Members of Czech Freedom Fighters' Union distance themselves from national chair in petition, leadership defends his speech at Terezín
The Central Committee of the Czech Freedom Fighters' Union (ČSBS) has expressed its agreement with the speech given by its chair, Jaroslav Vodička, at this year's commemorative ceremony at Terezín. Critics of the speech have called him xenophobic because of the remarks he made about refugees.
Vice-Chair Emil Kulfánek said the speech was criticized during the Central Committee's meeting on Tuesday by the chair of the Kladno district cell of the organization. "Most of the members of the Central Committee supported the speech given by our chair," he said.
Kulfánek went on to say that while the chair of the Kladno cell had the right to express her disagreement, her voice was in the minority. "That does not mean we are condemning her in any way," he noted.
Criticisms were raised during and after the commemorative ceremony on Sunday. The Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic and the Jewish Community in Prague stated in a joint declaration that Vodička's speech was xenophobic and that the speech given by the chair of the Czech Senate, Milan Štěch, had been anti-German and nationalist.
According to the Jewish organizations, neither speech was appropriate for an event that was supposed to commemorate the victims of Nazi persecution. The Jewish communities were bothered by the fact that Vodička called the current migration into Europe an "invasion".
In their view he also used "gross xenophobic stereotypes" in his remarks. During the ceremony he also said the refugees are not fleeing war.
"They are fleeing in order to benefit from the European economic and social system built by us over the years and through the work of the generations before us. They are not fleeing because they have no freedom at home - and even when that is the case, they don't want to fight for change to benefit their people," Vodička said.
According to international organizations, most of the refugees currently heading to Europe are from Iraq and Syria, where war has been raging for several years and has taken the lives of almost half a million victims in Syria alone during the last six months. Kulfánek, however, defended the remarks as follows: "I definitely do not believe the speech was xenophobic or that it was aimed against the German population in the Czech Republic. Under no circumstances was that the case. We are not a group focused against Germans, but we are against those who interpret Czech history according to Henlein's ideology, to be absolutely precise."
Some members of the ČSBS, however, have publicly distanced themselves from Vodička's speech. At this moment there are 16 signatures on a petition to that effect; news server Romea.cz publishes the text of that petition in full translation below.
Declaration by ČSBS members
We, the members of the Czech Freedom Fighters' Union, distance ourselves from way in which the chair of our Union, Jaroslav Vodička, is making public appearances and trampling on the legacy of the men and women who actively fought against Nazism, Fascism, racism and an unfree society.
We want to remind everybody that the aim of the ČSBS is, through its activity, to contribute to the development of the Czech Republic in the spirit of the humanitarian traditions of the founders of our state and the principles of the Charter of Human Rights. We believe that Masaryk's legacy to humanity should not just be empty words, given the current situation for the ČSBS.
We remember the lives of our forebears and our friends, lives that were lost in order to purchase our current freedom, which we have the obligation to defend against all displays of intolerance and small-mindedness. As survivors of the Nazi genocide and as descendants of the survivors of that genocide, the essence of which was to divide people according to faith, nationality and race, we disagree with and do not want any of the speeches given by our current chair to be made as if they represented the views of the ČSBS.
Europe today is a place of refuge for children, men and women who are at risk of being murdered, persecuted and tortured in their homelands for the same reasons that our forebears or we ourselves were several decades ago. It is absolutely inappropriate for the representatives of the ČSBS to cast any doubt on our obligation to aid the suffering and the weak. It is Czechoslovakia whose humanistic tradition we have frequently recalled when that country still served as a final place of refuge from totalitarianism for the persecuted and the threatened. Czechoslovak citizens themselves then took advantage of the shelter they were provided by the countries that accepted them.
If the leadership of the ČSBS continues to cast doubt on the very essence of the legacy of the anti-Nazi fighters, they will lose absolutely all of their own legitimacy and destroy the legacy of those whose sacrifice and work the ČSBS is supposed to honor and remember.
We demand that Chairman Jaroslav Vodička refrain in future from any further behavior that casts doubt on the values we believe in - bravery, humanity, and respect. We also demand that the delegates to the ČSBS Convention acknowledge their responsibility for the direction in which this organization will head during the upcoming elections. The future of the Czech Freedom Fighters' Union is solely up to you.
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