On May 22, 2014, the European Values Think-Tank organised a public debate in Prague’s Schebek Palace in association with the League for Human Rights and the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies. The event tackled political communication of integration of minority groups and immigrants in Europe as part of a long-standing project, “Defining Responses to Rise of Extremism in Europe”. Findings of an international research were presented at the debate, which link the contemporary rise in protest populist political parties across Europe to the failure of mainstream political parties to effectively communicate the issue of minority integration to the electorate.
The event featured speakers of many different backgrounds. From the ranks of politicians were present the Minister for Human Rights, Equal Opportunities and Legislation Jiří Dientsbier (ČSSD), the chairwoman of the Human Rights Subcommittee in the Chamber of Deputies Markéta Adamová (TOP09), and the chairman of the European Matters Committee in the Chamber of Deputies Ondřej Benešík (KDU-ČSL). Senior research officer Vít Novotný represented the Martens Centre, and the research findings were presented by Radko Hokovský, the Executive Director of the European Values Think-Tank. The almost two-hour session was moderated by the Deputy Director of the European Values Jakub Janda.
At the start of the event, Radko Hokovský presented the study and its research question: Why do extremist political parties dominate the political discourse on immigrants and minorities and what mainstream political parties can do about it? According to the study, mainstream centrist parties (both centre-right and centre-left) insufficiently explain their position on social integration and are unable or unwilling to explain this delicate theme to the electorate. By neglecting or altogether ignoring this policy area, mainstream parties leave too much political space to populist parties which are then seen by voters as more competent in tackling what is perceived as an important societal issue.
After the initial presentation, the word was handed to the panel. Jiří Dientsbier emphasised the need to communicate relevant information to the wider public and thus dispel some themes perpetuated by populist parties, such as the unfounded fear of Muslim immigration to the Czech Republic. Markéta Adamová proposed to intensify the discourse among mainstream parties in order to gain attention of the mass media, which has hitherto been chiefly concerned with the populist discourse. Ondřej Benešík subsequently talked about the relevance of the discourse around Muslim immigration in the context of the EU-wide European elections.
Education was being mentioned throughout the debate as a key prerequisite for successful social integration of minority groups and immigrants into mainstream society. The panel agreed that integration necessitated long-term solutions which would only produce results in years if not decades. The solutions proposed by populist parties are popular for their simplicity, although this usually stems from the parties’ plans to move the issue elsewhere and avoid integration altogether without bothering to create a long-term strategy and tackle integration head on. For this reason, a cross-party consensus should exist about what the long-term integration programme should look like. The panel highlighted the existence of popular prejudices and stereotyping (especially of the Roma minority) as a major hurdle in the integration process in the Czech Republic. According to Minister Dientsbier, two thirds of Romas are fully integrated and it cannot be said that the rest was not trying to change their current situation. It is important to point to examples of successful integration and approach the process with enthusiasm, as it seems to bear positive results.
The final part of the event took the form of a Q&A with the audience. A live discussion full of spontaneous statements followed, confirming that public interest in the theme of the event remains high.
To find out more about the Defining Responses to Rise of Extremism in Europe project, please go to: www.facingextremism.eu
The Debate was held under the project “Defining Responses to Rise of Extremism in Europe” which is realised in cooperation with the League of Human Rights and with the support of Think Tank Fund Open Society Foundations and International Visegrad Fund.