Czech attitudes towards Roma people improving, but prejudice still persists

New research from the HateFree Culture group indicates that over the last ten years, Czech attitudes towards minorities living in the country have improved, especially towards Roma people. But while many Czechs are now ready to accept Romanies as co-workers, they stop short of welcoming them into the family circle, a symptom of the persisting ‘us’, and ‘them’ mentality that HateFree Culture chairman Lukáš Houdek explained to me.

Lukáš Houdek | Photo: Martina Schneibergová,  Radio Prague International

“Roma have been one of the most negatively perceived groups in society in the Czech Republic for a long time. Even in 2015 during the refugee crisis when hate towards Muslims was quite high amongst Czechs, the Roma were still the most hated group in society. I think it comes from the history – because Romanies have always been perceived negatively because of their social and living conditions, and because they often lived on the side-lines of society and were socially excluded.

Photo: Official Facebook page of the HateFree Culture project

“Since childhood, many are scared of Romanies because parents made their children afraid of them. There are many historical and social connotations, making it very difficult to change. If someone lives on the outside of society or is excluded from society, they will always be a monster, because we are afraid of people we do not know. The general population does not have many chances to meet Romanies in person, so I think that’s also why.”

Going through the data from this report there was one statistic that really stood out to me, and it was that only 27 percent of Czechs would not mind at all if a close relative of theirs married a Romany individual. What does that tell us about the persisting attitudes, even though the data does show that attitudes are getting better amongst Czechs?

Photo: Michal Malý,  Czech Radio

“I think it’s about this “us” and “them” division- we don’t want to allow “strange” people to be a part of our families or become a part of “us”. I remember some research that said the Czechs would even mind if a Buddhist married into their family, so with the Roma it’s more so, but overall Czechs really don’t want different people from different groups to become a part of their family.

“But in general, it really is improving as you said. We have been doing this research since 2014 and have been asking more or less the same questions so we can see the shifts over time. We have data for almost ten years now, and when we started in 2014 only 30 percent of young Czechs said they would rent an apartment to a Roma family, and now it’s 50 percent. This may not seem huge, but if you know Czech society, this is a big thing. Even though it’s still alarming because 50 percent of people would not rent an apartment to a Roma family. We always ask Romanies to integrate, and become a part of society, to work, to live in normal apartments. But, if no one will rent you an apartment or give you a job, how can you become a part of society?”

When it comes to minorities and education – are schools doing enough to do away with these stereotypes among young Czechs?

Roma children | Photo: Martin Dorazín,  Czech Radio

“Education is crucial, but the problem we have is that sometimes teachers have their own prejudices, and often pass these prejudices onto their students. So it’s very hard to beat this. But I will say that education is not enough. What shows in our research and practice, and also in research from around the world, is that the best way to break prejudice is to meet people. The people who actually know Roma people do not have that big of a prejudice against them, compared to those who do not know them.

“What’s very interesting is that it’s typically people in the general public who are not educated that have Romany friends. Many Roma work in lower paid positions, and so Czechs who also work in these lower paid positions meet Romany people more often than directors of companies. Sometimes our research shows that people who are highly educated and who we think might have less prejudice against the Roma, are actually more prejudiced. People who have a primary school education or high school education don’t have that much prejudice towards Roma compared to those who have university degrees.”