The Issue of Minorities in the Czech Republic: Community Life and the Representation of Collective Interests (Slovaks, Ukrainians, Vietnamese, and Roma) - Yana Leontiyeva (ed.), Petra Ezzeddine-Lukšíková, Tomáš Hirt, Marek Jakoubek, Jiří Kocourek, Lucia Pažejová
The study focuses on minority ethnic groups and populations that have become a recognisable presence in the Czech Republic: Slovaks, Ukrainians, Vietnamese, and Roma. The main objective of the study is to map the situation of these communities or populations in the Czech Republic. Chapters devoted to Slovaks, Ukrainians, and Vietnamese concentrate mainly on the current community life and various activities of individual groups associated in ethnic and expatriate organisations and groups claiming to represent the interests of some part of the minority or migrant community. The study is based on an analysis of the results of qualitative and quantitative research and scholarly studies in this area, on a content analysis of minority press publications, and on a qualitative study of strategies of minority organisations. The authors of the final chapter discuss the specificity of the “Roma issue” and offer a view of the Roma from a somewhat different angle. Their criticism of the contemporary conceptualisation of the Roma as a category and the phenomenon of the artificial creation of Roma elites is a source for reflection on the future development of minority discourse. These individual sociological studies united in one publication are not an attempt to compare the situation of the individual groups observed, but by looking more deeply readers will certainly find parallels and shared problems among established ethnic minorities, foreign and migrant communities, and socially excluded populations. The aim of these informative texts is to familiarise both lay readers and scholars with the situation of selected minorities and migrants in the Czech Republic. The publication can also serve as the basis and stimulus for a more complex analysis of the issue of the representation of the interests of minorities and migrants in the Czech Republic.
minorities, migrants, Slovaks, Ukrainians,Vietnamese, Roma, ethnicity, labour migration, civic participation, interest representation
The first chapter in this study is devoted to the Slovak Minority and Migrants in the Czech Republic, and it contains an analysis of the historical development of the Slovak minority in and migration to the Czech Republic, based on scholarly work from the fields of history, demography, ethnology, Slovak studies, a content analysis of the minority's press publications, and a qualitative study of the strategies of minority organisations. The majority of the organisations studied are legal entities, which allows them a considerable amount of independence and also the opportunity for support from grant projects. Membership in such groups is not strictly tied to an individual's declared Slovak nationality, and on the contrary in many organisations a certain portion often claim Czech nationality. For now there is very little interest among young people to participate in group activities that are based on the principle of shared Slovak nationality or Slovak roots. Given the joint history of the Slovaks and Czechs, expatriate associations are a good environment in which to trace the dichotomy of the connections between Slovak and Czech culture on the one hand and the maintenance of a distinct Slovak identity on the other. The study showed that the common platform on which Slovak expatriate associations operate is, paradoxically, not always ethnicity, despite minority policy in the Czech Republic aiming at the uniform identity of community organisations.
The second chapter, on the Ukrainian Minority and Migrants in the Czech Republic, begins with a brief description of the historical development of the presence of the Ukrainian minority in the Czech Republic. The study of the current community life of Ukrainians in the Czech Republic draws on scholarly studies, content analysis of the minority's press publications, and independent qualitative research on the strategies of minority organisations conducted using structured interviews with selected representatives of civic associations. Ukrainian migration to the Czech Republic is currently on the rise. Largely this involves rotating labour migration, which includes a segment of illegal labour. The Ukrainian ethnic minority is represented in the Council for National Minorities and in committees and advisory councils of the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sport. An analysis of the activities and projects of individual associations of Ukrainians in the Czech Republic has shown that the interests of the majority of labour migrants are almost not at all represented in expatriate associations. In the Czech Republic, Ukrainian labour migrants do not associate in groups too extensively and do not live the cultural life of a community. The problems of modern Ukrainian migration in the Czech Republic are largely socio-legal. There is a certain amount of social distance between earlier and more recent generations of Ukrainian migration, but in recent years it has been possible to observe efforts on the part of traditional associations to accommodate the younger and “more complicated” part of the Ukrainian community. This finding suggests that the use of expatriate associations for asserting the interests of labour migrants may be promising.
Owing to a lack of comprehensive sources and literature on the given topic, the third chapter, The Vietnamese in the Czech Republic, also draws on the personal experiences of experts, the results of various quantitative and qualitative studies, and the findings from various conferences and discussions. The impetus for Vietnamese migration to the Czech Republic after 1989 grew for economic and educational reasons to include accompanying family members. Political barriers have been replaced with intercultural barriers, but these are gradually being overcome through interaction between the majority and minority communities. There are numerous organisations operating in the Czech Republic that provide support for Vietnamese living in the Czech Republic and facilitate their integration. It is possible to speak about the civic participation of the Vietnamese in the Czech Republic from two perspectives: internal community participation, and participation within the majority society. At first glance the Vietnamese community seems closed, but if Czechs and Czech organisations succeed in penetrating the complex hierarchical relationships within the community, the structure can prove to be very effective and is even open to new ideas, approaches, and projects from the side of the majority society aimed at mutual cooperation. Vietnamese organisations today already cooperate even with intermediary government organisations, some civic associations, and so on. At present, some forms of direct participation of Vietnamese in the Czech Republic have already emerged, but this participation is not yet transparent and has not been adequately researched, and therefore any conclusions at this point must be deemed premature. At present it is only possible to wait and see how integration proceeds further. However, current conditions are favourable in this regard.
The fourth chapter, The Situation of the “Roma” Population in the Czech Republic, departs from the more factual character of the previous chapters. The authors are aware of the relative popularity of this topic, and therefore they try to shift the academic debate about the Roma and focus more attention on how even to define the given “minority”. Instead of analysing the activities and potential of the genuinely large number of associations that in the Czech Republic are declared as Roma organisations, the authors analyse the snags involved in the current conceptualisation of the so-called “Roma issue”. In the context of integration activities in the Czech Republic it has become standard to perceive Roma collectively as an ethnic group or community, while membership in these collective categories is usually determined on the basis of physical appearance. However, this definition at the level of political and social practice does not allow for effectively distinguishing between the varied cultural and socio-economic conditions of
life of people who correspond to this definition. A stereotypical understanding makes it impossible to recognise whether these are people who want to be regarded as Roma and voluntarily declare Roma nationality, or people whose lives follow specific cultural patterns typical for socially excluded localities inhabited primarily by the Roma population, or people who for various reasons simply do not want to be considered to be Roma. In addition to sharp criticism of the ethnic definition of the situation which according to the authors serves as a tool of stigmatism, discrimination, segregation, and exclusion of the Roma population, the text offers its own analytical model, one of the aims of which is to point to possible other ways of conceiving the “Roma” population from the perspective of practical policy, both at the local and the state levels. In a way the text is a kind of guide to how, under the blanket label of “Roma”, to make meaningfully distinctions from the perspective of the social and cultural circumstances of individuals and families and to point to possible ways in which to analytically grasp symbolic segregation factors that contribute to putting people regarded as “Roma” as a disadvantage in access to economic and political resources.