Czech Republic

Czech Republic
   Estimated Gypsy population: 200,000. The 1991 census (taken before Czechoslovakia was divided) recorded only 33,000 Romanies. The 2001 census recorded 72,000 with Romani as their mother tongue but only 11,000 declared themselves as belonging to the ethnic group (narodnost).
   The Czech Republic was established in 1993 when Czechoslovakia became two separate states. Most of the families in the Czech part had come from Slovakia after 1945. Some of these had difficulties in obtaining citizenship in the new republic despite long residency in the Czech lands (Bohemia and Moravia) and were in danger of becoming stateless. The law stated that applicants for citizenship had to have had a clean criminal record for at least five years. This requirement was criticized because many Romanies had been punished for acts that would not have been considered crimes in a democratic state. Young unmarried women, for example, who stayed at home were sentenced as "work-shy" and others obtained a criminal record by committing the "crime" of moving from one town to another without permission. A new citizenship law passed in September 1999 remedied the situation for individuals (predominantly Roma) who lacked voting and other rights due to restrictions under the previous laws.
   Prejudice against Gypsies persists and incidents of discrimination and harassment have been reported. In April 2003 the Czech weekly newspaper Respekt reported that according to a survey of the Prague-based Center for the Study of Public Opinion, 79 percent of respondents would not want Roma as neighbors.
   Attacks on Gypsies by skinheads and right-wing elements that began before the breakup-as early as 1990-have increased and have led to many deaths. At least 12 Romanies are known to have died in racist violence since 1993 in the Czech Republic. In 1995 skinheads attacked Gypsies in Breclav and on a train from Chomu-tov to Klasterec. Tibor Berki was killed in May 1995 in Zdar nad Sazavou. In June 2001, three friends (two of them Roma) were stabbed by a group of skinheads who attacked them in a pedestrian subway in Ostrava.
   An estimated 5,000 skinheads were active in the country in 2003, and many observers believe the figure is much higher. In June of that year, three drunken youths attacked a Romany couple in their home in the northern Moravian town of Jesenik. The youths slashed the husband in the face and chest with a knife and hit his wife in the eye with a cobblestone. A police spokesman stated that the attack appeared to be racially motivated.
   There is also evidence of police harassment. In June 1994 Martin Cervenak died in police custody. In May 2003 five off-duty officers in the northeastern Bohemian town of Jicin forced their way into the home of the Danis family in the Popovice quarter and beat up three people, including a pregnant woman. The government's human rights commissioner criticized a June 2003 ruling by a Karlovy Vary court that the 2001 beating of Karel Billy by five police officers was not racially motivated. The Ministry of the Interior has since issued special instructions for police searching Romany dwellings.
   The government is actively trying to recruit Roma to serve as police officers and improve police relations with the Roma community. Police trainees attend the National Police Academy's course in Romany language and culture.
   There is discrimination in admission to restaurants, bars, and discotheques throughout the country. Signs are often posted to prevent Roma from entering public places. Segregation in hospitals and schools has also been reported. While overall unemployment was 10 percent in 2003, unemployment among the Romany population was estimated at over 70 percent. Although the law prohibits discrimination based on ethnicity, employers refuse to hire Romanies and ask local job centers not to send Romany applicants for advertised positions. In 2003, Marcela Zupkova, a Romany woman from Hradec Kralove in the northeast, was denied employment on the basis of her ethnicity. Individual Roma do not have the legal right to file discrimination complaints; such action must come from governmental authorities.
   Roma continue to face discrimination in housing, leading to segregated neighborhoods. In 2002 the central government admitted that the housing law allowed municipalities to discriminate, and the situation has not changed. In 2003 it was reported that many municipalities, including the central Bohemian town of Slany and the northeastern Bohemian town of Jaromer, forced Romany families to leave their accommodations. Tactics employed included evicting Roma from municipally owned homes for alleged lapses in rent payments and coercing Roma to sign agreements they do not understand, which are then used to curtail their existing housing contracts. While the human rights commissioner criticized such practices publicly, the law allows municipalities substantial autonomy to take such actions. Re-spekt highlighted the case of Mrs. Ratzova from Slany. After four months looking for alternative accommodation without success and sleeping outdoors, she handed her children over to state care and went to live with her psychologically ill brother, who later killed her.
   In the town of Bohumin, the local authorities expelled some 200 Roma from a building where they had been legal tenants. Four families, including the Scukovas, stayed on in spite of harassment from the council. On 4 October 2005 a number of prominent national personalities entered the building with some difficulty in an action called "Guests of Mrs. Scukova" to show solidarity with the beleaguered Roma.
   Romany children continue to be sent to special schools for children with mental or social disorders at a disproportionate rate, thereby perpetuating their marginal position in society. According to unofficial government estimates, 60 percent or more of pupils placed in these special schools were Romany children, although less than 3 percent of the population are Roma. Not only are they receiving an inferior education but schooling is also provided only until age 14 in special schools, as opposed to age 15 in standard schools. Children from special schools can also start work at 14-one year earlier than normal. While the government reported that approximately 90 percent of children attended school in 2003, official estimates indicated that less than 20 percent of the Romany population was still at school at the age of 14, and less than 5 percent completed secondary school. Students leaving special schools are not barred from attending secondary schools, but the curriculum does not prepare students to pass the tests required to transfer to mainstream schools. Some Romany parents still choose not to send their children to school regularly due to fear of violence and the expense of books and supplies. The European Court of Human Rights agreed in May 2005 to take up the case of D. H. and Others v. the Czech Republic, involving 18 children who had been assigned to special schools.
   The Ministry of Education independently started to implement some changes. It began to work on altering the psychological tests given to Czech children that many claim are psychologically biased against Roma children. Children are assigned to "special schools" based on poor results in these tests. In January 2002, the education minister announced a long-term plan to phase out the special schools and move pupils from them into regular classrooms.
   Many districts with large Romany populations hold yearlong programs to prepare children for their first year in school; these programs are funded by the government and administered by local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). More than a hundred of these schemes were operating throughout the country in 2003. Some districts tracking local Romany students reported that up to 70 percent of students who attended this preparation successfully entered and remained in mainstream schools. Other positive initiatives include the placing of Romani-speaking teaching assistants in primary and special schools and the use, by 2003, of bilingual Romani-Czech language textbooks in 60 elementary schools. The Ministry of Education has also commissioned a textbook for use in schools on the cultural and historical roots of the Romany minority, highlighting successful members of the Romany community. Local NGOs also have supported additional studies and private initiatives to prepare Romany children for mainstream schools.
   The continued high numbers of Roma seeking asylum in the United Kingdom during 2002 led to the imposition of preinspection controls at Prague's international airport. Roma activists in Britain criticized the controls as "racist" because they appeared to target only Roma. In August 2002, the Czech prime minister issued an unprecedented call for Roma to remain in the country and work with the government and majority population to address their economic and social problems.
   The new freedom to form organizations, travel, and publish after the fall of Communism in 1989 led to a flourishing of activities. The Brno Museum obtained its own building, and Romani was introduced as a degree subject in Prague University in 1991, taught by Milena Hübschmannová.
   The state funds radio programs for Roma on public stations and also supports Roma publications. A new magazine entitled Romano Vodi, financially supported by the Czech Republic Ministry of Culture and based in Prague, first appeared in February 2003. There are many Romany and pro-Romany organizations operating, such as the Foundation for the Renewal and Development of Traditional Romani Values and the Rajko Djuric Foundation.
   In 2003, in continuation of its Plan for Roma Integration, the government allocated tens of millions of crowns (several million dollars) at various times during the year for projects designed to promote the integration of the Roma. Allocations supported the construction of community centers and educational assistance.
   The Inter-Ministerial Commission for Roma Community Affairs includes 12 government and 14 Romany representatives, as well as the commissioner for human rights and his deputy. There are, however, currently no Roma in the Parliament.
   David Dudas became one of the first Romany priests in history when he was selected to serve the Roma community living near the Holy Trinity Church in Rokycany in January 2003.
   There is an increasing number of musicians who have a following also among non-Roma. These include Ida Kelarova and the Prague-based band Bengas.

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