Tuesday, September 22, 2015

BBC on Central Europe's attitude to immigration

Hours ago, Rob Cameron wrote an essay about our attitude to the migrants,
Migrant crisis: Why Central Europe resists refugee quota
on the BBC website. Every other sentence makes it clear that the text was written in a country suffocating in the political correctness. However, I do think that the text is fairer and fresher than most other Western texts written about the issue that I recently read. Those other texts just scream "those stinky underdeveloped Eastern Europeans are just evil Nazis" and things like that.

Visegrád meeting of top leaders, 1335

On the contrary Rob Cameron's last paragraph says
These are not unreasonable arguments, perhaps. The view from Central Europe is that, so far, their Western colleagues have been unwilling to hear them.
Quite a difference. This semi-support from Rob Cameron follows his flawless explanation of the reasons why Central Europe opposes the migrant quotas: It would strip the countries of their sovereignty – ability to decide about asylum seekers; it would encourage more migrants to come to Europe; we wouldn't be able to keep them because they want to go to Germany, anyway.

Update: On Tuesday in the afternoon, a EU meeting voted in favor of quotas to divide 120k migrants. Hungary, Slovakia, Czechia, and Romania (but not Poland: both PM and interior minister – who voted – are female) were voting against; Finland abstained. Slovak PM Fico has previously claimed that if the qualified majority vote were picked (and it's being claimed that it has been sufficient in this situation since the Lisbon Treaty came to force, the quasi-constitution of the EU that President Klaus opposed for a long time before he surrendered – most Czechs appreciate how much true his warnings about the Treaty of Lisbon were), Slovakia wouldn't respect the result of such a vote. I hope that he won't cut his balls by scissors – and on the contrary, others will join him at his frequency. At the end of the blog post, I translate the reactions of 7 or so Czech politicians to the vote.

Czechia is discussed as the first and most detailed example. A story suggesting that the Czechs are in the midst of a "xenophobic hysteria" involves the apparent terrorist with some fancy weapons that has threatened Domažlice (German: Taus), a town near the German border and the capital of "Chodsko", the region with special historical rights earned for their protection of our kingdom.

A woman got scared, began to cry, and called police: There is a Middle East terrorist with some weapons here. It turned out to be a chimney sweeper with telescopic brushes.

It's natural to use this story as "evidence of xenophobia" but it's complete rubbish, too. The woman just honestly couldn't recognize that it was a chimney sweeper. Because he had some tools, he wasn't just a migrant. He seemed to be a dangerous person with arms. I would also call police if I thought that someone like that was here. The combination of the dark skin and the apparent weapon make it very likely that I may save human lives in this way.

Strangely enough, to look like a chimney sweeper immediately draws attention in Domažlice. However, in Prague, it's been used by some pranksters to mask themselves while doing something not quite legal. Two days ago, Ztohoven (the group of pranksters responsible for a nuclear blast in the Czech mountains a few years ago; the name translates as out-of-it or one-hundred-šits, depending on how you divide the word) sent some "chimney sweepers" to the roof of the Prague Castle where they replaced the presidential flag with "Veritas Vincit" (Truth Prevails, a slogan chosen by the first president Thomas G. Masaryk) with a big ugly stinky male red underwear (the kind of loose boxer shorts we used in gym classes during communism).

They showed that they didn't like the president who is perhaps too rural, down-to-Earth, pro-China, pro-Russia for them. They allowed to be caught by police. That's no wonder: this humiliation of the flag is only a "minor offense" and the fine is at most $500. Meanwhile, the president's spokesman compared them to Hitler who did something similar in March 1939. After the Czech lands were occupied, he replaced the official flag with a stinky piece of clothes similar to the underwear, namely by the flag of the Third Reich. The spokesman is clearly being too hysterical here. It was just a prank.

But back to the BBC.

Under a picture of an anti-Islam rally in Prague's Old Town, there is an OK discussion of aliens in Czechia. Aside from the population of 10.5 million citizens, there are 500,000 legal aliens here right now and many of the current citizens used to be aliens in the past. Many of those are Slavs (Ukraine, Russia, Yugoslavia – and we don't even count Slovaks as "aliens" most of the time), the BBC correctly states, and the well-integrated Vietnamese community is the only substantial enough non-white minority. The number of Muslims is below 20,000.

Most of the Slavs etc. are Christians and almost all Czechs are atheists. It is not explained too well that this is not a problem for us at all. Our being irreligious doesn't mean that people get terrified or angry when they see a Christian. It would be silly. Most of our great grandparents were probably Christians, too. That's why the Christianity isn't something extraterrestrial for us.

But the contemporary generation didn't meet God and chose not to be constrained by the religion. It doesn't mean that we consider Christians unethical. I think that it's the other way around. Most Czechs probably prefer to be irreligious because it's "good for them", it allows them to do lots of things that could otherwise be hard. The Czechs also tend to see the Christians as more ethical people – for the same reason: because Christianity is viewed as something that constrains your life, probably in the way that is good for others but not for you.

Islam obviously doesn't enjoy the same status. For example, ordinary people often send e-mails where not-so-innocent and not-so-attractive faces of Islam are being exposed to the naked eye.

At any rate, Czechia is the ultimate country "in the middle" where the exposure to aliens and diverse sources of immigration has been sufficient for people to learn something about it (and much higher than in the "more" Eastern European countries); but weak enough for everyone to keep hir freedom to openly or proudly say what ze thinks and what ze wants. Also, we have a large enough number of the politically correct intellectuals etc. who pretty much copy all the PC fads you know in the West; but they are not numerous enough to dictate the societal discourse and norms.

And the BBC quotes several politicians – our president Zeman, Slovak PM Fico etc. and their statements about the Islamic Anti-Civilization and the onslaught of migrants etc. Rob Cameron makes it implicitly clear that he believes that similar statements would be suicidal for politicians in Western Europe. I am not so sure. Those politicians are just cowards and they haven't tried to say something sensible yet! Maybe it's not as suicidal to be sensible as they think.

Johannes Brahms: Hungarian Dance No 5. Check the version by the brass band of the Škoda Auto workers. Not every idiot may be allowed to make Škodas.

Visegrád used to be artificial

In 1991, The Visegrád Triangle was found. Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Hungary formed a "bloc" of the most pro-Western formerly socialist countries. Two years later, when Czechoslovakia dissolved, it turned into the V4, The Visegrád Group.

In Czechia, we would mostly view the Visegrád Group as an artificial grouping – one that may have been "encouraged" by the European Union to simplify their interactions with this part of Europe. Our then prime minister Václav Klaus would emphasize that we really, but really didn't need such a group, we were better and more pro-capitalist than Hungary and Poland, and so on.

At least for many years, it surely seemed to be like that. Moreover, the Poles and Hungarians are just fine but we have never had any closer relationships with them relatively to other similarly nearby nations. Our (Czechs') organization of the society may be closer to the Austrians and perhaps even the Germans. Due to the higher industrialization and other things, East Germany could have been closer to us among the socialist countries, and so on. And there were other reasons why V4 has looked artificial.

I think that the ongoing migrant wave gives some meaning to the bloc. The quadruplet of countries has emerged as the natural "hard core" of the bloc of European countries that oppose the Islamization of Europe, by a strengthening migrant wave or otherwise, and when the local hassle of the police in a border town gets combined with nearly geopolitical questions, you prefer not to be alone. Poland may be seen as the "weakest" part of V4 in their approach to the migrants but this will probably change next month because the more staunchly anti-immigrant "Law of Justice" (with Ms Beata Szydlo as the prospective new prime minister) is likely to win in the Polish elections. Yes, they will only have female leaders now, like in Sexmission, the Polish cult sci-fi movie from the 1980s.

Other countries slowly adopting the Visegrád positions include Romania in the Eastern bloc, Baltic Countries or at least Latvia, Finland from the capitalist world, and – with lots of disclaimers – the U.K.

Historical importance of Visegrád

It may be useful to mention some historical facts about Visegrád where the meeting of the new Visegrád Group took place in 1991. This castle (and the nearby town of the same name) is in Hungary, near the Slovak border. So you may think that Hungary is overrepresented. However, the Hungarian-sounding word "Visegrád" is nothing else than a Hungarization of the Slavic word "Vyšehrad" or "Vyšegrad", meaning the "upper castle" (all the other 3 nations of V4 are Slavic). We have one very old "Vyšehrad" in Prague, too (a cemetery with important mostly 19th century Czechs is there). Smetana wrote a composition with this name.

1991 wasn't the first time when the leaders of V4 met at the Visegrád Castle. Before that, they did exactly the same thing in November 1335. ;-) Well, at that time, Visegrád wasn't an pile of obscure romantic ruins somewhere in Hungary; it was the de facto seat of the Hungarian king. The whole month had been dedicated to the meeting of
  • the Hungarian king Charles Robert,
  • king of Bohemia John of Luxembourg,
  • his son Charles (later the most celebrated king in the Czech history, at least by us); he was there not just as a spoiled kid who has to see it but as the margrave of Moravia and already as the actual governor of the Kingdom,
  • Polish king Casimir the Great,
  • and the plenipotentiary of the Great Master of the Teutonic Order in Prussia, as well as a number of dukes
who agreed to maintain peace and cooperation on the V4 territory.

Aside from the Czech kingdom, our king John of Luxembourg and his son, the future king, were also the rulers of Luxembourg, as their brand indicates. This coincidence is doubly funny because yesterday, there was a meeting of the Visegrád Group where the V4 politicians also met with the leader of Luxembourg – because that small country just enjoys its rotating EU presidency now.

So the composition of the meeting yesterday was similar to that of 1335 even when it comes to some fine details. Well, the Prussian knights were missing yesterday...

Franz Liszt: Liebestraum [Love Dream] No. 3

Hungary as the role model

Hungary hasn't been a "role model" for us for quite some time. In the 1980s, we appreciated Hungary as a country whose communists were – unlike ours – wise enough to soften the socialist system enough for some modest elements of capitalism to be allowed. We referred to their system of Janosz Kadar as the "goulash socialism". Just to be sure, they were still more socialist than Yugoslavia that was "really" in the middle in the 1980s.

Sometime in 1988 or early 1989, Hungary was already reforming communism at a high speed. They competed with Poland which has had some temptations to leave the hardcore communism since the early 1980s. During the late 1980s, Hungary was ahead of Poland in the transition towards democracy and capitalism. I didn't mention Czechoslovakia at all because up to November 1989, it was one of the most hardcore bastions of communism. Even though we often heard about "perestroika" (well, "přestavba"), the actual desire of the leaders to reform their system was much weaker e.g. than in the Soviet Union. Things changed very abruptly in Czechoslovakia during the Velvet Revolution – that is a reason why the word "revolution" is appropriate. The changes in Hungary, Poland, and other countries were much more gradual. But when Czechoslovakia underwent the Velvet Revolution, it quickly became a natural leader in the liberalization (and other processes) of the ex-communist bloc.

For 25 years or so, Hungary would be just another country that was exposed to a similar 20th century experience as us. Orbán and Fidesz etc. have never been "systematically criticized" by the Czech mainstream press, at least not in the waves of mindless propaganda war we know from the Western politically correct press. But no one has been extremely excited about Orbán and Fidesz, either. It's not our business, people thought. Back in the 1990s, Slovakia and Hungary had an argument about the big dam that was agreed to be built during communism. Slovakia wanted to complete it while Hungary was taken over by the green brains and wanted to cancel it. The tensions ran high – Czechia obviously agreed with (and mildly supported) Slovakia, but it wasn't really our problem anymore. Some limited Slovak-only version of the project was completed and the bitter relationships have mostly faded away once the green influence over Hungary weakened.

But the migrant wave is the first time when Orbán and Fidesz managed to get some kind of a hero status in Czechia, Slovakia, and probably elsewhere. If you look at the Czech or Slovak discussion forums about the migrant wave, you may see that almost everyone agrees that Hungary is doing the right thing today. It's the only "entrance" country of the Schengen area that is actually insisting on the currently valid laws and international treaties and that is doing some hard work that is currently necessary to keep the system alive. If Fidesz translated their booklets and banners from Hungarian to Czech or Slovak, they would surely get lots and lots of votes in Czechia and Slovakia these days because in comparison with the Hungarian government, the Czech and Slovak governments are still viewed as too "potentially accommodating" or "equivocal".

The only minaret in Czechia, one in the complex of the Refrigerator [Lednice] Chateau, was built as an 18th century prank of a sort. Sponsor Alois Joseph I of Lichtenstein wanted to build a regular church but the serfs had argued and couldn't agree about the place etc. So he got upset and as a revenge, to show his power, he decided to build a useless mosque and a minaret instead. Only the minaret was allowed by the underlying sand and his finances, the legend says. Historians prefer a less colorful story – the Lichtenstein House simply loved buildings from the whole world, including the Chinese palaces, Turkish spas, Roman obelisk, and Swiss bridge, all of which are present on the land around the chateau, so why not a minaret as well? They just liked the shape.

Historically, it's not the first time when Hungary has to be thanked for a similar line of work. Between 1366 and 1526, there have been tons of Hungarian-Ottoman Wars. Hungary used to have a much greater influence over all of the Balkans but it basically lost these wars. However, it still managed to slow down the march of the Turks towards Europe. The Austrian Empire continued with this work once it absorbed the Hungarian kingdom.

If the Hungarians had been replaced by another, less active nation, it could very well happen that the Islamic civilization would reach up to Prague or Paris today. Slovakia or Belgium could very well be solving similar problems as Iraq and Syria these days. Thank you, Hungary, and thank you very much once again.

Bonus: reactions to the vote

At the end, only Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania (instead of Poland) voted against the relocation of 120,000 migrants by quotas; Finland abstained. Some responses by Czech and Slovak politicians:

Milan Chovanec, interior minister (Czech social democratic party), via Twitter: Poland took timeout. I am afraid that today, we will only be V3. :-( ... We will soon find out that the emperor is naked. Today, the common sense has lost! :-( Some countries won't be affected by the quota because they have negotiated an opt-out. The Czech Republic doesn't have such an exception. Pavel Telička had been the negotiator at that time. (Pavel Telička tweets that the quota aren't a surprise: without a complex counterproposal, one can't succeed in the EU.)

Bohuslav Sobotka, prime minister (Czech social democratic party): This decision doesn't move us any closer to a genuine solution of the causes of the migration crisis. This decision is just a baby pacifier for the publics in the countries that are currently the final destinations of the migration wave. Tomorrow, on Wednesday, our government will meet and talk about our further steps within the coalition.

President Miloš Zeman (CZ): I hope that the European Union will revoke the interior ministers' decision on the quotas. But the chance seems to be small. Only the future will show how incredibly mistaken this decision has been.

Finance minister Andrej Babiš (ANO, a billionaire): I can't imagine how it will be done because as far as our country is concerned, the quotas are undesirable for us as well as the migrants. To divide the refugees according to quotas at the moment when thousands of people are coming to the European continent seems totally nonsensical to me. Tomorrow, the leaders of EU member states will continue to discuss the issue in Brussels. As far as I can see, every single migrant is violating the law. If their lives are at stake, they should apply for asylum in the closest country not suffering from any war, in this case in Greece or Turkey. These problems are a consequence of Angela Merkel's misguided invitation for all Syrian refugees. An extra problem is that only the Syrians were invited: but how can we distinguish Surians from Iraqi and from other nationalities in the region if they have no documents? ... Only Slovakia, Czechia, and Hungary will remain normal and free within a few years if they maintain their unity. ... If a permanent relocation mechanism were adopted, it would be the end of Europe.

Prof Petr Fiala, chairman of ODS, the strongest center-right party (in opposition): To approve non-conceptual and meaningless mandatory quotas, the European Union didn't hesitate to employ the politics of blackmail and brute force in the area that is vital for the security and sovereignty of our country. This behavior is unacceptable.

I urge the government to use all conceivable legal and political tools to invalidate this decision.

This verdict contradicts the rules that were valid when we agreed to join the European Union.

An eternal and mandatory relocation mechanism violates the principle of subsidiarity and at this moment, it has no legal basis in the EU, either. By this step, the European Union also denies the principles of the valid defense of civic and human rights and it further increases its untrustworthiness in the eyes of the citizens.

Petr Mach, EU lawmaker, chairman of Party of Free Citizens, video: This is a dictate by the EU! We can't allow these quotas to be imposed upon us. The government has the duty to sue the decision in the European Court of Justice and invalidate the verdict. If the EU will insist on the quotas after that, the only solution will be for our country to exit the EU. At the end, it will be the best solution for all of us.

Jan Zahradil, EU lawmaker, Fiala's ODS party, on TV: This event is a defeat of this government. The EU managed to break the V4 group apart. It will be fatal. If decisions continue to be made in this way, people's perception of the European Union will turn greatly negative.

Ivan Langer, ex-interior minister, ODS: The decision is dangerous because it will radicalize those who are earning populist points on the crisis. It is stupid because it won't solve anything. It is myopic because it will stimulate the supply. It is a message for new migrants that the door is wide open. Trade with people will flourish. We are living in a Europe that is fighting for particular interests so the realist viewpoint on the EU is the only correct one. The cause of the crisis is not respecting the rules and treaties. By that comment, I mean Germany. The free movement of citizens may be abolished. This victory will ultimately turn against the winners. I believe that the event will open the eyes to everyone who has thought that the EU is based on the partnership of equals. Today has shown us that there exist those who decide and those who have to be obedient. Merkel was the first person who violated Dublin 2 when she told them "all of you are welcome". Instead, every individual should have been showing that he's eligible for the asylum. It's not possible to pour people from one country to another as if they were potatoes. Czechia has failed as the president country of V4. The opportunity for offensive diplomacy evaporated when Sobotka said that we reject the quotas but mentioned that we could accept lots of refugees voluntarily on the same day. Countries that are incapable of fulfilling their duties as border countries of Schengen shouldn't be allowed to stay in the Schengen area. The Schengen area in the current form is probably over. The Czech Parliament should approve at least a declaratory statement that it rejects today's vote of the interior ministers.

Přemysl Sobotka, vice-chairman of the senate, ODS: During this vote, the EU has lost its democratic character and turned into a tool that defends the power of the powerful against the will of the smaller ones. I strongly believe that the Czech government will respect its promises and challenge this vote in front of the European Court of Justice and this court will decide according to the European law, not politically. The EU has denied itself and it has made the first step into the abyss.

Jiří Pospíšil, former justice minister, TOP 09 (a mildly PC party, formerly ODS): The vote is a defeat of Europe. It will not solve the migrant crisis. Instead, it will strengthen the anti-European moods in Central and Eastern Europe.

Marek Ženíšek, vice-chairman of TOP 09: The mandatory adoption of migrants undermines the people's belief in the very concept of shared Europe. I urge the Czech politicians to cooperate. We are convinced that the Czech politicians are capable of managing the process of adoption of refugees regardless of which party is in the government and which is in the opposition.

Ms Kateřina Konečná, EU lawmaker, communist party: By their verdict, the council of interior ministers has undermined the European idea of shared consensual politics.

Dawn/National Coalition: We reject the new Munich (Treaty).

Robert Fico, SMER/Direction social democracy, Slovak prime minister: At this moment, Slovakia will not recognize the results of this vote. We prefer and we are prepared to initiate the procedures of infringement over accepting this dictate by a simple majority at a meeting where no consensus within the EU could have been reached. (The Czech PM has already indicated that sadly, Czechia won't join Slovakia in this approach.) As long as I am the prime minister, these quotas won't be implemented.

Robert Kaliňák, SMER, Slovak interior minister: Rational arguments haven't been listened to and I am very surprised about this decision. Finland's abstention is another piece of evidence that this proposal isn't good and won't work. It is a decision that hasn't helped to calm down the crisis. On the contrary, it may increase the attractiveness of the European Union for illegal migrants and people smugglers. This vote gives the green light to the people smugglers for them to try to escort as many people to the EU as possible. Only 120,000 people were being the topic of the discussion but 10,000 arrive to the EU every day which is why it was a very bad and mistaken decision. Another problem is that only the quotas, and not the process implementing them, have been discussed. The European Commission has always showed a long distance between words and its acts which confirms the misfunctionality of this system because no rules to prevent the migrants from moving have even been proposed. The failure is unavoidable. Slovakia is helping Austria, families with the Christian background, and it has increased a relocation program. We will do nothing else; those steps are the end of story for us. The decision won't help to solve the situation which is why we will insist on our policies and will try to carefully implement them. No pressure may be exerted on us and no pressure will be accepted by us.

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