Commentary: Football still trumps immigration demonstrations for the Czech public
On Saturday in Prague we saw demonstrations against receiving refugees and in favor of receiving them. These events struck me as bizarre and a bit tragicomic.
Extremists on both sides
Several hundred people gathered for these causes, with each camp talking to itself within its own circle for a while before shouting at the other group across the cordon of police officers keeping them apart. The extremists on the "anti-immigrant" side were, as one might expect, more hardcore, shouting "You all will hang!" and throwing two smoke bombs at their opponents.
The "pro-immigrant" demonstrators were funnier and responded by saying "We sort garbage, not human beings". What was bizarre, though, is that there were also "extremists" on the "pro-immigrant" side - making it rather difficult to even work with this term.
In any event, the people there were "left-wing radicals" who can apparently be labeled extremists. The bizarre thing is that the two camps of extremists agree on several things: They both criticize the EU, they both are opposed to US imperialism, they share many conspiracy theories, and they are pro-Putin when it comes to the war in Ukraine.
Understandably, not all of the "pro-immigration" demonstrators were extremists - most were probably not even left-wing. Nevertheless, the spectrum on that side of the issue is actually quite broad and diverse.
It is difficult to imagine that this will create a firm basis for common civil society action in the future. Similarly, it can be presumed that not all of the demonstrators in the other group are extremists either, nor that they are even as hateful or xenophobic as Bartoš, Okamura, or even Pechanec, who was also there.
Baník draws bigger crowds
What is more important is that we can even discuss "civil society" here at all. Only a few hundred people came to the center of Prague.
They were addressing a crisis that politicians are calling not just the biggest one facing the European Union, but one of the greatest tragedies of our modern era, in which millions of people are fleeing chaos, terror, wars (or "just" hunger), and Europe's concern is whether it is willing to risk losing some of its own calm, security and wealth to aid at least a small portion of them. The Czech media is full of this issue.
According to the media, this is a matter of fundamental importance to almost everyone and the country is all but living through this issue. However, according to the intensity of the demonstrations, not many people are actually living through it - at least, not to the degree that they were living through the Baník-Sparta football match.
During such matches the extremists show themselves in a much clearer light, or at least, they throw seats and dozens of smoke bombs at each other. Saturday's demonstrations, though, didn't attract even as much active attention as a match between Liberec and Jablonec or one between Plzeň and Teplice usually does.
One the one hand, this seems like a good thing. We are simply a rather calm people, big massive demonstrations and violence don't attract us.
Only once in a while, very infrequently, are many of us drawn to such a thing. On the other hand, this is a fragile kind of calm.
It may be a sign that we are not strong enough to resist manipulation. We've experienced that before here.
The question is who is going to manipulate this "calm strength" of ours: The brave politicians who stand up to the potential majority, which prefers its own comfort and safety? Such politicians have long-range vision, they know the country will never be able to close itself off from migration, and they know that if we want to remain a free, relatively satisfied and respectable society, we cannot behave like total cowards and egotists.
Or will we be manipulated by those who manage to frighten us so much that most of us will consider the only option to be surrounding ourselves with the highest possible fences? For now, a Baník match trumps it all.
Watch the flags!
The behavior of the police also adds to the bizarre character of these events. Just the other day the police did not know what to do with mock-ups of a gallows and took a week to evaluate whether it was in order for them to be carried around at a demonstration.
The final judgment was that such a thing is permitted. Then on Saturday the police confiscated an inflammatory poster that ridiculed ideological opponents by depicting penises.
How outrageous! A drawing of an uncovered penis in public!
Gallows are apparently not equivalently scandalous. Then there was the burning of EU flags in front of the Office of the Government, which was called by the police spokesperson a "possible offense against fire safety" in his effort to figure which law might have been broken.
Yes, it was hot, and setting flags on fire in public could ignite a blaze. It does not seem important to me, though, to somehow specifically obstruct the burning of flags.
I think this all has nothing to do with these symbols, and I would prefer to let all of the nationalist movements and pathos of the preceding centuries fall into the well-deserved slumber of history. I might even set some flags on fire myself - after all, it seems they will be waving on the fences we might line our borders with.
A "possible offense against fire safety", though - really. That just increases the bizarreness of these demonstrations of ours.
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