Tolerance Project ends in uncertainty

The end of June sees the end of the government-organized Tolerance Project, aimed, as its name implies, at combating xenophobia and racism in Czech society. But how successful was the campaign, the first of its kind organized by the government, and what impact did it have on Czech society? Olga Szantova has been trying to find out.

The sound of a heart-beat, followed by the words: "Can you tell the color of their skin?" This radio ad, broadcast 1,000 times on Czech Radio in the last six months, was just one part of the Czech government's Tolerance Project.

People could read the same words on over 1,000 billboards around the country, this time with a picture of a human embryo instead of the sound of the heart-beat. And they could see the same on TV and in 250 full-page ads in magazines and newspapers. A poll showed that two thirds of the population were familiar with the campaign. Which, as campaigns go, is quite a success. But, how successful was the campaign in achieving its main target, changing people's opinions and attitudes?

Obviously it is too early to even try assessing the impact on Czech society. The government human rights commissioner, Petr Uhl, is to submit a report to the Cabinet in September. But even now human rights activists, and the organizers themselves, say that the most important part of the project wasn't publicity, even though making people stop and think about the issue is important. More important, they say, was the educational campaign mainly targeted at young people.

A number of popular singers and other personalities and some 3,000 students, mostly foreign, visited 80 schools where they had very open discussions about racism with the students, or apprentices. Two hundred teachers took part in two-day seminars where they received information about minorities, especially the Roma, their culture, traditions, etc. All of which is very little-known and hardly even taught at Czech schools. As the organizers point out, educating the young is the key to changing attitudes of future generations.

Author: Olga Szantová
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