Blog: Fear is dictating Slovakia's actions towards refugees

When faced with the attitude towards refugees in Slovakia, one Canadian tries to understand where that attitude is coming from.

Welcoming refugees could teach us that diversity is ok.Welcoming refugees could teach us that diversity is ok. (Source: SME)

Living in another country bring one face to face with different attitudes, different ways of thinking, different ways of doing things. Until now, I’ve considered it a good thing that we are not all the same, and embraced the diversity of the world.

But then came the refugee crisis, and I was dismayed to find that my opinion differed so much from that of my friends. My friends are good people, not extremists protesting in the streets, not politicians spouting populist rhetoric. They are ordinary Slovaks. I was saddened by their pull towards self-preservation at the expense of helping others.

In many ways, I understand the fear. The unknown is scary. Change is scary. We cannot predict the future when accepting people of different races and religions into our midst.

But fear should not dictate our actions. Fear cannot hold us back from doing what is right.

Let go of the mindset of scarcity

Some of the fears are economical. There is not enough money. There are not enough jobs. I work all month for 600 euro, and a refugee will get that sitting around. Slovaks tend to compare Slovakia with the West, and find themselves lacking. Yes, it’s true that we do not make the same income as some of our Western neighbours. Yes, many families struggle to make ends meet.

But do not let comparison steal your abundance, for there IS abundance in Slovakia. We walk safely in Slovak streets. Our children attend school and take part in extracurricular activities. We have homes to live in and enough food to eat. Most Slovaks take annual vacations. You may argue that these are basic necessities, but most of the world does not have these necessities. Let go of the mindset of scarcity and see the good that is around us in Slovakia!

Some of the fears are cultural or racial. They’re just different than us. Look at Western Europe, we’ll have to adapt to them, not they adapt to us. They’ll take over and we’ll lose our identity. What is it that makes Slovakia Slovakia? Is it genes? Language? Folk dress and songs?

There is antagonism in Slovakia already, even among Slovaks - Roma, Hungarian, crazy Easterners and tight-assed Westerners. Perhaps welcoming refugees would teach us that diversity is ok. That even though we are different, we can still find a way to cooperate and to work together for a better future. That racial and cultural differences are to be celebrated. Indeed, it is the only way that my children and I can exist, with our mixed racial genes.

Some people are jerks, most are not

Some of the fears are related to security.  Muslims are terrorists and we will no longer be safe. They are all young men. They are threatening their own children to get past borders. Some Muslims are terrorists; most are not. Some Slovaks are racist extremists; most are not. Some people of any population are jerks; most are not. Welcome to humanity.

The way we consume media, however, blows it all out of proportion. Sensational headlines get people to click and read, and the more people click, the more money the website gets and the more prestige they have.

We hear about Muslims being terrorists; did you hear about (Muslim) Malala Yousafzai, who by 15 had been the target of an attempted assassination by the Taliban due to her activism, did you hear she opened a school for Syrian refugee girls this summer? Did you hear about the older (Muslim) couple relishing each last moment as the wife succumbs to cancer or the fear of a (Muslim) grandmother when her granddaughter went for heart surgery? (The last two examples are from the Facebook page Humans of New York. He was recently in Pakistan and Iran and highlights the humanity that is common to us all. I urge you to take a look.)

Refugees are not saints, they are people in need. Rise above the fear mongering sensational headlines. Rise above stereotypes of a people you probably have never met in person. There will be some bad apples, yes, but that should not prevent us from helping the rest.

Two wrongs do not make a right

Some of the fears place blame elsewhere.  If America hadn’t interfered in the first place...Muslim countries should help Muslims...It’s not our fault, why should we have to pay? International politics is a complicated web of utility, subterfuge, and history, to be optimistic. But just because someone else created a bad situation does not negate our responsibility to help people who themselves had no play in creating a war that destroyed their homes and lives. Two wrongs do not make a right.

Could you look in the face of a Yazidi boy, who is now head of the extended family because of the 100 men only four are left and say, “not my fault, not my problem.” Could you look in the eyes of a Christian or Yazidi girl taken as a sex slave and raped 30 times before lunch and say, “your suffering is not enough for me to leave my comfort zone.” Could you look in the eyes of any Syrian or Iraqi and say, “your home is gone, your loved ones are dead, and I don’t care.”

Some of the fears are religious.  They will build their mosques and minarets and we will lose the Christian character of our country.

For those who claim to be followers of Christ, look at Him and his actions. Jesus said to feed the hungry and clothe the naked; he did not say “but first, make sure that they hold the same religious beliefs as you”; “but first, make sure they deserve it”; “but first, make sure they will appreciate it and will turn from their erring ways.” No. He did not attach any qualifiers to our responsibility to help those in need. In fact, He went so far as to say that a Samaritan, despised for being of mixed pagan races and having a different religion, could be good.

If, then, Christians refuse to help Muslim refugees because they are afraid of losing the Christian character of Slovakia, yes, the outward appearance of Christianity will be saved. There will be no mosques. But by turning their back on the call of the Gospel, they will have killed the heart of the very religion they were trying to preserve and become nothing but whitewashed tombs (Matt 23:27).

A way to erase the lines

This summer, Slovakia mourned the death of Nicholas Winton, a British man who orchestrated the removal of 669 Jewish children from Czechoslovakia. He received the highest honour from the Czech government (oh, the irony). His actions were indeed heroic, but when I think of his story, I think the ordinary British families who took in these children. Families agreed, before Britain had declared war, to take in a child of a different race, religion, language, and culture. And I’m guessing that as children, they weren’t full of appreciation for these people’s kindness but sad, confused, and angry at being taken away from all that they knew and loved.

What courage! Could I and my family take in such a person into our home? Perhaps that might be the best way, a way that will make the sufferings of the refugees personal and not just a statistic. A way to erase the lines between Them vs. Us and recognise that it is We, joined in common dignity as members of humanity. In little Aylan, the boy washed up dead on the beach, is somebody’s child, somebody who is mourning as you would mourn the death of your little one.

Slovakia, take courage! Accept your fear and then move on. Do not allow your actions to be controlled by fear. Heroes are not those who have no fear, but those who fight against their own fear to do what is right, not for themselves, but for others.

Naomi blogs about the culture, food, and life in Slovakia at Almost Bananas

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