.

“The flags were even affixed to the poster columns in front of the university gallery at the time of the exhibition in order to attract the people of Ústí nad Labem to the gallery.”

Mr Brož says “censorship” of the Czech-Romani flag even extends to the social media giant Facebook. Last year, administrators removed his posting on International Romani Day featuring a photo of the flag – for violating community standards.

Authors: Brian Kenety , Gabriela Hauptvogelová
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