The Czech government has approved a new bill on acquiring Czech citizenship which, among other issues, introduces several new conditions for those interested in becoming Czech citizens. For example, to be eligible for Czech passports, foreigners must not be on social welfare in the country, and must pass a stricter Czech language test. Several NGOs who work with migrants have also criticized the draft legislation as being too vague and giving too much power to government officials. RP spoke to Marek Čaněk from the Prague-based Consortium of Migrants Assisting Organisations about their objections to the bill.
“This piece of legislation which has been debated for a number of years now contains both some positive features from our perspective but also a number of negative ones. The former include dual citizenship which would be a great advantage to a number of immigrants living in the Czech Republic as well as an easier way of naturalization by the so-called declaration for the second generation of migrants.
“But there is also a number of restrictions as regards the conditions migrants who which to acquire Czech citizenship need to meet. It gives a greater role to the intelligence services in that if the services raise some objections against somebody’s application, the person will no be able to go to the court. There is also bigger discretion on the part of the Interior Ministry.”
But some might say it’s natural for the state to protect its citizens in this way, for instance by imposing more conditions on applications for Czech citizenship such as the fact they cannot be on social welfare. Do you think this is the government’s motivation behind the bill?
“I think so. I think that the people who prepared the bill at the Interior Ministry believe that this is the last moment when the Czech Republic has a say about who will be naturalized or who will not. The bill introduces greater control over the so-called burden on social welfare as well as a property check or a check on taxes paid, and a much stricter test of the command of the Czech language.
“So we think that citizenship could be used a way of including the people who have lived in the Czech Republic for a long time, and of making sure we don’t alienate these people from the Czech state.”
Anti-immigration rhetoric has not been part of mainstream political debate here but recently, President Václav Klaus warned against “ill-conceived opening of our borders to emigrants”. Are you concerned that anti-immigration sentiments might be on the rise?
“I’m not sure if this is something new. We have seen in the past a number of speeches like this and a number of politicians trying to exploit the topic of immigration. So I think the question rather is, if and at what point immigration might become a more politicized issue. We have seen such attempts in some past political campaigns but they have not been successful.”