Unde malum? A ministerial boondoggle to battle xenophobia

Research Center for the Archaeology of Evil wants to teach schoolchildren about racism, genocide and human nature

Politics & Policy|Society
Martin Rychlík | 27.04.2012
The ostensible aim of the new center is an interdisciplinary study based on finding the roots of genocide — such as was experienced by hundreds of thousands in Armenia between 1915 and 1923

There are matters about which one really cannot joke. And there are also matters from which it is considered highly improper to seek any kind of profit. Among these is surely human dignity, the death of innocents or teaching about Man’s darkest sides – those that have throughout history generated so much cruelty and horror. Whoever thought that then Education Minister Josef Dobeš (Public Affairs, VV) throwing away hundreds of millions of crowns for a bizarre “Individual National Projects” (IPn) initiative, which is supposed to support the Czech education system, could end up alongside other mythical failures such asOKNO or SPORT?

This question was asked by many during the unveiling of an entirely new IPn on April 20 – coincidentally, the date of Hitler’s birthday. The people from the Research Center for the Archeaology of Evil o.p.s (a form of NGO, which translates as “Mutually Beneficial Company” under which profits are permitted but they must be funneled back into the same “beneficial” services) behind a new proposal to study evil – and one should note that they don’t even have a website – quite possibly chose this date deliberately in order to kick off the academic debate by invoking the infamous Nazi leader and the memory of the Holocaust. This overall goal is undoubtedly a noble one, but in this case it is accompanied by a curious whiff of something not quite right.

Their project is entitled “Unde malum” which translates from Latin as “From whence cometh evil”; this is a question that has been pondered as far back as during the time of St. Augustine, though in this case, the sum allotted for such pondering has been provisionally budgeted at Kč 90 million. The project is meant to prevent racism and point to the origins of evil in human society. It will be dependent on a grant from the EU’s Education for Competitiveness Operational Program (OP VK in Czech).

This overall goal is undoubtedly a noble one, but in this case it is accompanied by a curious whiff of something not quite right. The official annotation notes that it seeks to “create a more effective systematic framework for the acquisition and adoption of awareness in the field of the prevention of racism and xenophobia and the study of genocides, mass killings and other forms of ethnic and race-based violence in rudimentary, tertiary and further education.”

This much is noted in official publicity materials, which we append here in PDF format for readers to study in full (in Czech only). But before we are “transported” to Friday’s roundtable, which was attended by an unusually large number of people, it is important to present a few additional details relating to this endeavor. Even the philosopher Michel Foucault — who in his innovative approach towards the perception of history coined the notion of “the archaeology of knowledge” — would have been surprised at how easy it has become to create a new field of science, one no doubt accompanied by essential testimonies (énoncé)...

New Science!

“The source of this systematic framework will be a newly formulated scientific discipline based on the principle of the study of the origins of evil in human history (the archaeology of evil). The aim of the proposed activities within this field is to prevent the gradual forgetting and doubting of incidents of mass killing and racial violence (for example denial of the Holocaust), and systematically study the causes and contexts of such events.

The findings of these studies would then be presented to future generations in order to assist in the reduction of racist and xenophobic tendencies both in terms of the human mindset and social dealings.” What is apparently proposed in this new discipline is basically designed to be a kind of Czech version of “genocide studies.”

One of the main figures proposing this project is Pavel Chalupa, the head of the board of trustees of the Research Center for the Archaeology of Evil o.p.s., which was founded in 2004, but has since changed its name several times. The last time was on February 15, 2012, when the former “Via Carolina” became today’s “Center”. The director is one Šimon Krbec, who last June 28th even managed to lodge this new kind of science – namely the “archaeology of evil” – as a trademark for a variety of products including CDs, movies, photographs, books and even for school educational aides.

The expert guarantor of the Unde malum project is the well-known expert on extremism Zdeněk Zbořil, who undoubtedly deserves respect for his many years of study in this field. In an introductory seminar, attended by representatives from NGOs such as People in Need, Open Society Fund and Post Bellum, Chalupa primarily pointed to his contributions within the framework of the Czech-German-Jewish cultural festival Devět bran (Nine Gates), which celebrated its twelfth annual gathering last year. Among its partners were the ČEZ Foundation, and companies such as Eltodo, the Prague Transit Authority or the now infamous ProMoPro, as can be evidenced at the festival’s website.

In order to organize such an event, the cooperation of politicians has been and still is crucial; members of the current honorary board include the PM, chair of the Senate and head of the Chamber of Deputies as well as Prague’s mayor. According to Czech Position sources, Chalupa and Antonín Zelenka, the current head of the Ministry of Education’s press office (who became famous during the era of the so-called “television revolt” of 2000), are friends.

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