Terrorism Levels Rise in Europe, But Not in the Czech Republic
Author: Suman Soni, 2018.
“Despite Czech President Miloš Zeman’s anti-Islam attitude, anti-migration sentiment and his intentional blindness towards Russia’s political aims, terrorism levels in the Czech Republic are remarkably low…”
Image is an anti-Miloš Zeman poster taken in Prague, Czech Republic. Photo provided by Suman Soni.
Despite Czech President Miloš Zeman’s anti-Islam attitude, anti-migration sentiment and his intentional blindness towards Russia’s political aims, terrorism levels in the Czech Republic are remarkably low. Even with his encouragement of citizens to arm themselves against a possible “super holocaust” in regards to Muslims, there have not been any terrorist attacks like the ones in Germany or France. “Applications for gun licenses saw a marked upswing in the second half of last year. Two thousand Czechs acquired permits between the start of June and the end of December, joining the 290,000 who already possessed one” (Willoughby). However, the increase in gun sales is not a byproduct of the president’s encouragement, but is due to a more logical reason. Counterterrorism expert Dr. Oldrich Bures said, “People are getting guns in the Czech Republic because the EU might make gun laws stricter; so people are getting them before they can no longer purchase them.” This in no way relates to civilians shooting suspected terrorists in the streets. Therefore, the increase in gun purchases is not related to fear of terrorism, but their fear of the inability to purchase guns after the gun laws become stricter.
The Czech Republic is considered inconsequential by many larger powers; they are even considered mildly irrelevant in the international political arena by some Czech people themselves. Despite their involvement in major controversies, intense political wars and territorial disputes, the Czech Republic has a lack of enemies (states, individuals, or groups) that would want to spread terror in the region. As Dr. Oldrich Bures notes, “The Czechs do not have troops in big numbers overseas.” He points out a common joke among scholars, “terrorists do not even know where the Czech Republic is, some even think its Chechnya” (Bures). Compared to the other major cities of Europe, Prague has been relatively free of terrorist attacks unlike other countries in the region.
Lack of Domestic and International Terrorism
In terms of both domestic and international terrorism, there are many other reasons for why the terrorist threat is so low. Domestically, the Czech Republic is secure and has a relatively good quality of life. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development OECD, “The Czech Republic ranks above average in personal security, education and skills, social connections, subjective well-being, and work-life balance.” There is an accountable government and law enforcement is generally trusted by the population, which leads to significant restraint or deterrence on terrorist activity. Reports of police corruption are minimal, and the government has taken action to combat bribery. Quality of life indices also contribute to Czech society’s peacefulness. While the Czechs do not rank the highest for jobs and housing, they do well in the areas of are successful at promoting security and social relationships, which both contribute to an overall peaceful society. Terrorist groups tend to gravitate toward less stable, more turbulent areas where they can operate more freely, recruit from a desperate populace, and build up resources and momentum (Botelho). The secure, well-governed country of the Czech Republic breeds healthy social relationships, not terrorist training and recruitment.
Additionally, societal inequality can push individuals to employ terrorist tactics. The Gini coefficient measure for the Czech Republic is 26.4%, showing a low level of inequality in the country. Their “conservative, inward looking financial system” creates a healthy market and helps keep inequality low (The World Factbook: CZECHIA). Domestic stability also comes from inclusive economic and social policies. Not only is the Czech Republic one of the only successful democracies of the former Soviet states in the Central European region, but they also strive to model themselves after the German economy in order to improve financially. Their most profitable industry is the automobile industry that accounts for nearly 24% of Czech manufacturing in their export driven economy (The World Factbook: CZECHIA). Czech-German relations serve as an example of another reason why terrorism levels are so low in the Czech Republic. In 1992, the Agreement on Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation was signed by the two countries. It states that each group, “has the right to practice their ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity,” free from discrimination “and in full equality before the law” (Gessat). So not only do the Czechs admire the German economy, but they adhere to the same anti-discrimination and anti-racist policies, as seen through the signing of this agreement.
The factors that influence low terrorist activity in Czech Republic include that the Czech Republic does not meddle abroad, which commonly causes other cultures and countries to develop hatred or anger toward other countries they deem intrusive. They have a very small Muslim community, which has sought to fight back against the stereotypes, even creating organizations that combat misconceptions of the Muslim community and discourage terrorism in their communities. Thirdly, the people of the Czech Republic have a common, cultural aversion to violence (Bures).
Unlike the Soviets, or other Visegrad countries like Poland, the Czech Republic does not have any aspirations to territorially expand or invade other countries. They do not feel the need to assert power over other countries or get involved with the politics of other countries. Their politics and beliefs do not specifically offend terrorist organizations (Bures). Assistant Dean Tomáš Karásek from Charles University points out that while there are Czech troops abroad in Afghanistan for example, they have a secondary, more supportive role. If terrorism levels were to rise in the Czech Republic, it would be unlikely to come from angry communities that are seeking revenge against the Czech Republic for their military actions abroad, and it would be more likely to come from exploited Muslim communities domestically who are angry at the populist, anti-immigration/anti-Muslim political leaders.
The Czech attitude toward members of the Muslim community has turned racist and discriminatory in light of terrorist attacks in other European countries. In a country like the Czech Republic, with a very small Muslim community and hardly any migration, the fear of radicalization and international terrorism is growing. The migration rate in the Czech Republic is “2.3 migrant(s) out of 1,000 population” as of 2016. To put this figure into perspective, the Czech Republic is ranked 42nd in terms of migration to population rates (The World Factbook: CZECHIA). Assistant Dean Tomáš Karásek and Jan Jireš, the Director of Defense Policy at the Institute of International Relations in Prague, believe that the Czech public generally considers migration to be a top priority. Director Jireš, believes that, in fact, the number one security concern of people in the country is migration. In an interview with New York University students in ,March 2017], Jan Jireš stated that this concern comes from an economic and cultural perspective rather than from an ignorant and isolated perspective. Terrorism levels have a good chance of remaining low because the people of Czech Republic do not necessarily have racist beliefs; rather, they do not want to share the minimal wealth they have accrued over the recent years with strangers.
The Czech people feel they have been promised economic development, reaching Germany’s level, since the country’s birth but this has not happened. Director Jireš does not believe that the country will ever catch up economically to Germany or other great European powers. If this idea is widely accepted, the fear of migration will remain prominent.
The media has also been cited as a contributor to the irrational fear of migration in Czech society by Dr. Oldrick Krulick, a counterterrorism expert in Prague. As previously mentioned, the migration levels of the Czech Republic are so miniscule that the country’s main experience with migration is through media interpretation. In the 1990s, there were small waves of migration coming from Russia, Slovakia and Vietnam, but the migration was not generally feared or negatively viewed because the media did not cover it (Krulick). The way the Muslim population, and predominately Muslim countries, are depicted in Czech media today is the primary source of information for Czech people on Muslim communities.
Additionally, political narratives of Muslim communities are very negative and the rise in anti-Muslim political rhetoric that is widely reported in the media only increases public fear. In reality, there are 11,000 people who make up the Czech Arab community and only 3,000 of them are self-declared Muslims (The Muslim Community In The Czech Republic). This is less than 0.1% of the entire population. The Muslim community in Prague is known to be conservative and cooperative, especially when it comes to terrorism (Houdek). Organizations like HateFree have often engaged with the Prague Muslim community and have found them to be just as appalled by the radical actions of terrorists as the rest of the world. This truth is hard to understand for some people who live in a society where their only experience with Muslims is through the media and populist politicians. The Independent news source quotes President Milos Zeman saying during a televised interview that Islamic “culture” should not be taken into Europe, or else “it will end up like Cologne,” referring to the large number of cases of sexual assault on New Year’s Eve in the German city (Ng and Cowburn). The Minister of Interior, Milan Chovanec, said, “the terrorist attacks we have seen in Western Europe and elsewhere have increased security concerns among the public. More Czechs are getting firearms licenses and I think that if the situation does not improve in the coming months, then the number of firearms holders will grow” (Lazarová). A Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek expressed a nationalist populist outlook when he stated his desire to restrict free movement of people in the EU and “refused to accept that the Czech Republic should shelter refugees” (Tallis, Galeotti, Koran, Eberle, Ditrych).
HateFree partnered with a Mosque in Prague to combat wrongfully interpreted information on critical issues; and together, they organized a conference that sought to educate people on the Muslim community, and to purposely and publicly declare their intolerance of terrorist activity. Arab communities across the world were invited to join in the declaration against violence and terrorism in the name of the Islamic religion. NGO led events like this compose a crucial part of why terrorism levels will remain drastically low in the Czech Republic. On top of these outreach conferences, HateFree, which is well known by many government officials, has a program where they debunk hoaxes. In a mono-ethnic country like the Czech Republic, fear of immigration should be expected and could breed racism in a place with a history of unwanted occupation. There has been a theme of anti-immigration and anti-Islam statements coming from political officials and Russian propaganda. HateFree has been able to counter these psychological efforts by debunking more than 120 hoaxes in the past two years (Houdek). In many ways, HateFree symbolizes the Czech persona that is inherently non-violent. This cultural aversion to violence is a crucial point, both domestically and internationally, that partly explains the lack of terrorism in the Czech Republic.
Historical influences from Soviet and German Occupation on Czech Culture
The German and Soviet invasions into Czechoslovakia developed the foundation for a relatively secure and stable environment in the current Czech Republic. The Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939 sent Czech President Eduard Benes fleeing to England after the Munich Agreement because he feared assassination by the Germans (Nazi’s take Czechoslovakia). The new political leader Dr. Emil Hácha replaced Benes and German propaganda began to spread all over the country, inciting mass controversy between the Czechs and Germans. With intense pressure from the Nazis, and Hitler himself, Dr. Hácha surrendered to the Nazis in order to avoid bombings in Prague by the German army. The Nazis success in Prague triggered a late but necessary response from the British Prime Minister Chamberlain, who declared, “No greater mistake could be made than to suppose that because it believes war to be a senseless and cruel thing, this nation has so lost its fiber that it will not take part to the utmost of its power in resisting such a challenge if it ever were made” (Nazi’s take Czechoslovakia). Then, after a couple decades, the Soviets invade Czechoslovakia in 1968.
There was a small-scale resistance when the Soviets invaded the country; however, in April of 1969, the Soviets ousted Alexander Dubcek and improved economic conditions in Czechoslovakia (Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia, 1968). Before he was ousted, Dubcek ended censorship and was part of the public outcry for major reforms. The Soviets being against reforms that strayed from the communist mentality saw Dubcek as an immediate threat and decided to replace him with a more conservative and stable government. The new government was also successful in improving economic conditions, but in a Soviet-approved way, and this was a huge reason why Czechoslovakia became a cooperative member of the Warsaw Pact (Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia, 1968). In response to both invasions, the Czechoslovak leadership made decisions with the goal of avoiding violence in their country. Because of these choices, there was some semblance of security and stability that most other invaded or occupied countries lacked.
Insecurity and instability are two essential factors for breeding terrorism and radicalization. The current Syrian civil war is one example of how these two factors create the right situation and circumstances for terrorist groups to grow and gain control. As Meierrieks puts it, “political change may create political vacuums which terrorist groups use to push their agendas.” These vacuums are eye-catching to terrorist groups because there is less of chance they would be challenged by an unstable government (Meierrieks). The Czech Republic allows non-violent alternatives to express grievances; for example, through political inclusion and certain liberal freedoms. In failed states or states where the government lacks control of its population, violence is more likely to be an option.
It is imperative to understand the history and culture of a country when thinking about the chances of homegrown terrorism or the likelihood of a country being a target for international terrorism. Both the German and Soviet invasions of Czechoslovakia were unique in that they did not provoke direct interventions from the West (Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia, 1968). The homogenous Czech society has survived Adolf Hitler and the communist takeover in 1968, but was left with an identity crisis as a result.
Dr. Ben Talis from the Institute of International Relations in Prague classifies the Czech identity as being built around victimization, whether it be political or economic. Externally, supporting human rights and proclaiming commitment to the EU and NATO have become part of the Czech identity. There is still a sense of “we deserve more from life” among the people. Being occupied by two stronger powers and having survived the many changes in power brought in, can make a population feel like they are owed.
Will Terrorism Levels Increase?
A few trends that suggest terrorism levels in the Czech Republic will not increase include the success of the Security Information Service (BIS) counter-terrorism strategy, the government entering into multilateral agreements, the planned increase in defense spending, and the work of NGOs like HateFree. The BIS, along with capable law enforcement, have contributed significantly to counter-terrorism. They produce annual reports on various aspects of intelligence, counterintelligence, cooperation among intelligence services, budget restrictions, and information on a myriad of their many duties. These reports show the Czech Republic’s focus on information sharing and cooperation between intelligence services, foreign and domestic, which are essential to their counterterrorism strategy. The Paris attacks in 2015 sent a shock across Europe and reinforced the idea of working with partner organizations to map out travels of suspected and potential terrorists. The BIS counterterrorism strategy exposed certain extremists as having traveled through the Czech Republic to get to the Middle East and Western Europe (Annual Report of the Security Information Service for 2015). Referring back to the fear of terrorism in the name of Islam, it is important to mention that the Muslim community in the Czech Republic “came in an official capacity to study in the 1970s and 1980s…which is unlike the Muslims communities that came to France, Germany and the United Kingdom” (Tomas Nemecek).
The multilateral agreements the Czech Republic has with the EU and NATO are central parts of the defense and security policies of the country. Defense Policy Director Jireš said, “Bilateral security agreements or treaties do not work for small countries; they did not help prevent the Nazi-German occupation.” In terms of defense spending, solidifying the Czech commitment to NATO by planning to meet the 2% of GDP defense budget requirement, emphasizes the importance of multilateral agreements and can provide more support for counter-terrorism strategies. Director Jireš noted, “The extra money will be spent on making the military much bigger because they only have 23,000 soldiers currently and this will be increased by 30% by 2025 according to the government plan.” He then pointed out, “The money will be invested in equipment and training, logistical means, and more radars, artillery and air defense systems.” Solidifying more of a financial commitment to defense will undoubtedly contribute to more BIS successes and a stronger alliance with NATO countries.
Raising awareness and educating people on Islam is a massive part of countering the association of the Muslim religion with terrorism. Because Islam is associated with terrorism in the Czech Republic, it is especially important to combat race or religious-based discrimination that could marginalize, and even radicalize, an otherwise peaceful Muslim community. NGOs like HateFree, Association for Intercultural Work, and Youth Included are doing important work in battling the uninformed, racist ideology that is spreading across Europe. In part due to the Nazi occupation of the Czech Republic, far right parties did not thrive in the country for the longest time. Leftist terrorist groups, and even ethno separatist groups were prevalent in Europe, but were not mainstream movements; they were either nonexistent or unpopular in the Czech Republic (Bures).
Now, with the political culture of far right wing ideologies and populism spreading across the United States and Europe, the far right are gaining more attention. Andrej Babis of the ANO party, who served as the Czech finance minister and currently serves as the Deputy Prime Minister, has been able to occupy parliamentary seats on the far right. Just like in the United States, the populist appeal of returning jobs to the country after an economic depression was part of his political pitch (Tomas Nemecek). The anti-immigration and anti-Muslim sentiments coming from politicians like Babis could invite international terrorism into a country that has been relatively free from it. However, their radical rhetoric is less likely to manifest into a serious security threat according to Dr. Bures. He explained, “Extreme and vocal comments by President Zeman and Babis were made for internal domestic popularity reasons…trying to be in touch with public opinion because of the increased threat perception” (Bures).
Despite anti-immigrant bluster from politicians, the Czech population will construct their identity around liberal values, maintain a lack of interest in territorial expansion, and continue their focus on domestic issues rather than international controversies. A country that succeeds without having to confront or contest major powers abroad is a phenomenal rarity, and helps to ensure safety from international ire and international terrorism. As stated by a Czech Senior Political Official, “The Czech Republic is the new Switzerland of Europe.”
Botelho, Greg. “Turbulent Nations on Frontlines of Terror Fight.” CNN. Cable News Network, 17 Feb. 2015. Web. 31 Mar. 2017.
Gessat, Michael. “German-Czech Relations Positive despite the past.” Deutsche Welle. Deutsche Welle, 04 Mar. 2012. Web. 21 Mar. 2017.
Lazarová, Daniela. “Interior Ministry Wants to Give Czech Firearms Holders the Right to Use Their Weapon against Terrorists.” Radio Prague. Radio Prague, 1 Mar. 2017. Web. 24 Mar. 2017.
Meierrieks, Daniel, and Tim Krieger. “What Causes Terrorism?” SSRN Electronic Journal 147.1 (2010): 3-27. Public Choice. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.
“Nazis Take Czechoslovakia.” The History Place – Triumph of Hitler. The History Place, 2001. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.
Ng, Kate, and Ashley Cowburn. “Milos Zeman: Czech President Says Integrating Muslims Is ‘practically Impossible’.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 18 Jan. 2016. Web. 24 Mar. 2017.
“Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia, 1968.” U.S. Department of State. U.S. Department of State, Web. 26 Mar. 2017.
Tallis, Benjamin, Mark Galeotti, Michal Koran, Jakub Eberle, and Ondrej Ditrych. “The Czech Republic Gives up on the EU – and Foreign Policy.” OpenDemocracy. OpenDemocracy, 24 Mar. 2017. Web. 25 Mar. 2017.
“The Muslim Community In The Czech Republic.” Radio Prague. Radio Prague, Web. 23 Mar. 2017.
“The World Factbook: CZECHIA.” Central Intelligence Agency. Central Intelligence Agency, 12 Jan. 2017. Web. 21 Mar. 2017.
Willoughby, Ian. “Gun Sales Rising Sharply in Czech Republic.” Radio Prague. N.p., 04 May 2016. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.
“Oldrich Bures.” Personal Interview. 3 Mar. 2017.
“Tomas Nemecek.” Personal Interview. 14 Mar. 2017.
“Ben Tallis, Jakub Eberle, Michal Korzan.” Class Meeting. 14. Mar. 2017.
“Jan Jireš.” Class Meeting. 15 Mar. 2017.
“Lukáš Houdek.” Personal Interview. 15 Mar. 2017.
“Oldrich Krulick.” Personal Interview. 15 Mar. 2017.