Changing Attitudes: Czech Historian Highlights Shift in Perception of Refugees

According to historian Michal Frankl from the Masaryk Institute and the Archives of the Academy of Sciences, the attitude of Czechs towards refugees is undergoing a transformation. Frankl noted that in 2015, the term “refugee” was regarded as a derogatory word. However, in the past year, a significant display of solidarity towards refugees from Ukraine has been observed, indicating a shift in public sentiment.

Frankl highlighted the historical significance of large waves of refugees following major political changes throughout the 20th century, which greatly impacted the history of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic. To further explore this theme, Frankl is leading an international team of historians in a project comparing how refugees were defined, discussed, classified, and received in Czechoslovakia, Poland, Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and their successor states. The project aims to provide a historical perspective from the viewpoint of refugees and the non-profit organizations that support them.

Refugees, Frankl argues, are an integral part of history, particularly in relation to the development and strengthening of the nation-state concept in Central and Eastern Europe. He emphasized that changing attitudes towards refugees can be attributed to the social and political context of the present day, as well as the origins and motivations of those seeking refuge.

Furthermore, Frankl noted that public opinion on refugees is often shaped by political and media messaging rather than personal experiences. He pointed out that refugee movements historically followed major political shifts, such as the conclusion of World War I, the rise of Nazism, and the establishment of the Communist bloc. While in the past, refugees predominantly came from neighboring regions within Central and Eastern Europe, the scope expanded over time.

Frankl mentioned that during the 1990s, Czechoslovakia received refugees positively, and the issue was not controversial. However, around 2000, a change in attitude occurred, and the term “refugee” became a slur after 2015.

Expressing hope for renewed substantive discussions on refugees, Frankl cited the Czech Republic’s recent display of solidarity with refugees from Ukraine. He emphasized the importance of considering individuals rather than viewing refugees as a homogeneous group. The evolving perception of refugees in the Czech Republic reflects broader global trends and highlights the need for understanding, empathy, and informed dialogue on this complex issue.

Article by Prague Forum

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