You can also listen to the gloss in the audio version.
Read the Happy Word:
Jindřich Šídel’s regular Saturday gloss about things that move politics and society and which you may not have noticed or didn’t want to notice.
There are certain types of clothing that are not quite socially appropriate for certain occasions. For example, overalls at a classical music concert. Or the Bohemians jersey in the middle of a cauldron of Spartan fans.
Or a sweatshirt with the inscription “Olympics 1972” at a demonstration for Palestinian rights.
This story has been alive on social networks for several days and my colleague Jan Novák wrote about it, so just a brief summary. A young woman living in Prague named Jasmeen went to the Prague march in support of Palestine on Tuesday wearing a sweatshirt with this inscription. Which, especially on the X network (it used to be the good old Twitter), sparked heated debates, whether by chance she wanted to recall the terrorist attack by the Palestinian Black September commandos on Israeli athletes at the Summer Olympics in Munich in 1972. The result of the rampage of terrorists and botched police action at the time was 11 dead Israelis.
The police also started to deal with the case from Prague, but frankly speaking, this will be quite a complicated case. Jasmeen claims she had no idea about the anti-Semitic symbolism in which she took to the streets. She just kept the costume from the Halloween parade referring to the villainous character from the children’s novel Matilda by Roald Dahl.
Well Now what? At first glance, anyone who remembers the 1990s is bound to remember the popular “pranks” of the Czech neo-Nazis, who raised their right hand to show each other “how much snow fell in the Alps this year” or – following the example of Vlasta Burian, who they probably never heard of – “how high our dog jumps”.
However, hailing is quite difficult to do after all. Here we enter the more sophisticated world of symbols that are meant for “those in the know”. And in the event that they see any inconvenience, you can always put on a surprised and outraged expression “but we didn’t mean it like that”.
Play Happy Monday
Sometimes it works out. The hero of the local brownish music scene, Tomáš Hnídek alias Ortel, got married elegantly in 2018 on Adolf Hitler’s birthday, April 20. It just sort of happened. You wouldn’t expect anything else from a man who started out in the band Conflict 88, where two figure eights cover the Heil Hitler salute.
The former leader of the Slovak ultra-right, Marian Kotleba, had a slightly worse run-in: The court sentenced him to probation for checks for 1,488 euros (14 for a change signals “14 words” or a sloppy neo-Nazi slogan), which he handed out as a bathrobe to the families of high school students from Banská Bystrica. Kotleba thus lost his parliamentary mandate and his entire political career.
But even this symbolism was still quite well known and no one doubted for a second what Kotleba wanted to say.
Is this also the case with Jasmeen? Honestly: I don’t know. A young woman who has such a definite opinion on the Middle East problem claims that she has never heard of the events of the Munich Olympics in her life. They are one of the tragic iconic moments of the entire long story. This is actually rather difficult to believe. But hey, it will probably be better for her if we think that she is simply uneducated, or even – sorry – completely stupid and insensitive. But it doesn’t have to be a crime. Just a social stigma.
That’s probably how it will turn out in the end. It doesn’t have to offend us right away if we know that if someone shows up at a similar event in a similar outfit, it will be completely clear why they are doing it and what they mean by it.
And will the police then step in, as many debaters on social networks would like? I’m not sure about that either. Perhaps we can be comforted by the fact that even countries, which we sometimes tend to look up to as truly advanced and in many ways surpassing our post-communist landscape, are not sure of the borderline of verbal hate crimes.
Like Britain. Exactly two weeks ago I came across a huge pro-Palestinian demonstration in central London. According to the police, 100,000 people marched through the streets around Hyde Park towards Whitehall, which is, after all, a difference compared to Prague. Most of them peacefully exercised their democratic right to protest. But there were also more radical demonstrators shouting slogans about “jihad”, i.e. – as we perceive it in this part of the world – “holy war”.
Listen to the Happy Podcast
The police did not take action against most of them, although we can imagine the feelings this must have evoked in London’s Jewish community 14 days after the brutal attack by Hamas. Or in anyone else. British Home Secretary Suella Braverman criticized the police’s actions. But London’s police chief, Mark Rowley, defended his men and women: “Our job is to enforce the law. Parliament’s task is to formulate and pass such a law. Perhaps current events show that some legal boundaries are not quite in the right place,” Rowley said after the meeting with the minister.
And so it is. Of course, it is never possible to describe in the language of paragraphs all conceivable situations and symbols that are supposed to spread hatred and admire or incite violence. But it is about society clarifying the meaning of certain words and symbols. And she realized what exactly they mean and why they are dangerous.
Jasmeen in the “Olympics 1972” sweatshirt from our Prague story and her friends know it by now. And they are certainly sincerely sorry.