Minority groups in the country included Bulgarians, Croats, Hungarians, Germans, Greeks, Poles, Roma, Ruthenians, Russians, Slovaks, Serbs, Ukrainians, and Vietnamese. In July the Czech Council for National Minorities voted to grant official minority status to the Vietnamese and Belarusian communities. The sizeable Vietnamese population, estimated to number approximately 58,000, had been attempting to obtain this status for several years. The status enables members of the two communities to receive, among other things, state support to maintain their language and culture.
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. In August the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) and Amnesty International issued a statement calling on authorities to act against anti-Roma violence. The ERRC counted 26 anti-Roma rallies during the year and released a report in July detailing 47 instances of attacks against Roma and their property between 2008 and 2012. These attacks left five Roma dead and 22 injured, including three minors.
The summer witnessed a series of anti-Roma marches and events – 21 by the end of August, according to police records. The summer culminated in simultaneous marches through multiple cities on August 24 with approximately 1,500 protesters and 1,000 counterprotesters. Police arrested 101 people, half of them in Ostrava, the capital of the Moravian Silesian region. The town experienced the heaviest clashes, with an estimated 600 participants inciting a street fight with the police. Approximately 400 marchers in Pilsen were met by the same number of opponents, but the demonstrations remained peaceful. Several hundred local residents joined several dozen known extremists during the marches in Ceske Budejovice and Duchcov. In the rest of the cities involved (Brno, Decin, Jicin, and Vansdorf), the demonstrations were small and uneventful. President Milos Zeman sharply criticized the anti-Roma demonstrations.
The Security Information Service (BIS) reported that anti-Roma sentiments among a portion of the general public might become an even bigger problem for social stability than the activities of small extremists groups. The BIS pointed out that ordinary citizens had participated on a massive scale in previous anti-Roma demonstrations at the beginning of summer in Ceske Budejovice and Duchcov.
In 2010 authorities banned the Workers’ Party, which was conspicuous for its hostility to Roma and other minorities, but the DSSS, with virtually the same membership and leadership, soon took its place. In September the Interior Ministry refused to register the Czech Lions due to their openly racist platform.
The New Year’s amnesty announced by former president Vaclav Klaus released several infamous extremists. The amnesty also covered several perpetrators of brutal racist attacks. Several of these individuals had already become recidivists and were once again in custody. The release applied to prisoners who received sentences of one year or less but did not concern anyone in custody awaiting prosecution.
In June the regional court in Ostrava issued sentences for racially motivated, grievous bodily harm to defendants in the 2008 Havirov case, in which a group of masked youths attacked several Roma, causing serious injuries. The court sentenced one of the defendants, a juvenile at the time of the crime, to three years in prison and acquitted the others or placed them on probation. The High Court overturned the regional court’s decision to award financial compensation to one of the victims, instructing him to go through what for him was a costly and lengthy civil proceeding in order to obtain it. The trial court had awarded him more than 500,000 koruna ($25,000) for his pain and impaired position in society that resulted from his injuries. NGOs complained that the delays involved in the movement of the case between courts made fair judgment impossible.
The national media continued to give disproportionate coverage to crimes and acts of violence committed by Roma compared with similar behavior by the majority population or other minorities. Media outlets have displayed slightly more caution, however, following the 2012 case of a 15-year-old boy in Breclav who had falsely accused a group of Roma of assaulting him. National media coverage of the alleged attack initially led to widespread anti-Roma protests and later to public outrage when the story proved to be false. Training for journalists by the Office of the Human Rights Commissioner and analysis by a Romani online news server led to somewhat more balanced reporting, at least on the national level.
In September Prostejovsky Vecerník (Prostejov Evening News) published an article, “Gypsy attacks are multiplying!,” which included a photograph of a group of men angrily kicking a dark blue car. It was discovered that the photograph had been altered and that the original photograph, downloaded from an Asian news server, depicted Chinese sports fans on a spree of violence. Prostejovsky Vecerník, with the aid of a photo editor, inserted an image of the face of a Romani man onto one of the Chinese figures. Several members of the Living in Brno initiative noticed the problematic piece online. They contacted the editors and demanded that they remove it. The editors refused to do so, saying they had done nothing wrong and that they would update the piece with additional information by the end of the week. The governing body of the Journalists’ Syndicate in Czech Republic passed a resolution declaring that the article not only contravened the syndicate’s code of ethics, but also violated the law.
In November the Senate rejected suggested legislation from the European Commission related to Roma integration, arguing that the disbursement of aid according to ethnic criteria is unconstitutional. During the debate on the proposal, a number of senators made anti-Roma statements. Representatives from prominent NGOs strongly criticized the speeches, but the local media provided limited reporting on the issue.
As of January 1, the Ministry of Interior increased funding for “crime prevention assistants,” who worked with municipal police forces in cities and towns throughout the country. There were 124 crime prevention assistants working in 41 cities; more than half of them were Romani. The assistants acted as mediators in disputes between Roma and other communities before they escalated. The EU funded 50 of the positions, while the Ministry of Interior paid for the remainder.
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.
The Czech Helsinki Commission examined multiple housing advertisements during the year, finding that not only Roma but also Vietnamese applicants experienced discrimination when seeking to rent both residential and business locations. 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. There is currently no comprehensive strategy or legislation on social housing.
A disproportionately high number of Romani children attended remedial schools known as “practical schools,” which effectively segregated them into a substandard educational system. According to a 2012 report from the Ombudsman’s Office, approximately one-third of Romani children attended such schools, which provided little opportunity to continue to higher levels of education. Even in regular schools, officials often segregated Romani children from the majority population by basing placement on places of residence (often in a Roma-majority neighborhood) or a need for remedial instruction. An amendment to the law governing special education took effect this year, whose aim was to ensure that only children with verified mild mental retardation could be required to attend the practical schools. To measure progress, the Ministry of Education began a controversial initiative to count the Romani pupils in practical schools.
The Agency for Social Inclusion has responsibility for 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. Some NGOs and other governmental entities criticized the Agency for Social Inclusion as ineffective in light of the increase in anti-Roma activity and what some view as a lack of tangible progress on Roma integration.