Where does it come from?

Where does it come from?

Where do the ideas promoted by Zeman, Okamura or groups such as IVČRN [Trans: We Don’t Want Islam in the Czech Republic] come from? Hardly from a Muslim invasion of the Czech Republic since there isn’t one. The current hysteria is just another variation on a theme interwoven throughout our modern history.

This year according to the federal government some eight hundred thousand people will claim asylum in Germany, with Syrians being able to remain automatically. More precisely the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees has suspended the application of the Dublin Procedure for those coming from that country. Nonetheless Germany is not collapsing and despite all the Pegidas and Legidas (notice that these kinds of organisations have arisen almost without exception in what was East Germany) Germans are showing solidarity with refugees and the majority supports the government’s approach.

In the meantime however the Czech Republic, one of the minor transit routes to Germany, is experiencing an apocalypse, brought about by fifteen hundred Syrians and a few hundred others, who may be admitted – all the others who stray into our beleaguered country are sent across the borders. Similarly powerful is also the brutal Islamisation that Czechs are apparently suffering. Indeed Brno even has a functioning mosque (actually since 1998 and still the only one in the country), and in every larger town you can encounter a stall or restaurant offering kebabs and falafel.

The enemy is elsewhere

Are Konvička, Okamura or Zeman really so stupid that they are not aware of the absurdity of their stance? They are probably too smart for this, but in any case the general public takes them seriously. What last year was still the burning and all-threatening “Romani problem” is all of a sudden not so pressing, and it is once more those “at the top” and in Prague coffee bars, who in the pay of Angela Merkel or the Americans are harming the nation. And a traitor is still the worse enemy, especially an imaginary one!

After reading the posts of Martin Konvička on his blog or Facebook profile it is hard to resist making an amateur attempt at establishing his diagnosis and at the same time gaining the impression that his main enemy is not really the Muslims – after all he shares with fundamentalists a similar view of women. In his version the nation is threatened above all by multiculturalism, liberalism or for example emancipation, as when someone dares to make an issue of cervical cancer.

Unfortunately it is nothing new in this country. Certainly, after the First World War the liberal-thinking, and in his time most-hated intellectual (“Masaryk, you deserve to swing with Hilsner”), became head of state, in a similar manner to what happened seventy-one years later with Havel. In both cases it was to a certain extent a matter of coincidence and above all in a climate of expectations of change for the better, of a positive dynamic. At any time when the situation is “less sunny” or “cloudy”, the complete opposite, anti-elite, reflex comes into play.

They aren’t like you

It happened like that in the second republic [Trans: the rump Czechoslovak state that existed briefly between Munich and the German invasion], which appeared to compete with the Reich to have the most anti-Semitic legislation, in the immediate post-war period and in the 1950s. Whether it was the Jews, the Germans or the bourgeoisie, cosmopolitan intellectuals in the cities or kulaks [Trans: wealthier farmers] in the villages – the enemy was always someone with higher social standing, or at least someone who was at least seen as having a higher place on the social ladder. Like in the ‘normalisation’ [Trans: after the Warsaw Pact invasion in 1968] campaigns against dissidents: they’ve got money, they’re decadent, and they’re looking down on you.

There is of course more than one reason for this Czech approach. Its roots stretch far back into the past, to a time when the issue was possibly not even of nations. The customary language of educated people however was German. And Czech society sought its modern identity exactly in opposition to everything German – and even today we find it difficult to find many “definitions of Czechness” that are other than about what they exclude. One thing we know for sure: those above were always bad.

Photograph: František Vlček, MAFRA
Text: Jaroslav Ostrčilík