Czech Premier Slams President as Anti-Refugee Violence Flares

  • Sobotka says Zeman contributes to destabilization of society
  • Comments made in interview before refugee-aid center torched

The Czech prime minister accused President Milos Zeman of destabilizing the country by condemning migrants, according to an interview conducted before violent protests and a firebomb attack against a refugee center rocked Prague over the weekend.  

Premier Bohuslav Sobotka said repeated warnings from Zeman that the migration crisis would endanger the country were “undoubtedly contributing to the destabilization of the society.” The interview with Tyden magazine was conducted last week, before a wave of anti-immigration rallies across the country of 10.5 million that culminated in Prague with protesters hurling bottles and cobblestones at police and a fire-bomb attack on a refugee-aid center that injured one person. The country has agreed to shelter 400 refugees through mid-2017, according to the Interior Ministry.

“We don’t need politicians who, in their own political interests, deliberately blow risks out of proportion,” Sobotka said in the interview. “He’s raising tension in society, which is completely unnecessary.”

The weekend clashes were the country’s worst instance of violent outbursts against migrants that are increasing across the 28-member European Union. It has also widened the rift between the country’s top two leaders, a divide that has emerged as politicians in other countries try to cope with the crisis. In neighboring Germany, attacks against refugee camps have increased in the country’s east, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel looks increasingly isolated within her own party as most EU members refuse to share the burden to shelter migrants.

Sobotka, a moderate Social Democrat, has called for calm and compassion when dealing with refugees. By contrast, Zeman has openly linked them to terrorism and even suggested that migrants from Muslim countries will follow sharia law, chopping off thieves’ hands and stoning adulterous women. Most migrants fleeing violence in the Middle East and Africa have in fact avoided the country in favor of richer EU states.

Zeman, who drew criticism for sharing the stage with the leader of a nationalist anti-immigrant group called the Bloc Against Islam last year, said he intends to continue fighting extremists by “correctly identifying the situation caused by the migration crisis,’ news service CTK reported on Sunday.

The rift between the two leaders, who disagree on a number of other issues ranging from the EU to the Czech Republic’s relationship with Russia, has evolved into an open conflict. Zeman has called Sobotka “weak” and jokingly suggested last month that one way to get rid of him would be to use a Kalashnikov assault rifle.