Historian highlights shift in Czech mindset on World Refugee Day

Historian Michal Frankl from the Masaryk Institute spoke about refugee waves in Czech history.


Written by ČTK Published on 20.06.2023 08:48:00 (updated on 20.06.2023) Reading time: 2 minutes

Historian Michal Frankl from the Masaryk Institute and the Archives of the Academy of Sciences suggests that the attitude of Czechs towards refugees is undergoing a transformation.

In 2015, "refugee" was considered a derogatory term, but over the past year, there has been a notable display of solidarity towards refugees from Ukraine, Frankl told ČTK, pointing out the significance of refugee waves in Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic, which have often paralleled major political shifts.

"The history of refugees in the 20th century is clearly linked to the emergence and strengthening of the nation-state, which is a central concept in the history of Central and Eastern Europe and Czechoslovakia," Frankl said, adding that refugees were part of the history of Czechoslovak and Czech citizenship.

Coinciding with the United Nations' World Refugee Day, Frankl is leading an international team of historians to study how refugees were defined, discussed, classified, and received in Czechoslovakia, Poland, Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and their successor states.

The project aims to shed light on history from the perspective of refugees and the non-profit organizations that support them.

Frankl asserts that refugees are an integral part of history, particularly intertwined with the emergence and consolidation of nation-states, which play a central role in the history of Central and Eastern Europe. He notes that public opinion towards refugees evolves based on the current era and the origin and motives of the fleeing individuals.

The historian highlights that personal experiences rarely shape individuals' opinions; rather, they are influenced by political and media narratives and said that refugee influxes often coincide with major political changes, such as the aftermath of World War I, the rise of Nazism, and the formation of the Communist bloc.

While historically, refugees tended to arrive from nearby regions like the Habsburg monarchy or Central and Eastern Europe, their migration expanded over time.

Frankl recalls that Czechoslovakia had a positive reception towards refugees during the 1990s, with little controversy surrounding the issue. However, attitudes changed around 2000, and after 2015, the term "refugee" became a derogatory slur.

He expressed hope that the Czech Republic's recent display of solidarity with war refugees from Ukraine will bring refugee-related discussions back to the forefront.

Frankl stressed the importance of focusing on individuals rather than generalizing entire groups when discussing refugees. By considering the personal stories and experiences of refugees, a more nuanced understanding can be achieved, he said.

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