Romany singer Radek Banga is to receive the František Kriegel Award for civic courage, handed out annually by the Charter 77 Foundation. The popular rapper was selected for his fearless stand against racism and xenophobia in Czech society.
Radek Banga, frontman for one of the Czech Republic’s best-known bands Gipsy.cz, is a household name in the Czech Republic. With its unusual mix of traditional Romany music crossed with rap, hip hop, pop and r‘n’b Gipsy gained fans across generations. Its frontman Radek Banga spoke out openly about the problems of the Roma community in the Czech Republic, about his own childhood and what it is like to be constantly up against racial prejudice. He was not afraid to criticize his own Roma community for what he regarded as its failings or the attitude of the general public for refusing to accept them.
Last year he made headlines when he and his wife walked out of the Slavík Music Awards gala ceremony in protest against the fact that by popular vote the band Ortel, known for its xenophobic and neo-Nazi lyrics, won second place in two categories. “I grieve for the fact that this obvious promotion of Nazism was not just ignored by the entire audience, but that most people even applauded it” he said later in defence of his stand.
Jaroslav Veis, a member of the jury which selected him for the 2017 František Kriegel Award, says his fearless effort to jolt Czech society into awareness of what the Ortel band stands for and the dangers of tolerating racism and xenophobia won him the prize.
“The award given by popular vote to the band Ortel which supported or was inspired by neo-Nazi symbolism was accepted by the rest of the pop music community very calmly or was even warmly welcomed. He protested. He protested because the band Ortel uses racist, neo-Nazi and xenophobic lyrics and symbols. And he was alone, only one actress joined him in the protest and the hall full of Czech pop music celebrities just applauded. Afterwards Radek Banga was attacked, not physically, but on the social media and he and his whole family were repeatedly threatened. He was simply the only one who stood up and said “look, we have to do something about this, we can’t just let an expression of potential neo-Nazism be applauded in this country.”
František Kriegel, a Charter 77 signatory, was the only Czechoslovak politician who refused to sign Moscow's humiliating dictate after the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in August of 1968. "Send me to Siberia or shoot me dead," he said when asked to sign the document. He was expelled from the Communist Party in 1969 and in the last decade of his life worked tirelessly for the opposition. He was among the first to sign Charter 77. He died in hospital in Prague and his body was seized by the authorities to prevent any demonstrations at a funeral.
The František Kriegel Award for civic courage was established in 1987 in Sweden. Among the previous recipients of the award are dissident singer and songwriter Karel Kryl, journalist Petra Procházková and whistle-blower Libor Michálek.