“I have not seen my grandson in a year”- Czechs demand loosening of travel restrictions

Today, the group of Czech citizens living in the UK sent a petition demanding loosening of travel restriction to the Czech Ministry of Health. The petition that went public a week ago was signed by more than sixteen hundred Czech citizens.
Currently, the Ministry of Health selects EU countries into three categories (red/orange/green). Red countries are those with the highest danger of infection with COVID 19. Since Brexit Great Britain is not part of the system and falls automatically within the red category with accordingly strict regulation of travelling (at least five days of quarantine in the Czech Republic additional to two weeks back in the UK) Authors of “We demand reasonable regulation of travelling from Great Britain to Czechia” which is a title of the petition. want the Czech minister of health to change the status of the UK from red to orange. To support their cause their present data showing that the situation in the UK is similar to Denmark or the Republic of Ireland. As a reason to consider the UK as an EU country, they quote fifty thousand Czech nationals living in the UK for a long term.
The petition available online gained 1658 signatures in eight days. The highest number of petitioners (according to their self-declaration) are coming from Londen (250), Prague (78) and Manchester (51). Petitioners could also add a comment to the publicly visible forum- the majority of them missed their families on both sides or expressed anger that they are treated as “second class citizens” and demanded fair conditions of travelling.
The Global pandemic showed us how fragile the transnational lifestyle is. Individuals could develop strong social bonds in several national states. Brexit strengthens the effect of the pandemic on the life of Czechs living in the UK. When in 2020 we interviewed Czechs living in the UK, they did not feel worried and did not believe that travelling could get more difficult. Global pandemic and different treatment of EU countries by the Czech Ministry of Health is one thing that we could not imagine yet it influences the lives of individuals.


“Good” and “Bad” Migrants in the Perception of Czechs living in the UK

In today’s post we would like to describe an interesting feature of the interviews with the Czechs living in the UK that goes beyond life choices and strategies concerning Brexit. We will elaborate on ways how migrants in the UK were divided between desirable and undesirable in their speeches (with Czechs always on the right side).  

The previous post about the Czech Republic described the blasé attitude towards Brexit of Czechs living in the UK- so far none of our fifteen interview partners were personally worried about their future in the UK nor they expected any major change in their lives. But speaking about Brexit with people from Central Europe is a way to uncover a broader experience of migration and hear similar stories that were used in the LEAVE campaign. 

All of our interview partners remembered the Brexit morning shock- they did not believe that Britons will vote LEAVE. This shock is connected also to the image of tolerant, multicultural and open British society that the Czech interview partners shared. Czechs also tend to live in urban areas where the LEAVE campaign was not that successful. Either they personally did not know anyone or just a few individuals that voted for brexit. What was surprising was that the majority of our interview partners have understanding or even agreed with the common reasons for Britain leaving the EU (however these common reasons might be far away from the real political effects).

I can understand that there is this old guy from this small Scottish village and he goes to his pub and it is full of foreigners and he does not feel at home anymore” said Jakub, who used to work in a hotel in Scotland. “At least now they will be able to control migration from Africa, because this country is already full,” said stay-at-home dad Jan. 

More than a half of our interview partners declared either that there are too many migrants in the UK or that some migrant groups do not work or threaten culture  or life in Britain in other ways. However, these “bad” migrants are never Czechs- who were always (self)depicted as hardworking and unobtrusive. 

When Jakub was telling how he goes to the pub with other Czechs we had to ask if he thinks that this group of Czechs can possibly make an elderly local man feel not at home? “Hm, you are right…but we are not that loud and we know how to behave.” These, that do not know, how to behave, are always a different group- migrants from Africa, Romania or even from Poland (because “Poles stick too much together and they isolate themselves from the wider society” believes Lucie- caregiver and student.

Not just that Czechs are never the bad migrants, they even do not know any personally- even among their friends who are also migrants. These bad, undeserving, isolationist migrants are just somewhere there. 

This vision of migration was not shared by all of our interview partners- more nuanced understanding of ethnic relations have those that have a training in social sciences or have a closer knowledge through their work: “Majority of beneficiaries are born in the UK.” said Michaela who works for municipal social services provider.

The confidence with which Czechs were facing Brexit was based on a belief that everyone has to see that Czechs are the hard-working and therefore desirable migrants and that both the public and politicians must recognize that they are essential for the British economy.


Brexit?- Nothing Interesting for Czechs (So Far)

How do Czechs living in the UK perceive and experience Brexit? Our team from the Institute of Sociological Studies at Charles University in Prague tries to understand these questions through interviews that we have been conducting since spring 2020- despite our hopes so far only online. In the first blog post of the Czech team, we will describe the main paradox of our work and our findings.

In fall 2020 halfway through our research, it seemed that there is nothing to do research about at all. None of the Czechs with whom we talked thought that Brexit will influence their lives and they had not much to say about it.

Czech migration to the United Kingdom is much less visible than Polish migration in scale and in impact. According to an estimation of the  Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there were less than 100 000 thousands Czech citizens living in the UK in 2019. Therefore Czechs are not that visible or compact group among migrant communities in the UK and also their issues are not paid much political attention in the Czech republic.

However, Czechs create a digital community on social media that we use to recruit our interview partners. The recruiting process was smooth (meaning that we posted an announcement that we would like to speak with Czechs about their experience of Brexit)- people that fit all our categories (gender, education, region) were willing to speak with us. During spring and fall 2020 we spoke with fifteen men and women who had lived in the UK for between two and nineteen years. Independently from what was their education or career in the Czech Republic they worked in the UK as au-pairs, flight attendants, caregivers or psychotherapists and lived in cities across the United Kingdom.

Traditional smoked meat is shared, sold or admired on Facebook groups of Czechs in the UK.

No matter what was their profession, length of residence or marital status they felt that Brexit was not a crucial topic for their lives and they did not expect any important changes. “The queues at the borders might be longer, but otherwise I do not expect any changes for me,” said Káťa, an accountant living in Birmingham. “After I got my settled status I stopped following news about Brexit,” said Lucie, who works as a caregiver in Scotland.

Reason, why Czechs were not worried or even interested in the changes, might be that all of them declared that they had moved to the United Kingdom because they wanted to live outside the Czech Republic and all of them genuinely liked British culture, lifestyle and believed in British political system and British multiculturalism. Their positive and self-assured position was a matter of trust in British politicians that they will at the end solve the question and also trust in their place in the British society that these politicians will protect.

Therefore Czech migrants downplayed the negative experience that they had after Brexit. “Some drunk man shouted at me one evening at the bus stop, that I should go home,” Káťa told me. “One customer was murmuring about too many migrants in England” recollect Jakub, who is working in a betting agency in South England. But they both refused to interpret the stories as harmful for them or that it was a sign of a shift in the public atmosphere. “It was only once and he was drunk, you can´t take things like this seriously” or “At the end, he turned out to be a nice man and we had a laugh together”. Both these interview partners together with others believe that the United Kingdom is a more tolerant country than the Czech Republic, they enjoy its multicultural nature and therefore they tend to overlook experiences that do not fit into this perception.

What was specific about the first stage or our research that the interview was speculative rather than descriptive, “What will you do if…?” “Do you have plans?” “What do you think Brexit will look like?”

…together with traditional pastry (source: Češi a Slováci v Edinburghu FB group)

In the next few months, we will go back to some of the interview partners and will look for new ones to describe how they actually went through the Brexit process and how their life looks like now.