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Disparities in the Czech Republic

When examining the European Union, the Czech Republic is highlighted as one of the countries with the highest number of incidents related to racism (pictured to right: Credit to Harvard University's Project Implicit). Various human rights campaigns have highlighted the less than equal treatment of the Romani people in the Czech Republic. In the Czech Republic, the Romani make up 2-3% of the population, representing a small ethnic minority. The Romani have been in the Czech Republic since the early 1400’s, with migration occurring from Northern India. Despite this prominent history in the country, the Romani are treated disproportionately harsher by law enforcement and the criminal justice system than Czech-born citizens. Being a member of an ethnic minority group presents features that can be identified as being possessed solely by the minority group for reason of prosecution. For example, the Romani generally have slightly darker skin and hair than Czech-born citizens, allowing for easy identification of the “outsider” Romani. The Romani have had a tumultuous history in the country being victims of segregation and the Holocaust. Since these tragic events, little has been done to properly integrate the Romani into Czech society, with more than half of the Romani population being considered as “socially excluded” and the concentration of the Romani people into “ghettos.”

Due to public perceptions of the Romani as lazy citizens who do not contribute to their society, there is the subsequent thought that the Romani commit more crimes than Czech-born citizens. Coupled with the economic downfall of the Czech Republic and the overall rise of crime following the fall of communism in the country, these sentiments are the justifications behind Czech police targeting Romani citizens disproportionately. There have been cases of arrest by law enforcement without apparent reasons, arrests of Romani citizens when they have been victimized, and complicity in racist attacks against Romani citizens by other citizens. For example, a Romani man was arrested after he was stabbed several times by “skinheads” in front of a café: a man who was clearly victimized due to ethnic identity was prosecuted by law enforcement rather than helped. There are far-right sentiments that are still ingrained in the Czech Republican culture as a result of the country’s involvement in World War II. In 1995, 60% of police officers in the Czech Republic “sympathized with skinheads” and right-wing sentiments that encouraged the eradication and removal of the Romani people.

Once within the court systems, race-motivated attacks are treated as general assaults rather than a specialized intent, leading to lenient penalties for perpetrators of racist attacks against the Romani people. White Czech-born citizens are treated much more leniently at every step of the criminal justice system. As in the United States, human rights activists in the Czech Republic are noting the increasing difficulty of improving racial disparities within their criminal justice system due to the legislation of “color-blind laws” that do not contain overtly racist and discriminatory language. Also, within this issue, the Romani people do not have high rates of literacy as Czech-born citizens do, due to their exclusion from many public school settings, so their knowledge of the law is sometimes limited. The lack of ability to know the law is considered a detriment and a reflection of poor character rather than a product of social factors.

There is a very visible color line that exists in the Czech Republic. Any nonwhite Czech-born citizen is a target for law enforcement’s varying discretion on who gets pushed into the criminal justice system. This color line has existed since the Romani people’s migration into the country and continues today. The history of the Romani people matches the history of other targeted ethnic minorities in many countries around the world.

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