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David Beňák
March 9, 2011

ČSÚ plays down census disputes

Campaign wants to include Moravian language in count

The Czech Statistical Office (ČSÚ) is playing down controversy over the status of Roma ethnicity and Moravian identity on the forms for the upcoming census.

The ČSÚ and Roma rights groups are seeking to prevent a repeat of significant underreporting of the minority seen in the 2001 census, when just 11,000 people asserted their Roma ethnicity.

The true figure is likely to be between 150,000 and 200,000 people, according to Minority Rights Group International.

ČSÚ spokesman Jan Sedláček said the statistics body had hired around 100 specialist enumerators who speak Romany to help explain the census forms to Roma in marginalized areas and to encourage them to state their ethnicity.

He told The Prague Post the ČSÚ was fully aware their present figures “do not match reality,” and urged Roma to ensure they have a voice in the population count, pointing out that the 2001 figures give Roma “nothing to go on.”

However, Sedláček rejected any suggestion of creating a separate question on Roma ethnicity as a way to make the form clearer to Roma, arguing it would be wrong to “emphasize any minority.”

“If we made a question with Roma nationality, then the Poles would be angry. We do not want to prioritize anyone,” he said.

Eva Košatková of the Government Council for Roma Minority Affairs said the work of the new assistants would “serve to eliminate Roma concerns about misuse of information they provide on their nationality.”

In a statement, she said that the reluctance “stems from their negative experience in the past,” particularly during World War II, with the result that many Roma perceive being officially documented as leading to “anti-Roma measures placing restrictions on their human and civil rights.”

She added that the council considered self-identification as “ethically the most acceptable method,” because it gives Roma the opportunity to choose their nationality voluntarily.

In a recent commentary for Romea.cz, David Beňák, who heads the department of health and social affairs in Prague 14, urged fellow Roma not to fear the census and to state their ethnicity freely.

While arguing his generation of young Roma was still experiencing oppression in the form of “manifestations of racism and anti-Gypsyism,” Beňák said he had decided to state his ethnicity in the Census to give authorities a true view of the Roma population.

He pointed out that any municipal or regional authority found to have a minority population of 10 percent or more was legally required to establish a committee to represent the views of that minority.

“If you feel you are Roma, don’t be afraid to claim your Roma nationality,” Beňák said. “For many of us, it is important. We need arguments, numbers that cannot be questioned, to show the government, the regions and the municipalities.”

Moravian identity

Meanwhile, some Moravians are protesting over the lack of inclusion of Moravian language on the form, and are also urging people to state their Moravian identity in the population count.

A series of small protests are being staged by Moravian groups who want as many people as possible to assert their Moravian identity in this year’s population count, claiming the eastern part of the country is being “Czechicized” by central authorities.

“Lots of languages are offered on the census sheet, but not Moravian. The problem is serious,” Josef Pecl, from the Moravian National Congress, told the Czech News Agency.

Most experts consider that Moravian, which differs little from Czech, is a dialect rather than a separate language.

The maternal-language question on the census includes the stated options of Czech, Slovak, Romany, Polish, German and sign language, as well as an “other” category where respondents can enter any language not listed.

The nationality/ethnicity question features a blank line without suggestions where respondents are invited to enter one or two nationalities, such as Czech-Moravian or Czech-Silesian.

Just 380,000 Moravians and 10,000 Silesians stated their regional identity in the last census, compared with 1.36 million and 45,000, respectively, in 1991.

Sedláček pointed out that Moravians were free to include their identity and their language on the form.

“Nationality is a personal thing. It should reflect who you feel you belong to,” he said. “Some do not care; some feel like Praguers or Žižkovites, and since Moravians feel restrained, this is a way to establish themselves.”

– Klára Jiřičná contributed to this report.

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