A Czech animated film won a major award for its depiction of an unusual, real-life story between a Czech woman and an Afghan man. But can this film change perceptions about Afghanistan, which is for the most part reduced in Czech politics to a source of terrorism and refugees, as the last Czech soldiers have just left Kabul?
On June 19, the Czech animated feature film “My Sunny Maad“(In Czech, the animation is called” Moje slunce Mad “, which literally means” My crazy sun “) won the best jury prize at the Annecy Animation Festival, one of the most prestigious festivals of this film category which takes place every year in France.
The animation, which mixes dialogue and narration in Czech and Dari, is an adaptation of the book ”Frišta“by one of the best Czech journalists, Petra Prochazokova, in which she describes the love story between a Russian student and an Afghan student who met in Moscow. Procházoková herself has covered Afghanistan extensively and is married to an Afghan. His novel “Frišta” draws heavily on his own experience of living in Afghanistan and Afghan culture.
The film, co-produced by Michaela Pavlatová, with Slovak and French partners, describes the life of a young Czech woman, called Helena, who falls in love with the Afghan student Nazir in Prague, marries her and moves to Kabul. The animation is full of humorous scenes and paints cross-cultural situations with cheerful colors, as can be seen in its trailer:
But will this award, a first for a Czech film, improve the opinion of most Czechs about Afghanistan? When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, then socialist Czechoslovakia officially endorsed Moscow’s policy and hosted a first wave of Afghan students. Afghanistan was then presented in the media as a sister country on the way to socialism.
A new chapter in Czech-Afghan relations opened in 2002 when Czech soldiers joined NATO military operations. Since then, nearly 12,000 Czech soldiers served in Afghanistan, but like other missions, they left the country at the end of June after 19 years of presence. A few dozen Afghan families will also move to the Czech Republic as their lives could be in danger if they remained in Afghanistan, as some of their members worked for the Czech contingent of NATO forces.
During this period, Afghanistan was presented as a source of terrorism and religious extremism. This negative image has been reinforced by the statements of the current Czech President Miloš Zeman whose government has repeatedly refused to welcome refugees Muslim countries in violation of the European Union obligations. Zeman himself has multiplied anti-Muslim and anti-migrant statements over the years, saying for example in 2016 that “Muslims do not want to work, they like to claim social benefits”.
Earlier in 2015, he also declared this:
Obávám se, aby žili ze sociálních dávek, a nikoliv aby pracovali – tak tu zemi vracíte zpátky do propasti chudoby. Dá se pravdivě říci, e uprchlíci škodí své vlastní zemi.
I’m afraid they [refugees] would live on social benefits and not work. It pushes their own riding back into poverty. In truth, migrants harm their own country.
Ironically, Zeman agreed 4,000 Muslim refugees of Kosovo in 1999 when he was Prime Minister.
A 2019 survey indicates that the first source of Czech identified threat is “Islam and refugees.” As the country prepares for legislative elections taking place on October 8 and 9, anti-Muslim rhetoric is being used by several parties to attract Conservative votes.
Given that cinemas remain largely empty due to the COVID-19 pandemic and show very few films, it seems that there is little chance that Czech viewers will be able to see “My sunny Maad” and for some of them, change their views on Afghan culture.