President Václav Klaus visited North Moravia on Monday, and during a trip to the regional capital Ostrava he met representatives of the Czech Republic’s Polish minority, most of whom live in and around the town of Český Těšín. Relations between Czechs and Poles are generally good, although community leaders have expressed concern at widespread vandalism of bi-lingual street signs.
The bells ring out over the winding cobbled streets of Cieszyn, one of Europe’s geographical oddities. For centuries this was one town, but in 1920 it was divided following a brief conflict between the newly created states of Czechoslovakia and Poland. Today it straddles the River Olše – on the north bank, the Polish town of Cieszyn. Cross the bridge and you’re in the Czech town of Český Těšín.
Drawing borders in Central Europe is never easy, however, and the new boundary left tens of thousands of ethnic Poles on the Czech side of the Olše. There they remain to this day; there are some 50,000 Poles still living in and around Český Těšín, around 80% of the country’s ethnic Polish population. President Václav Klaus told reporters on Monday’s visit to nearby Ostrava that in his view the modern-day relationship was a good one.
Polish community leaders have complained about the persistent vandalism of the bilingual street signs that have been erected in Český Těšín and the surrounding villages since 1989. But Józef Szymeczek, head of the Congress of Poles in the Czech Republic, told Czech Television he believed there was no undercurrent of ethnic hatred behind the vandalism.
“I don’t think this a huge problem, or caused by some wave of Czech nationalism. I’m more inclined to believe that it’s just regular vandalism.”
Police say they are trying to address the problem, but finding the culprits is not easy. However Polish leaders like Józef Szymeczek say they want to see improvement in how Poles are represented on the local committees that are set up when the Polish population makes up more than 10% of the community. The election of such committees is often rigged, says Mr Szymeczek, meaning the voice of Polish community is not property heard.
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