The president of the Czech Republic Milos Zeman has urged his country to seal the borders to all refugees in an effort to protect the Czech Republic from Islamist terrorism.
“Our country simply cannot afford to risk terrorist attacks like what occurred in France and Germany. By accepting migrants, we would create fertile ground for barbaric attacks,” his spokesman Jiri Ovcacek said in a statement on Tuesday, according to Deutsche Welle.
“The president does not agree with any acceptance of migrants in the Czech territory,” he added.
The president has a stronger political role in the Czech Reublic than in other central European countries, but his power is still shared with the prime minister. He has veto power over legislation but does not set the legislative agenda.
Zeman also told citizens that they should arm themselves, despite previously having opposed an armed citizenry, in an interview with the Czech outlet Blesk.
“I really think that citizens should arm themselves against terrorists. And I honestly admit that I changed my mind, because previously I was against [citizens] having too many weapons. After these attacks, I don’t think so,” he said.
Comparing the Czech Republic to Israel, where he said “almost every man walks with a machine gun over his shoulder,” he called on those who already own firearms to carry them in public.
“These people will have to get used to the fact that their weapon can’t be hidden in a cupboard at home. Not machine guns, but a pistol, for example. And that [pistol], where necessary, will have to be ready for a situation where it has to be used.”
These comments show the changing tide of opinion in Europe towards refugees in the wake of the series of attacks this summer.
While there is no obligation on countries to prejudice the interests of their preexisting citizens in order to secure the rights of refugees, it is important that genuine refugees be provided for in accordance with the universal principles of human rights.
Balancing humanitarian obligations with the imperative to provide security for one’s citizens will become a tougher challenge the longer the refugee crisis and Islamist terrorism goes on.
Both a robust response to radicalization and terrorism in Europe from a security perspective and a concerted effort to integrate refugees from Muslim majority societies can help tackle Islamist extremism while providing the appropriate support to beleaguered migrant populations.
Standing up for the values of secular Europe and not exacerbating the issue by attempting to appease Islamists is essential for such a strategy to work.
If politicians are unable to do this, more and more people will turn to the approach of Milos Zeman and seek to block refugee access altogether.