Are Czechs dying out?

Many studies regarding population growth in the Czech Republic have come to the same conclusion, Czechs are having fewer children and the population is shrinking. The United Nations estimates that in 50 years the Czech population will diminish by an astonishing one and a half million people, fifteen percent of the current population. Martin Hrobsky spoke with social science professor Ladislav Rabusic and asked him, are Czechs really dwindling away?

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"No I don't think so. Well, if we make population projections and if we foresee that, say for example, the fertility rate will stay at the current level then the population drop could be quite serious in several decades. But that assumption, that we will have the same low fertility rate that we have now, is not grounded because there is no reason why Czechs should have fewer children than the average in the European Union. So I believe that in the near future, in the next couple years, we will increase our fertility rate from the current 1.2 children per female to about 1.7, which is the European average."

Professor Rabusic, who is Dean of the Faculty of Social Studies at Masaryk University in Brno, believes that the low birth rate is actually temporary. People were having fewer children because of the social 'shock' that resulted from the transition from communism. Nevertheless, critics contend that the Czech Republic's accession to the European Union will also have a negative affect on the size of the Czech population because there is a strong incentive for people to will migrate West in search of higher paying jobs. I asked Professor Rabusic if this is a real threat.

Photo: archive of Radio Prague
"I think that we will experience quite a normal migratory thing, because Czechs are not heavy movers. Part of the reason is that in the near future we cannot expect a large number of people leaving the Czech Republic, because for example the level of foreign language knowledge is not very high. On the contrary, we can expect an influx of people coming to the Czech Republic because we have an active immigration policy."

The Czech Republic is one of the few countries to try an active immigration policy and there are certain constraints within Czech society, some people look at foreigners with suspicion. How do you think these people will integrate well into Czech society or what do you think some of the challenges of integrating these people are?

"This is a crucial question and it is a huge challenge. We know from sociological surveys that the Czech population is quite xenophobic and therefore we have to tell them constantly, we have to educate them, that foreigners who are living with us are not different and we do not need to be afraid of them. From migration theory we know that the people who migrate are more or less the elite of society and the bravest ones and therefore we should be happy that they are here. But still your question is absolutely the crucial one, we have to cultivate the Czech population in their attitudes to foreigners."