Return to Europe? the Czech Republic and the EU's Influence on Its Treatment of Roma

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ABSTRACT

The Czech Republic has faced much criticism in the past fifteen years for the treatment of its Romani minority community. The European Union has successfully applied informal, non-legal means of pressuring the Czech Republic into making some changes necessary to improve living conditions for Roma. With the Czech Republic's recent accession to the European Union, legal human rights institutions will likely play a larger role in ensuring that the Czech Republic continues to improve conditions for Czech Roma. The Author uses a case brought by a group of Roma at the European Court of Human Rights to demonstrate the potential that European legal institutions have for bettering the treatment of Czech Roma. The Author concludes that the EU must apply both non-legal pressure and use its own as well as affiliated human rights institutions to promote the improvement of living standards and conditions for Roma in the Czech Republic.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  I. INTRODUCTION: THE ISSUE OF THE TREATMENT
     OF ROMA
 II. ROMA IN EUROPE: A HISTORY OF DISTRUST AND
     PERSECUTION
III. ROMA IN THE CZECH REPUBLIC POST-1989:
     THE ISSUES
     A. Initial Developments and the Velvet
        Revolution
     B. The Czech Citizenship Law
     C. Discrimination by Czech Governmental
        Actors Against Roma
        1. The Wall in Usti nad Labem
        2. Discrimination with Regard to
           Usage of Municipal Facilities
        3. The Czech School System
        4. Czech Criminal Justice System
           i. Unequal Treatment of
              Roma by Czech Police
           ii. Unequal Treatment of
              Roma Within the Czech
              Judicial System
  IV. EUROPEAN UNION HUMAN RIGHTS
      INSTITUTIONS
   V. THE APPLICATION OF EU HUMAN RIGHTS
      INSTITUTIONS: MARGITA CERVENAKOVA AND
      OTHERS V. THE CZECH REPUBLIC
      A. Case Background
      B. Procedural History of the Case in Czech
         Courts
      C. Taking the Case to the ECHR
      D. Analysis of Cervenakova
 VI.  THE EU'S INFLUENCE: HAS THE EU IMPROVED
      THE SITUATION FOR ROMA IN THE CZECH
      REPUBLIC?
VII.  RECOMMENDATIONS AND CONCLUSIONS

I. INTRODUCTION: THE ISSUE OF THE TREATMENT OF ROMA

East Central European countries have experienced great economic, political, and social change since the collapse of their Communist governments in the late 1980s and early 1990s. (1) Every country in the region has established a free market economic system and a democratic form of government in the past fifteen years. (2) Six countries in the region have become member states of NATO in the past five years. (3) On May 1, 2004, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary became members of the European Union (EU). (4) In spite of these accomplishments, one blemish exists on the record of every East Central European country in the region in the post-Communist era: the treatment of the region's Roma. (5) The status of the region's Roma has remained poor at the governmental and societal level despite the transition to democratic governance, with its attendant emphasis on equal treatment. Despite pressure from both the EU and human rights organizations to improve conditions for Roma in East Central Europe, some question remains whether the status of Roma in the region has actually improved during this period of time. (6)

The treatment of Roma in the Czech Republic in the past fifteen years can be described as especially disappointing; yet it is nonetheless typical for East Central Europe. The Czech Republic, like other countries in the region, has received much criticism for the treatment of its Romani population. Some have even argued that the level of Romani integration in the Czech Republic is the lowest of any East Central European country. (7) Meanwhile, it is especially disappointing because, as the EU has noted, "[t]he Czech Republic presents the characteristics of a democracy, with stable institutions guaranteeing the rule of law, human rights, and respect for and protection of minorities. …