I will not deny the fact that a part of me decided to study abroad again to escape Trump’s U.S. It was not long before I found out that—surprise surprise—Czech politics are not all that great either. The rise of conservative, right-wing, parties and politicians seems to be a universal phenomenon. I first learned this the hard way in Paris.
When I studied in Paris spring of my sophomore year, I was a rather naive person. I had romanticized France for the longest time—it was my plan to go to Paris since high school. Never in a million years did I allow myself to imagine France could also have a horrible colonial past and a discriminatory present. Once I arrived, I had a harsh reality check: I learned all about Le Front National and Marine Le Pen; laïcité, and several head-covering bans that no doubt operate covertly—or overtly—as attacks on Muslim women’s faith.
This time around, I tried to prepare myself to not be so surprised if I heard of troubling Czech politics. I recognize how sad and cynical that sounds, but I have just become more realistic. Sure enough, within the first week, I learned that the Czech Republic seems to be quite obsessed with the refugee crisis, and yet, only accepted a marginal amount of refugees last year. What surprised me the most however, was learning about Tomio Okamura, a Czech-Japanese entrepreneur and politician; and founder of the 2015 Freedom and Direct Democracy Party, the Czech Republic’s most popular far-right party, which has become one of the nation’s largest political organizations.
Okamura was born in Tokyo to a half-Japanese, half-Korean father, and a Moravian mother. He moved to Czechoslovakia when he was ten years old where he experienced bullying, causing him to stutter until he was twenty years old. With such a background, you would think he is a politician who fights for immigrants’ rights, right? Well, ya thought wrong!
As with so many other problematic parties, the Freedom and Direct Democracy Party focuses on ‘patriotism’—or rather, nationalism,— the tightening of immigration laws, removing support for ‘maladjusted groups,’ and direct democracy (which means that popular votes should have the power to overrule legislatures, something akin to the US’s ‘state’s rights’ which can empower conservative states to ignore fair national policy). Even worse, it is allied to Le Front National…that’s how you know it’s pretty bad.In Nathan Siegel’s article “The Czech Immigrant … Who Opposes Immigrants,” Okamura is quoted as saying: “We don’t need immigrants. The Czech Republic will be stronger if we keep our traditions.” Please tell me how an immigrant, with a non-Czech father, can fathomably say such a thing! Towards the end of the interview, Okamura has the audacity to state that he cannot be racist because he’s half-Japanese, what a case of cognitive dissonance.
Siegel writes that despite moving back and forth between Japan and Europe as a child, “he sees nothing untoward about suggesting that Czechs insult Muslims by walking pigs in front of mosques or burying porcine remains at the sites of future mosques. […And] he’s also unrepentant about telling the Roma, the Czech Republic’s largest and most disenfranchised minority, to pull up stakes and create their own state elsewhere.” It is easy to laugh at the ridiculousness of his beliefs, but it is not so easy when you learn that he is a popular leader.
In a recent article (an option to translate the page appears on the top, however, here is a directly translated version) published in September by a Czech news site, political analysts state that Okamura is gaining even more popularity—a typical case of a populist leader. Similarly to Trump, Okamura uses simple language to connect with his followers, speaks about protecting the Czech Republic’s interests, and plays on people’s ‘fears’ of migration and Islam. He is even “pushing for a referendum in which citizens decide the further stay of the Czech Republic in the European Union.” It is indeed worrying that more and more European states are in favor of following behind “Brexit.”
I am constantly asking the terrifying question: what is happening with our world?
- Okamura campaign poster seen by Wenceslas Square: Maria Alejandra