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What rights do national minorities have in the Czech Republic?

Last year, a census was conducted to determine, among other things, the nationality of citizens. According to the census, about 640 000 citizens claimed to be of a nationality other than Czech, and about 360 000 citizens claimed both Czech and other nationalities. What rights do minorities have in this country and how can they be enforced?

Dvě mladé ženy vietnamské národnosti pijí kávu, práva národnostních menšin
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Chapters of the article

The basic legal framework of the issue is the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms and the subsequent Act on the Rights of Members of National Minorities, which defines national minorities and guarantees the exercise of rights by their members. It is based on the basic premise that no harm may result from membership of a national minority.

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What is the difference between nationality and citizenship?

Let us first explain the basic concepts underlying the legislation.

Nationality

Nationality is understood as belonging to a nation, nationality or ethnic minority. The bottom line is that anyone can choose which nationality they belong to and can even claim multiple nationalities. Thus, it may happen that of two siblings living in Olomouc, one claims the Moravian nationality and the other the Czech nationality. Neither the place of birth, nor the place of residence, nor the mother tongue is decisive, but only one’s own relationship to the nationality. On the other hand, declaring a certain nationality can be perceived as a certain stigma in the Czech Republic, which is particularly felt by the Roma, of whom roughly 22 000 claim the Romani nationality, although the number of members of this ethnic group here is estimated to be as high as 300 000.

Citizenship

Nationality is often confused with citizenship. Here, however, the difference is significant. Nationality conveys membership of a state and allows citizens to participate in the governance of the state, primarily through elections. Initial citizenship is usually acquired from the parents to whom one is born. If we decide to become a citizen of another country, it is not always easy. However, under certain circumstances, we can have more than one citizenship, which in some states can be obtained, for example, by marriage. In the Czech Republic, however, there is no such possibility of acquiring citizenship in the law.

Czech citizenship can be acquired:

1) by birth, 2) by adoption, 3) by establishment of paternity, 4) by finding on the territory of the Czech Republic, 5) by declaration or 6) by granting on application.

There is a general idea among people that a child born in a certain country automatically acquires citizenship there. However, this is far from being the case. Two principles are used to determine the nationality of a newborn: ius sangui and ius soli.

Czech law (and most of Europe, Africa and Asia) is based on the principle of ius sangui (literally the law of blood) to determine citizenship. In practice, this means that a child born to two Czechs will have Czech citizenship regardless of whether he or she was born in Brussels, Russia or on a plane. Conversely, if a Ukrainian woman who has a child with her Ukrainian partner gives birth in our country, their offspring will not automatically acquire Czech citizenship.

The opposite of the above principle is ius soli (translated as the law of the land). This too is applied in our country to a very limited extent: a child whose parents are both stateless (i.e. homeless in the international legal sense, where the person in question has no citizenship) would acquire Czech citizenship, or if a child under the age of three is found on Czech territory and whose identity and parents are unknown. Otherwise, the principle of ius soli appears mainly in the Anglo-American legal area and parts of Europe. The place of birth of the child is essential for the nationality of the newborn. A child born to two Czechs in the US may (subject to certain conditions) have US citizenship.

Tip: Nationality is a concept broader in content than citizenship, as it includes legal persons belonging to a given state. In contrast, nationality is a concept defined only for natural persons.

National minority

From nationality, we come to the concept of a national minority, which is characterised within the Czech Republic as a community of citizens of the Czech Republic living in the territory of the present-day Czech Republic who differ from other citizens, as a rule, by their common ethnic origin, language, culture and traditions, form a numerical minority of the population and at the same time show a will to be considered a national minority.

Let us highlight two basic facts:

  • national minorities in the context of the Act on the Protection of National Minorities are citizens of the Czech Republic, i.e. they are not tourists, visitors or refugees
  • what matters is their own will to be considered a national minority.

Last year’s census showed the following national minority affiliations (source Wikipedia). The table distinguishes whether citizens claimed to belong to a particular nationality exclusively, or whether they claimed to belong to two or more nationalities (the first of which was overwhelmingly Czech).

Citizens of a foreign state on the territory of the Czech Republic

It is quite obvious that there are also many citizens of foreign states who belong to foreign nationalities on our territory. Their number has now increased dramatically as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as a result of which several hundred thousand Ukrainian citizens have arrived on our territory in recent months.

According to current data, the Czech Republic has issued over 381 000 temporary protection visas to Ukrainian refugees in recent months. According to the authorities’ estimates, there are now just over 300 000 Ukrainians in the country, which is probably the largest number of nationals of a foreign nation in our country. Nevertheless, it is not the largest national minority within the meaning of the above-mentioned law. Everything will depend on future developments, possibilities and mutual willingness to stay here and obtain Czech citizenship (or not). However, it is very likely that the Ukrainian national minority will grow in the future.

Rights of national minorities

National minorities can participate in public administration and have an active role in cultural, social and economic life. To this end, the government establishes its advisory body, the Government Council for National Minorities, chaired by a member of the government (currently Prime Minister Petr Fiala). Its members are representatives of public authorities (the Office of the Ombudsman, representatives of the Union of Towns and Municipalities, etc.) and representatives of national minorities nominated by associations of their members.
The basic range of rights is laid down by law. These include, inter alia:

  • free choice of belonging to a national minority – no harm may result from belonging to a minority,
  • the right of association – in national or political associations,
  • participation in matters concerning the national minority – active participation in cultural, social and economic life and in public affairs,
  • theuse of the language of the national minority in official relations, before the courts and in electoral matters. This right is further specified in individual regulations. For example, the Tax Code and the Administrative Code in this sense allow a citizen of the Czech Republic belonging to a national minority that has traditionally and long lived in the territory of the Czech Republic to make submissions and act in the language of his or her national minority. If the administrative authority or tax administrator does not have an official person familiar with the language of the national minority, it shall procure an interpreter registered in the list of interpreters. However, the Slovak language has a specific status on a par with the Czech language. According to the Code of Civil Procedure, parties have the right to act before the court in their mother tongue. The court shall appoint an interpreter for a party whose mother tongue is a language other than Czech as soon as such a need becomes apparent in the proceedings
  • education in the language of the national minority – in schools, pre-schools and educational institutions. The right to establish private schools with the language of instruction in the language of a national minority or with the language of a national minority as a subject of instruction and private pre-school or school establishments may also be exercised. These rights are further regulated by the Law on School Establishments.

Implementation and protection of the rights of national minorities

The Law on the Rights of National Minorities does not itself contain any sanctions for violation of rights. Assessing whether or not minority rights have been violated is often a legal tricky issue. The Minorities Act is not the only and comprehensive implementing law in relation to the Charter, as it itself refers to other laws. Complex legal questions often arise as to which law prevails at any given time and how to assess the situation. It is certainly worth consulting a lawyer in such a situation who can properly assess the situation. As this is a right enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights, it is theoretically possible to take the enforcement of this right all the way to the Constitutional Court, where representation by a lawyer is necessary for the hearing.

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Author of the article

JUDr. Ondřej Preuss, Ph.D.

Ondřej is the attorney who came up with the idea of providing legal services online. He's been earning his living through legal services for more than 10 years. He especially likes to help clients who may have given up hope in solving their legal issues at work, for example with real estate transfers or copyright licenses.

Education
  • Law, Ph.D, Pf UK in Prague
  • Law, L’université Nancy-II, Nancy
  • Law, Master’s degree (Mgr.), Pf UK in Prague
  • International Territorial Studies (Bc.), FSV UK in Prague

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