Since late 2018, I have had the privilege of living in Prague, Czech Republic. This is not a perfect nation, no nation is, but it has an open, democratic society with civil rights. We were able to emigrate to the Czech Republic because it has a clear, and as far as we know, fairly applied immigration policy. Sitting in the heart of Central Europe, Prague is a diverse, cosmopolitan city, home to many immigrants, about ten percent of the population.
A two-minute walk from my front door is my local pub. It is owned by a Russian man in his late 30s. I wouldn’t say we’re friends, but we’ve known each other for over five years, starting from when I used to come to Prague speaking at academic conferences. We have talked a lot, mostly about craft beer and breweries.
The last two weeks, we have talked about Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. He is angry and disgusted by it. He told me last night that he saw what was coming and had left Russia over a decade ago to get away from Putin. He moved to England and then to Prague, where he now runs a small, independent business that serves his community. He renounces Putin’s aggressions, which hits him personally not only because he is Russian, but his girlfriend is Ukrainian.
Ukrainians are the largest immigrant group in the Czech Republic. The Czech government and the Czech people have offered overwhelming support and assistance to Ukraine. A recent charity drive, headed up by Czech musicians and celebrities, raised over a billion Czech koruna ($43 million), for the Ukrainian people.
Curious about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s background, my wife looked up his Wikipedia entry and found this photo of him.
She and I instantly recognized where he was standing when this photo was taken in 2009 because it is only a six-minute walk from where we live. Zelenskyy is standing on the corner of Bělehradská ulice and Jugoslávská ulice, in front of what is now a Vodafone store. In the background are the twin spires of Kostel sv. Ludmily, the Church of Saint Ludmila. The cukrana (pastry shop) on the right is still exactly the same today. The Number 10 tram still plies that same route today. The red truck behind him is turning onto Londýnská ulice, passing in front of our bank. This is our neighborhood.
In my humble opinion, this is how the world should be–open to law-abiding people of any nationality who wish to visit or come to work and live. We can all have our cultural identities and still interact with each other in peace. War and hatred are the refuge of weak people who can’t handle differences.
Worth mentioning: behind Zelenskyy in that photo, Kostel sv. Ludmily sits in the center of Náměstí Míru—“Peace Square.”