Two awarded for courage in standing up to neo-Nazis

Stanislav Vodička (left) and Jakub Štěrbík, photo: CTK

On Tuesday, the Czech Charter 77 Foundation awarded two young Czechs, Jakub Štěrbík and Stanislav Vodička, this year’s František Kriegel Award for outstanding personal courage. A year ago the two stood up to skinheads shouting hate slogans and giving the Hitler salute. For his efforts, Mr Štěrbík was stabbed in the neck; his friend Stanislav Vodička came to his aid and was also knifed.

Stanislav Vodička  (left) and Jakub Štěrbík,  photo: CTK
Roughly one year ago, on May 10, 2008 in the town of Strakonice, south Bohemia, Jakub Štěrbík and Stanislav Vodička attempted to stop skinheads from shouting hate slogans and giving the Nazi salute. Mr Štěrbík tried to reason with the extremists and the reaction was immediate: a knife attack in which saw him struck in the neck – an injury that left him confined to a wheelchair for several months and from which he has yet to fully recover. In the incident, his friend Stanislav Vodička came to his aid and was also stabbed. Both attackers are now in prison, one of them for twelve years.

Members of the Charter 77 jury who awarded this year’s František Kriegel prize called Štěrbík and Vodička “modern-day heroes” for acting solely out of a sense of civic duty. A little earlier I met with František Janouch, the chairman of the Charter 77 Foundation:

“These two young men showed an example of civil courage which is very much needed and is very much missed in our society. One would expect that our citizens would normally react in such a manner: but unfortunately it is an exception. When neo-Nazi skinheads provoke on the street, most of our citizens try to avoid them, to not see them, to not react. And these two – I was very moved when I gave them the prize – when they saw a group of skinheads giving the Hitler salute and shouting ‘Send the Jews to the gas chambers’, they told them to stop. And they were attacked.”

Illustrative photo: Štěpánka Budková
For their efforts both men on Tuesday were presented with not only the award but also cheques for 20,000 crowns. Afterwards, Mr Štěrbík said he did not consider his actions an act of heroism, but most, including František Janouch, disagree, not least given the current rise in extremism, which has left some politicians at a loss. According to František Janouch, renewed emphasis needs to be made in education.

“We have neglected education, our system was very bad. We didn’t convince our kids that what happened in the Second World War was something terrible, disgusting, revolting. We should perhaps bring more people to visit former concentration camps. My father was in Auschwitz and Birkenau and I visited this camap with him after the war and still remember the deep impression this visit made on me. If we organised more school excursions to these places, I think it would help.”

Some schools of course do organise such trips – but it has to be said that even positive projects of late have been overshadowed by increasing news of more and more neo-Nazi marches in parts of the country. Demonstrations intended, observers say, to spread hatred or at least raise tensions against ethnic groups, namely the country’s Roma minority. The government has pledged to act but so far has presented few solutions.