Visiting Prague, meeting friends, some of them whom I haven’t seen for years.
The Czechs talk about things the British or Americans often avoid.
I realised something which should have been obvious before. I have much more in common with Czech friends who have an experience of living as foreigners in another country. I recently met old friends, he used to be in diplomatic services so they both lived in several countries. Their view on migration, differences between nations etc. was much less binary than opinions I normally encounter in Prague. Very refreshing.
This is a small landlocked almost entirely white country. The foreigners living here are mainly Ukrainian, Slovaks, some Vietnamese.
The Vietnamese have been accepted well after the initial years of racism. Of course, I am not Vietnamese, it is possible that they encounter more prejudices than I think.
If I asked any of my university educated, smart friends and acquaintances, all of them from Prague about racism, they say “there is no racism here, we are very tolerant to any nation or religion.”
I wish that was true.
First problem I have with this is my opinion that everybody has some racial or xenophobic prejudices. If we know our own prejudices, we can try to fight them.
In my opinion, a person denying having any prejudices just thinks that those prejudices are not opinions but facts. So, they think that their notion that “Black people are lazy, the Muslims are terrorists and are trying to come over and steal our civilisation, etc. is an obvious truth that “everybody knows.”
The amount of opinions on “The Muslims” I heard in Prague from people who never met any is astonishing.
It makes me feel like asking: “When did you have a conversation with any Muslim?”
The answer would be “Never”.
Do I argue? Nope.
I once heard a lecture by a Stanford University Law professor.
He claimed that argument is only possible if both sides are willing to listen, think about the other person’s point of view and are willing to change their own point of view if they see a strong reason for it.
Unfortunately, whenever I start, my Prague friends present heir opinions as facts and often accuse me of being left wing, naïve, or a “sunny person” – a naïve too happy and optimistic simpleton.
“No, I have never met any Muslim, but everybody knows what they are like and what they want.”
And I think about my old image of Central Europe, so tolerant, civilised, open. I always liked his country secularism, humour, pragmatism.
I still do, I am a Czech (well, a secular Jewish Czech) after all.
But I no longer feel this is my home. Maybe my home is everywhere and nowhere. It is liberating.
I will always like to come here. But I also like to leave and go back to the UK.
Or travel to the USA, my other favourite country. Of course, there are plenty of prejudiced people there, too. But somehow, my friends are less so, and they are aware of their own prejudices.
That is refreshing. Or are they just afraid to say what they really mean because they know some things are not acceptable? So, they think it, but don’t say it?
Of course, I am biased, I am an immigrant. And if somebody inn England decided that “all the Czechs are…” or “All the Jewish Czechs are….” and applied it to me, I would be seriously angry.
But I am committing the sin of generalisation now, too.
Of course, not everybody in this country is like this.
And part of the reason I don’t encounter similar prejudiced conversations in the UK is the fact that the British usually stick to “safe subjects”.
“It’s raining, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is, isn’t it?
Boring? Yes, a bit. And “safe.”
So, I am planning on visiting Prague often, and having those arguments about xenophobia that I can’t win.
It is fun. And maybe we can have a constructive argument one day…