Prague Reflection: Anti-Immigration Protesters Turn Out in Number
Prague, Czech Republic—On Saturday 17 October 2015, the centre of the Czech capital was the site of a mass demonstration against the EU’s border policy, Germany’s position in the Union and immigration to the Czech Republic. For two hours in the afternoon, Wenceslas Square teemed with immigration opponents and their counterweight anti-xenophobia protesters.
The original anti-immigration demonstration was endorsed by the Czech Freedom and Direct Democracy Party, SPD (Strana Přímé Demokracie) and attracted hundreds from Prague and other parts of the country. The SPD camp included not only members of the party’s ranks but representatives from across the political spectrum with a range of standpoints. Those holding up Czech, Moravian and even Silesian flags stood beside bikers in horned helmets while opponents of the EU were joined by critics of the Czech government. Strong and sometimes controversial claims featured in the speeches delivered outside the national museum where the rally took place.
The demonstration began with a speech by SPD founder, Tomio Okamura, who called for the immediate reinstatement of Czech border controls. Local figures, such as singer Ales Brichta and politician Radim Fiala, also lent their support to this action. The atmosphere near the national museum grew very tense, with emotional calls sounding out for the resignation of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and withdraw from the EU. A mere stone-throws away, the supporters of refugee solidarity held their own, smaller, protest against the demonstration.
This group of immigration advocates set up camp under the St. Wenceslas monument and took a very different approach to matters. Many of these speakers were accompanied by singing, loud music, dancing and whistling with the aim of disrupting the other demonstration, especially at key moments like the one when Okamura started his speech. In contrast to the anti-EU and anti-Islamic chants and slogans heard from the other side of the square, the songs of the pro-migration activists had clear environmentalist, left-wing and even anarchist messages.
Minor clashes were reported, mostly in the form of standoffs of different intensity, with occasional instances of violence especially towards the end of the original demonstration as the groups moved closer together, separated only by a thin line of police. At that moment, cries of ‘Nazis!’, ‘Traitors!’ and ‘Jihadists!’ could be heard from within the crowds. The demonstrations eventually split off and the event ended without further significant hostilities.