In the past few weeks the Czech Republic has seen a number of anti-immigrant rallies organized by small, non-parliamentary parties which are clearly hoping to ride to power on a wave of anti-migrant, anti-Islam and xenophobic sentiments. Do they stand a chance of gaining sympathizers and are they alone in trying to use the migrant crisis to further their own ends? Those are questions I put to political analyst Jiří Pehe.
“Well, I think that some of the larger parties have tried to use the immigration crisis to their political advantage. The Civic Democratic Party is a good example of this, some of their politicians have issued warnings against immigrants that I think go far beyond the real danger or risk that we face in this crisis. But that is normal, I think that in situations such as this larger parties usually try to incorporate some of the language of small extremist parties just to neutralize them and maybe also to meet the public demand half-way. ”
Is there not a threat of radicalization of society in this respect?
“I don’t think we face any real danger of radicalization of society with regard to the refugee crisis, simply because the Czech Republic does not face a large migration wave. There are hundreds of immigrants passing through the Czech Republic, some of them get detained by the police and then get released but we certainly do not face any of the problems that we see in Western Europe. So it is really difficult for both small radical parties and larger parties that use this topic to score political points because you really have to have some real issue to be able to utilize it.”
“And then, of course, the Czech Republic right now is not a country in any kind of economic crisis. I think that if the Czech Republic were facing real economic problems, comparable to those we faced in 2008 after the global economic crisis, or even worse, then possibly these parties would have some chance to speak to the public but at this point they really fight an uphill battle simply because two-thirds of Czechs say that they are happy with their lives.”
So you do not see the migrant issue becoming one of the key election issues in the coming years?
“I don’t see the migrant issue as a key election issue. It is one topic, a sensitive topic of course, and you can score some political points on it if you make it the centerpiece of your political program, but at the same time you need a program for the country as a whole –i.e. an economic program, a social program and so on. And the parties that are using this issue in the Czech Republic do not have that kind of program. Although some of them are inspired by for example the National Front in France they do not realize that the National Front in France has a very complex program for the country as a whole which these parties in the Czech Republic do not have. So I do not really see a major threat coming from these various small parties, not to speak of the fact that they are very fragmented and unable to unite.”