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Centres News: Czech PEN open letter to President Zeman on his response to refugee crisis

Monday 9 November 2015 - 2:08pm

Czech Centre of PEN International

Klementinum 190, 110 00 Prague 1 - Stare Mesto
Tel.: +420 224234343 ID 15273547
President of the Czech Republic, Milo Zeman
Prazsky hrad, 119 08 Prague 1

Prague, 3 November 2015

Dear Mr President,

The Czech Centre of PEN International is monitoring with worry and concern how our society along with your actions and announcements are changing. A country that was on a path towards becoming an open civil society is changing into a xenophobic and hateful society. We are convinced that you have considerable influence in this because the president is also a moral authority for the citizens in his thinking and actions.

Mr President, you are widening resistance to scholars, to the academic community, to the legacy of people such as Ferdinance Peroutka. You are undermining the social authorities such as the institution of the ombudsman or the bodies of the OSN.

Reports have recently been appearing on threats to citizens who have decided to help refugees on the Hungarian or Balkan borders and we are hearing statements from the Minister of Internal Affairs that we must not permit the wave of refugees by taking a tough approach. The problem of immigration and the threat of Islamism is complex, and the members of PEN do not have a unanimous view on them. Nobody must force anyone to take in ethnic minorities. However, we are outraged when, under the pretext of the threat of radical Islamism, you, Mr President, encourage refusing to help people in need who have lost everything and are trying to make a fresh start. Ironically so, since these people are fleeing the brutal and bestial government lunatics abusing religious belief, which is what you warn about yourself.

Mr President, many PEN members are of an elderly age. They have experienced war, the 1950s, the normalization period, and some even saw the Nazi and communist concentration camps from the inside and communist dissent. We therefore know that all the unfortunate breaks in our history began with fear and the willingness to listen to people with simple and hateful opinions.

Mr President, as a citizen, you have the same moral responsibilities as all of us. Therefore, we ask you to stop questioning institutions such as the UN, ombudsman Anna Sabatova or representatives of universities in your statements, simply because they have a different opinion to you.

We would welcome it if you presented a good reputation of the Czech Republic also abroad, where the dangerous simplification of your personal opinion is causing consternation and creating a negative image of our country. We invite you in this capacity to do your best to preserve the democratic nature of Czech society.

On behalf of the Czech Centre of PEN International:
Jiří Dědeček, President, Ivan Klíma and Markéta Hejkalová, Deputy Presidents,
Jiří Stránský, Vladimír Karfik, Antonín Bajaja, Roman Ráž, Šimon Pellar, Tomáš Zmeškal, Jana Štroblová, Václav Daněk, Iva Pecháčková, Jaroslav Marek and Tereza Brdečková, members of the board, Dana Mojžíšová, secretary