Czech scientists launch petition calling for tolerance towards refugees

Syrian refugees, photo: DFID - UK Department for International Development, CC BY-SA 2.0

More than 1,300 scientists and members of research and academic institutions have signed a petition against growing xenophobic sentiments and radicalisation in Czech society. Entitled ‘Scientists against Fear and Apathy’, it aims to counterbalance the ethnic and religious intolerance being promoted by a number of organised groups and smaller parties. Among the signatories are Helena Illnerová, a biochemist and former president of the Czech Academy of Sciences, and Václav Hořejší, director of the Academy’s Institute of Molecular Genetics.

Syrian refugees,  photo: DFID - UK Department for International Development,  CC BY-SA 2.0
I spoke to one of the petition’s initiators, Anna Vanclová of the Faculty of Sciences of Charles University, and I first asked her about the reasons behind the appeal:

“I think we can all see that xenophobic atmosphere in the Czech Republic, as well as in the rest of Europe, has been increasing. And we were quite frustrated that there is so much space for extremist opinions and extremist activists and there are no voices against that could be heard in the public space.

“Politicians and media remain mostly silent and the discourse about refugees and immigration in the Czech Republic is so heated that we thought we would try to appeal on reason and on discussing the matter with cold head.”

Czechs have the most negative view of immigration among EU states. So how serious would you say the situation in the Czech Republic is concerning anti-immigrant sentiments?

Anna Vanclová,  photo: archive of Charles University
“I think what is very important is that in the Czech Republic there is the smallest number of immigrants and this might be one of the reasons why people are so xenophobic. It basically reflects their fear of the unknown, because Czechs don’t know many people of other ethnicities and races.

“I cannot really say whether the fear is really worse than in the rest of Europe, but I think it is definitely pretty bad.”

So what exactly is the aim of your petition?

“I wouldn’t call it a petition. It is more like a manifesto or an open letter. We are not demanding any specific steps towards immigration. We just try to appeal on reason, on critical thinking and we also try to remind people that not all elites are indifferent to the problems and they are not supporting the extremists.

As you might know, one of the leaders of the anti-immigration, openly racist and islamophobic movement is an academic from one of the Czech universities, so we are trying to somehow balance it.”

Can you be more specific? What exactly are you calling for?

Photo: CTK
“Mostly we appeal to media and politicians not to support the xenophobic atmosphere here by remaining silent. We want them to act, to show responsibility and bravery and somehow speak against extremists and not give them space in the public discourse.

“We appeal on the media that form the public opinion not to gain popularity using topics and articles that are spreading this hatred and xenophobia. We also appeal to the public to think calmly and critically and when they read something in the media to stop for a moment and think about it, because there is great number of hoaxes and false alarms in the Czech Republic.”