Resistance to refugees in a country without refugees
Die Pestsäule in der Altstadt von Pardubice
By Finn Rowold
Pardubice is a provincial town in the Czech Republic on the border between Bohemia and Moravia with a university, chemical industry and the old town where I stayed.
Most of the people I talked to on the street, in the hotel and in the city centre, were characterized by an extremely negative attitude towards refugees, towards the EU and towards Germany. The negative stories from other countries, such as the Cologne New Year's Eve, myths and lies, thrived in the press and among ordinary people.
Well, I thought, this is probably the case here in town only. At university it is probably different - and I was to attend ISA`s - International Sonnenberg Association's - Czech conference at the University on problems in the EU, and on ways to make ordinary citizens way have greater influence on the union's life and work. At the university, they surely would know that the Czech Republic has taken virtually no refugees, that the country was in fact in need of additional labour, and that terrorism does not necessarily have anything to do with immigration, but mostly grows out of already existing criminal environments in the country concerned.
It turned out not to be much better at the university and certainly not among the students, where all the horror and urban myths from other countries are alive and kicking - incidentally the same stories that live among xenophobic Danes.
The talk was consistently about migrants and not refugees - with the undertone that these people were coming solely to earn more and improve their living standards to the detriment of the country's population, and that these migrants/refugees brought terrorism.
Some said that they "would not be part of IS," one said outright that all immigrants were "useless".
The fear was paired with annoyance and hatred against Germany, personified by Angela Merkel, who had allowed so many to come to Germany and now, via the EU, requested other European countries to take their share of the refugee burden.
Neither the EU nor Merkel should decide how many refugees each country should take, was a recurring theme.
Dislike of Germans prevailed, probably rooted in the German domination of the Czech Republic before and during WW2. But mostly there was a reverse reasoning, saying that refugees do not really want to be in the Czech Republic, proof being that a Christian organization had brought a large number of Christian Iraqi refugees, who had decided, however, to travel on to Germany immediately.
All the time you heard the view that the EU must solve the refugee problem, without the individual countries in the Union having to contribute. This is grotesque - no matter that it is also occasionally aired here in Denmark.
The few sensible points of view put forward from the Czech side tried to explain the extremely negative attitude towards refugees and the towards the EU with a lack of education, lack of knowledge - and political indoctrination.
The last point is perhaps the most serious, as only a very few politicians dare to speak for a Czech contribution to the solution of the refugee problem.
Of course, the predominant political attitude should be seen in the context of an obsequious and uncritical press, never questioning the incredible tall tales that are peddled by the president and other politicians.
A journalist at the conference recounted cheerfully that his main task was to write in a Czech newspaper all the negative refugee stories he could find in the German (Bavarian) press.
The positive German press was consistently called Lügepresse (liar press), and the people who advocate a common humanitarian solution were called "Gutmenschen", which means something like foolishly kind.
The communist period also get some of the blame for the negative public perception towards all that comes from the outside, and especially from the west. People had been accustomed to follow the official opinion without necessarily believing in it, simply because it would pay off best that way.
There were those who stressed that the Czechs were in fact a helpful people, and during the crisis in Yugoslavia they had received many refugees, including Muslims from Bosnia. Earlier they had also received many Vietnamese refugees, and the Czech Republic made great contributions to developing countries.
So there is a faint hope that the fear may be overcome and cooperation with neighbouring countries and the rest of Europe intensified. This will be necessary for the EU to get through the current crisis, which is not least linked to the positions of the Czech Republic and other Eastern European countries.
Sonnenberg's motto is to "talk together, understand each other, overcome prejudices and act responsibly together". Especially prejudices came to the test in the Czech Republic, and it is my view that both sides learned a lot from this meeting.