Minority groups in the country included Bulgarians, Croats, Hungarians, Germans, Greeks, Poles, Roma, Ruthenians, Russians, Slovaks, Serbs, Ukrainians, and Vietnamese. The Czech Council for National Minorities does not include newer immigrant communities, such as the sizeable Vietnamese population, which is estimated at approximately 58,000.
Roma, who numbered an estimated 200,000, experienced high levels of poverty, unemployment, and illiteracy, and faced varying levels of discrimination in education, employment, and housing. Societal prejudice against the country’s Romani population at times resulted in violence. Some human rights organizations criticized the government’s response to discrimination against Roma as inadequate. On March 1, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), Amnesty International, and the Hate is No Solution Coalition issued a letter calling on authorities to act against anti-Roma violence. The ERRC noted media reports of 23 violent attacks on Roma in the preceding six months that resulted in three deaths. In addition the ERRC stated that 16 anti-Roma rallies had taken place over the preceding year and that it was aware of 11 arson attacks against the homes of Romani families “in recent years.”
The Workers’ Party, which was conspicuous for its hostility to Roma and other minorities, was banned in 2010, but the Workers’ Party for Social Justice (DSSS) soon replaced it, with virtually the same membership and leadership. The DSSS held rallies in the northern Bohemian towns of Varnsdorf, Rumburk, and Sluknov on September 15, marking the one-year anniversary of the area’s large-scale demonstrations in 2011. However, few persons appeared at the Rumburk and Sluknov events; approximately 250 participated in the Varnsdorf rally, as compared with up to 2,000 at some events in 2011.
On September 26, the Prague Regional Court handed down a guilty verdict on four men accused of a July 2011 arson attack against a Romani family in the town of Bychory in Central Bohemia. Vojtech Vyhnanek, who threw a lit torch through an open window of the family’s home, was sentenced to four years in prison without possibility of parole for making a racially motivated attempt to inflict grievous bodily harm. The other three, who were charged as accomplices and received suspended sentences of two to three years, shouted racial epithets during the attack. The Romani family moved out of Bychory the day after the attack and refused to testify in the presence of the accused. The four men expressed regret for their actions, but continued to deny they were racially motivated.
The national media gave disproportionate coverage to crime and acts of violence committed by Roma compared with similar behavior on the part of the majority population or other minorities. Several media stories proved to be untrue and based upon false allegations. In one case, a 15-year-old boy in the town of Breclav reported in April a group of Romani youths brutally attacked him when he refused to give them a cigarette. The story was major national news for weeks and led to large-scale demonstrations against “Romani criminality.” However, the police investigation eventually revealed that the boy had fabricated the story and had actually injured himself when attempting an acrobatic trick on an eighth-story balcony. In December a court sentenced the boy to 20 hours of community service and one year of probation on charges of giving false testimony. The court stated that the boy’s age and lack of previous criminal record was reflected in its decision.
In September the Czech Council for Radio and Television Broadcasting undertook a study to evaluate how the television station TV Nova reported events in January and February that involved Romani communities. Based on the analysis, the council determined that the station repeatedly presented information about members of the Romani minority that had been selected and written in such a way as to violate the operator’s obligation not to include in its programming material that reinforces stereotypical prejudices about ethnic or racial minorities. The study continued.
Some politicians, particularly at the municipal level, were outspoken in their criticism of Romani communities, often vilifying the Romani minority, blaming it for community problems, and assigning collective guilt for crimes. On June 5, the Chamber of Deputies passed a law providing municipalities with authority to expel residents who had repeatedly committed misdemeanor offenses, such as prostitution, begging, and drinking alcohol in prohibited locations. Critics saw the amendment as a thinly veiled attempt to target Roma. President Klaus vetoed the legislation, returning it to parliament where a simple majority in the Chamber of Deputies can override the veto.
As of January 1, the Ministry of Interior provided funding for 87 “crime prevention assistants,” who worked with municipal police forces in 26 cities and towns throughout the country. More than half of the assistants were Romani. The assistants act as mediators in disputes between Roma and other communities before they escalate. The EU funded 50 of the positions, while the Ministry of Interior paid for the remainder.
Although the law prohibits employment discrimination based on ethnicity, Roma continued to face discrimination in employment, access to housing, and in schools. Some employers refused to hire Roma and requested that local labor offices not send them Romani applicants. There were few prosecutions under the law during the year. An estimated 60-70 percent of Roma were unemployed. In areas with a high percentage of Romani residents, unemployment among Roma was close to 90 percent, according to the Agency for Social Inclusion in Romani Localities.
While the law prohibits housing discrimination based on ethnicity, NGOs stated some municipalities applied regulations in ways that discriminated against certain socially disadvantaged groups, primarily Roma, including basing housing decisions on the reputation of the applicant and family at previous residences. According to some organizations there was evidence of skimming by landlords and possibly local government officials at government-subsidized housing complexes where rents were higher than on the private housing market. Because it was difficult for many Roma to secure other housing, they often had to pay higher rents than others did for public housing.
Approximately one-third of Roma lived in “excluded localities,” or ghettos. There were more than 400 such ghettos in the country, often with substandard housing and poor health conditions. Beyond housing discrimination, reasons for the growth in Roma-dominated ghettos included urban gentrification and rent increases.
Romani children were enrolled at disproportionately high rates in remedial schools, known as “practical” schools, which effectively segregated them into a substandard educational system. According to a report from the Ombudsman’s Office during the year, approximately one-third of Romani children attended practical schools, leaving them little opportunity to continue to higher levels of education. In regular schools, Romani children were often segregated from the majority population due to their place of residence (often in a Roma-majority neighborhood) or because officials in regular schools separated Romani children for remedial instruction. The final decision to place a child in a practical school is made by a judge based on a social worker’s recommendation. Beginning in 2012, parents must sign an informed consent agreement before their children can be placed in a practical school. However, experts expressed fear that parents would acquiesce to signing such agreements if they believed their children would experience less discrimination in practical schools than in mainstream schools.
Although the law permits Romani curricula, no elementary school in the country used such curricula. The Romani language was taught as a foreign language at two secondary schools and several universities.
On July 25, the cabinet extended the mandate of the Agency for Social Inclusion in Romani Localities by three years, to the end of 2015. The “in Romani Localities” portion of the agency’s name was dropped to signal a policy shift to more broadly based inclusion efforts. The agency is tasked with implementing the government’s Strategy for Combating Social Exclusion to improve education, housing, security, regional development, employment, and family/social/health services for socially excluded or disadvantaged individuals, many of whom were members of ethnic and other minorities.