Logotip de la revista Noves SL





Minority Protection and Language Policy
in the Czech Republic, by Carolin Zwilling


The Broadcasting Act on radio and television of 2001 (23) deals with the rights and duties concerning the programme content. As well as insisting in objective and balanced news and current affairs programming, it imposes additional responsibilities on the statutory broadcaster by requiring in Article 31 (4) a preparation of a programme structure “so as to provide, in its broadcasting, a well-balanced portfolio offered to all the population with respect to their age, gender, color of the skin, faith, religion, political or other opinions, ethnic, national or social origin, and membership of a minority”. Nevertheless, minority languages are used only in programmes prepared by minority editorial boards (German, Polish, Roma and Slovak).

According to the Press Act of 2000, (24) members of minorities can exercise their right on dissemination and reception of information unlimitedly. As a consequence, own press by the organizations of national minorities is one of the preferred activities for the development of their culture and their national identity. So many periodical and non-periodical papers are published, supported by subsidies from the State Budget.

The Council for Radio and Television Broadcasting (25) is the administrative body supervising the observance of legislation regulating radio and television broadcasting and thus also the composition of programmes. In its Opinion on the Czech Republic, (26) the Council of Europe Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities criticizes this practice and recommends measures. In particular, they noted the dissatisfaction expressed by the small minorities represented in the Government’s Council for National Minorities with regard to the time and length of programmes broadcasted in minority languages on the Czech radio.

5. Minority Education

Article 25 of the Charter provides for education in minority languages and the Minority Act guarantees the right to be educated in the minority language from nursery school level through to secondary schools.

For the practical application of the legal rules, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports established a Consultative Group of the Minister of Education for the Affairs of Minority Education whose members were recruited in 2001 from the representatives of Polish, German, Roma, Slovak, Hungarian and Ukrainian minorities living in the Czech Republic as well as the Jewish community.

Although the Minority Act does not give any minimum of threshold for minority children necessary to establish a class in the minority language, according to the Government’s Report (27) the education in minority languages within the system of state education is possible only in the case of more numerous minorities which allow a sufficient number of pupils in their domicile. Therefore, this right is fully exercised only for the benefit of Polish children. The Polish national minority disposes of a network of schools in the districts Karviná and Frýdek-Místek which includes kindergartens, primary schools, grammar schools and secondary modern schools with Polish as the only teaching language.

The dispersed settlement complicates minority education for the small Bulgarian, Croatian, Ruthenian, Russian, Greek and Ukrainian minorities and even for the more numerous German, Hungarian, Roma and Slovak minorities. Thus the system of state education supports the education of members of the Polish, German and Roma minorities while other national minorities are educated only within the framework of additional educational programmes by means of grants for out-of-school activities. The representatives of the German minority acknowledge that the establishment of German schools is not realistic. Nevertheless, a part of their members have invoked the establishment of bilingual schools, with the predominance of German as teaching language.

6. The Roma national minority

The Roma minority holds an exceptional position within the general situation of national minorities in the Czech Republic. They were recognized as national minority for the first time by the Constitution of 1993. Although Roma ethnicity was declared by 11,716 persons during the last census, it is well known that these data do not correspond to the real number of Roma living in the Czech Republic. In general it is presumed that their number oscillates between 150,000-200,000 persons. Of this number 20,000 are Vlax Roma whose culture and language is substantially different. More than 95% of Roma moved to the Czech Republic from Slovakia after the Second World War or are descendants of these migrants. Experiences with the persecution during the Fascist period and daily discrimination due to the aversion of the majority towards Roma result in the low number of declarations as “romipen” (ethnic and cultural Roma identity).

Roma still to date suffer disproportionately from poverty, unemployment, interethnic violence, discrimination, illiteracy and disease. (28) In 1997, the Inter-Ministerial Commission for Roma Community Affairs (29) was established as an advisory authority which addresses problems experienced by the Roma minority. Their aim is, in particular, to advance the integration of Roma and to inform the majority population about the Roma minority. In June 2000, the Government adopted a policy for Roma, the “Concept for Roma Integration”, funded by the State Budget, and updated in January 2002. The main priorities for the future include not only anti-discrimination measures and ensuring the security of the Roma, but even more affirmative actions in education, employment, social and health care and housing. Although the National Plan on Employment for 2002 and also various activities of the Committee for Long-term Unemployed for the most disadvantaged groups on the labour market could slightly improve the situation for Roma, widespread discrimination continues.

A number of Roma media initiatives exist, as for instance a weekly one-hour program by the Czech Radio and four Roma periodicals funded from the Ministry of Culture. Nevertheless, the most problematic field is still the educational system. It is estimated that between 75% and 85% of all Roma children do not complete their education in the "mainstream" school system. Many Roma students drop-out or end up in "special schools" for children with disabilities. These schools offer a lower quality level of education and students progress at a slower rate, leaving them hopelessly behind students in "mainstream" schools. The result has been the creation of an unofficial segregated school system in which some special schools have a majority of Roma and others are all Roma. The Government approved a set of measures dealing with the education of Roma children. Approving the above mentioned policy for Roma, the Government reacted to the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Committee, which deplored the segregation of Roma children in special schools. The measures include the dissemination of information material, a voluntary full-time schooling pilot project in five primary schools, and the continuation of the preparatory classes’ scheme.

As a result of the low educational standards and even more due to the fact that some employers refuse to hire Roma and even ask local labor offices not to send Romani applicants for advertised positions, the rate of unemployment is disproportionately high. Roma face discrimination also in housing and other areas of everyday life, e.g. access to restaurants. (30) Moreover, the pattern of violent abuse of Roma at the hands of police officers and private actors persists and the authorities often fail to investigate and prosecute such crimes. (31)

7. Political Representation and Institutions for the Protection of Minorities

There are no special rights ensuring parliamentary participation for minorities, and today a single Roma MP sits in the Czech Parliament. (32) The Czech Republic's only political party of Roma, the "Romani Civil Initiative" has not succeeded in winning seats since 1992 and Roma candidates rarely top the five percent threshold for election, also because there is no common representative for Romani positions in issues that affect the minority as a whole. (33) § 15 of the Minority Act provides the possibility of creating municipal minority councils in areas where minorities reach at least ten percent of the population. In practice, as noted, there are few areas where national minorities are concentrated and reach this proportion of the population.

There is no independent body specifically monitoring racial equality in the Czech Republic. A newly formed Ombudsman’s Office formed to defend the rights of citizens may provide some protection from racial discrimination. A number of bodies fulfill an advisory function to the government on Roma and other minority issues. A few civil society organizations are working on behalf of Roma rights

8. Conclusion

While the situation of non-Roma minorities in the Czech Republic, i.e. essentially Slovaks, Poles, Germans, Hungarians and Ukrainians, is largely satisfactory, Roma still suffer from widespread discrimination in all fields of everyday life. In February 2002, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe concluded that the Czech Republic had made commendable efforts to support national minorities and their respective cultures. (34) Also the European Commission declared the conditions for accession as in most parts successfully completed according to their comprehensive monitoring report on the Czech Republic’s preparations for membership of 2003. (35) The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance stated in the third report on the Czech Republic made public on June 8, 2004 that a notable progress had been made in a number of fields since the second report from 1999. (36)

But it is worth mentioning that the Czech Republic is the only country to have recognized the Romani nation in April 2001, through contacts between the International Romani Union (IRU) and the Czech Foreign Ministry. A memorandum between the two parties calls for further cooperation, improvement of living conditions for Roma within the Czech Republic, and support for "Europeanisation" of the Romani issuee. (37)

Since the application for membership in the European Union in January 1996, the Czech Republic has adopted a number of laws and Government’s policies helping the integration as well as the cultural development of national minorities. Some efforts, as e.g. the introduction of pedagogical assistants for Roma in schools in 1997 that advanced the use of the Romani language in schools, were successful, others instead were not. All proposals on establishing an independent Office for the Rights of National Minorities for ethnic equality and integration or the strengthening of the advisory Council for National Minorities were rejected.

2 de 3