Hostility towards foreigners, immigrants and ethnic minorities is on the rise in the Czech lands. Although this is far from being a new phenomenon, the Czech Republic was in the past mainly characterized by a kind of lukewarm xenophobia, always there but hidden under the surface, passive, silent. That’s not the case anymore.
Kafkadesk has decided to dedicate a series of articles on this hotly-debated topic and start by making clear who, exactly, we’re talking about: so, meet the Czech Republic’s foreigners and ethnic minorities.
Where are the Muslims and Arabs? Not here.
The Czech Republic was home to approximately 524.000 foreigners (long-term and permanent residents) out of a population of 10.6 million people at the end of last year. Compared to 100.000 in 1994 and around 320.000 ten years ago, their numbers have been steadily growing over the years. As a matter of fact, the ageing Czech population faces a dramatic demographic decline and only increased in the first half of 2018 due to new immigrants arriving in the country.
Approximately 220.000 (or 42%) of foreigners come from other EU countries, while slightly more than a third of them originate from countries formerly part of the Soviet Union, including Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Moldova. The rest: bits and pieces so to speak: third-country nationals from Asia & Oceania do make up 17% of foreigners (over 88.000 people), but this is mainly due to the over 60.000-strong Vietnamese community established in the country since the 1970’s. Nationals from non-EU European countries (2%), North America (2%) and Latin and South America (less than 1%) are scarce.
We left one world region out on purpose: there are exactly 13.088 nationals from African and Middle Eastern countries living in the Czech Republic: that represents 2.5% of the foreigners and roughly 0.1% of the country’s total population. To put it bluntly, there are more people claiming to belong to the ‘Knights of the Jedi’ religion (15.000, according to a census) than, forgive the simplification, ‘Blacks’ and ‘Arabs’.
As shown on the graph above, Ukrainians, Slovaks and Vietnamese alone account for over half of the foreigners living in the Czech Republic.
Exact data on the number of Muslims living in the country are hard to come by. However, a Pew Research Centre study estimates that they account for 0.2% of the total population (around 20.000), one of the lowest rates in Europe with Poland, Slovakia and the three Baltic countries.
Where are the Roma? Over there.
The Roma community is the largest ethnic minority established in the Czech Republic and accounts for roughly 2% of the entire population (around 250.000). Even though far-right movements have recently focused most of their energy targeting asylum-seekers crossing the Mediterranean Sea, the situation of the Roma community hasn’t improved and is still characterized by a structural lack of integration and discrimination in all areas of life: education, employment, housing, health care, etc. Anti-Romani prejudices run deep in the Czech Republic, facilitated by the regular discriminatory comments from high-level state officials, including Czech President Milos Zeman.
According to the Shadow Report published by the European Network against Racism (ENAR) last summer, nearly 50% of Roma women and one third of Roma men are unemployed, in a country boasting the lowest unemployment and highest job vacancy rates in the EU. Many of them are excluded from the labor market and work in the informal economy. Most of them are also concentrated in segregated Roma enclaves or in one of the 600 socially-excluded localities, outside of the economic centers and in areas with little if any economic prospect. Roma children, meanwhile, are often sent to “special schools” – intended for people with mild mental disabilities – thus undermining their chances of integration at the youngest age. Despite reforms aiming to facilitate the inclusion of children from disadvantaged backgrounds into the mainstream education system, nearly a quarter of Roma pupils are still educated in ethnically segregated schools, according to Amnesty International.
Although the government has adopted a whole array of strategies to improve their situation, including the “Roma Strategy 2020”, this is merely a scratch on the surface.
Their structural exclusion from Czech society also stems from their lack of political representation: not only Roma themselves don’t vote, but most political parties have no desire to be seen side-by-side with Roma candidates by fear of losing votes due to the stigma attached to them. As Miroslav Hudec, author of How to learn hatred for poor Romani people astutely pointed out, Czech society “has learned to cruelly hate those who, in their poverty, steal a wheelbarrow of old iron worth a few crowns, but they will powerlessly brush aside news of those other thefts of billions of crowns which go missing from just about everywhere”.
Where are the Vietnamese? Laying low.
The Vietnamese community, officially estimated at around 60.000 although some experts believe it might in reality reach 100.000, is a rather specific case in the Czech Republic and dates to the 1970’s, when thousands of Vietnamese fled their country to immigrate to communist Czechoslovakia. Although their integration remains relatively limited, they are mostly well-respected and tolerated and seem to have been spared from the wave of racism and xenophobia that has swept the country in recent years.
“The Czechs see them playing the role of the ‘good immigrant’: hard-working, quiet and modest”, Charles University associate professor Ondrej Klipa said, adding that Czechs’ tolerance with Vietnamese might also be a way for them to “prove” they are not racists.
With the first Czech-born generation of Vietnamese coming of age, the developments in the next few years will be worth following. Will their integration move forward? Will the Czech far-right, nativist movements single them out as another target? Will they be increasingly drawn to a Vietnamese nationalism, not unlike the Turkish community in Germany, that might only give more credit to nationalists to expand their attacks against one of the rare instances of multiculturalism in the Czech Republic? For now, it’s too early to say.