Sunday, August 21, 2016

There's refugees, and there's refugees

Today is the 48th anniversary of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. This military action put an end to the Prague Spring, the effort by reformers within the Czechoslovak Communist Party to create "socialism with a human face," i.e., socialism with real respect for human rights and democratic norms.

Following the invasion, about 200,000 Czechs and Slovaks fled the country.

"In a refugee camp in Traiskirchen, Austria," from
Since the eruption of the refugee crisis in Europe last year, the Czech Republic has been in line with its fellow post-communist neighbors in being very reluctant to accept refugees. The issue hasn't been as dramatic as in Hungary, which found itself part of the refugees' land route from Greece to Austria and Germany, but there have been anti-refugee demonstrations, predictably vile verbiage in newspaper comment sections, and arson committed against a non-profit that serves refugees.

A common refrain in the online discourse is, "Why don't they stay and fight for their country? What a bunch of cowards."

Today, the online news site Britské listy published the following.

Just an impudent observation on August 21st, writes Iva Pekárková on Facebook.

I look at how many people to this day complain that the Americans didn't come to our aid back then - whether by fault of the Yalta agreement, or because they just turned their backs on us. In the course of a few weeks, refugee dorms and encampments in countries to our west began bursting at the seams with the influx of Czechoslovaks and they didn't stop bursting at the seams for at least a year. Just about the whole world, including some fearless Russians, expressed solidarity with us. (A few years ago I met an aging Indian, still to this day proud that back then he wrote in to an Indian newspaper, saying how much he didn't like that occupation.)

The West accepted immigrants from us almost without exception, and with open arms, as if it were trying to somehow make for the fact that no country attempted a military intervention.

For most of our migrants at the time, it wasn't their necks that were on the line, only their careers (though of course nobody knew that for certain). And so far as I know, only a few people were asked in the West whether they weren't by chance cowards, seeing as how they didn't stay in their homeland to fight against the occupiers to their dying breath - those kinds of questions only came up at emigrants' parties, and then only when almost all the alcohol had been drunk up.

Rather than blaming themselves for having abandoned their homeland out of fear, or maybe for economic reasons, emigrants at that time were more likely to reproach the countries that hadn't hurried to the assistance of Czechoslovakia, that they didn't do anything about those Ruskies, and so they, wretches that they were, had to head abroad.

There were more than a few brave emigrants, that's for sure, but the bulk of those who left were average people without great ideals and they thought largely of themselves and those near to them.

Among them you could find plenty of unscrupulous opportunists, casual thieves, con artists, violent criminals, bigamists. For that matter, spies and the like could be found among the emigrants, and yet the arrivals weren't treated like criminals in the West.

They were treated like people whose homeland was in horrible shape and who needed help.

And most of the emigrants at that time could have returned home and would have risked nothing more than a year in prison for having left the republic without permission.


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