Thank you for inviting me to address you as, in my opinion, in this great Alter-summit, the voices from East and Central Europe are fairly mute and subdued. This is, of course, understandable, as today the world´s peace and stability, let alone peoples´standards of living, are greatly endangered by developments in very different parts of our planet. However, let me in – a very friendly manner -, warn you that to underestimate developments in East and Central Europe, in the heart of Europe, in the explosive region full of frustration, disappointment, dissatisfaction, tension, boiling feelings of hatred, intolerance and xenophobia, would be short-sighted and in the longer term counterproductive.
Let me here respond to Matyas Benyik from Hungary who spoke just before me. He presented the paper from the Prague Spring 2 Network and I agree with 99% of what he said. I only have to challenge his assumption that the Czech Republic has a better chance to catch up to the Western type of “welfare societies”. This is definitely not the case, though I agree that the rise of the Far Right is less visible in my country.
It seems to me that the best example of a dangerous rise of the Far Right in East and Central Europe is Hungary . But let me talk about the Czech Republic as this will enable me to pinpoint all the ingredients which create fertile soil for the rise of extreme far right groups and their future potential success.
After the 1989 collapse of communism we have witnessed the emergence of ethnic nationalism which became a central element in state building processes. (Baltic states, Estonia, in particular, post-Yugoslav states, post-Czechoslovak states.) In some cases this involved nationalisation of citizenship and constitutional exclusion of ethnic minorities.
Our current right-wing government champions a fairly extreme form of neoliberal policies. Despite the fact that all of our neighbours, as most EU countries, have by now recognised that drastic cuts do not protect the country from the spread of economic crisis but, just the contrary, encourage deep recession, the Czech government still imposes cuts that have resulted in the rise of unemployment and poverty. The cuts hit very badly low income groups, especially old age pensioners and even handicapped children. And these policies are implemented at the time when the government of the most secular country in Europe has decided to grant the largest single compensation (134 billion Czech crowns) primarily to the Catholic Church allegedly for property confiscated from it by the Communist regime after 1948. This decision ignored the fact that most of these properties were owned by the State and the Catholic Church was only entrusted to manage it, especially since 1782.The drastic cuts were also justified by references to the alleged profligacy of EU member states in the South of Europe.
Incidentally, our recent neoliberal President Vaclav Klaus publicly questioned the doubtful wisdom of why should hard working Czechs subsidise Greeks, who – according to him – “drink ouzo while sunbathing under orchard trees”. One of the most successful means which helped the current Czech rightist government to be elected was the argument that votes cast for the Left was a sure recipe for Greek-style bankruptcy which was caused by corruption and profligacy. Unfortunately, even the current more leftist President Milos Zeman, though he correctly supports investments rather than cuts, does not understand the principle of solidarity and argues that countries such as Greece should be expelled from the EU.
These policies and public pronouncements, strongly supported by the media, especially electronic such as TV, encourage the rise of nationalism and rejection of foreigners. The government is also attempting to earn some political points by introducing increasingly tougher anti-immigration policies. Some Czech unemployed workers naively believe that this may help them to get jobs in the future. In fact Czech construction industry stands and falls on the cheap Ukrainian labour. Czech hospitals would grind to a halt if they could not employ cheap but effective labour from countries to the East of us. In practice the Ministry of Interior primarily prevents the immigration of people with darker skin colours, though, for example, Indians or Bangladeshis working in the kitchens of ethnic restaurants do not take any Czech jobs. However such policies feed into the atmosphere of intolerance and racism.
It is obviously understandable that the first people who lost their jobs on a mass scale were the Romanies. At first glance it may seem that the Romanies provoke by being different but they may also provoke by offering a mirror, a prospect to the others that one day this economic misery will spread also to them. Racism became a kind of self-defence which allows the white majority to blame the victims for the social situation the aggressors do not wish to admit may apply one day to them when they will lose their jobs. The anger provoked by the government austerity cuts is channeled towards a useful scapegoat, to the Romanies, who – as the argument goes – caused the crisis by being lazy thieves, who misuse generous social benefits. There are increasing violent clashes between the Romanies and some extreme far right groups who are supported by frustrated unemployed young Czechs, who encouraged by nationalist feelings attack the Romanies, whom they believe do not belong to the national community.
To illustrate the atmosphere, let me mention few examples. Few days ago a Romany mother gave birth to the first Czech quintuplets. Father is employed and the family has no debts, let alone any críminal record. However, the family has been snowed under by hateful racist attacks. Czechs, who offered the family financial help or gifts such as toys or children clothes are challenged not to help Romanies, who are all criminals and lazy thieves and have many children in order to obtain generous social benefits. Or several months ago someone stole a Romany baby from her mother directly from the cot outside a shopping centre. There was immediately a widespread suspicion that this was a Romany trick to get publicity and money. Later the real culprits, a German couple, were arrested in Germany. Recently, young man in a regional city, found badly injured, claimed that he was cruelly beaten by a group of Romanies. His loss of a kidney resulted not only in a major wave of solidarity and a great financial help but also in a protest demonstration of several thousands who demanded very severe punishment of all Romanies. Later the youngster admitted that he invented the whole story because he simply fell when he played up to some girls and was afraid to confess that to his mother. His confession, however, failed to dispel the anti-Romany atmosphere.
Only last month a young married couple apparently provoked a group of young Romanies by some racist remarks and the teenagers responded by beating up the couple. The whole town (Duchcov) erupted into one of the largest anti-Romany demonstration which resulted in a major clash with the police force.
Last year a group of fanatical supporters of the far right party ironically called the Workers Party for Social Justice (DSSS) threw Molotov cocktails through the bedroom window of a sleeping Romany family. A two year old girl was almost burnt to death and will be disfigured for life. This party organizes large demonstrations against the Romanies with slogans such as “Gypsies to gas chambers!” which leads to violent clashes. This racial violence led to several deaths and many serious injuries. The right wing government responded to these disturbances by promising to get tougher with the alleged parasites and it reduced social benefits available to the unemployed. The problem was thus even deepened.
In short, the fear of the future, especially among the young and the unemployed, combined with fear of the foreigners and anything foreign, with the absence of any real values leads people to embrace the ideas of extreme nationalism, intolerance and Far Right attitudes. Peoples’ frustration and anger are then channelled towards imaginary enemies, be they Romanies, Muslims, homeless people or Brussels bureaucrats, whom they blame for all their social problems. This development creates fertile soil for the emergence of new populist and nationalist groups and even extremists with pronounced brownish rating.
Far right groups and political parties combine in their programmes economic liberalism, including opposition to minimum wage, to government subsidies or to trade union rights, anti-immigration policies and strong Euroscepticism. They do not target the neoliberal EU ruled by selfish and arrogant financial oligarchy, who deserve all the criticism they could get but all forms of integrated European community. Some new political parties, such as the one called Sovereignty, compete in the elections, including our recent first direct presidential elections, almost solely on their emphasis of being anti-EU, anti-European, and anti-foreign. Sovereignty is closely linked to civic groups such as DOST (abbreviations of Trust, Objectification, Freedom and Tradition) which includes politicians whose views can be described as neo-fascist. Some of these people look up with clear sympathies to the Greek Golden Dawn party, whose support in the last elections here must be a clear warning. Incidentally, only few weeks ago a new political party emerged in the Czech Republic. Its founder, senator Tomio Okamura, who has a Japanese father, called this party Dawn. The rudimentary programme of the party is not yet neo-fascist but it is clearly extremely populist, anti-Romany, anti-EU, nationalist with emphasis on authoritarian forms of leadership while encouraging people to protest in the streets, though it is too early to say against whom they will be prompted to protest.
Nearly 65 percent of those engaged in extreme right politics in the Czech Republic are under the age of 25, with a full quarter of the total falling in the age range of 13-18 years old. About 70 percent of Czech far-right supporters are people with very low level of education. Some 60 percent of them have not finished even high school. Understandably many of them are today unemployed.
Their anger and frustration is quite skilfully manipulated by a number of cynical and corrupted politicians, public officials and top civil servants, who guided by their Breivik-type ideological convictions, safeguard their power positions by promoting intolerance towards imaginary enemies, be they Romanies, Muslims, homeless people or Brussels bureaucrats, who are blamed for all the social problems of the country.
These politicians make full use of the fact that democracy is still very fragile and democratic thinking is not yet anchored in peoples´minds and in their blood. Just the contrary, political parties preaching democracy are intensely distrusted and democratic policies are under increasing pressure. The most frequent explanation is the widespread corruption and the clear influence of money on politics. There is a gradual merge of political parties and economic interests, frequently supported by European and US global capital. The state is fairly correctly perceived to be under increasing influence of the merged economic and political mafias. Democracy is under siege and it is far from certain that it will eventually prevail.
It seems to me that extreme forms of ethnic nationalism, rightwing populism, racism, xenophobia and emerging neo-Nazi tendencies have to be firmly and decisively rejected by the European Left before it will be too late. At the same time I believe that we should form a united resistance front against the power of the neoliberal financial oligarchs, as they are clearly responsible for the fertile soil they have created for the Far Right populist movements that feed on social problems caused by the arrogant, gluttonous and greedy bankers. The Right has hijacked the idea of united Europe from us. We have to take Europe back from them and transform it into a truly democratic, ecologically responsible and especially socially just entity.
We have to effectively help the Greek people in their just struggle against the austerity measures imposed on them by the international bankers and their own rightwing government.
We should support the proposals submitted here by Prague Spring 2 Network, that is a broad international conference against neo-Nazism and Far Right in Europe and, especially, to establish an European wide network to disseminate knowledge about rightwing populism, anti-Islam, and anti-immigration movements based on etno-nationalism.
We have to promote social justice and equality of all citizens, irrespective of their ethnic origin, colour of skin or religion. We have to prevail. The alternative is too terrible to imagine. So lets get on with it!!!