Previous posts in this discussion:
PostPrague Report: Immigration, Babis and the EU (Paul Pitlick, USA, 07/27/18 2:02 pm)
This is in response to a number of WAIS posts recently about the EU, in particular Istvan Simon's of July 25h, which included a reference to an article about the Czech elections of last fall.
I have just returned from 10 weeks in Prague, a city in a country which is very easy to live in. I have learned a little Czech, but am not fluent enough to read the newspapers or to converse in anything except English (which many speak fluently; the woman who owns the hotel where we stay speaks five languages). My wife and I have been able to befriend a number of people, including some very distant cousins. I have been engaged in several discussions about "immigrants," but I don't really see a problem there. As an aside, I also don't see real problems about immigration in the US--most of what I see and read here (thanks to the Fake News of the Republican Party and the Murdoch Empire) is, frankly, nonsense, in my opinion. For example, a few years ago I was visiting relatives in South Dakota, and ran across a newspaper article and a radio broadcast in which there was concern about imposition of Sharia courts in the US. C'mon folks--think for yourselves--how is that ever going to happen here in any way? All of my ancestors were immigrants, by definition, and many of my neighbors are also. Immigrants have a constructive place here. I don't see a problem in the Czech Republic, either, but the topic is a significant part of conversation, as a result of decisions by the European Union that the Czech Republic accept a quota of immigrants.
I've never seen a discussion of one aspect I observe about the European Union, which is that it seems portrayed as a bloc of fairly homogeneous states. I don't recall seeing significant discussion about the variety in size (both areas and populations), military history, economic power, religious backgrounds, governance, etc., etc. between the various members. In particular, there is a wide variety in the histories and cultures of the different countries. For example, some (Great Britain, France, Spain, etc.) were overtly colonial powers at one time. All of these former colonial powers exist in some way on the European continent now, but the empires are gone. In contrast, the Czech Republic is a young country formed only in 1993, upon the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, which in turn had been established in 1918. However, Czech culture goes back 1000 years or more, including a kingdom of Bohemia, which by the 1500s was incorporated into the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It's not my area of expertise, but I think the latter would also be considered a colonial power. However, the Czechs were more colonized than colonizers. By the late 19th century, they were agitating for independence, which finally happened after the Austro-Hungarian Empire ended up on the losing side of World War I. They were able to begin to develop their own culture for the next 20 years, until the German occupation. Then after the war there were two years before the communists took over, which became the national identity, rather than a "Czech" focus, which was suppressed in various ways. For the past 25 years they have again been able to operate with a Czech identity, and my sense is that this is important to them.
I wonder if much of the immigration discussion today is the result of a lot of decisions made over many years by the European colonizing powers (including Russia) plus the US. One can understand why there are people of Asian or African descent in London, or Arabs in Paris, or Czechens in Moscow. Germany needed manpower after WWII, and in the 1960s began welcoming Turkish guest workers. The Czechs did expel the German minority after WWII (a topic for another time), but they haven't done anything to cause the current Arab immigrant "problem." Why are they being forced to be part of the solution?
Istvan's post referenced an article published last fall. Since then, Babiš was elected Prime minister in October. However, he was unable to form a governing coalition until June, which then included the Communist Party. It's still too early to see where that's going, but none of the people I spoke with were happy about the latter. As one of my cousins said, "Didn't we learn anything during the years 1948-1992?"
JE comments: The Poles (and I presume, the Hungarians) are also of the "we didn't cause the refugee problem, why should we solve it?" mentality. The question is whether one considers the present wave of immigration a punishment for colonial transgressions, or a humanitarian imperative. How about seeing immigration as a positive that can bring in diversity, expertise and even wealth?
Ahoj Paul, your ten weeks in Prague are the longest visit ever! I presume you and Jan made great strides in language proficiency. A question: you've been traveling each year to the Czech Republic for a decade or more. What changes have you noticed over these years?
In Praise of the Czechs
(Istvan Simon, USA
07/28/18 4:10 PM)
Many thanks to Paul Pitlick (July 27th) for his interesting observations on visiting the Czech Republic. I would like to add a few thoughts to his excellent post.
For as long as I can remember I have been an admirer of this wonderful little country, whose people have customs and culture so close to my heart. I see the Czechs as amazing freedom-loving people, so deserving of admiration, high-achieving in every field of human activity, politically so "just right," who peacefully but forcefully resisted all the despots who oppressed them, from Hitler to the communists. A country of culture, the Czechs love freedom and music. They have always produced first-rate musicians and composers Dvorak, Smetana, Janacek. Their love of music goes back hundreds of years.
No country treated Mozart better than the Czechs did. Shamefully, Mozart's own country Austria treated him much worse. His operas were huge successes in Prague, while often being sabotaged by the Italian mafia that controlled the Vienna Opera House at the time. Don Giovanni was premiered in Prague and was an immediate huge success. In Vienna it was received with less enthusiasm. His Prague symphony was first performed in Prague on Mozart's first visit to the city.
There is no doubt that Prague is one of the loveliest cities of Europe, beautiful and charming, with its distinctive characteristic and very picturesque architecture, on the Vtlava river, with the beautiful views of the Prague Castle, the Charles bridge, and multiple lovely landmarks the Astronomical Clock, great Museums, the monument to the victims of the Nazi occupation and many others.
The Czech are tolerant, democratic, cultured, fun-loving wonderful people. It is always a great pleasure to visit this admirable country.
So we must ask how is it that a freedom-loving country, normally so tolerant of diversity, respectful of all minorities, that has always welcomed Jews, who had the extraordinary moral giant and statesman Vaclav Havel its president for so long, who was an example for the whole world of what a politician should look like, how is it that a country like that elected an intolerant Prime Minister like Babis? The distance between Havel and Babis is like the distance between the Earth and the moon.
I of course do not have an answer to my own question, but we can try some educated speculation. The anti-immigrant frenzy in the Czech Republic was fomented by President Milos Zeman, himself light years away from the greatness of Vaclav Havel. Though Zeman did his utmost best (or worst) to whip up anti-immigrant sentiment, we still must ask why such intolerance found resonance in the country?
I think that part of the answer may be the sheer number of Muslim immigrants that shocked the people of the Czech Republic and Hungary. The sudden arrival of tens thousands of such refugees disrupted normal life in these small countries. Both Hungary and the Czech Republic have a total population of about 10 million people. The residents of Prague are a mere 1.3 million people. While this does not justify their reaction, still one can at least try to understand that the arrival of thousands of foreigners with strange customs felt to them like an invasion of unwanted foreigners. Had their number been much smaller, I feel that they would have been welcomed. After all this is the country that gave an example to the world on how to handle "divorce" in a civilized way in the violence-free breakup of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic, and Slovakia.
JE comments: A glowing Czech-up from Istvan Simon! (No more puns today, I promise.) Can Babis be compared to the ultra-Right firebrand Orban, or to Poland's PiS, or is he more of a "Velvet" demagogue? I know very little about him other than his wealth ($4 billion).