Lukáš Houdek: “Minorities need to know that we are here to support them”

Prague, Czech Republic– HateFree Culture is a government-supported organization that ventures into the world of minorities in the Czech Republic.

We are the initiative of people who strive to live without violence and hatred… We are convinced of the existence of sensible, creative and innovative ways to improve them. Life in fear and hatred does not bring anything positive.

The project counts with over 5000 members and 285 registered “safe zones” all around the country. Lukáš Houdek is the project coordinator for HateFree Culture,

I’m part of HateFree Culture because I have a hatred of hate violence”.



How did HateFree start?

The project itself has been around for five years, but it had been prepared maybe even eight years ago. There was a call for it and the government of the Czech Republic declared that there would be a funded project against hate crime, and it would be complex.

HateFree is only one part of the project; the other parts include educating the police on how to help victims of hate violence, and we also work with mayors and local actors to carry out research.


What would you say is the overall aim of the project?

To inform about the topic of hate violence and what it can look like. Anyone can be a target of hate violence or bullying: it’s all connected. The aim was to create a platform to discuss these issues. The problem is that these topics are always stated on television, but there is no platform where there could be a moderate debate about them. We want to educate people on how they can discuss it and of course to connect people from very different spheres.

Of course we want to combat hate speech, but we don’t really expect that we will change people’s minds… that would be utopia. But, you can give them a chance and work with those that are not haters already.


Why is Hate Free important in the Czech Republic?

We have a big issue with hate speech, I think, and at the moment we are one of the most hysteric countries with the migration crisis. So, I think it’s important, not because people have to like us, but there should be someone saying that this is not alright anymore. Also, you give support to the minorities so that they can feel like they have someone fighting for them, that there is someone leading a good example and trying to fight for their rights socially.


Is minority representation in media something that the project’s concerned with?

Very much. There are so many  lies about the refugee crisis that shows the Czech media is more showing about them in 90% negative ways,and that’s why people have the image that they are problems.

It’s also about LGBTQ+ rights. I always read negatively about them in the media. They are not criminals and they want marriage, but very often we see them along the lines of making problems.


What is the project trying to do for the LGBTQ+ community in particular ?

We had a special campaign last year that got a huge response. It was portraits of about 40 couples: gay, hetero, lesbian, bisexual. It was just about love, so they would say what they loved about each other. We want to show love, no matter whose it is. This campaign had a huge reach, because people really liked it, they could read it and everybody would feel participating. We tried to include all people, but we emphasized the topic, we wanted people to feel connected… This is how we do it.

In a previous campaign we had about hate speech, we again photographed famous and nonfamous people, showing them with the hate messages they get. Because of this, people could connect to their experiences, so the LGBTQ+ situation is one of out main issues.


Did you get a good response to these projects ?

We always… we make headlines. And in a negative way, often, because we are doing things the public doesn’t like. In our campaigns we try to include everyone, even if we’re only focusing on a minority. So we can get a lot of hateful comments on the media, because we are acting in favor of some group that is just not as popular.

We also feel that the LGBTQ+ issue is a common ground issue. It’s a kind of topic that you can really make a comment about, which can lead onto other issues that are much more difficult.


What about the reaction to the Hate Free project as a whole?

There’s always a big debate about where we get the budget. HateFree only has a part of the budget destined for the entire project. It was always a huge topic in the campaign that people used against us, that we are stealing the money from the people. Other headlines said we have a network of HateFree zones that were declaring themselves as open to anyone;  we have almost 300 of them all over the country, and seven of them in Prague!



What kind of spaces are you targeting?

We are open to any kind of space: cafes, theatres, galleries, but also companies, or state institutions. It can be anything, so we try to reach as many places as possible. Then what we do is have exhibitions in public spaces all over so we can get to people who may not be online.


Why do you think the project is so important right now, in the current sociopolitical climate?

Well, because of both politicians and public. They all have hate speech (sometimes) against minorities. The problem we have now is that there are some politicians who in the public sphere speak openly against minorities.


Did your group have any involvement with Gay Pride?

Yes, since our beginning. Last year we did some independent events during the pride festival. We always have our tents as the main attraction, where we have people doing kind of campaigns for the project.


Do you think that things like pride have a positive impact for the LGBTQ+ community?

There is a lot of criticism of course, and a large debate about pride, because it shows.

If nobody would cared, then there would be no discussion.

I think that  you can see, since the festival started, the topic was very discussed so many times, because of the hate speech towards the festival, so people can see what needs to be happening.

The public opinion is really changing dramatically though– over 50% of support has moved to gay adoption, which was a no go zone just some years ago!


Talking about the regulations on gay marriage and gay adoption in the Czech Republic… Do you think that’s going to be changing any time soon?

I think it could happen, because there is a huge public support. Politicians often do things that do what the public want. If there is support of gay marriage, increasingly, it could become a possibility.


Disclaimer: some of the answers have been edited for length/clarification.


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