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We issued a press release about our research on the Czech public's perception of migration

How does the Czech public perceive migration and people who come to live here from other countries?

12 Dec 2022

Even though the Czech Republic has never been one of the main destinations for newcomers and in Europe it is rather one of the countries with a low proportion of foreigners, the anti-migration attitudes of the Czech public have tended to rise in recent years and migration has become an important part of political debates.

"We were interested in what is behind the fear of an imaginary thirteenth migrant," explains the head of the research team, associate professor Bernadette Nadya Jaworsky, alluding to the fact that the Czech Republic accepted only 12 resettled refugees out of a total number of 2,691 by 2017 as part of the redistribution quotas of the European Union responding to the so-called .the migration crisis. An American living in Brno and working at the Department of Sociology of the Faculty of Social Studies of Masaryk University, she has been working on the topic for a long time, already working on it in her bachelor's and master's theses, as well as in her doctorate at Yale.

Under her guidance, researchers conducted a total of 80 in-depth interviews and focus group interviews in five locations between 2019 and 2022, in which they explored, for example, what people think of when they hear the terms migration, foreigner, migrant and refugee. They also found out where people get information about migration and what their experiences are with people from abroad.

Adaptability and country of origin play a role

Even though, based on quantitative surveys of public opinion, the Czech Republic is often classified among countries with strong anti-migration attitudes, qualitative research revealed that the reality of the Czech public's perception of migration is much more multifaceted. The willingness to work hard, to speak Czech, to adapt to local rules and customs and not to show one's difference too much, are important criteria on the basis of which people distinguish between those they are willing to accept in the Czech Republic and in their place of residence or even consider as an asset, and by those they do not want to accept. Factors such as country of origin, skin color, gender, or religious affiliation also play an important role, which people tend to associate with specific ideas about work performance, relationships with women, or the propensity for violent behavior of newcomers.

Important terminology

Terminology also plays an important role in the perception of migration by the Czech public. The research revealed that people mainly associate the term "migrant" with images of invasion and the desire of migrants to reach the countries of Western Europe. On the other hand, people who immigrated to the Czech Republic from abroad are often referred to as foreigners or Slovaks, Ukrainians and Vietnamese rather than migrants. "The words we use when we talk about migrants fundamentally affect how they are perceived, because terms such as migrant, foreigner or refugee evoke in people different ideas of people with different skin color, gender, nationality or motivations, as well as different emotions and moral assessment," adds Jaworsky.

The role of the media

The research further revealed that the media play a crucial role in forming attitudes, as they are the main source of information for people about migration. The Czech public perceives the portrayal of migration and migrants in the media primarily as an invasion of the masses, especially young dark-skinned men, representing a threat to Europe and, by extension, to the Czech Republic. Despite the fact that many research participants questioned this image of migration and pointed to the Czech reality, where no invasion scenarios came true, the research showed that this cultural repertoire is the dominant source of ideas about migration and migrants in the Czech public space. Ideas about the negative effects of migration and related concerns are largely based on what the media convey about migrants and their coexistence in Western European countries. while the Czech Republic is perceived as a part of it through belonging to the Christian cultural tradition and at the same time as an area that is not yet affected much by the arrival of "migrants". In the media, research participants mainly lack more positive stories about migration and information about people who have successfully settled in the Czech Republic.

Regional differences

The research also showed that it is necessary to pay attention to how people coming to the Czech Republic are perceived by people in different locations. People express attitudes towards migration not only in relation to the national space of the Czech Republic or transnational Europe, but also derive them from their experiences from their place of residence. Despite a strong general reticence towards arrivals from Muslim countries, for example in Teplice – one of the research locations – Arab doctors are appreciated as a contribution to the local community and perceived as part of the local cosmopolitan tradition.

Based on the analysis of the interviews, the researchers created a so-called hierarchy of difference, which shows tendencies in the perception of the distance of various ethnic groups from imaginary Czechness. While Slovaks, Ukrainians and Vietnamese are rather perceived as close others or "almost Czechs", Roma, Africans and Arabs are perceived as the furthest from the imaginary cohesive community forming the Czech nation. However, it is the hierarchy of difference that varies by local context depending on local history and experiences of migration, which quantitative studies cannot reveal.

The press release is available to download from here (CZ Version only).

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