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Some Basic Information about the Roma Population in the Czech Republic

The Roma people are in English speaking countries mostly known as the Gypsies. Such a term derives ethymologycaly from "Egypt" which for centuries assumed a country of their origin. Thanks to the language analyze started by the British linguist in the second half of last century we know today that the Roma (as they call themselves) originate in India, probabely Panjab.

First Roma, being nomads, left India in a about 9th century. Not having their own writen history, we can only learn about them from different croniques of states they passed through.The very first note mentioning the Roma in Europe comes Byzanc where in about 1100 some "nomads settle down at the Athos hill" and therefore they were called Athiganoi. That name had been later adopted by most of the languages" Cikani (in Czech), Aciganus (Latin), Cingene (Turkish), Gitano (Spanish), Cygan (Polish), Tsigane, Tzigane (French), Zingaro (Italian) etc.

Since their arrival in the Czech lands (early 15th century), the Roma have been target of oppressive legislation leading towards destructio of their identity. In course of centuries we can see three main strains in the approach of the majority population towards Roma: forced assimilation, total destruction (holocaust), forced integration.

The Roma, before the split of Czechoslovak federation, formed the largest minority within republic. The total number of the Roma in both Europe and outside of the continent has been subject of many disputes. The numer of people who admit their Romani nationality in official census is obviously much lower than reality and only reflects their fear of carring consequences of such an official proclamation. However, these are the only official data we have: according to the last 1992 federal census, there was 33 000 people who proclaimed themselves as the Roma. Unofficial guesses coming from both government and Romani nongovernmental organizations are sometimes even ten times higher.

The Roma, living within Czech republic, might be devided into five basic groups: Slovak Roma, Czech Roma, Hungarian Roma, Vlax Roma and Sinti. Most of the Roma in todays Czech Republic come from the first mentioned group. During the second world war, most of the Czech Roma died in the concentration camps being targeted as both the associal group and members of "unclean race". The highes number of Roma died in Auschwitz-Birkenau II where many Romani children fell prey to Nazi lethal gas experiments in 1940.

After war, the Roma from Slovakia were offered to settle down along the Czech borders, especcialy in the areas left after the Sudetenland Germans. Roma, sometimes even by force, started to move into the Czech industial regions were a cheap labor was needed. After the communist coup in 1948, the status of the Roma as a nationality was repealed and the Roma were officially recognized only as a socially backward ethnic group.

After November 1989, the Roma got organized into many political and non-polical parties and movements and in 1991 their status as a national minority was again adopted by the Federal Constitution. ROI (Romani Civic Initiative), joining OF (Civic Forum, the strongest political party led by todays president Vaclav Havel) entered Parliament after 1990 election with a Romani party, therefore Romani representatives are no longer in Parliament.

The situation of the Roma after 1989 has changed a lot, in both good and bad ways. There is a raising number of NGOs which try to bring up different projects concerning improvement of schooling for the Romani children, housing conditions, employment issues etc. On the other hand we can see that in the processs of socio-economic transformation, the Roma are first to be fired and last to be hired and their living conditions put them to the very end of social hierarchy within the Czech society. Together with the colaps of totalitarian regime, different expressions of Czech nationalism grouw up. Roma people became favourite target of skinhead's attacs and according to the Human Rights Watch "police continue to harass Romanies and are often indifferent and slow to react to attacs". Many Roma are repeatedly excluded from both public and private services. Also the Czech citiyenship law passed after the split was reported by international organizations (including CSCE, UNHCR, Dept. of State Annual Report and others) as discriminatory towards the Roma as many of them have not only been refused aan access to the Czech Republic but some of them even ended up being stateless. We are living in conditions in which Czech society does not have strong enough cultural prerequisites to control xenofobia and, eventually, to deal with the real potential of open hostility toward minorities.

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