Post Paris and Brussels, Eastern Europe has been sliding further into the grasp of an anti Refugee, anti Islam Far Right. Ben Finch talks about what has happened across the former Soviet Bloc as Europe as a whole ties to deal with the Refugee crisis.
A bomb will explode at any moment. The Muslim terrorists will spare no one as their AK47s spray bullets around Náměsti Svobody. Brno, the Czech Republic’s second city, is Daesh’s next target. Or so the rumour spreading through the city yesterday goes.
The worry felt in Brno is in response to the deployment of the army across the Czech Republic after the atrocities in Brussels. Yesterday, soldiers appeared in Brno’s train station and at Náměsti Svobody, or Freedom Square. I am told that they are there in response to this direct threat from Daesh.
But the Czech government says that there is no direct threat. After the explosions that killed 31 people and injured 270 in Brussels airport and metro Czech officials raised the threat level from zero to one.
The terror alert system was only introduced earlier this year, following the attacks in Paris. On the scale, a level of one indicates a general threat of a terrorist attack within the country.
“Increased security measures are being implemented now,” prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka said. “Their goal is to maximally enhance the prevention of possible security incidents in the Czech Republic.”
Similar measures are being implemented across central Europe in response to the attacks in Belgium. In Slovakia, the threat level has also been raised from its lowest level.
Law and Justice, the ruling anti-gay, anti-Muslim party in Poland, said: “The Polish state cannot and will not be helpless in the face of contemporary threats,” as they unveiled sweeping new security laws that will be rushed through parliament. These will lift restrictions on the police’s ability to search premises and carry out arrests.
In Hungary, Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party responded by announcing plans to beef up counter-terrorism by increasing the amount of dedicated personnel, opening a new intelligence centre, and extending the fence along its border with Serbia and Croatia to the Romanian frontier.
The newly elected coalition government in Slovakia is led by the centre-left party Smer, with the centre-right Network & Most–Híd parties as well as the far-right Slovak National Party. They are under pressure from a resurgent Nazi party, People’s Party Our Slovakia. Led by Marian Kotleba, the party has accused Roma of being “gypsy terrorists” and calls them parasites. They are also strongly anti-Muslim and think Slovakia has become “degenerate”.
The cry in all four countries is: “No more Muslims!”
Back in Brno, immediately after the attacks in Brussels, discussion centred around how it was necessary to keep refugees out for fear of them carrying out terrorist attacks. The fact that was ignored was that those who are carrying out these attacks are home-grown.
Their stated aim may be to disrupt the European way of life in an attempt to extend Daesh’s violent, fascistic and false caliphate, but there are a multitude of reasons that could have led to their radicalisation. For example, racism and anti-Islam rhetoric have been ingrained in European politics, from top to bottom, for as long as many of these terrorists had been alive.
Not all in the Czech Republic are against welcoming refugees. While the country has taken in very few – it is not on the main route from the Balkans to Vienna – there are people who travel to border crossings to help feed and clothe those who arrive.
As soon as the rumour of the attack in Brno started, there was an awareness among some that this was intended to scare people into hating Muslims. Some said that it may have been started by Blok Proti Islámu, or the Bloc Against Islam, a far-right party whose leader recently shared a stage with the president of the Czech Republic, the drunk Miloš Zeman.
The narrative created by Blok Proti Islámu is similar to that of the People’s Party of Slovakia, except that Muslims are the source of the Czech Republic’s, and the world’s, problems rather than the Roma. They say that the Czech Republic, a country where almost half the population is atheist, must return to its Catholic values (ten per cent of the population) and exit the EU as soon as possible so it can govern itself without interference. Or, perhaps, make the Czech Republic great again.
Others did not approve of having soldiers on the streets. “I don’t feel like its helping someone,” said Karolina Stastna, a student at the local university. “The government puts them on the streets to protect people but from my point of view, it has exactly the opposite effect.
“People are insecure and afraid because they have no idea what is happening,” she continued. “They are manipulated by mass media to believe everything that they’re told. For example, that there will be an attack on the clock in Brno city centre.”
Right now, Daesh are winning the propaganda war in central Europe despite carrying out no operations here. These are countries with few Muslims and next to no mosques. With no experience of peaceful, daily life side by side with Muslims the fear of the violent other is dragging the people on the street and elected politicians towards the extreme right and fascism.
Fear is overpowering freedom in central Europe. It is that is of grave danger to their countries, rather than the threat of Islamist extremism. If they continue down this path they will become the very thing they hate.
Ben Finch is a Journalist and Photographer, currently based in Eastern Europe. He can be found in the Twittersphere.