'Diversity in Libraries' project fighting against racism


An interesting project aimed at teaching people more about ethnic minorities in the Czech Republic has just come to an end. Two non-governmental organisations - the Prague Multicultural Centre and Brno's Youth for Intercultural Understanding - took part in the project, which was called 'Diversity in Libraries' and was part of an anti-racism campaign launched by the Czech government at the beginning of this year. Alena Skodova reports:

The main aim of the project was to inform people - both adults and children - about the differences in lifestyle of ethnic minorities living in the Czech Republic - primarily the Roma and Vietnamese communities. Books are considered one of the main means of educating people, that's why nine book titles with multicultural themes were chosen and sent to 500 public libraries throughout the country free of charge, to acquaint readers with the different customs and habits of ethnic minorities in the Czech Republic. Radio Prague spoke with organizer Lenka Sramkova:

"We had quite a big goal - to influence people's thinking and teach them to be more tolerant towards ethnic minorities that live in our country. By sending the nine titles to libraries we wanted to offer people a way how to learn more about them, and tried to remove prejudices that Czech people might have, and we hope we were successful, even though the project lasted for only three months."

The organizers chose books from different spheres, ranging from historical books and fiction to Roma and Vietnamese fairy tales, and there was also a comics for teenagers, called 'A racist - who me?', so all ages and tastes were catered for. One of the most successful books was an autobiographical story by a Roma writer, Emilie Lackova, called 'I was Born Under a Happy Star' which describes the way the Romanies live. Readers who like encyclopaedias, could choose a concise book on minorities in the Czech Republic. It reminded readers that people in other cultures have different traditions and values, so one could learn there for instance that when a Vietnamese person smiles at us, his smile may have a different meaning than we might expect. And naturally I wondered what meaning that might be...

"When a Vietnamese smiles at you, it might mean of course that he or she is expressing happiness, but Vietnamese people usually smile at you also when they want to apologize for something, which might cause problems, because his smile can be misinterpreted in a situation when you are annoyed."

The organizers also created a special accompanying programme which they brought to public libraries in 13 Czech cities and towns. It had two parts - one for children and one for adults. Children read Roma and Vietnamese fairy tales, sang their songs and also learned how to eat with chopsticks. Adults had discussions mainly about the Roma minority and of course there was a lot of Gypsy music accompanying discussions, exhibitions of photographs and other ventures. Miss Sramkova said that the project was very successful especially with children who are not burdened with prejudice or racist thinking, but a lot of adults showed interest as well. The organizers plan to continue with similar projects next year.