“War,” Ambrose Bierce said, “is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.” But despite all the lessons learned during the long-running “war on terror,” Americans could probably use a little more instruction. The Czech embassy issued a statement following the attacks to clarify that the two Boston bombing suspects actually traced their roots to Chechnya, not the Czech Republic, after waves of anti-Czech rhetoric swamped social media.
Expletive-filled postings on Twitter and Facebook were common, along with milder comments such as “So the Boston bombers were 19-year-old Russians of Czech descent … Why lord?” and “The guys that bombed Boston were Czech. What is it 1980?”
So much vitriolic anti-Czech sentiment was aired online that one Tumblr user compiled a “shame list” of erroneous hateful comments. And it was not only social-media users getting confused; a former CIA agent commenting on the manhunt for CNN also got the two territories mixed up live on air.
Petr Gandalovic, the Czech Republic’s ambassador to the U.S., was naturally keen to clear up the confusion. “As more information on the origin of the alleged perpetrators is coming to light, I am concerned to note in the social media a most unfortunate misunderstanding in this respect,” he said in a statement. “The Czech Republic and Chechnya are two very different entities — the Czech Republic is a Central European country; Chechnya is a part of the Russian Federation.”
Embarrassed Twitter users have been quick to delete posts as their folly was uncovered. And spoof media site The Daily Currant even produced its own satirical report of a Fox News interview in which former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin insists that invading the Czech Republic is the only course of action open to the U.S.
To clarify, Chechens are an ethnic group occupying a small territory in Russia’s North Caucasus region, sandwiched between the Black and Caspian seas and around 1,600 km south of Moscow. The population of 1.2 million is overwhelmingly Muslim and three civil wars have been waged by separatist rebels over the past two decades. Chechen groups have also claimed responsibility for several terrorist attacks in Moscow in recent years.
The Czech Republic is one of two countries formed when Czechoslovakia split in 1993 — the other being Slovakia — and has been a member of the E.U. since 2004. Formerly part of the Soviet bloc, Czechs are one of the least religious peoples in the world; the largest organized faith, Roman Catholicism, is followed by just 10% of the population. Chechnya and the Czech Republic are about 3,200 km apart.