Czech Republic: Úsvit running a racist, xenophobic EP campaign
The Úsvit (Dawn of Direct Democracy) movement of Czech MP Tomio Okamura has officially launched its racist, xenophobic election campaign. The movement is using a poster depicting white sheep kicking a black sheep off of the Czech flag along with slogans against immigrants and Roma.
Úsvit's press package on the campaign includes the information that the design with the sheep comes from a campaign for a referendum on immigration that took place in Switzerland this past February. The motif of white sheep driving a black sheep away is of course much older than that.
The image was first used several years ago by the xenophobic Swiss People's Party, then by the German neo-Nazi NPD and by the Northern League (Lega Nord) in Italy. In 2008 the Czech National Party used it as well.
There is a visible difference between the reporting on the Czech National Party's election campaign and the reporting on the one underway by Úsvit today. Six years ago the Czech media openly discussed the National Party as racist and xenophobic, while today the reporting on Úsvit uses the term "populist" at the most to describe the movement.
The National Party had the slogan "Stop crime, stop immigration" on its poster. Today Úsvit has two slogans on its campaign ad: "Support families NOT inadaptables" and "Jobs for us NOT immigrants".
The National Party also used the electoral slogan "The only political party in this country that thinks about the future of our white children is the National Party." Úsvit has taken all but the same approach.
"WE DON'T WANT ANY INADAPTABLE IMMIGRANTS, INADAPTABLE MINORITIES OR RELIGIOUS FANATICS IN OUR COUNTRY. We are the only party in the Czech Republic advocating this and saying it upfront... We want to preserve the Bohemian, Moravian and Silesian character of our republic, which was built over the centuries by our predecessors. NO TO IMMIGRANTS AND INADAPTABLES" Úsvit writes next to an image of the poster on its Facebook page.
The National Party ran into obstacles with the use of its poster. In March 2008, Prague City Hall referenced it when dissolving a demonstration by the party in front of the National Minorities' House in the Vinohrady quarter of Prague.
"The purpose of the assembly was heading towards that of hatred and intolerance of citizens, specifically of minorities," an official told news reporters at the time. As Romea.cz reported, "City Hall staffers primary took exception to a poster depicting a white sheep standing on the flag of the Czech Republic and kicking a black sheep off of it."
The National Party was also criticized back then by media outlets such as TV NOVA. In its online edition, Tn.cz, the television station published an article entitled "National Party's racist campaign to target children."
In that article, TV NOVA reported the following: "The extremist National Party is launching its election campaign. The party will be distributing promotional materials to people in the streets that depict racist sheep. One poster, for example, features a white sheep kicking a black one."
The National Party was eventually dissolved by the courts for failing to submit required materials and was generally viewed as a racist party for its targeting of Romani people and a xenophobic one for its targeting of immigrants. Ideologically it was a continuation of the Czech pre-war Fascists to a great extent.
In its program, the National Party proposed that Romani people should leave the country for India. That same idea was later supported more than once by Tomio Okamura, who in the past has stood up for both the National Party and for the Workers' Party (Dělnická strana - DS), which was ultimately officially dissolved.
"It's not a literal copy. It's somewhat inspired by [another poster], we haven't addressed the copyright question," Jan Zilvar, press spokesperson for Úsvit, told news server iDNES.cz when asked about the artistic design and content of the campaign poster.
The idea was first "stolen" by the National Party, which also didn't bother with copyright. Now Úsvit's poster with the black sheep is slated to turn up on more than 10 000 advertising spaces in all of the Czech Republic's cities and municipalities.
Okamura also took a hard line against immigrants recently on the floor of the Chamber of Deputies during the discussion of amendments to the law on foreigners. "If foreigners lose their jobs and don't find any more work, it is not desirable that they continue to remain in the Czech Republic drawing welfare from state social support," he said.
Another topic that Okamura's posters accent is the notion that support must target families but "not inadaptables", a statement evidently targeting socially excluded people, primarily Romani ones. Attorney Klára Samková is leading the Úsvit candidate list and the movement already has 14 MPs in the lower house.
News server iDNES.cz reports that according to the most recently published poll, Úsvit has a chance of crossing the 5 % threshold and winning at least one seat in the European Parliament. Zdeněk Ryšavý, director of the ROMEA organization, says electoral presentations such as this one are unacceptable.
"This is open racism and xenophobia. A similar campaign was already used not just by the National Party in 2008, but also by the German neo-Nazi NPD. It is rather clear to see the direction in which Úsvit is heading," Ryšavý told news server Aktuálně.cz.
Martin Rozumek, director of the Organization for Aid to Refugees (Organizace pro pomoc uprchlíkům - OPU), considers it a misstep for the movement to be defining itself as against immigrants in the Czech Republic. "The most numerous group of foreigners here is that of Slovaks, whom no one even considers to be foreigners. Mimicking the Swiss campaign seems completely out of touch," he said.
The OPU director believes Úsvit is doing its best to find topics that have worked for similar parties abroad. "Fear of immigrants or Roma are among those," he noted.
Rozumek believes it is good that the Czech Republic now has a Human Rights Minister. That cabinet member could contribute toward advocating for programs to prevent xenophobia, as there is a lack of education about and prevention of extremism and racism in the Czech Republic, he said.
According to Marek Čaněk of the Multicultural Center Prague, other parties have also attempted to touch on such topics during previous elections. "Úsvit, however, is doing its best to directly create this theme. It has chosen an attack campaign with no basis in reality," he said.
About 4 % of the population of the Czech Republic is comprised of foreigners. More than 200 000 people from abroad have permission to work in the country, most of them from elsewhere in the EU.
Čaněk said Okamura is isolating himself with his politics and that the other parties don't take him too seriously. However, if the MP were to succeed with this theme, Čaněk believes he will do his best to keep pushing the threshold of the acceptable even further, and that the media are helping spread xenophobic opinions by repeating Okamura's invective and remarks.
Miroslav Mareš, an expert on extremism and a political scientist, believes the election posters are toying with a certain mood that does now exist in the country. "The motif of black and white may spark the connotation of xenophobia among many people. However, I believe this is still just more of a populist movement, it's not the same as the 'hard-core' extremism represented by the case of Jobbik in Hungary," he told news server Aktuálně.cz.
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