Xenophobia, racism and Islamophobia is a present issue in most European countries. Stereotypical opinions, generalization, prejudices and even hatred towards ethnic minorities and immigrants is spreads every time society faces difficulties in economy or, especially in the case of hatred towards Muslims, whenever great fear is set into people´s minds in the form of terrorist attacks. The Czech Republic is not the exception from this scenario.
Nowadays, when the topics of racism and xenophobia are discussed more and more openly criticized, it is actually not so easy to call yourself a racist. Of course, extremist movements and extremists still exist, but for example extreme-right political party DSSS („Dělnická strana sociální spravedlnosti“, The Workers Party of Social Justice) received little votes in the last elections and so do not have any politicians in Parliament.
Unfortunately this does not mean that there are only a few racists and Islamophobes in the the Czech Republic. They just don´t admit it, especially when they are a politician or public figure, of course. Because it can endanger their political career. They are very well aware of the fact, that racist and anti-democratic opinions are just not so popular in today’s fairly open-minded Czech society.
What we see when racism is hidden, are euphemisms from our politicians. When it comes to racist and xenophobic opinions these politicians even hide them behind seemingly well-intentioned and legitimate demands. It is normal to want a safe country for our children, right? It is normal for a prosperous country to live without feat, right? Therefore our policies are not racism!
I am not a racist, but…
But actually, it is racism (as well as bordering on the violation of human rights), when you say that Roma people from the Czech Republic should be relocated from the country, as Tomio Okamura, Czech politician, member of the Chamber of Deputies and leader of Dawn of Direct Democracy politic party, once said. Roma people in the Czech Republic usually have Czech nationality and citizenship, and so requirement for their resettling is a violation of their civil rights.
Okamura hides behind “legitimate demands“, declaring himself a defender of the Czech state and its prosperity, and behind mimicked interests of ordinary Czech citizens. Actually, it is very clever, how to set this hateful agenda: first, make people angry or frighten them by saying lies and stereotypes about ethnic minorities or immigrants or Muslims. Then to tell them it is in their own interest to defend themselves from these dangers.
A few weeks back Okamura stated that ‘the more kebabs we buy in the Czech Republic will lead to more burqas here’. And by this, he not only extremely simplify the situation, saying that each kebab seller is a Muslim, but also spreading very dangerous stereotypes, that all Muslims are extremists, who want to convert Czechs into Muslims, etc. This is just one step in marking all Muslims as terrorists, as a national threat.
While, according to European Court for Human Rights, it is necessary to prevent all forms of expression which promote or justify hatred and intolerance, in the Czech Republic it is still common among politicians.
Is Islam a real danger in the Czech Republic?
One might say, that this wave of hatred and islamophobia is understandable – In a time when Europe is shocked by terrorist attacks. Yes – many people tend to generalize and stereotype, not having the time or mindset to look at the problem in depth and are therefore easily manipulated by media. When they see in the news every day, that Roma people are depicted as those who are exploiting our welfare and Muslims as those who are violent and terrorists, and they don´t have the access to other source of information, which will put this into the context and show whole wide reality, then they could easily start to believe what they are shown. It also has much to do with the skewered media narrative, as well as the fact that most news in the Czech Republic seems to be gossip rather than fact.
If we put in just a little effort and search for some data, we will see how mistaken we are in our fear of Islam. Firstly, I will no more clarify the fact, that not all Muslims are terrorist, because judging 1.6 billion people according to small group of extremists, is simply stupid. But then, if we look more in depth on this common opinion in the Czech Republic, that Muslim immigrants are threat for our traditional culture, it is also enormous nonsense. According to Czech Ministry of Internal Affairs that there are only 0,11 % of Muslims in the Czech republic, only 11,235 out of 10 million inhabitants. The data even says that after decades there will be still almost no Muslims in Czech Republic. But according to the research of Economist, non-Muslim citizens in Europe estimate the number of Muslims living in Europe as much bigger than it actually is.
And so we see, that this big fear it is actually not more than a simple poor populism of politicians who toy with public moods, even creating tension to achieve their own benefits. And all of this in the name of the “common citizens´ interests“. What else will this phrase justify?
Eva Michálková is volunteer and activist from the Czech Republic who last year graduated with a degree in International Social and Humanitarian Work. She is currently working as an international volunteer at the Women´s Information Centre in Tbilisi.