Hospitality à la Central Europe

Posted on 14. July 2015

by Lukáš Fúčela

Lukas FucelaMost of the Central European nations, especially the countries of the Visegrad Group (Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia), have a tradition of greeting their guests with bread and salt upon arrival. Because of this common gesture of hospitality, we consider ourselves as welcoming nations. Unfortunately, this does not often apply when it comes to greeting foreigners, and it is even worse if you are a foreigner from another continent looking for a job.

So where does the hate come from?

The two world wars and the iron curtain left most of the Central European states with ethnically homogenous populations (with the exception of the Roma community). Two generations of Central Europeans haven’t had any experience with multi-ethnicity and the few foreign workers who did live there were mostly doctors from allied communist countries who were already educated and assimilated in Central Europe. On the other hand, just like all other European countries, Central Europe also has a rich experience with emigration. The first wave of the Central European immigrants to the United States had happened many generations ago and emigration during the Cold War was officially prohibited and thus kept secret.

Nevertheless, we can also find recent ‘positive’ examples of migration in this region: actual entry to the EU and significant migration of Central European workers to Western Europe. Opponents of immigrant quotas tend to overlook this example when loudly voicing their arguments against (economic) immigrants. Unfortunately, this case cannot be used effectively as a counter-argument against their rejection of immigrants due to the transitional provisions imposed in the past by the former EU member states towards new member states. All in all, we see that opinions on migrations were formed in this region by decades of strong isolation within the Soviet bloc and in recent years by eager integration efforts followed by mixed feelings due to transitional provisions.

Who spreads the hate?

The hateful and aggressive discourse on migrants and quotas come from politicians – who use a violent rhetoric against foreigners – and civil society – who in several cases rallied against migrants in xenophobic protests. You have probably read some articles with contentious statements of politicians from this region, e.g. on building a fence on the border by the Hungarian PM, who is trying to shift the attention from other, more important issues for his own political gain. At the same time, animosity towards immigrants from Syria or Afghanistan has also been rapidly increasing among the public. The sad sign of this is that while in the Western European countries there were supportive rallies for the World Refugee Day, thousands of people joined anti-immigrant and partially anti-Muslim protest in Bratislava on the same day. Hooligans and Nazi supporters, who enjoy any occasion for using violence, apparently dominated this group. The latest polls shows that almost 3 out 4 respondents reject further acceptance of immigrants.

Let’s talk numbers

So what do ‘we’, Central-Eastern Europeans, actually reject? It’s ironic that the greatest opponents of the quotas are the countries from Visegrad 4, who will actually receive a very low number of proposed immigrants according to the quota.

Lukas

source: European Commission

Any fears of mass immigration to the Central European countries look senseless when compared with the relative numbers, and it is even more pointless when you check the real data (15 asylums granted in Slovakia in 2013 and 14 in 2014). The politicians are right on one thing though; the quotas will not solve the problem. Most of the migrants who get an asylum will flee from Slovakia anyway and head to Sweden or Germany to look for a job. I can understand them. Who would like to live in a nation, which cannot accept an additional 0.006% of its population in the form of immigrants from war-destroyed countries, especially if that country is the same that applied to the EU a few years ago and enjoyed the fruits of the benefits (and European funds)?