The defining news story for Europe these days has been the migrant/refugee/whatever crisis. Thousands of displaced people are arriving daily in the outer regions of the EU countries, trying to reach Germany or the Scandinavian countries. We’ve all seen the pictures of drowned victims; of refugees pushing at the borders; of what they’re fleeing. But, what do Europeans think of what’s happening?
I can’t speak for all of Europe, but there’s been a wide range of reaction. You have, for example, people in Munich giving out food while Hungarian news people beat fleeing refugees. Britain wants to cut the fund for search and rescue while Germany (temporarily) opens the border for all comers. At best, the European reaction is disorganized and uncertain.
Hindsight and Monday morning quarterbacking will dominate this debate for decades to come, but I don’t think I’m politically-savvy enough to comment. In a few words… I can’t imagine what they’re fleeing in Syria, and I feel bad that they seem to be putting Europe on a utopian pedestal. I made the same mistake with New York City, and I feel a lot of these people will find the same heartbreak I did. On the other hand, the refugees seem totally unable to understand that the reason European hostility is rising is because they in their hundreds of thousands are illegally entering a place that did not invite them, want them, or have the means to absorb them. So… it’s very, very gray in my opinion. Instead, I want to talk about the reaction from my little corner of Europe, the Czech Republic.
It’s interesting to see how people have been reacting here. The people fleeing the Middle East and Africa aren’t talking about the Czech Republic; they’re all dreaming of Germany. But many Czechs are nervous about the inflow of people from outside of Europe. Some of my students have openly used the word “invasion” to describe what’s happening, and President Zeman has talked of personally taking up arms to fight off migrants (he’s a drunken old man, basically). So, let’s look at a few of the common fears those I’ve spoken to have.
Dammit, Germany: A lot of the Czechs I’ve spoken to are very upset at Germany, in particular Chancellor Merkel, for basically throwing open the borders to the refugees. Germany quickly backpedaled when the borders were besieged, but the feeling is the damage has been done. What I feel they’re overlooking is two things: the mindsets of both the refugees and the Germans. The majority of refugees were intent on Germany from the beginning; I doubt few had their mind changed by Merkel’s faux-pas. Further, thanks to her most (in)famous predecessor, Germany has a gigantic guilt complex from the world wagging its finger yelling “SHAME!” since 1945. There shouldn’t be a surprise when it manifests like this.
Islamic Tsunami: Everyone’s spoken about this, ranging from uninformed worries to outright racism. If these Muslims are allowed to stay, in ten years there will be sharia law and mosques on every street corner. At present, there’s only 20,000 Muslims in the Czech Republic, a country of ten million people. If the Czech Republic is forced to accept the quota that Brussels assigns it, this number will skyrocket to a horrifying 0.2% of the population. The numbers just aren’t there. I could see some reason for concern in other countries (France and Germany) where there are much higher numbers, but I don’t see St. Vitus becoming the Grand Prague Mosque anytime soon.
Protecting what is Euro– uh, Czech: Several of my students have expressed a fear that the identity of Europe will be destroyed if we allow the refugees to stay. When that comes up, I have a question I like to ask: how many of you see yourselves as European? (None.) How many see yourselves as Czech? (All.) How can you be afraid of losing what is European if you don’t see yourself as European?
Why I Find it Hard to Judge: I sound pretty judgmental so far, I admit. But I find it hard for me to call the Czechs who say these things ignorant or racist. The reason is I understand their history and culture. They are people who have a long, long memory of oppression, invasion, occupation and being overrun by outsiders. Of course they’re nervous. Perhaps it’s being put in a rather tasteless way, but again that is the Czech way: they are a blunt, honest people who don’t sugarcoat when they’re speaking their opinion.
So, I guess my wider point is this: the refugee crisis is very, very gray. Europeans have every right to be worried about the overrunning of their borders, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some rather unsavory characters sneaking in among the crowds. But neither is every person trying to get to Europe either a lazy leech on society or an ISIS loving psychotic. The time for blame and hate is later; now is the time to try to control the flood and stop it at its source by crippling ISIS and taking the people smugglers out.
And as a final thought to those in US who are sniffing about European racism and cruelty from the safety of their keyboard… how would you feel about the US being besieged by hundreds of thousands of desperate people? What do you think about letting those pouring across the Mexican border? Are you criticizing Donald Trump? And why is yet ANOTHER mass shooting, a problem no other industrialized nation seems to have, being greeted as it always – with a shrug of the shoulders?
Just a thought.