An open letter to Europe from the Czech people

Sudeten German refugees just after crossing the Czech border into Germany at Oberklingenthal, on Sep. 17, 1938.
Sudeten German refugees just after crossing the Czech border into Germany at Oberklingenthal, on Sep. 17, 1938.
Image: AP Photo
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Dear Europe,

You may have been listening to the declarations of our politicians and thinking that we are a little hypocritical and that we do not appreciate our EU membership. It may seem to you that we have forgotten our painful past, in which our fellow citizens had to involuntarily leave the country: 80,000 Jews during the Holocaust; millions of Germans, often antifascists, after the Holocaust; 25,000 Czechoslovaks in 1948; and nearly 300,000 people after 1968.

You may be wondering what has happened to the country that gave the world Karel Čapek, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, and Václav Havel. When did Czechs become so indecisive, skeptical, and cowardly? What happened to the ideals of solidarity, generosity, and humanism? Don’t panic! We’re not really that bad. That’s just the impression our political representation is giving off.

Please believe that we are in solidarity with people who were deprived of their homes, who are unable to raise and educate their children and develop their intellectual abilities in peace, who are unable, in short, to lead a completely normal life. And we, like you, are ashamed of the reaction and inaction of our government bodies, and so we decided to do something about it ourselves.

Hundreds of us went to help the people whose lives were in immediate danger. You may have met us in Vámosszabadi, Röszke, Horgos, Győr, Szeged, Tovarnik, Beli Manastir… Thousands of Czechs provided material, financial, and logistic aid. Thousands more sent warm clothes, blankets, food, and money. And we still offer beds and jobs to those who come to the Czech Republic.

We are Europeans who are disappointed with the slipshod approach of our government. Neither the government nor its citizens want to admit that a few hundred kilometers from our borders is an enormous disaster, held from the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe only by the activities of NGOs and volunteers. State structures, such as the army, civil defense, and emergency teams continue to stand and wait. We do not know what they are waiting for.

We are embarrassed by the attitude of the Czech authorities towards the people who find themselves on our territory and who are treated in a manner that is not in keeping with international conventions. We hope that their behavior towards the people who have been detained on their way to freedom and placed in detention facilities is a reflection of a miscalculation of the situation, the lack of information, and exaggerated fears, and not of malice.

Dear Czech government, dear Mr. President, stop being afraid. Please tell the people who are our cultural kin, more closely related than you are willing to admit, that they are not our enemies. Do not treat them like criminals. Let us work together to better address how we can help them. We want to be educated, cultured, and generous. So let’s act that way, even towards people in need. Do not worry, we will not abandon you in this. There are a lot of things we can do for you, so that you will have the strength to solve serious political problems that threaten Europe.

Dear Europe, don’t lose patience with us. We assure you, we are capable of doing a lot!