Czechs Feel New Pressure over Their 'Mistreatment' of Gypsies an Aug. 6 Television Report Sparks Emigration Hopes; Officials to Explore Problems

Article excerpt

Long the darling of the West for its seemingly painless transition from communism to democracy and capitalism, the Czech Republic finds itself under an undesired spotlight this summer for its treatment of its minority Gypsy population.

A recent report by a Czech television station showing a Gypsy family living a prosperous life in Canada has created a flood of applicants by Czech Gypsies to Ottawa for approval to emigrate.

That rush, coupled with an enthusiastic support for such action from local Czech government officials, has bared a glaring disparity in how Czechs treat Gypsies versus how they treat themselves. An Aug. 6 television report in Prague showed a Czech Gypsy family living in comfort in Canada while immigration authorities considered their case. The Czech news agency CTK now reports that thousands of Gypsies in the eastern Czech town of Ostrava believe the Canadian government has set up a special asylum program for them. As a result, they have started selling their property and buying airline tickets to Canada. Up to 5,000 Gypsies plan to emigrate to Canada because of the TV broadcast, CTK reports. Following the TV broadcast, the mayor of Marianske Hory, a town east of the Czech capital, Prague, said her town council would help pay for airline tickets for Gypsies who wanted to leave. In exchange for financial help with the tickets, the Gypsies must give the town council their apartments and relinquish their permanent-residency status. "We have two groups of people, Gypsies and whites, that live together, but can't and don't want to," Mayor Liana Janackova, a member of the ruling Civic Democratic Party, told the Czech daily Mlada Fronta Dnes. "So why can't one group take the first step towards finding a solution? I don't think it's racist. We just want to help the Gypsies." Known as Roma, the Gypsies are believed to have arrived in Europe from India and the Middle East some 700 years ago. Accurate census figures for the group are difficult to obtain. But Gypsy advocate groups estimate that between 150,000 to 300,000 Gypsies live in the Czech Republic, and more than 20 million live throughout Europe. Their nomadic culture and dark skin have made them easy targets for discrimination across Europe. …