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Commentary: Does Okamura have a future?

Prague, 6.1.2015 21:27, (ROMEA)
--ilustrační foto--
--ilustrační foto--

There would be no point in returning to the hateful and stupid remarks by Tomio Okamura about Muslims and no point in covering them at all if a basic question were not hanging in the air:  Does this indicate the future of our public discourse and politics? Unfortunately, such a future cannot be ruled out.

The experts are soothing us by claiming that Okamura has not scored any points with the public through his anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim mobilization. Political scientist Miroslav Mareš, for example, claims that people in the Czech Republic usually make their voting decisions according to criteria other than their relationship toward immigrants or minorities.  

Mareš believes socioeconomic criteria are determinative, as well as moral trust in a politician. While people might share Okamura's opinions and they might even be very popular, that does not necessarily translate into electoral results.

Sociologist Jan Hartl with the STEM agency, which conducts public opinion polls, views the matter similarly. Hartl believes that calls like the one Okamura has just made target roughly 15 % of the public - those who do not vote even though they are perpetually dissatisfied.

"Okamura has repeated the mistake of many of our politicians across the political spectrum who believe public opinion here is more debased than it actually is," Hartl said. "Our surveys have long demonstrated that while the public is not exactly abounding in lofty ideals, they are grounded, realistic, and expect rational argumentation more than emotional appeals."  

There is no doubt that these are competent considerations - and what's more, they sound hopeful. However, I fear they cannot be relied upon unreservedly.

In the first place, the Czech Republic has long been essentially isolated from any actual problems with immigrants. In comparison with many other European countries, almost no Muslims live here.

It is, therefore, understandable that even people who are strongly anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, blatantly racist and xenophobic do not consider these questions politically determinative here. At least, not yet.

This is the first big problem - the notion that we will continue to live in such isolation is not only unrealistic, it is both morally and politically dubious. There are tens of millions of refugees moving all over Europe and the rest of the world, fleeing genocide, hunger and wars.

Right now we are living in a double luxury:  Both relative material luxury and the political luxury of not admitting that this is a problem, which means we can cultivate these "Okamuras" without incurring any pain. It is, however, completely certain that the situation will change and these "Okamuras", in a new situation, would acquire a new significance.

In the second place, these "Okamuras" already have significance today. They are of more importance than they might seem at first glance.

Without their influence, it is otherwise completely incomprehensible why essentially all of our politicians, for example, have unanimously rejected the idea of accepting refugees from Syria. All of the big political parties, including those whose programs are based on equality, human rights and solidarity, have taken this position.

Yes, for the time being Okamura is not scoring points with his appeals. However, this is only because everyone on the political scene is behaving in more or less the same way.

Few politicians would dare say that we are obligated to accept Syrian or other refugees. Few would dare say that if we are not prepared to do so today, we simply must prepare ourselves.

Few would dare say that the reality of the current world is pushing us in that direction. Few would dare say that the peaceful Czech basin cannot remain this isolated forever, so bittersweetly, pleasantly closed off and xenophobic.  

Who would dare raise this issue? The lurking "Okamuras" would immediately begin scoring political points in response.

In the third place, it is not a given that these "Okamuras" cannot just start scoring political points right away. All it would take (how to put it so we can avoid a lawsuit?) would be for someone "more sophisticated" than Tomio Okamura to come on the scene.

Anti-corruption rhetoric in the Czech Republic has also become an obligatory component of politics and new political movements have formed around it. Vít Bárta was unable to ride that wave with his "Public Affairs" party.

However, now we have [Czech Finance Minister] Andrej Babiš, and his position looks much more stable. In other words:  If the civic and political culture of this country doesn't change, there is an actual danger that while Tomio Okamura may fall, new and more powerful "Okamuras" may rise in his place.

Michal Komárek, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Menšiny, muslimové, Politika, tolerance, Tomio Okamura, Xenophobia


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