Racist murder shocks Czechs

December 5, 1997

A Sudanese economics student stabbed to death by a skinhead in Brno on November 8 could become the founding sacrifice of a campaign to stem the tide of racism in the Czech Republic.

So wrote president Vaclav Havel in the newspaper Mlada Fronta Dnes, urging that "racist and other intolerant movements" should be banned as swiftly as possible.

Writing from his hospital bed, where he was recovering from bronchitis and pneumonia, Mr Havel called for the prosecution of journals that publish overtly or blatently racist articles.

He called for state attorneys and courts to punish racially motivated attacks rapidly and effectively. While this could not lessen the grief of the family of student Hassan al-Amin abd al-Radi, it could at least mean that he had not died in vain.

The murder evoked a strong reaction for the students of Brno's Masaryk University. Some 10,000 of them took part in a rally of protest and mourning in the city's Freedom Square on November 15. The date was the nearest Saturday to November 17, the anniversary both of the murder of a student leader by the Nazis during the second world war and of the student demonstration that triggered the "Velvet Revolution" that toppled the Communist regime in 1989.

Brno mayor Dagmar Lastovecka said that racism required not just a change in laws but a change in "how people think".

Although racism and racist gatherings by skinheads have increased, the murder seems to have taken the authorities by surprise. Police chief Olrich Tomasek admitted that the police have not been sufficiently "consistent" in fighting racism, and that tougher measures would be introduced.

President Havel, too, was prepared to shoulder part of the blame. "Those of us who fought for freedom," he wrote, "made a big mistake." Democrats had "failed to take account of the danger that freedom, suddenly gained, would awaken suppressed tendencies" of ethnic, religious or ideological intolerance.

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