The Czech government is often criticised by the EU and other international organisations for its failure to ensure that the Roma people living here can become a fully integrated part of Czech life. However, one of the problems the government faces in trying to improve the marginalized position of Roma in Czech society is that it lacks precise data on this particular ethnic group. As a result, it is very difficult for the government to earmark funds aimed at improving their situation. It is hoped that a proposed new survey should help alleviate this problem.
The last census held in the Czech Republic in 2001 gave a very incomplete picture of the number of Roma living in this country. While barely 12,000 people claimed to be Roma in the Czech Republic, human rights organisations such as the Czech Helsinki Committee estimate that the actual size of the Roma population is roughly 200,000 or approximately 2% of the total number of people living here.
It is widely accepted that Roma poverty levels are disproportionately larger than their share of the population suggests. Roma communities also fare badly in terms of other major social and economic indicators such as unemployment, crime, and education.
The problem facing the government is that it needs concrete data to be able to distribute funds and direct policy so that it is of benefit to Roma communities. Ordinarily, a census would be an ideal way of obtaining this data but, as the results of the last survey showed, this is not the case. I spoke to Czeslaw Walek, Director of the Office of the Council for Roma Affairs, about this issue and first asked him why it seemed so many Roma were reluctant to declare their ethnicity:
"Because they are afraid that if they were to declare they were Roma, they would be discriminated against. This is probably the main reason. The second reason is that they don't know [what it's about]. No information is really available and the people who are collecting data are not explaining what it means to declare ethnicity. The third thing that comes to mind is that they do not understand what it means to declare ethnicity."
Following the failure of the census to provide accurate information, Walek says that further material has been prepared with the Statistical Office. This has been submitted to the government with a view to conducting additional sociological surveys aimed at giving a more comprehensive picture of the Roma situation. He also said that they hoped to involve Roma groups and civic associations to ensure that the data obtained was as complete as possible. Once collected, Walek hopes that the information gleaned will be used in a number of ways:
"First this data will help us direct money to the most badly affected areas, and create programmes that would help in those places where things are at their worst. It will also push regional and local governments to do something about this situation."
Once these new measures are in place, it is hoped that it will mark the beginning of a coherent new government policy for the active integration of Romanies in Czech society.
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