The Roma in the Czech Republic from 1993 to 1997|
According to research in 1993 by the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic,
the liberalization of the labor market doubled the rate of unemployment among
The Roma were also laid off from unskilled, though for them typical,
positions as "gastarbeitry" (migrant workers) from the countries of
Europe. The Roma looked for help from the employment offices, but they didn't
fulfill the conditions to acquire the status of job seekers, particularly the
first - permanent residence in the town or city in which they requested
The majority of Roma who came from Slovakia to the Czech region stayed in
the country as visitors to their relatives. This situation was complicated
further by the breakup of the Czechoslovak Federation in 1993, when the
citizenship law was passed in the Czech Republic, and when the tens of
thousands of Slovak Roma became as of July 1, 1994 homeless.
Apart from the economic collapse among the Roma, freedom also brought a growth
in violence and other displays of racial intolernance towards the Roma. In
1991, 25 offenses were recorded where the motivation was racial, or as the case
may be, ethnic intolerance. In 1992, this figure was 31 and in 1993, 55. The
alarming fact is, however, that the number of
racially-motivated crimes committed was far more than the isolated cases punished. (Czech
Helsinki Committee's Report on the State of Human Rights in the Czech Republic, 1994)
The ratification of the Czech citizenship law and the increasing physical
toward the Roma didn't escape the attention of the international governmental
nongovernmental organizations engaged in defending human rights. Although the
Western democracies and international institutes looked with admiration on the
blossoming of democracy in the Czech Republic after the fall of
communism, they also warned of the dark side of the new freedom, that being
U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT REPORT FOR 1993
The annual report of the U.S State Department, which has been drawn up for the
U.S. Congress since 1977 and which is concerned with the status of human rights
in 193 countries of the world, has called attention to the status of the Romani
minority in the Czech Republic since 1993.
According to the 1994 report, the Roma are the subject of pronounced
public prejudice in the Czech Republic. The Roma are the poorest
minority and the crime rate among their population is very high. Efforts by a
variety of foundations and
individuals in the areas of schooling and health to improve their standard of
living have had little impact. The same can be said of the essentially failed
at mobilizing individual Romani communities. The report included the protests
of the Roma, who considered the requirement of a clean criminal record over the previous five years for
Czech citizenship to be discriminatory. It also recorded the edicts in several
Czech towns directed against Roma and the violent clashes between Czechs and
Roma. The American report surmised that the Czech government wasn't only
anti-Roma in its public statements, but that its domestic policies have a
tendency to ignore the seriousness of the Romani problems.
U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION REPORT, 1994
The Czech citizenship law was also criticized in the fall of 1994 by the
Helsinki Commission of the U.S. Congress, which released a study on human
rights in the Czech Republic for the first time, entitled "Human Rights and
Democracy in the Czech Republic." According to the report, the Czech
citizenship law demonstrates a lack of respect for minority rights and violates
the standards set by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
human rights are the privilege only of the minority, the transition to
democracy in the Czech Republic won't be complete or firmly rooted.
The report recalled that after the split of the Czechoslovak Federation,
passed a law enabling all former citizens of Czechoslovakia to acquire
citizenship, while the Czech Republic approved a more restrictive law which
determined according to place of birth who was Czech, without regard to whether
a person spent their entire life in the Czech Republic. Those citizens
designated as Slovaks by the law, if applying for Czech
citizenship, had to meet two conditions - prove at least two years residence in
the country and have a clean criminal record for the previous five years. It
was highly forseeable that these conditions would apply practically only to
Roma, the report claims.
While a number of countries exclude applicants for citizenship on this
principle, it doesn't correspond to international practice for a country to
strip citizens of their citizenship for breaking its own laws. What's more,
the current refusal of citizenship because of past offenses adds to the deed
an additional punishment that didn't exist when the crime was committed. In
this context, the report cites the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which
says that a sentence cannot be passed higher than that which corresponds to the
crime at the time it was committed.
Although Czech spokespersons have claimed that the citizenship law conforms to
immigration processes of other European countries, it isn't a matter of
setting conditions for
granting citizenship to new immigrants, but conditions by which
citizenship is denied to those who had it before.
<U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT REPORT, 1994
In February 1995, the U.S. State Dept. Report described the main problem in
the area of human rights in the Czech Republic to be the prejudices of Czech
society against the Roma and the inability, or unwillingness, of the government
to confront them. According to the report, the most well-known example of this
discrimination was the Czech citizenship law, which required applicants to meet
conditions that for almost all Roma originating in Slovakia and living in the
Czech Republic were impossible to fulfill.
The best known is the requirement of a clean criminal record for the previous
five years, which is certainly in variance with the Fundamental Document of
Freedoms, as this condition is punishment after the fact - the convicted serve
punishment once in prison, but if they apply for citizenship, the state applies
another punishment for the offense, the refusal of citizenship. It's necessary
to point out that the Roma, who were required by the Czech citizenship law to
apply for citizenship after the breakup of the Czechoslovak Federation, were
originally forced to leave Slovakia after the Second World War by government
decree and to settle in
the areas abandoned by the deportation of the Sudeten Germans to work in
industry as a light, unskilled work force.
The report also mentioned skinhead attacks on the Roma and discrimination
against them in access to education, housing, and employment.
Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus described the report as distorted and
oversimplifying. "I can't believe my eyes, what's written there," he declared.
He stated that he had at his disposal only xeroxed clipping of the material.
The Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alexandr Vondra, described the report
as "valuable information, but without any directive." The Chairperson of
Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, regarding the criticism connected to
Czech prejudices against the Roma, said that the principle of a civil society
was a "traditional attribute of Czech democracy" and nobody in the country
discrimination against the Roma. He emphasized that any displays of racism
that occur are immediately prosecuted. (Lidove Noviny, Feb. 3, 1995)
THE CZECH HELSINKI COMMITTEE REPORT, 1994
The situation of the Roma who remained in the Czech Republic without any
citizenship and thus without any rights was also brought up by the
Czech Helsinki Committee in its annual report for 1994. Their report on the
state of human rights in the Czech Republic in 1994 declared that the Czech
citizenship law affected thousands of people, making them foreigners in their
own homes. The fact that mostly Roma lost their rights to citizenship, along
with the administrative arrogance in the application of the law, arouses the
suspicion that behind the law lies a racist motivation. According to the
Committee, the law should be amended as soon as possible according to the
territoriality, as it violates the inalienable rights of a part of the
and even weakens the concept of state citizenship itself. The report also
the growth of violence and other displays of racial intolerance, and the
attitude of state bodies in resolving clearly racially-motivated cases.
The brutal assault on 34 year-old Roma Tibor Berki, who was beaten by four men
with baseball bats in his own home in May 1995 and died from his injuries
several hours later in the hospital, forced the government to draft a specific
measure to halt the growth of racial violence.
The government condemned the death of Tibor Berki and proposed increased
sentences for racially-motivated acts of violence, and its proposal led to the
establishment of a new division of the police to deal directly with extremist
At the beginning of June 1995, the number of people
charged with racially-motivated crimes rose dramatically, and the State
Prosecuter was empowered to ask for stricter sentences.
In 1995, government functionaries started to pay greater attention to the
problems connected to the Romani minority. The government met with a delegation
from the Council of Europe, which came to deal with the citizenship law.
President Vaclav Havel and three ministers took part in a solemn event at
the former concentration camp at Lety na Pribramsku to honour the memory of the
Czech Roma who died during the Second World War. Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus
met with Romani representatives to discuss their concerns.
In October, the government also condemned an attack by skinheads on a Romani
couple in Breclav, which left the pair with concussions and cost the man an eye.
US. STATE DEPARTMENT REPORT FOR 1995
The U.S. State Department Report for 1995, which was presented to the U.S.
Congress in March of 1996, appraised the efforts of the government, which moved
more energetically against racially-motivated attacks than in previous years -
when official state bodies put forth minimum effort - as improving the
protection of the Roma
against the growing threat of racially-motivated violence.
The report continued to say that among the Roma there were
levels of poverty, illiteracy, and disease. A great part of the Roma are not
integrated into society and are not represented at all in politics. Czech
political culture traditionally approaches them as ousiders. The report went
over all the racially-motivated attacks of 1995, and it also mentioned the
increased attention the government paid to racially-motivated crimes and
social problems. As in past years, however, the report described the Czech
Citizenship Law as disciminatory, and that it resulted in from 10 to 24
thousand people being deprived of their citizenship, the majority
The Chairman of Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, Jiri Payne, described
the report as objective. "This report encourages us to do more in several
areas," he said. Regarding the problems of the Roma he said: "As far as there
are critical reservations, ... let's look for ways to actually overcome the
prejudices against the Roma. I would like to see, for example, more Roma among
our television newscasters, so that they show up more often in public life,"
and he added that society can only speed up this process. "It's only a question
of finding educated Roma who can become leaders of their community." (CTK,
March 7, 1996)
In April of 1996, the government reacted to the three-year criticism of
international institutions (the Council of Europe, OSCE, UNHCR, U.S. Congress)
and Czech nongovernmental organizations (the Czech Helsinki Committee, HOST,
Tolerance and others) and proposed an amendment to the Czech citizenship
law, which Parliament passed on the 26th of April. Thanks to the
amendment, the Ministry of the Interior was empowered to waive the requirement
a clean criminal record for the previous five years, which was considered the
largest obstacle for Roma attempting to obtain Czech citizenship. This
amendment, however, didn't eliminate the problems international human-rights
organizations had with the law.
In 1996, according to the report by the Czech Helsinki Committee, the position
of the Roma still hadn't changed, in regards to their high unemployment and
frequent poverty. In May, the Ministry of Education addressed the inadequate
admission of Romani pupils and quietly approved criticisms that the Czech
schools lacked any elements of multiculturalism (in civics textbooks there is
no mention of the Roma minority, and Czech history also fails to mention the
historical presence of the Roma on Czech soil or their slaughter during the
period of the Second World War).
In 1996, state agencies recorded a large growth in
racially-motivated crimes, which isn't necessarily evidence of any actual
increase, simply a reflection of the fact that in 1995 the state administrative
bodies started to
prosecute racially-motivated attacks as such, and not merely as individual
attacks without a racial motive.
That the United States is really alarmed about the discrimination against the
Roma in the Czech Republic that has been referred to in recent years in the
U.S. State Department's reports, is evidenced by the fact that Roma have been
receiving political asylum there, as well as in Canada and Australia.
The year 1996 in the Czech Republic was evaluated positively by the U.S. State
Department overall, but in its annual report issued at the end of January
1997, it again
took exeception to the situation of the Roma and warned again of the
continuing prejudices within Czech society, the violence of extremist groups
against the Roma, and the difficulties the Roma face in obtaining Czech
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH/HELSINKI REPORT
In June of 1996, a nongovernmental organization for the defense of human
rights, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki released a detailed report on the
discrimination against the Roma in the Czech Republic entitled
Foreigners in Their Own Land, which came to
conclusion that the consequences of the citizenship law and the unwillingness
of the government to fight racist violence exposes an indisputable element of