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The Czech Republic: Minority Rights since the Days of the Habsburg Empire (D4.6)

February 24, 2017

The Czech Republic embodies a remarkable exception from the set of cases dealt with in this volume. From the macroscopic point of view, the Czech Republic resembles rather homogeneous country compared to Canada or Switzerland. Nationally and ethnically rather homogenous country with considerable low level of religious alignments, low profile of ethnic-based political parties and peacefully departed from Czechoslovak federation does not look intuitively to be an appropriate object of scholar research aimed at minority claims and their political treatment.
Historical path towards the present situation, however, shows much colourful picture of a country struggling with multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic, as well as multi-religious composition of the population. To simplify slightly, an observer can read the history of the second half of Czech 20th century as a history of de-complexification of Czech population. After extermination of Jewish population of Czechoslovakia, the German (and to considerable lower level Hungarian) inhabitants of Czechoslovakia were expelled, Ruthenia with Ukrainian-speaking (but with strong distinctive regional identity equipped) population was transferred to the Soviet Union and after partition of Czechoslovakia, the remaining Czech Republic left behind salient issue of Hungarian minority inhabiting Southern Slovakian regions. This short history is far from being a triumph of Czech politics of solving the ethnic and national disputes. It can rather serve as an example of how drastic measures were adopted in Europe only slightly more than half a century ago to achieve one of the ideals painted by enlightened concept of modern homogeneous nation that rules over a comprehensive territory of a nation-state.
Therefore, the important part of the study must be devoted to explanations of how the Czech lands once became multi-cultural, what problems it took along, what kind of conflict unfroze during periods of reluctant democratisation of the 19th and hasty de-democratisation of the 20th century and how the changing majority-minority configurations and clashed reached the climax in the turmoil if 1939-1945 period.
The partially coincidental, however fully accepted by political elite as well as public, strategy of violent homogenisation of the territory of the Czech Lands after the World War II did not remain without consequences for the recent politics of minority issues in the Czech Republic. By analysing the claims of politically relevant and in the same time contentious minority issues, such as situation of Czech Roma population and different strategies of its politicisation, the paper will not only show path dependency on experiences with violent unification and homogenisation of the Czech Lands but it will address important issue of how to cope with minorities, that are – for different reasons – unable to set the coherent political appeal of claims and to create sound minority. The experience with these “silent” but visible minorities with huge and risky potential of arousing political conflicts can bring some lessons for larger European Union of today.

Click here for the full text: D4.6 – Czech Republic