Minority groups in the country included Bulgarians, Croats, Hungarians, Germans, Greeks, Poles, Roma, Ruthenians, Russians, Slovaks, Serbs, Ukrainians, and Vietnamese. In July 2013 the Czech Council for National Minorities voted to grant official minority status to the Vietnamese and Belarusian communities.
Roma, who numbered an estimated 300,000, experienced high levels of poverty, unemployment, and illiteracy and faced varying levels of discrimination in education, employment, and housing. Societal prejudice against the Romani population at times resulted in violence.
According to European Commission research data published by the NGO In Iusticia in July, 32 percent of Roma had been threatened or attacked because of their ethnicity; approximately 66 percent of assault victims did not report the attack. A poll conducted in May indicated 84 percent of the public believed the state of coexistence of the Roma and non-Roma populations was “bad” or “very bad.” Only 12 percent responded that the state of coexistence with Roma was “good.” In a similar poll in 2013, 87 percent of respondents opposed coexistence, while only 9 percent supported it.
The new minister for human rights and the minister for labor and social affairs made public statements in support of socially disadvantaged groups, in particular Roma, and advocated policies favorable to them within the government.
In March the European Roma and Travellers Forum filed a complaint with the European Committee for Social Rights against the government for failing to protect the rights of Roma under the provisions of the European Social Charter.
Roma participated in politics and were members of mainstream, as well as Roma-specific, political parties. In recent elections Romani candidates had little success on the national level, but some were elected to local office (see section 3).
According to the Ministry of Interior, extremists held 241 events, including 26 anti-Roma demonstrations, throughout the country from May through October. Police and NGOs agreed there was less anti-Roma activity during the summer, a common time for extremist groups to hold demonstrations, than in the summer of 2013. In addition persons with no evident extremist connections sought to protest their socioeconomic conditions by participating in anti-Roma demonstrations. As these demonstrations attracted negative publicity and increased police presence, participation declined in the course of the year. Demonstrations during the year were not violent. President Milos Zeman sharply criticized the anti-Roma demonstrations.
In 2013 five Romani youth attacked a married couple in the city of Duchcov. The media widely reported the attack, sparking a series of protests throughout the country. In March a regional court in Usti nad Labem convicted the assailants and issued sentences ranging from one year of probation to three years in prison. The court considered one of the convicted assailants, a juvenile, to be the most brutal and sentenced him to two years’ imprisonment.
In April a district court in Ceske Budejovice sentenced one person to two and one-half years in prison for attempted arson at an apartment building that housed Roma. The court found, however, that the crime was not racially motivated and that the perpetrator was “bothered by the behavior of some residents.” In October the court on appeal changed the sentence to two and one-half years’ probation. Observers noted that in order to receive financial compensation, residents of the building would have to file separate civil lawsuits, because in the criminal proceedings they did not file an expert opinion on the psychological harm they suffered.
The national media continued to give disproportionate coverage to crimes and acts of violence committed by Roma compared with similar behavior by members of the majority population or other minorities. White-media.info, a webpage registered outside the country, listed the names and addresses of activists and hacked the website and e-mail addresses of several high-profile individuals who either worked on Romani issues or expressed support for Roma in the past.
NGOs reported the level of hate speech increased during the year among politicians, including members of parliament, senators, and local politicians across the political spectrum. In August a Prague district court placed Otto Chaloupka on probation for six months for remarks he made about Roma in social media. According to the court, he publicly incited hatred. The ruling was issued without a hearing, and the Prague Municipal Court denied Chaloupka’s appeal. Several NGOs filed a criminal complaint against a member of parliament (and former senator), Tomio Okamura, for denying the Holocaust. Okamura publicly questioned whether the facility at Lety was in fact a detention facility for Roma transported to Auschwitz and other death camps. He said Lety was a camp for “work-shy” persons. Police determined Okamura’s statements were not criminal and dismissed the charges. To counter anti-Roma bias in the media, NGOs held training seminars for young journalists to educate them about how to produce more balanced reporting. A journalism school in Prague conducted a two-day seminar supported by a European Economic Area grant.
Since 2013 the Ministry of Interior increased funding for “crime prevention assistants” who worked with municipal police forces in cities and towns throughout the country. In 2013 there were 124 crime prevention assistants working in 41 cities; more than half of them were Roma. There were 140 assistants operating in 46 cities throughout the country. The assistants acted as mediators in disputes between Roma and other communities. According to the Ministry of Interior’s 2013 Report on Extremism in the Territory of the Czech Republic, there were 217 reported hate crimes. Two persons received prison sentences, 62 were given probation, and four were sentenced to community service. Of those convicted, five were juveniles and 10 were women. Three persons convicted of a hate crime were recidivists.
Several NGOs operated programs to support victims of hate crime. The NGOs Romea and In Iustitia operated a toll-free hotline that had received more than 100 calls since 2012, mostly from Roma. As of February 64 calls concerned possible cases of discrimination, while 41 concerned hate crimes.
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. In addition to housing discrimination, urban gentrification and rent increases contributed to the growth in Roma-dominated ghettos.
NGOs examined multiple housing advertisements and found that Romani applicants experienced discrimination when seeking to rent residential and business locations. A recent study by the CERGE-EI research institute in Prague determined Roma and Vietnamese applicants had to apply to twice as many housing advertisements as majority Czechs to rent an apartment. The same study concluded majority Czechs were 75 percent more likely than a similar Romani applicant to obtain employment. 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. One online advertisement for an apartment in Prague posted in May explicitly stated, “Czechs only, Roma please do not call.” According to some organizations, there was evidence of skimming by proprietors 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 for public housing. An NGO identified cases of discrimination, which it shared with Helsinki Commission lawyers; however, no cases had gone to court.
In November the government changed the way housing benefits are calculated. In the past property owners received funding from the government based on the number of individuals in a single residence, a practice that encouraged them to overcrowd their units. The new law bases reimbursement on the size of the living space, regardless of the number of occupants. In the first half of the year, the funds disbursed by the government to subsidize housing grew by 24 percent, compared with the first six months of 2013, to approximately 1 billion koruna ($50 million) total. According to the government’s 2013 Report on the State of Romani Minority in the Czech Republic, the government issued 65,100 individual housing payments per month in 2013, 21,500 more payments per month than in 2012. Due to the small number of government-owned housing units, only 9 percent of the total inventory, most subsidy recipients turned to private proprietors.
Other problems affecting Roma living in the country included indebtedness due to lack of access to banking services, exploitation by predatory lenders, and discrimination. The government was considering a proposal to absorb the debt of Romani families so that they qualify for subsidized housing; some municipalities had already begun to freeze debt. The NGO Romea began a campaign, funded by the CSOB Bank Foundation, to educate young Roma about personal finance.
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 2013 statistical data from the Czech School Inspectorate, approximately one-third of Romani children attended such schools, which provided little opportunity for them to continue to higher levels of education. In regular schools officials often segregated Romani children from the majority population by placing them according to the location of their residence (often in a Roma-majority neighborhood) or a need for remedial instruction. The Ministry of Education issued a regulation in September that improved the method of testing for special needs, including by involving more experts in the decision process. The regulation requires increased retesting over the course of a student’s education.
On September 25, the European Commission announced it was initiating infringement proceedings against the country for potential noncompliance with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU. It prohibits discrimination based on any ground, including race or ethnic origin, as well as with the Race Equality Directive, which prohibits discrimination in access to education on the grounds of race or ethnicity.
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. The agency ran programs in cities throughout the country, including 17 new cities. The agency had an operating budget of 45 million koruna ($2.25 million) for 2013-15 and worked with municipalities, NGOs, schools, and labor offices to secure funding for projects. The agency started a national project focused on three areas: educating youth about tolerance, sharing best practices of social inclusion in local government, and conducting a national media campaign against racism and hate crimes focused on youth under the age of 25. The project was scheduled to run for three years and had a budget of 37 million koruna ($1.85 million). Some NGOs and other governmental entities criticized the agency as ineffective because of a lack of tangible progress on Roma integration.
There were some reports of violence and discrimination against members of other ethnic minorities.
In June the Senate’s Committee on Immunity fined Senator Vladimir Dryml 20,000 koruna ($1,000) for verbally assaulting a Yemeni doctor. The committee determined the senator’s comments had a racist subtext. The senator said he would appeal the decision to the Constitutional Court.
The Czech Trade Inspection Authority (CTIA) disclosed 19 cases of discrimination against Romani and Russian consumers in the first half of the year. Four real-estate brokers and one retailer refused to provide services to Roma. On two occasions, hotels refused to serve Russian tourists, citing the crisis in Ukraine. In the first six months of the year, the CTIA performed 690 inspections of commercial establishments and fined two businesses a total of 470,000 korunas ($23,500) for discrimination.