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7 E. Eur. Const. Rev. 58 (1998)
Denying Citizenship to the Czech Roma

handle is hein.journals/eeurcr7 and id is 158 raw text is: Law as w instument of dscrtn
Denying Citizenship to the Czech Roma
firina Siklova and Marta Miklusakova

T      his article is about Gypsies-Roma or
Sinthi-and, especially, their situation in the
Czech and Slovak republics after 1993, when
these two countries came into being. The question
that will occupy us is one of citizenship.
The story of this direly underprivileged group
can be illuminated by a brief flashback. In 1989, so
peaceful was    the  change   of government      in
Czechoslovakia that it was called      the  Velvet
Revolution. Those who would become the so-called
elite of our nation successfully accomplished a variety
of difficult tasks, such as taking political power in the
first place, ratifying a new constitution, electing the
first government, and founding the first political par-
ties. A democratic system was established and, in the
Czech Republic today, we not only run legal elections
but we also have undergone genuine governmental
crises. We have banks, a stock market, and new finan-
cial systems. But despite these new acquisitions, so
familiar to Westerners, there are still many postcom-
munist citizens who do not comprehend very well
certain things that seem self-evident to the inhabitants
of Western democratic societies. For instance, most
people are thoroughly unfamiliar with the new laws to
which they are being asked to adapt their behavior.
They are often simply unaware of the very existence of
these laws. They seldom know the basics of a free-
market economy. And such ignorance prevails despite
the fact that informative lectures have been broadcast
on national radio explaining what is the value-added
tax and what is a tax return.
To understand the fundamental problem, one
must remember what life was like before and after
1989. Before it ended, life under communism resem-
bled what goes on in a foster home or perhaps (as

someone said) in an asylum for the mentally retarded.
Everything was decided for you, from above and in
advance. The paternalism of the state was so pervasive
that it can barely be comprehended by those who have
not lived under it for generations. Then, suddenly, in
the aftermath of the Velvet Revolution, Czechoslovaks
became, as it were, political adults-feeling like
inmates who had been deinstitutionalized if not cured,
grown-up but with little experience, pushed out of the
foster home and onto the streets, and encouraged
(with little or no follow-up) to take care of themselves.
Most people were able to do so, but many still do
not fully grasp the tasks involved. And if the mundane
challenges of a democratic and relatively free-market
society can prove daunting to ordinary citizens, imag-
ine how people whose lives were already socially
marginalized before the 1989 would (or would not)
cope with legal concepts and constitutional issues that
sometimes baffle even sophisticated members of mod-
ern Western nations. What makes this story especially
painful is that the concept in question, namely citizen-
ship, touches on the Roma's legal status as members of
the Czech community.
Some background and history
The social issues and policies concerning the citizen-
ship of the Romany minority and their integration
into the Czech Republic are complex and fraught
with difficulties. But it may be that our experiences
and mistakes will someday serve as a lesson guiding
welcome changes in the citizenship laws of other post-
communist countries. The problem here is acute. For
the technical complexity of legal regulations invariably
seems to weigh most heavily on socially marginalized
groups, such as the Roma. This is the case not only in

58              8AST EUROPEAN CONSTITUTIONAL REVIEW

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