Czech anarchist, advocate of Romani people’s rights, has passed away

Political scientist Ondřej Slačálek has informed the Czech Press Agency that the famous Czech anarchist and defender of the rights of Romani people, Jakub Polák, passed away yesterday. The activist succumbed to cancer just after turning 60. In the months before his death he was engaged in the case of the evictions of people living in the buildings on Přednádraží street in Ostrava-Přívoz.

Jakub Polák was born on 1 September 1952 in Karlovy Vary and became involved in public life in 1968, as a result of which he was forbidden from enrolling into higher education. He was part of the dissident and underground movements in the years after 1968. In 1989 he was a co-founder of the strike committee and actively contributed to the events of the Velvet Revolution. However, from the beginning of his public life he advocated for alternative political stances, which led him to join the ranks of the “Left Alternative” (Levá alternativa – LA), where he was active as its executive secretary. There he became a member of the anarchist wing of the LA, which later left the LA to become the Czechoslovak Anarchist Association (Československé anarchistické sdružení – ČAS). In 1990 Jakub Polák co-founded the first squat in Prague on plk. Sochora street. Together with people from ČAS he began publishing the A-Kontra magazine in 1991, which became the main publication of the anarchist movement as it came into being during the first half of the 1990s. At that time he was considered the unofficial spokesperson of Czech anarchism.

Since 1996 Mr Polák has undertaken the rule of attorney-in-fact for the victims of neo-Nazi attacks in the Czech Republic, doing his best through the courts to force state authorities to responsibly address the issue of hate crimes, as well as to reveal to the public the authorities’ inaction toward (or even hidden sympathy with) the neo-Nazis. The cases in which he was involved include the murder of Tibor Danihel in Písek in 1993, the murder of Zdeňek Čepela in Tanvald in 1994, the murder of Milan Lacek in Orlová in 1998, the pogrom-like operation waged by skinheads in the Modrá hvězda restaurant in České Budějovice in November 1999, and the case of the murder of Ota Absolon in Svitavy in 2001, in which Mr Polák ultimately questioned the conviction and sentencing of Vlastimil Pechanec (a local neo- Nazi activist). He succeeded in taking Tibor Danihel’s case to the Czech Supreme Court and having it reclassified, to the detriment of the convicted assailants.

Mr Polák was recognized for his activity in the year 2000 with the František Kriegl Prize, which is awarded by the Charter 77 Foundation (Nadace Charty 77). He won the prize in recognition of his battle against the apathy of the Czech justice system and the police with respect to cases of discriminatory violence.

Mr Polák was also a member of the editorial staff of the monthly Romano gendalos (“Romani Mirror”), which was published between 1993 and 1995. Additionally, he worked with news server until shortly before passing away. In 2010 he became the attorney-in-fact for the victims of an attack in Benešov committed by a group of 12 neo-Nazis.

Mr Polák considered himself to be an anarchist and squatter his entire life. The collective of squatters was the circle of friends who took care of him until the end. He dedicated himself to the case of the evictions of Romani people from the ghetto on Přednádraží street in Ostrava until the last days of his life.

Czech Press Agency, ras, A-kontra, translated by Gwendolyn Albert