Civic Democrats introduce theme of immigration to pre-election debate

Pre-election meeting, photo CTK

With the general elections exactly a month away, the Civic Democratic Party, or ODS, have stirred up controversy in recent days by announcing a tough new position on immigration. With anti-immigration parties making gains across Europe, the Civic Democrats are the first mainstream Czech party to address the thorny issue of immigration. They are talking about limiting the number of asylum seekers, deporting illegal immigrants and launching a crackdown on Vietnamese and Chinese traders who sell goods of questionable quality at outdoor markets. Alena Skodova has more:

Pre-election meeting, photo CTK
The Civic Democrats have come in for a barrage of criticism since announcing their tough new policies on immigration. Some of the party's opponents have gone so far as to compare the ODS to the far-right parties of Joerg Haider in Austria or France's Jean Marie Le Pen. Civic Democrat MP Jiri Payne flatly rejects such comparisons. He says that the party's policy is in line with the Civic Democrats' resistance to dictates from the European Union.

jiri Payne
"Basically, the Social Democrat government which is governing the Czech Republic right now is accepting the European policy. This is in fact pushing member states to accept certain quotas for immigrants. If such a procedure is not done with regard to the interests of citizens, it could provoke some feelings which are against foreigners coming to the country. In fact at this moment the policy of ODS would be not exactly the same - accepting everything what the EU is doing. It is necessary to look at specific local conditions. I think it's necessary to be very sensitive to the situation because I would like not to face the same problems as we see, say, in Germany - attacks against Turks - and in other countries as well. Basically it's not that the ODS would like to be an enemy of foreigners, but we are not happy with everything that the EU is pushing us to do."

MP Ivan Pilip is a senior figure in the right-of-centre Freedom Union. In his opinion, the ODS's new tough policy on immigration is nothing more than a pre-election ploy:

Ivan Pilip
"We think it's a typical pre-election slogan that could help attract some groups of voters above all, small business people, and maybe some inhabitants of smaller towns and villages where there are shops of Vietnamese traders. On the other hand I think that it should not be based on national platform. Some small stores are a real problem in many places, but it's not just because of Vietnamese or Russian traders, it's because of a certain type of traders who don't follow the rules. We should speak about rules, not about nationalities. That's why we think the ODS uses traditional right-wing or radical-right arguments before the elections, we don't think they really mean it that much..."

...but in today's papers, the head of the Civic Democrats, Mr. Klaus, is compared to far-right populists such as Haider or Le Pen, don't you think it's too strong?

"I think it is too strong because in many countries centre-right parties sometimes use these arguments, and not just radical parties, the discussion about immigration is on the table in almost all European countries. So it's not a form of extremism but definitely in some features it is pushing the ODS a bit closer to what I would call 'radical right', but still - regardless of all criticism I have against the ODS - it's far from a party like the parties of Haider or Le Pen."