Czech president causes controversy with multiculturalism remarks

Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTK

In the Czech Republic, President Vaclav Klaus caused controversy by suggesting there was a link between the terrorist attacks in London and multiculturalism. Describing multiculturalism as a "tragic mistake", Mr Klaus said the openness of the West to immigrants from other cultures had facilitated attacks by radical Islamists. For a response to those comments Rob Cameron spoke to Katerina Brezinova, programme director for the Prague Multicultural Centre.

Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTK
"I think President Klaus's speech is full of internal contradictions, and what it reflects is that he criticizes a concept of multiculturalism that he himself created, as a nasty creature responsible for everything bad that's happening in Europe today and in Czech society as well. So we need to start from there. There's a big misunderstanding of what multiculturalism stands for, what it promotes."

But you could argue that the attacks on London were ultimately the result of a clash of civilizations, between Islam and the West. They were carried out by British-born Muslims, people who have failed - in these particular four cases - to have assimilated properly into society.

"There is one truth about the big shock that accompanied the fact that second and third-generation British citizens would be capable of carrying out such an attack. What we're seeing is the failure of effective integration of these citizens, into a larger citizenry, being it in Britain, being it in Spain, etc. So I think in that respect I think the 9-11 attacks in New York, and afterwards the Madrid and London bombings, do put more stress on the necessity for effective integration."

Katerina Brezinova
Looking at the Czech Republic, it's a country often described as rather closed and xenophobic. Is there any real reason why Czechs should make efforts to adapt to their minorities, because there are so few of them. Surely it's the minorities who should adapt to the majority society?

"The thing in the Czech Republic is that if we look at the numbers of international migration into the Czech Republic, we're having figures like 240,000 foreigners living in the Czech territory. This situation highlights the fact that the Czech Republic is multicultural, and what it reflects as well is that the relationship of the Czechs to the minorities, being them traditional minorities or newly-arrived immigrants, tends to be rather problematic."

The countries of Central and Eastern Europe as a whole are far less multicultural than Western Europe. If you walk down the streets of London or Paris the atmosphere is very different from Prague or Warsaw or Budapest.

"Oh yes indeed, it is. Czech society is still very homogenous, compared to that of London or Madrid. However, I think that's a situation that can change any day. I'm working in Spain at an academic institution in Spain, and I personally witnessed how Madrid society became multicultural - visibly multicultural - almost from one day to the next. And actually that's a very interesting thing - it was due to the Madrid bombings last year that Spanish society as a whole realized how multicultural it had become. Because when the victims of the bombing were counted, they represented many, many different nationalities. So in that respect, can Prague as a far smaller and less cosmopolitan city become as cosmopolitan as London? I don't think that matters. What matters is that Prague will be more multicultural in quite the near future, and we need to work on building these effective mechanisms of dealing and managing diversity."