The last census in the Czech Republic in 2001 showed that 90.4 per cent of its approximately 10.3 million citizens claim Czech ethnicity, 3.7 per cent Moravian and 0.1 per cent Silesian. The Czech Republic has only recently become an immigration country. During the communist era, nobody really wanted “in” as much as rather “out”. The only significant exceptions were Greek refugees escaping the civil war in 1946-49, ordered relocation of Slovak Romanies starting after World War II., and study migration of students, trainees and interns especially from Vietnam, but also from other friendly communist countries, with which Czechoslovakia signed special agreements (the first one with Vietnam was in 1974). After the split of the Czech and Slovak Republic in 1993, there were about 50 thousand foreigners in the Czech Republic, about 30 thousand of whom had a permanent residence. In October 2009, there were more than 430 thousand foreigners in the Czech Republic, almost 180 thousand of whom had a permanent residence. More than 25 per cent of the foreigners were of Ukrainian origin, 75 thousand Slovak and 61 thousand Vietnamese.
Three periods can be discerned in the development of migration policies:
- 1990-1995 – a “laissez faire” period when basically anybody could enter the Czech territory – it was monitored, but not regulated. On the other hand, there was no legal way (except a marriage with a Czech person) to settle and naturalize.
- 1996-1999 – a period of harmonisation with acquis communautaire – tightening of laws, but no national strategy for migration. Newly, permanent residence accessible after 10 years of long-term residence.
- 1999-present – a period of conceptualising efforts – in 2003, Principles of migration policy adopted by the government, but a long-term strategy postponed until the result of negotiations in the EU. The length of long-term residence before naturalization halved.
Also, since the 1990s, about a thousand Czech expatriates (or their descendants) have been remigrated to the Czech Republic (mostly from the countries of former Soviet Union) and their naturalization was simplified in comparison with other immigrants. However, selective criteria based on ethnicity were not acceptable in view of prohibited discrimination, so the Czech government could only assist expatriates if they were endangered in any way. (Nevertheless, endangered “Czech identity” was enough.)
The integration policy has undergone four phases since 1990:
- 1990-1998 – in 1991, an aid programme for refugees adopted (including accommodation support and limited Czech classes). Beginnings of integration policy facilitated by the initiative of the Ministry of Interior and the Council of Europe, hampered by the need for clarification of immigration strategy and by lack of attention in the EU.
- 1999-2003 – formulation of an integration strategy, support of research and data collection, reinforcement of cooperation with the non-governmental sector and immigrant associations, efforts to delegate the implementation of integration policy to lower levels of government. In 1999, Principles of the conception of integration of foreigners were adopted, resonating with the approach of the Council of Europe, i.e. a multicultural model of ethnic communities. (However, it was never really implemented.) In 2000, a Conception of the integration of foreigners and in 2003, an Analysis of the situation of status of foreigners were published, both accenting individual civic integration, which had been agreed on in the European Union. A shift from the multiculturalism of communities to liberal multiculturalism can be observed.
- 2004-2006 – the area of integration moved to the Ministry of labour and social affairs. Continuing the EU trend of emphasising individual integration as an intentional and conscious process that can be understood as a contract between an immigrant and the host society. Further conceptualising effort, but lacking implementation and insufficient interconnection with the naturalization policy.
- 2007-present – in 2007, an amendment of the immigration law adopted. Newly, knowledge of Czech language (documented by passing an exam) required as a condition for the acquisition of permanent residence and citizenship. Such a certificate required since 1 January 2009. Stricter rules for mixed marriages: the spouse of a Czech citizen does not automatically obtain a permanent residence anymore, a transitional period of 2 years introduced. In 2008, the domain of integration returned to the Ministry of Interior, and in 2009, six regional centres for the support of integration of foreigners were set up that should provide immigrants with information and various services (including language courses and legal advice), and monitor situation in regions.
ConclusionThe Czech Republic has been a relatively homogeneous country since the years following World War II. until the 1990s, when its borders opened and it began to attract thousands of immigrants, especially from the former Soviet Union. These immigrants form the largest group at the moment, with other significant nationalities being Slovaks and Vietnamese. If we apply the three categories of settler groups, while many Slovaks practically merge, the linguistically related Russian speaking group might form an ethnic community (presuming, the Czech Republic will be open enough), while Vietnamese, based on their phenotypical markers, might form an ethnic minority (or already has). On the other hand, if we consider that these categories are also associated with a social-economic status, the situation gets a little complicated. (Vietnamese are very hardworking and mostly independent small business people, while Ukrainians occupy low-paid manual jobs.)
What kind of integration policy is the Czech Republic following? The truth is that during the short period of its evolution, it has so far had not managed to acquire a solid form and comprehensive strategy. Mostly, it has been shaped by the directives and recommendations of the European Union, and adopted its model of “civic integration” (or liberal multiculturalism). Nevertheless, the implementation and effective coordination is still lagging behind: systems of the newly introduced language exams as well as integration centres are criticised, and changes in legislation also have opponents.
A favourable, and for some time already discussed, change would be one of the naturalization law. Just like other countries in central Europe, the Czech Republic has leaned towards ius sanguinis. It is probably time to stop looking in the past and learn how to embrace a multicultural future – not just in the Czech Republic, in the nation states as such.
(Bibliography can be found in the following paper.)