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Analysis: Will Czech President Zeman make it into the 2015 extremism report?

17.11.2015 15:13
Martin Konvička of
Martin Konvička of "We Don't Want Islam in the Czech Republic" and Czech President Miloš Zeman (PHOTO: Kirk, David Sedlecký, Wikimedia Commons, Collage: Romea.cz)

For almost 14 days the group called "We Don't Want Islam in the Czech Republic" (Islám v ČR nechceme - IVČRN) and its political wing, the Bloc against Islam (Bloc proti Islámu - BPI) have been constantly calling for people to attend an assembly in support of Czech President Miloš Zeman "in his opinions about immigration and Islam". The event is to take place at Albertov in Prague today on the anniversary of 17 November 1989 and 1939.

Zeman will visit Albertov at the same time as BPI will. His spokesperson, Jiří Ovčáček, has admitted that he might address the assembled people.

Zeman and IVČRN in the same boat? No surprise!

There is nothing strange about this, as Zeman's opinions about refugees are similar if not identical to the opinions of this group. However, the entire situation takes on a tinge of absurdist theater when we recall that BPI and IVČRN are mentioned in the Czech Interior Ministry's reports on extremism.

"Both their organized events and rhetoric have been similar. With the aim of winning voter support, they have intentionally, tendentiously exploited information that has frequently been taken out of context, generalized, or even misinterpreted," write the authors of the Czech Republic's situational report on extremism for the third quarter of 2015 about the activities of IVČRN, led by Martin Konvička, and ultra-right entities.

What's more, ministers in the Czech Government warned against extremist provocations on the 17 November anniversary yesterday. "We have signals that some extremist groups would like to abuse 17 November for a certain display of their politics," the Interior Minister said.

"I would like to ask that people consider 17 November to be an occasion for reverence and not give the extremists any room to disseminate hatred," Chovanec said. Which extremists did he mean?

If the minister hasn't made a 180-degree turn, and if the information published by the Interior Ministry's anti-extremism department at the end of October still applies, then it must include the anti-Islamic group that has arrayed itself around Konvička.

Will the Czech President address the BPI event or not?

The supporters of Konvička have posted to their Facebook profile that Zeman has decided to attend their demonstration. Originally the event was to have been held on Hradčanské náměstí [near Prague Castle, which is where the Office of the Czech President is located - Translator's Note].

The demonstration was, however, relocated after Zeman promised he would be returning to Albertov, where several hundred demonstrators showed their disapproval of him last year. "We have decided to go to our President. Our speakers Martin Konvička, Marek Černoch and others will express their support for him directly at Albertov," the BPI has written in a statement.

This information prompts many questions which the President's spokesperson, Jiří Ovčáček, has had to explain. "I do not presume that the President would demonstrate," he said when asked whether Zeman will be actively involved in the assembly.

The spokesperson would not be drawn on whether the President supports the demonstration. "If some citizens gather to express their opinions, that's their affair," he obfuscated for the Prima television station.

"President Zeman has sent his apologies and excused himself from attending the assembly to honor the memory of 17 November in front of the Hlávkova Dormitory, which is happening at 9 AM and where he was supposed to be the first speaker. His spokesperson announced that President Zeman will attend the assembly at Albertov organized by the Bloc against Islam that same afternoon..." the Rector of the Czech Technical University (ČVUT), Petr Konvalinka, later posted to social networking sites.

Yes, the Rector of ČVUT and many others have put two and two together, but according to Ovčáček, all is not what it seems. Now, allegedly, the event at Albertov is not a Bloc against Islam action at all.

"Mr President will not demonstrate against Islam there. He is commemorating 17 November 1939 and 1989 there," the spokesperson told the media.

Once again Ovčáček has provided a beautiful obfuscation of the issue. So let's summarize.

A demonstration of the Bloc against islam begins at Albertov at 14:00 and the President is scheduled to arrive at the same place at 14:10. While he will not demonstrate, he may address some people who might be there.

By pure coincidence those people will probably be those attending the Bloc against Islam demonstration, but how could Miloš Zeman know that? Or maybe he knows it very well, because his spokesperson is very clear:  "The real extremists who are threatening the safety of us all through their boundless helpfulness toward illegal migrants, coupled with their contempt and hatred for their own nation, will be assembling at other places in Prague," [i.e., not Albertov] Ovčáček posted to his Facebook page.

I would not want to be a police officer from the anti-extremist department, because if Ovčáček's assertions are valid, then the recent reports on extremism are absurd. If Miloš Zeman addresses the BPI assembly at Albertov, a very curious situation will arise.

Officers from the anti-extremist department will be monitoring the assembly of the Bloc against Islam and will record Zeman's speech, so the President himself may make it into the annual report on extremism for 2015. However, the question is whether in such a case the Interior Ministry won't prefer to change its opinion and follow the orders of spokesperson Ovčáček instead. 

Zdeněk Ryšavý, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Demonstrace, Extremism, Islám, Islamofobie, Miloš Zeman, 17 November



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