Zeman meets Polish representatives to discuss minority rights

A group of four Polish representatives led by the Polish ambassador were due to hold talks with the Czech prime minister, Milos Zeman, on Thursday. They are determined to discuss the subject of a law on minority rights in the Czech Republic, something which appears to have been given little attention by the Czech government over the years. Dita Asiedu has the details:

The last official count of minority groups was in 1995. According to those figures, there were a little over 300,000 Slovaks, 200,000 Roma, and about 60,000 Poles living in the Czech Republic. Not far behind with a figure of 48,000 were ethnic Germans, a figure which has decreased considerably since 1995. They were followed by several thousand Ukrainians, Russians, Bulgarians, and Greeks. Although many Czechs believe that one of the largest minority groups are the Vietnamese, the official 1995 figure showed just 421.

The government has held several meetings to discuss ratifying the European Charter on Minority and Regional Languages, but they've never been able to reach a definite decision on the issue. The four Polish representatives are therefore determined to pin down Prime Minister Zeman to name a concrete date for the process.

Although the Czech government approved a law on minority rights on July 14th, it refused to include a clause for the establishment of a central administrative body, such as a Nationalities' Bureau, which the government says is unnecessary. The creation of other elected minority bodies which would increase the influence of minorities in local decision-making and guarantee their right to communicate with the authorities in their native language has also been left out. In short, the law falls well short of the minority groups' expectations.

The reason for the government's reluctance to provide minority groups with these services and rights may lie in the fact that the three largest groups are Slovaks, Roma, and the Poles - all significantly higher in number than the remaining minority groups in the Czech Republic. Since Slovaks and Czechs lived in the same country until the end of 1992, and Poland is a friendly neighbour with lots in common, government ministers may not feel that there is a rush to provide laws to protect them. There is no language barrier between the Slovaks and Czechs, and as far as the Poles are concerned, many towns in the country have Polish schools. Rights for the Roma, however, remain a point of contention.