Monday, October 14, 2019

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Article Index

Czech Republic

Minority groups in the country included Roma, Ukrainians, Slovaks, Vietnamese, Poles, Russians, and Germans. Roma, who numbered approximately 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. Throughout the year extremists targeted Romani neighborhoods as venues for their protests and occasional violence. Police investigated several incidents of torches or Molotov cocktails being thrown at Romani houses. Extremist groups also marched through Romani areas carrying torches and chanting slogans. Some human rights organizations criticized the government's response to discrimination against Roma as inadequate.

Members and sympathizers of neo-Nazi organizations were the most frequent perpetrators of acts of interethnic violence, particularly against Roma.

Ultranationalists were also active. During the year neo-Nazi and right-wing extremist groups held rallies or marches in several cities. In a report released on September 3, the Organized Crime Unit of the police estimated there were 500-600 active neo-Nazis in the country and approximately 5,000 persons who openly sympathized with the movement.

The Workers' Party (DS), which was conspicuous for its hostility to Roma and other minorities, was banned in February 2010, but it was replaced by the Workers' Party for Social Justice (DSSS) soon afterward. DSSS and DS membership and leadership were virtually the same.

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.

Some mainstream politicians have been outspoken in their criticism of Romani communities. Their statements often vilified the Romani minority, blaming it for community problems and assigning collective guilt for crimes. Some politicians called for municipalities to move Romani residents to the outskirts of town into what is often substandard housing, ban alcohol in areas with high Romani populations, and limit residency options for Roma who commit multiple minor crimes.

Beginning on August 26, a series of anti-Roma protests took place in the North Bohemian region in response to two incidents of Romani violence towards the ethnic Czech population. Each weekend for several weeks, local residents, joined by right-wing extremists, marched through the region, including the towns of Varnsdorf, Rumburk, and Novy Bor. On several occasions protesters turned violent, and police intervened to protect Romani residents. The marches differed from previous marches in that a majority of the protesters were local residents rather than neo-Nazis or other extremists.

On March 18, an appeals court reduced the sentence of Ivo Mueller, one of four persons convicted of a 2009 Molotov cocktail attack on a Romani family that seriously injured a two-year-old girl. The original 22-year sentence was reduced to 20 years. The court upheld the sentences of the other attackers, as well as monetary compensation to the family.

Although a 2009 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 57 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 Roma Localities.

Authorities took few measures to counter discrimination against Roma in access to housing and other accommodations. While housing discrimination based on ethnicity is prohibited by law, NGOs stated that some municipalities applied municipal 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. A newly adopted Strategy to Combat Social Exclusion, which contains provisions regarding access to housing, was designed to streamline the process.

According to new estimates, there were more than 400 excluded localities, or ghettos, in the country, and all were inhabited almost entirely by Roma. These ghettos were often blighted by substandard housing and poor health conditions. Beyond housing discrimination, reasons for the growth in Romani- dominated ghettos included urban gentrification and unaffordable rents elsewhere.

Restaurants, bars, and other public establishments at times refused to serve Roma.

A decrease in social benefits during the year had a disproportionate impact on Romani families already hit by the high rate of unemployment and the difficulty of finding affordable housing.

Romani children were often subject to discriminatory treatment. In a November statement, the international human rights NGO Amnesty International asserted that four years after an ECHR ruling that the practice was illegal, the authorities had "failed to address the problem of systematic segregation of Romani children in the schools." 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 the Ministry of Education, approximately 27 percent of Romani children attended "practical" schools during 2010, compared with 2 percent of non-Romani children. In regular schools, Romani children were often segregated from the majority population due to their place of residence (often in a Romani-majority neighborhood) and because school officials in regular schools at times separated Romani children for remedial instruction. The decision to place a child in a practical school is made by a judge based on a social worker's recommendation.

Although the law permits Romani curricula, no elementary school in the country used the curricula. The Romani language was taught as a foreign language at two secondary schools and several universities.

During the first half of the year, more than 50 experts at the Education Ministry resigned from a working group that was supposed to design a plan for

improving education for disadvantaged children. They asserted that the minister gave insufficient attention to the issue. The ministry announced plans to commission further studies on inclusive education, but NGOs maintained that several similar studies were already available. Civil society and political leaders criticized the minister for appointing to a senior position at the Ministry of Education an official who had previously been a candidate for parliament on an extremist party ticket. They interpreted the appointment as a sign of the government's lack of serious interest in solving the inclusive education issue.

On September 23, the cabinet adopted the Strategy for Combating Social Exclusion with the aim of improving 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. The program is the responsibility of the Agency for Social Inclusion, established in 2008 to coordinate social integration efforts. The agency oversaw continuing projects in 33 localities during the year.

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