Flesh & Bone #4: A Reflection from Greg Ward (Part 1)

Suddenly, a loud explosion rings out from outside of the train station. Then, another, and another follows that one. Consumed with fear as I, along with the rest of my band mates, stand on the platform of the city of Prerov, Czech Republic, we attempt to calculate our next move amidst this increasingly chaotic atmosphere. Should we run? Where can we hide? Should we jump on any train that is leaving this station? All of these questions were flooding my mind as the adrenaline surged through my veins and then, we hear the terrifying sound of 700 angry neo‐Nazis screaming as they break into a riot with the local police. We freeze as the skinheads swarm from every direction. Armed with stones, petrol bombs, and firecrackers, they attack the riot‐gear clad police. With all of our luggage and instruments, we begin to run down a set of stairs that lead to the far side of the train yard only to be met by more skinheads that continue to arrive on every train that comes into the station. We head back up the stairs where the fighting is escalating at an alarming rate. There’s only one way out at this point. So, we all jump on to the train tracks and begin running for our lives out of the station. Once we reach the furthest point away from the conflict, we realize that we are still not safe and that we need to seek better shelter. At that very moment, a man dressed in plain clothes approaches us and calmly says, “You are not safe here.” Emphatically, we agree and beg him to take us with him. Then, he informs us that he is a policeman and tells us to come with him. We feel a moment of relief but the story doesn’t end there. We still have to  take a train to Krakow, Poland, in a couple hours. To summarize the rest of the events for this insane day, the policeman spoke with some near‐by residents who agreed to hide us in a small room of their apartment building until the situation subsided. We were later escorted to the train by their S.W.A.T. team. As we boarded the train and attempted to find our seats, we see a group of about 25 skinheads coming down the hallway towards us. While attempting to pass, we are met with shoves and shouts saying, “Go back to your country. This is our country.” Sadly, this group was comprised of mostly young adults and even a woman who happened to be holding a baby. All of them were dressed the same and were united in some sort of hatred that was unknown to us at that time. Eventually, we make it to our seats and notice that we have an armed escort into Poland. As our train was making its final stop in Krakow, we all feel the stress of that long day begin to ease but I’m left with a feeling that I’ve know throughout my entire life. This experience reiterated the fact that many different forms of intolerance are very present in all societies. In the remainder of this work, I would like to discuss the specifics of my own personal experience with intolerance in Prerov, Czech Republic, as well as other experiences as a multi‐racial man, the past and present ideas about race, and if there are any reasonable solutions to this vast problem.
First of all, what did we experience in Prerov? Was it racism? Was it nationalism? This answer requires a little background on how we got to this little city in the Czech Republic. The night before these events took place, People Places and Things, the band I was on tour with, performed a concert in Hungary. The following morning, we set out on our long journey via train to Krakow. This trip would require two transfers, the first of which was in the Czech Republic. Our travel instructions indicated that we were to take the second train to end of the line and transfer to the final train, which would take us to our destination. During this trip, the conductor came to our compartment and, in broken English, asks us if we are going to Krakow. We, of course, said yes. Then, he told us that we should get off at the next stop, which was really far away from our original destination. Since he was the conductor, we figured that he knew something about a change in the train schedule and was just trying to help us out. After exiting the train, we locate the schedule inside of the Prerov station and see that there is indeed a train that goes to Krakow but it doesn’t leave for at least three hours, which makes our already long trip, even longer. Next, we decide to venture out of the station in search of food but when we exit the building, we are greeted by a large presence of police, military, and tanks that are just sitting in front of the train station waiting for something to happen. Suddenly, they all take off. We think nothing of it and continue out into the city. As we walk around, we notice that there aren’t any open restaurants, which seems strange for a Saturday afternoon. In fact, everything is closed and there  aren’t any people on the streets, except for the police. After walking a short distance, we reach a barricade where a group of police officers greet us. “What are you doing?” one of the officers says with a concerned tone. We told him that we were just looking for something to eat and had a few hours to kill before our train was leaving, to which he replied, “This is not a good place to hang out. There is a skin‐head rally.” Immediately, we head back toward the train station to figure out how to escape this situation.
Short Video clip in the trains station before the mass crowd assembled

 At this point, there are two things worth examining. First, up until this point in my life, I had never had any contact with a skinhead. The little knowledge I had about neo‐Nazis came from history books, television, and movies. When we heard that we were about to have a real‐life encounter with them, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the descriptions that were fed into my mind by the various media sources previously mentioned. White supremacy, racism, and religious intolerance are just a few things that come to mind when I think of skinheads. To me, we were getting ready to have a run‐in with the very personification of evil. Here is where I discovered a problem with the way that I processed this situation. At the very thought of this group of people, I had all of these negative ideas without any real experience or interaction with them. Of course, their actions have been well‐ documented and it would be wise to consider consistent data but I wonder if this thought process is one of the major methods in which intolerance is spread? For example, according to an article written by Jarka Halkova, in 1945, most Czechoslovak citizens had never seen an African or African‐American and, by 2005, the African presence was still so small that it wasn’t even included in there national statistics. Yet, with little or no interaction with African people, they are just one of the many targets of intolerance from white supremacist groups in the Czech Republic. Second, what if we never got off of the train in Prerov? That’s a question I always think about. To expand on this requires a little background on the band. There are four of us, two Caucasians and two with multi‐racial backgrounds. The drummer has an African‐American father and a mother with Dutch and Indonesian heritage and I have an African‐American father and a Caucasian mother. I only mention our ethnicity so that it is clear that our physical features appear different from our other band members and from most of the people on the train in the Czech Republic. Earlier, I asked a question about what we experienced. In this situation, I believe the conductor mislead us because we looked different. We all believe that he set us up to get off of the train earlier than we planned so we would be caught in the middle in the neo‐Nazi rally. One reason we believe the conductor’s intentions were bad is because this event was advertised on the Internet. This wasn’t just a coincidence. With just an easy search on Google and Youtube, we discovered that far‐right groups organized this march in the city of Prerov for April 4, 2009. Many different groups made flyers and videos to spread the word about the event. I suppose the conductor figured that we would be some kind of bonus for the skinheads.
So, after doing a little research, I find that this rally was initially set to protest the presence of the Roma people in the Czech Republic. According to fightingdiscrimination.eu, in the week leading up to the event, many far‐right groups were using their websites to gain support in their march against “gypsy terrorism.” Roma are a subgroup of the Romani ethnic group and, although they are widely dispersed throughout much of Europe, have roots in the Indian Subcontinent. In 2001, a census was taken and only 11,746 people claimed to be a part of the Roma community when, in actuality, there were estimates of up to 300,000 Romani in the Czech Republic, which is 2‐3% of the total population. The far‐right groups accuse the Roma people of being “parasitic” and have a documented history of violent protest to their presence in the country. I still don’t understand why the city of Prerov was chosen as the location for this demonstration but I do know that near  the train station is the part of town that is known to be 100% Roma.
Who are these far‐right groups that put on this demonstration? What is their purpose? How do they operate today? Originally, the Czech Worker’s Party of  Social Justice called for the rally but later decided not to host the event. This group was a political party that was created in 2003 and was known to be the major far‐ right extremist group in the Czech Republic. In 2010, they were banned by the  Czech Supreme Court for their ideology, which includes support of the death  penalty, reduced rights for prosecuted, intolerance of homosexuals, and a proposal to mark ethnicity on ID cards, just to name a few points. Some of their more  criminal actions that gained the party more media attention include organizing riots in Roma neighborhoods and an arson attack in Vitkov. Since the Czech Worker’s Party distanced itself from the event, the Movement of Autonomous Nationalists and the National Resistance hosted the rally.
The Autonomous Nationalists began to appear in Germany and Holland around 2002 and have since spread to many of the Eastern European countries, including the Czech Republic. These groups call for the creation of a racially pure state and promise merciless combat with whomever disagrees. With a similar ideology to far‐right groups like the Czech Worker’s Party, they have adopted the appearance of far‐left groups. For example, Czech Worker’s Party members can be identified by their shaved heads and black, red, and white clothing while Autonomous Nationalists have done away with this dress code in order to deceive and to infiltrate anti‐fascist groups. They have even created sub‐groups that they call “anti‐antifa”. These deceptive groups attend anti‐fascist demonstrations disguised as fellow supporters of other far‐left groups but are actually there to physically harm all anti‐fascists and to attract more young people to the cause of the far‐right groups. Other characteristics of the Autonomous Nationalists include extreme violence and a false sense of concern for child poverty and capitalism only to attract new members. Also, due to the fact that they are anonymous and not organized as a political party, further prosecution is very difficult. For example, the demonstrators who rioted in Prerov and were arrested were only charged with disturbing the peace.

Stay tuned for part two next week!