Valery Senichev came from Belarus to the Czech Republic in 2004. During his studies of psychology, he faced labels such as ,, Russian”. Prejudices regarding himself inspired him to study them and later write his thesis on the topic.
You come from Belarus. Which prejudices have you faced regarding your origin?
They are mainly prejudices against foreigners. But I saw those back in Belarus, usually from the side of Russians or Lithuanians. For example, when I went to visit my father in Russia where he’s from and I mentioned that I come from Belarus, the attitude towards me changed drastically. People didn’t notice at first since I know russian language fairly well. But when they found out I am from Belarus, something changed.
Have you felt this way in Czech as well?
I did encounter some prejudices. When I started studying at Masaryk University in Brno, I couldn’t speak Czech very well but I tried. And suddenly I found out from others that I am Russian when I come from Belarus. I had no idea why others might think that. You can then add me studying very hard, thus being considered a nerd – another label. You don’t then merrily go out, around your classmates.
Did you see any prejudices later, during working?
Yes, I have a feeling that foreigners need to work twice as hard and more carefully to get any recognition from their surrounding. I, for example, worked as a manager of a company in Mlada Boleslav. We had a meeting once and I said something to a leader of the next department. Later he came to me and said: ,, Look man, I am a Czech guy working in a Czech company. What are you doing here?” I told him I work here. Everyone around us went silent because they realized that was discrimination in the workplace and if I reported him to the higher-ups, he would get in trouble. So he started apologizing, even though it seemed more sarcastic than serious.
How do you deal with situations like that?
When I was younger, these situations were troublesome for me, because I wanted people to accept me the way I am. Later I started wondering why is it like that, why do prejudices work so well. Since I studied psychology, I tackled this exact topic: Prejudices and stereotypes regarding psychology and sociology. In my master’s thesis, I tackled prejudices in the work environment. That is, I think, a positive way how to deal with it. I also dealt with the topic of expats, who are highly qualified foreigners living in the Czech Republic.
What did you find out?
I found out that integration works for them if they can embrace the Czech culture. You will think in the Czech language, be interested in Czech things and have Czech friends. Some people who studied with me in the preparatory courses are still Kazakhs to this day. They still only mingle within their own community and you can hear that in his voice. That accent is instantly recognizable. Some may say they are from Uzbekistan and even though they’ve lived here for over twenty years, they still feel they are Uzbeks. That means that they did not accept a part of Czech culture. They don’t have to identify with it, that’s not the point, but they need to somehow understand it. I can fortunately speak with several accents so a lot of people think I am from Czech. Until I tell them my name.
Do you think any prejudices against foreigners are based on truth?
That’s a very tough question to nswer. I found out that our society suffers from misconceptions, which are usually just passed along, rather than based on any factual evidence. But some of the prejudices might be based on experience. That can grow over time, good example of this are Russians, Arabs and Vietnamese in Prague. It is always possible that some of them stem from reality, but we can’t extend that to all members of that community – not all Arabs are terrorists.
Where do you see the biggest danger of prejudices?
The danger is very great, because prejudices offer us a sort of a shortcut. It is a mechanism which we can use in situations where we might not be so sure of something. We can say that the person is this and that. We don’t have to further get to know the person, because a system tells us how to treat him. Then we have the individual labeled. On one hand, this sort of behavior saves energy for the individual, on the other hand it is very dangerous, because it can lead to verbal attacks, physical violence, in some cases to racism and stalking. From the immigrant’s crisis, we can see that there isn’t many immigrants here yet it caused wave of fear against them. I think it is mainly ignorance that leads to prejudices. The worst part is when one doesn’t realize that his actions are being controlled by prejudices, because then they don’t care about who people actually are.
Have you ever gave way to prejudices?
When I came to Czech I learned that Gypsies live here and that some may have problems with them. I actually lived close to the gypsy part of town in Brno and i didn’t know why everyone was so rude towards them. But as time went on I started to curse at them as well. Later I changed my attitude towards them and came to a conclusion that I can’t possibly think like this. If I don’t want others to judge me according to a label, I won’t judge others for the same thing.