Czech ministers support academic effort to de-escalate hatred of immigrants
Czech Vice Prime Minister for Science Pavel Bělobrádek, Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier and Education Minister Kateřina Valachová expressed support today for a recent effort by academics to de-escalate hatred of immigrants in the country. Dienstbier had previously expressed support for the academics' petition at the beginning of the week.
In a joint press release, the ministers say growing intolerance is the greatest threat to democracy the Czech Republic faces. Valachová said she is prepared to discuss the academics' call to action with Czech President Miloš Zeman.
In an interview for the tabloid news server Blesk.cz, Zeman previously said of refugees from Africa and the Middle East that "no one invited them to our country". All three cabinet members expressed appreciation for the 2 541 academics who have backed the call against fear and indifference posted at www.vyzvavedcu.cz.
The ministers also said they identify with the academics' arguments and warnings against extremists and populists abusing the topic of migration. Speaking prior to today's cabinet session, Dienstbier underlined the necessity of providing high-quality information about the current wave of refugees.
"The call for the provision of high-quality information in this situation is completely appropriate, such information can contribute to reducing people's fear, which is absolutely natural. Society usually expresses great trust in academic staffers and scholars, and if educated people join this public debate, people about whom it is known that they are very good at working with information in their analyses, then that can contribute to calming the situation and to a fact-based, rational debate," Dienstbier told the media today with the Education Minister by his side.
Dienstbier also expressed his appreciation for the academics' determination not to merely issue their challenge, but to continue aiding in the cultivation of the public space in Czech society. Valachová expressed her own support for the scholars as follows: "I greatly welcome the scholars' challenge, I am of the opinion that the Government is paying attention to this question and I can guarantee, as Education Minister, that we will be prepared for children to receive enough information within the framework of the education system and that we will provide for the effective combating of xenophobia so that there will be no risk of the escalation of interpersonal conflicts."
"I absolutely identify with this, I believe it is worthy of support," Vice PM Bělobrádek said of the petition, which he supported by signing online. More than 4 000 supporters from outside academia have also signed it.
In the text, the academics warn the public against the manipulative statements and rapid judgments expressed by the media and some politicians that then lead to a growing hatred of immigrants. "The growth of intolerant sentiments in society poses the greatest threat to democracy in the Czech Republic today," Dienstbier said.
"Compared to domestic intolerance, this wave of migration - the security dimension of which I do not intend to make light of - is nowhere near as dangerous," the Human Rights Minister said. The position taken on immigrants by the Czech President, however, is at odds with the academics' call for calm.
At the beginning of August, in an interview for the tabloid news server Blesk.cz, Zeman sent refugees the message that no one had invited them to the Czech Republic. "If you don't like it, leave," he said.
Zeman's press spokesperson Jiří Ovčáček said on Tuesday that the academics' call for tolerance was "broadening the gulf between so-called elites and the rest of Czech society". Zeman has yet to comment on the petition.
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