Czech Republic

The Berlin attack, Czech-style

The tragedy in Berlin turned into an absurd comedy in the hands of Czech politicians.

Let’s start with the obvious: on the 19th of December, at the time of writing this article, an unknown attacker drove a stolen truck into a crowd of people visiting Berlin’s Christmas market. He killed twelve people and injured almost fifty. ISIS have since claimed responsibility for this tragedy (and really, did anyone expect them to do otherwise?), the German government increased security measures… and a tiny country on its eastern border flew into a burst of righteous rage.

A shockwave of stupidity

It seems that terrorism in the age of information has deployed a new and interesting type of bomb: the explosion occurs in a place and time – reality, even – vastly different from the one where the actual violence took place. The blast wave does not travel in a sensible physics-based trajectory either; as it happens, it seems quite capable of vanishing without a trace only to suddenly reappear in force in a location that no perceivable reason would point to.

By way of explanation: the German President’s reaction was an urging for peace: “The hatred of those who committed this crime shall not lead to hatred on our side.”

Now, a couple of hundred kilometers to the East, far, far away from any terrorist attack that took place, the highest echelons of government took a rather different stance.

When it comes to giving condolences, the Czech President, Miloš Zeman, and his sock puppet PR, Jiří Ovčáček, just love to express their support for mourning states – they are such softies that they even send condolences to the dictators of countries that they’d most likely have problems finding on a map. So when a major terrorist attack hits one of our neighbors, one – at least someone sufficiently naïve enough to expect some degree of civilized behavior from their President – could reasonably expect the utterance of a few choice words; after all, dignified sorrow tends to go down very well with the voters. Alas, that was not meant to be. “Regarding the terrible crime that took place in Berlin, the President can only regret that his repeated warnings about the risks of terrorism have come true,” stated Ovčáček, who has apparently become a hybrid between a prophet of inevitable doom and an advertising agent. He even proceeded to become a forensic expert by adding, “The perpetrator being a refugee just reinforces the President’s stance: no refugees shall set foot on Czech territory.” Wait, what?

Guilty before charged

Turns out that we knew who the perpetrator was all along – a feat made even more astonishing by the fact that at the time of writing, the German police did not. Yet, no later than a day after the attack, the Czech Minister of Interior announced that he knew the name of the perpetrator and the Czech police was investigating the possibility of his links to our country.

It is easy to see how he made that mistake: the Berlin police had arrested a Pakistani man in the aftermath of the attack itself and this is the information that the Minister Chovanec had so proudly announced. He just made a tiny, all-too-common slip-up that is nonetheless rather distressing, especially when it comes to the man responsible for running the police. He had mistaken “suspected” for “guilty”.

His mistake is symptomatic of the atmosphere of today, which is saturated and perpetuated by the media. It turns out that nationality and religion are now valid replacements for the motive of a crime. For contrast, let us take a look at another crime that took place on that day: the shooting in Zurich, where the police went out of their way to confirm that the suspect “is Swiss and we don’t know anything about the motives”. Yet for the Czech Government, the information received that the Berlin suspect was Pakistani was quite enough to judge, condemn and triumphantly announce his capture. One rather suspects that if it were an option, Chovanec would jump at the opportunity to display the suspect’s head mounted over his mantelpiece, or, more traditionally, on a pike; after all, the presumption of guilt is such a quaint medieval tradition.

Raise the drawbridge!

Czechs do seem to have a rather medieval state of mind when it comes to defense of the realm. How else could one explain the brilliant stratagem of the authorities in Brno, the second largest city in the country, who resorted to blocking the potential access to its Christmas market with, of all things,  a fire truck? After all, the cart-wall has proven its worth many times during the 1400s, and should an enterprising terrorist decide it is easier to break into a vehicle than bring one of his own, we can safely assume our heroic police would step in and stop the craven cur with pikes and crossbows.

While other cities have taken a somewhat less absurd approach to their defense, a stark contrast emerges. Three days after the attack, the Berlin market re-opened. In the meantime, Uherský Brod, an otherwise fairly unremarkable town on the Eastern side of the Czech Republic canceled theirs, citing the Berlin attack as the reason.

All this panic and overreaction cannot help but be inherently absurd.

The Czech Republic is considered to be one of the safest countries in the world, even if it is solely by virtue of no one of any importance giving a damn about it. Putting this aside, no terrorist attack has ever occurred in it. Not even the racists and Islamophobes (who tend to go hand in hand) have a reason to fear: the numbers of Muslims and citizens coming from the Middle East among the populace is extremely low. However there is populism lurking around.

Harvest of hatred

At the risk of repeating the obvious: the fallout from the attack in Berlin – and any attack that can be pinned on a member of an ethnical or religious minority – simply becomes political ammunition upon crossing the border of the Czech Republic. It does not matter whether the wild accusations fired justified rage or that the ridiculous measures taken have any basis in reality at all, the people apparently want to see action, with little details such as whether it actually makes any sense being vastly overlooked.

We therefore have a Prime Minister firmly stating that Germany has to change its stance on immigration, an oligarch Minister of Finance blaming Merkel for the attack and casually redrawing the borders of Schengen agreement, and a precognitive Minister of Interior strengthening the patrols on the German border and threatening to impose “full control” – whatever that means given the state of the Czech armed forces. Every man in politics is seeming to seethe with righteous indignation over an event that has not affected them or their country in any way for the reasons that: they can achieve votes in hatred, a nonexistent enemy is the easiest to fight and the Czechs lap it up without any reserves.

So until a new slight incurs the wrath of the Czech media and the political scene, and until proper patriots find a juicier victim that they can stone to death in their dreams, we should expect to enjoy canceled markets, blocked roads and armed police patrolling the streets for no reason other than our elected leaders appealing to the mob mentality. Happy holidays, Czechia. You earned them.


Michal Chmela
Michal Chmela is a translator and journalist.