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Czech Republic: Hundreds of demonstrators both against and for receiving refugees in Prague

24.10.2015 12:57
A demonstration in support of refugees and against racism was convened on 17 October 2015 on Wenceslas Square in Prague by the Initiative against Hate Speech (iniciativa Proti projevům nenávisti). (PHOTO:  Facebook page of iniciativa Proti projevům nenávisti).
A demonstration in support of refugees and against racism was convened on 17 October 2015 on Wenceslas Square in Prague by the Initiative against Hate Speech (iniciativa Proti projevům nenávisti). (PHOTO: Facebook page of iniciativa Proti projevům nenávisti).

On 17 October several hundred opponents of immigration and Islam gathered in the center of Prague as did those opposed to racism and xenophobia. Both camps were kept separated from one another on Wenceslas Square by police officers and the statue of St. Václav.

The Czech News Agency reports that those demonstrating in front of the National Museum at the top of the square in favor of "our culture and a safe country" numbered roughly 800, while about 400 people across the road on the other side of the iconic statue called for solidarity with refugees. Demonstrations in support of refugees and against racism have been convened by the "Against Hate Speech" initiative (Proti projevům nenávisti).

Members of the initiative are bothered by the dissemination of hatred and xenophobia in the Czech Republic. "In September a total of nine Syrians sought asylum here. There is evidently no actual influx of refugees into the Czech Republic happening," the organizers pointed out.

Among those calling for greater solidarity with refugees is the coordinator of Czech volunteer aid to refugees in Hungary, Jan Vrobel, and sociologist Jiřina Šiklová. She reminded the public that people have had to flee the Czech Republic in the past as well.

"During the second half of the 20th century, 420 000 people left the country and were accepted elsewhere. Some then returned. During the Balkan war, we accepted as many as 40 000 refugees. Has anyone noticed them being any sort of burden?" she asked.

The sociologist believes that is Europe has so much fear about losing its values, that means it has too little self-confidence. Participants in the demonstration in favor of refugee reception carried banners calling for the Czech Interior Minister to be educated or reading "They're not refugees, they're human beings".

The organizers of both protests used music during their assemblies. While the opponents of immigration chose Czech folk songs, the backers of refugee reception listend Arabic rhythms, Balkan brass band music and Jewish songs.

The demonstration by those opposed to immigration and Islam, called "For Our Culture and a Safe Country" began their event with the national anthem. Those participating also carried Czech flags.

Approximately 30 motorcycle riders came to support them by riding along the road that passes in front of the National Museum. Politicians Radim Fiala and Tomio Okamura and the singer Aleš Brichta addressed the crowd.

Czech MP Okamura repeated his demand that the country's borders be hermetically sealed. A petition calling for the Czech Republic's withdrawal from the European Union was available to sign.

During Okamura's speech, those gathered beneath the statue of St. Václav began to blow whistles. Police immediately pacified shoving matches that broke out.

A police anti-conflict team was at the scene as well. Demonstrations by both sides of the issue have been taking place on Wenceslas Square since this summer.

The most recent previous demonstrations took place there in mid-September. That assembly by the critics of Islamism at the National Museum, according to police, was also attended by as many as 800 people.

A similar demonstration in solidarity with refugees was also held at the same time in front of the statue of St. Václav which police estimate was attended by between 300 and 500 people. The "Bikers against Islam" organization supported the previous anti-Islam demonstration with a total of 350 riders along the motorway in front of the museum.  

ČTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Demonstrace, Extremism, Racism, Xenophobia



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