Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Czechs' Response to Rising Extremism: Prevention through education?

With right-wing extremism on the rise, increased risk of racially motivated harassment and violence against minorities has become a reality in the Czech Republic. The economic downturn in Europe, as in the United States, is plunging people into poverty and fueling xenophobia, racism, insecurity and hightening tensions between disadvantaged groups. Extremist ideology is also becoming increasingly used in political rhetoric, and many worry about the possibility of hate becoming a mainstream political vehicle as has happened in Hungary, for instance, where the far-right party Jobbik currently holds 47 of 386 parliamentary seats.

The annual report of the human rights group, Czech Helsinki Commitee, cites as one of the primary issues facing the Czech Republic, "the increasing radicalization of neo-Nazis and violent attacks against the Roma population." An example of this is an April 2009 arson attack on a Roma family, which resulted in a two-year-old girl suffering severe burns to 80 percent of her body. The perpetrators of the attack are associated with a far-right group and are currently on trial.

In light of this alarming trend, what kinds of efforts are Czech institutions undertaking, specifically in the field of education (a later post will focus on violence prevention via the criminal justice system), to curb the appeal of hate group ideology to economically struggling whites?

In response to the growth of the neo-Nazi movement, and with the intention of steering young people away from the dangers of the ideology of hate, Varianty, an educational program of the human rights organization People in Need, created a booklet for teachers to use in the classroom. The booklet is available online and in CD-form to be ordered for free by schools. The organization is, according to the news service iDnes, currently out of funds to provide printed copies of the text.

The approximately two-hundred-page long booklet, "The Threat of Neo-Nazism, Democratic Opportunities", describes the history of homegrown right-wing extremism. The text, developed in cooperation with the police unit specializing in monitoring extremist activity, also contains pictures of neo-Nazis and their insignia as well as topics for facilitated discussions. The most controversial aspect of the booklet is the inclusion of passages from hate group literature. The authors, however, argue that such information is widely available to those students who choose to seek it out and that examining it critically is crucial.

In the booklet, teachers are provided with guidelines on how to present and analyze the materials with their students. However, the reality is that many educators are still unsure about how to approach the subjects of extremism and racism, and as a result steer away from providing their students with the opportunity to examine hate group ideology critically. Clearly, instructors need more tools and support on how to implement such ambitious programs in their classrooms. Additionally, there needs to be a system-wide effort to infuse public school curriculum with anti-bias education.

According to the press agency iDnes, the Czech Ministry of Education is currently preparing "a directive concerning education against racism, xenophobia, and intolerance." It is unclear how this directive will differ from the 1995 version, which simply asks of schools and educators to teach about tolerance without any accountability. Let us hope the initiative goes beyond a directive in outlining a strategy for teacher training and support and in setting some specific, measurable goals. Education countering the power of hate ideology is of crucial importance now.

Of course, one key way of preventing extremism, aside from discussing and taking a strong stance against it outright with students, is through dismantling divisions and prejudice between groups from an early age. In the Czech Republic, where segregation in education is a serious problem affecting the Roma, more of an effort must be made to make schools inclusive and to retain Romani students and teaching assistants in mainstream classrooms.

"Exclusion of Romani students from mainstream classrooms and their education in segregated schools in Romani communities," states the Czech Government Approach toward Roma Integration for the Years 2010-2013, "make experiencing contact impossible for other students, thereby endangering their readiness for peaceful coexistence in the future. Segregation elevates the risk of mistrust, spread of prejudice and xenophobia between the two groups."

[This post originally appeared on Tereza Bottman's Advocacy Project blog]

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