Thursday

18th Jan 2018

Czechs fear far-away Islam

  • "Killed in the name of Islam," read posters during an anti-Islam demonstration in Prague on May Day.

“Islam bans the things we love - sitting in the grass on a beautiful day like this exposing skin to sun, with a beer and a sausage in hand,” said one of the speakers at a demonstration in Prague. “As soon as there are many Muslims here, they will not respect our rules.”

The May Day protest, organised by the far-right group Bloc Against Islam, did not mention refugees. Those who joined insist that the people currently coming to Europe are not refugees, but economic migrants, or worse – Islamic invaders.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

“If they were really running away from war, they would stay in neighbouring countries,” said one of the participants.

In the Czech Republic, the refugee crisis is widely framed as a danger of Muslim migration. Islam is a favourite argument of the outspoken president Milos Zeman against refugees.

Last October he warned that the migrants would enforce Sharia law, stoning unfaithful wives and cutting off hands of thieves. “We will be robbed of the beauty of our women, because they will be covered head to toe in burka,” he said.

In January he claimed the Muslim Brotherhood had organised the current exodus of refugees with funding from various Muslim countries and the goal of taking control of Europe.

“The integration of Muslims is practically impossible,” he insisted. The fierce anti-migrant rhetoric has boosted Zeman’s approval rating to an all-time high, according to various opinion polls.

The president is not the only one waging an anti-refugee campaign in the Czech Republic.

In May, the investigative reporting website Hlidaci Pes (Watchdog) published testimonies of several journalists from the third most-watched TV channel, Prima, that the management had instructed them to portray refugees as a threat.

A number of bogus stories about Muslims and refugees have been spreading on the internet.

Last December a false news story broke that asylum seekers raped two little girls in Kostelec nad Orlici and that the police banned the media from reporting on it.

With a refugee camp on the edge of the town, several other pieces of misinformation went around. In Kostelec, the mayor, Frantisek Kinsky, is eager to address any rumours that may cause panic. But elsewhere people do not know what to believe.

Only a very small number of Czechs have met a Muslim. It is estimated that between 10,000 and 20,000 Muslims live in the country, which is less than 0.2 percent of the population.

With the lack of personal experience, people are easily frightened by what they see on the internet. “Many share this content without even reading the whole story,” says Lukas Houdek of the initiative Hatefree, which specialises in exposing online hoaxes.

Muslims can do nothing right

While some are scared of refugees, others worry about radicalisation of society.

“Various groups are gradually hardening their arguments, which may turn into something else,” says Martin Buchtik, a sociologist at the Czech Academy of Sciences’ Public Opinion Research Centre (CVVM), suggesting they could turn to violence.

In April the media reported that a young woman was punched in a tram for apparently no other reason than speaking Arabic. In a separate incident, someone threw blood-like paint on the wall of a family centre and stuck on the window an obituary of its director, who had collected donations for refugees.

“This would have caused an uproar four years ago. Today, the news has quickly faded,” says Buchtik.

It appears that Muslims can do little to improve their image.

A young Muslim woman,Eman Ghaleb, recently made headlines in the Czech Republic. Originally from Yemen, she has lived since the age of five in the northern spa town of Teplice, popular with clients from Gulf countries.

Willing to ease tensions caused by picnicking habits of some visitors, she started to clean the rubbish left behind and circulated leaflets explaining the code of conduct in the country.

Her initiative caught the public eye. But instead of praise, the head teacher of her school received dozens of emails calling for her dismissal. Writers argued that she wore a headscarf and accused her of spreading Islamic propaganda and being a danger for fellow students.

No tradition of public debate

So far there are few indications that Czechs need to worry about a Muslim invasion. The majority of asylum seekers are from the former Soviet Union.

“Refugees from the Middle East are more likely to go to countries where they get support from their communities,” says Martin Rozumek, the head of the NGO Organisation for Aid to Refugees.

“There are very few Muslims here and there is little risk that they will create ghettos.”

Samir, a refugee from Syria is proof that Muslims have no problem integrating. Although the Czech Republic was not his original destination – he was heading to Sweden where his cousins and friends live and was returned to Prague under the Dublin regulation - now that he has got asylum in the country, he is determined to make it his home.

He is keen to make Czech friends and learn Czech culture. He insisted that his three sons went to a normal Czech school, instead of an international one. “They now master Czech better than Arabic,” he says in impressive Czech.

Samir’s family sticks to their religion, but they are ready to make concessions. “Back in Syria my wife wore a black headscarf. Now we have bought different colours so that she fits in better,” he smiles.

The Czech Republic is not popular with refugees. A little over 90,000 have sought asylum there since the country’s independence in 1993 and just over 3,000 have succeeded. Fewer than 2,000 others have got subsidiary protection. At the end of May, there were 313 asylum seekers in refugee camps across the country.

”They are individuals rather than a refugee wave,“ says Rozumek. “We have a refugee crisis without refugees and people are scared of Islam, although we hardly have any Muslims here.”

He argues that the Czech Republic, with unemployment of 4.1 percent, lower than Germany, should take advantage of refugees to fill gaps in the labour market. “There are a number of professions which we are not able to fill with Czech citizens,” he says.

The issue of refugees has polarised Czech society. In a May poll by CVVM, 61 percent of respondents were against and 36 percent for accepting refugees under certain conditions.

“The migrant crisis has become the most important issue in the country,” says Martin Buchtik. “Sharp differences of opinion on this topic lead to such quarrels that families and friends are unable to speak together even about other subjects.”

Buchtik attributes this situation to the fact that Czechs do not have a long tradition of open public debate, which did not exist during Communism.

“The refugee crisis is one of those key topics which split society. There will be other such issues in the future and this experience will set the standard of how far it can go,” he says.

This article is the second in a series exploring the central European reaction to the migrant crisis. The first article was about Hungary

Macron eyes France-UK border agreement

French president Macron wants the UK to take in more refugees as he revisits the 2003 Le Touquet agreement, which allows British border controls to take place inside French territory.

Showdown EU vote on asylum looking likely for next June

Divisions on relocating asylum seekers remain entrenched following an EU summit. The east-west divide opens up the possibility of relying on a majority vote for a key asylum in June, further exacerbating disputes among opposing capitals.

Macron eyes France-UK border agreement

French president Macron wants the UK to take in more refugees as he revisits the 2003 Le Touquet agreement, which allows British border controls to take place inside French territory.

Magazine

The asylum files: deadlock and dead-ends

The EU is reforming a number of internal asylum laws, but lack of staff, politics, and the sheer complexity of the bills means deadlines - like those announced by EU council chief Tusk - are likely to come and go.

News in Brief

  1. Catalan parliament elects separatist speaker
  2. Czech government resigns
  3. MEPs back tighter export rules on cyber tech
  4. Annual eurozone inflation at 1.4 percent in December
  5. EPP group calls for 'European Netflix'
  6. Ex-MEP Goulard slated for senior French bank post
  7. Luxembourg speaks out in support of Palestinian state
  8. Danish fishing communities to be hit hard by Brexit, says report

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersOresund Inspires Other Border Regions on How Countries Can Work Together to Generate Growth
  2. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  3. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Calls on EU to Sanction Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Expel Ambassadors
  4. Dialogue PlatformRoundtable on "Political Islam, Civil Islam and The West" 31 January
  5. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement and Same-Sex Couples in Romania – Case Update!
  6. EU2017EEEstonia Completes First EU Presidency, Introduced New Topics to the Agenda
  7. Bio-Based IndustriesLeading the Transition Towards a Post-Petroleum Society
  8. ACCAWelcomes the Start of the New Bulgarian Presidency
  9. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li and President Tusk Stress Importance of Ties at ASEM Summit
  10. EU2017EEVAT on Electronic Commerce: New Rules Adopted
  11. European Jewish CongressChair of EU Parliament Working Group on Antisemitism Condemns Wave of Attacks
  12. Counter BalanceA New Study Challenges the Infrastructure Mega Corridors Agenda

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  2. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% Plastics Recycling Rate Attainable by 2025 New Study Shows
  3. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  4. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  5. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  6. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  8. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  10. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  12. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  2. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  3. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage
  4. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  5. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  6. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  7. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  8. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  9. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  10. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives
  11. EPSU-Eurelectric-IndustriAllElectricity European Social Partners Stand up for Just Energy Transition