Repatriating Kazakhstan's ethnic Czechs

Photo: CTK

Since 1994, the Czech Interior Ministry and NGO People in Need have been working to repatriate Kazakhstan's ethnic Czechs. So far, over 700 have been brought back to the Czech Republic. This week, the Czech Interior Ministry upped the pace, asking for more money to carry out the repatriations, and promising to have the remaining 170 expats home by October. So far, so good - 57 of the final 170 touched down at Prague's Ruzyne airport on Thursday. Rosie Johnston has the story:

Photo: CTK
According to the Interior Ministry, only around 5 families turned down the opportunity to return to their ancestral homeland. In the period spanning from 1994 to the present, more than 850 individuals have taken the government up on the offer. Around 100 of these individuals, though, are still waiting to be flown to Prague.

As Pavel Dymes from the Interior Ministry explains, Czechs first went to Kazakhstan in the early 1900s, attracted by the abundance of arable land. Through farming, a lot of these Czech expatriates became quite wealthy.

But in recent years, the Czech government has warned that the situation for ethnic Czechs in Kazakhstan has become dangerous, and has poured more than 50 million CZK (2.5 million USD) a year into bringing them back home.

Photo: CTK
Anatolij Samek was in the first wave of Kazakh Czechs to be repatriated 13 years ago. He says that his family brought only two bags with them when they came to the Czech Republic. In one, he had packed food for the journey, in the other, clothes.

Thirteen years on and the Sameks are a regular Czech family, piling into the car every summer, and heading off on holiday to the sea. Anatolij's wife, Svetlana, describes the feeling she has upon return:

"When we go on holiday, we always come back, and get to the Czech border and say to ourselves; 'Oh! Thank god! We're home'."

According to the Interior Ministry, the Sameks are no exception - the majority of Czech Kazakhs have integrated into Czech society without any problems.

Photo: CTK
Various Czech communities are looking forward to the new wave of repatriates. They have prepared lodgings for the new arrivals, free of charge. One such community is Podsedice in North Bohemia. On Monday, they are expecting 6 of the 57 to have just arrived. Mayor Robert Kupecky explains why his district is so keen to help:

"We're doing this because we think it is hard for ethnic Czechs in Kazakhstan. We know that Kazakhstan is quite a dangerous country to live in. And the people here are really happy to help. They want to help and make the best use of our resources and wealth. We've prepared two small flats for the two families. And these aren't the first Kazakh Czechs to come here, we've already had one family here - An older couple."

With so many Czech communities like Podsedice happy to help, it looks like the government will be able to reach their target. They plan on repatriating the rest of the Kazakh Czechs by early October.