Hate Free Culture project working to combat Czech xenophobia

Photo: archive of Government’s Social Exclusion agency

On Tuesday, around thirty members of various religious denominations – including Muslims, Jews and Christians – sat down for a joint breakfast event in Studio Alta in Prague’s Holešovice district. The event, attended by community representatives, the South African and Kuwaiti ambassadors to the Czech Republic, and many ordinary members of the public, was organized by the Hate Free Culture Project. The breakfast is part of a wider effort by this organisation to foster greater understanding in the Czech Republic amidst heightened tensions over the current migrant crisis. I spoke with project coordinator Lukáš Houdek and began by asking him to describe Hate Free Culture’s work:

Photo: archive of Government’s Social Exclusion agency
“It’s actually a part of the Office of the Government’s Social Exclusion agency. So we are all employees of the government. And it is 80 percent funded via Norwegian Grants [Norway Grants – EEA Grants].”

Has it taken on new momentum in recent months because of the migrant crisis?

“Certainly, because the project was designed a few years ago to mostly fight hatred targeted against the Roma population. But last year it changed into mostly fear and hate against Muslims, and now in recent months it has changed in the direction of migrants and refugees.”

Your most recent event was a harmony breakfast held in Prague. So are these the kind of events that your organization uses to foster harmony, understanding – what is the overall intention?

Lukáš Houdek,  photo: David Vaughan
“We are undertaking many activities. We are proving hoaxes false – this is something we are doing quite intensively right now – but we also organize events including stand-up comedy, or the event you mentioned inviting different religious and ethnic groups to show that we can sit down, eat together and understand each other. But we also try to communicate the issue of human rights, or specifically combating hate and intolerance, in different ways. One example is through arts. Right now there are several exhibitions all over public spaces across the Czech Republic. We have posters that deal with the topics of our campaigns. So we are trying to utilize different media to communicate certain issues. We also want to ensure we are active not just in Prague but also in regions across the country.”

You mentioned that you dispel hoaxes. I noticed your website was just dealing with one regarding Czech Muslims supposedly being against the recent Prague Pride festival. You also have another section on the site which discusses the conflict in Teplice regarding Arab visitors supposedly making a mess in parks and lashing out at local dogs. Do you believe that there are major levels of misunderstanding between Czechs and Czech Muslims or Muslim migrants?

Photo: archive of Government’s Social Exclusion agency
“It’s really hard in this kind of a situation when people are afraid – let’s say logically so, because something is coming that they have little experience of, as we aren’t very used to different cultural groups in the Czech Republic. So it is very easy for people to believe hoaxes or everything they read in social media. And there are so many hoaxes, or news articles that are ultimately untrue. We think it is very important to have a critical eye towards what they read and see and not simply believe everything. And of course it is also caused by a lack of information, because the discussion about refugees and Muslims in the Czech Republic is led by people who are not experts in this subject, but rather ‘instant experts’ that have just appeared in recent months.”