European neighbourhood: do we care what happens next-door?

Photo: European Commission

In 1989, at the time of the collapse of communism in Czechoslovakia, most of the international media focused on those events. Even later, during the process of transition to democracy, the Czech Republic occasionally caught the attention of the world. Today - 15 years after the fall of communism - events in this country have disappeared from the front pages of the international press. Why is that? And does this lack of interest work both ways? Are Czechs interested in what's going on in other countries?

Photo: European Commission
A year ago the Czech Republic together with nine other countries joined the European Union. That was probably the last event in this country to attract the broader attention of the foreign media. At that time, the huge EU enlargement aroused interest in Central European countries in general. But today the situation is different. As the Prague correspondent of the French newspaper Le Monde, Martin Plichta, says, French readers prefer to focus on local issues and in terms of international events are more attracted to other regions.

"For the French media it is still Africa, and of course Europe in general, then America and conflict regions like Iraq, Afghanistan or if there are some problems in China or Korea. But Central Europe is so normal and quiet that there is no interest in it."

The situation is a bit different in neighbouring countries. You find a lot of articles about Czech events in the Slovak media; also Polish newspaper readers are quite interested in what's going on in the Czech Republic. On the other hand, in Germany - the Czech Republic's biggest neighbour - Czech events usually do not get so much attention.

Anneke Hudalla from the Sachsische Zeitung - a newspaper in the Saxony region which borders with the Czech Republic - says people there are rather interested in things related to convenient shopping than in more serious matters.

"I think most people in Saxony are interested in how much a gallon of gas is. Everybody wants to go there and get gas there. People are also interested in supermarkets etc. I think they just want to profit from the lower prices but they are not really interested in how Czechs live or what people do here."

Anneke Hudalla says that although Czechs are more interested in Germany, the media here also does not focus on real life stories.

"Well I think naturally they are interested more in Germany than vice-versa, because Germany is more important fort the Czech Republic than the Czech Republic for Germany. So when it comes to political issues, there is more in the Czech Republic about Germany than vice-versa. But actually I am a little bit disappointed by the fact that there is very little news about the way of living in Germany, about the students, about the elderly people - about the whole situation. According to my personal experience many people have totally wrong ideas about what living in Germany means today and what kind of country Germany is."

Perhaps it is natural that people tend to be more interested in the hot news from distant more turbulent regions than in ordinary stories from countries close by. On the other hand, in the light of an integrating Europe, it is quite ironic how little we know - and how prejudiced we sometimes are about our own neighbours.