* Foreigners in the Czech Republic: “us” and “them”?

The issue of international migration seems to have become more relevant lately than any time before. The debatable and sometimes problematic demonstration of the human right to decide freely about their place of residence becomes even more popular in the era of technical progress and modernization. Higher access to travelling, attractive pictures of distant countries and unknown lands presented by media, uneven economic development of various countries and parts of the world, political problems and ethnic conflicts force people away from their homelands and lure them to move elsewhere.

 

Majority of immigrants in the world consist, as in the Czech Republic, of economically active actors of the so-called circular labour migration, a phenomenon of continuous temporary migration aimed at increasing one’s own economic status or economic status of one’s family in their homeland. According to some theories, circular migration is only one phase of a long-term process, during which the intensity of relation of individuals with their homeland gradually weakens and in the end they settle forever in their target country.

Migrants, who have decided to settle permanently in a certain country, whether after direct, one-off move, or after long-term circulation, are awaited by a complicated process of adapting to new conditions in the majority society. Newly coming migrants often find themselves in tension related to the change of environment and language or cultural barriers. Sometimes they are even disadvantaged at the labour market. Their adaptation is on one hand affected by specific psychological characteristics of the individuals and by the closeness of minority-immigrant population and majority population, and on the other hand by immigration politicise of the target country and by the approach of majority to immigrants.

There are various models of adapting migrants to majority society, from their total naturalization and gradual acquisition of citizenship to their absolute exclusion, social or economic marginalization and forming of the so-called permanent ethnical enclaves. Tolerance to migrants depends not only on the approval of their stay in the given country, but also on the acceptance of basic principles of multi-culturalism based on mutual respect and equality of all people disregarding their ethnic, racial or national affiliation. Multicultural society is based not only on acceptance and subsequent assimilation of migrants into majority society, but also on their integration into cultural and social life of the majority and on allowing them to preserve elements of their own culture.

Since 1989 the Czech Republic has had to cope with mass migration influxes. According to statistics of the Headquarters of the Aliens and Boarder Police Service of the Ministry of Interior of the Czech Republic, more than 200 thousand foreigners with a long-term or permanent stay permit resided on the territory of the Czech Republic at the end of 2001. It means that the issues of inter-ethnic tolerance and adaptation to new environment directly concern 2 % of the population of this country. Even though this proportion doesn’t seem too significant for the whole population, it gradually increases and slowly gets closer to the statistics of developed Western European countries. Czech general public naturally have to notice the intensification of migration movement that happens in their country as well as related increase of incomers. It is quite obvious that opinion of more conservative public will insist longer on maintaining their national unity, and therefore they will be less tolerant towards immigrants, who disturb the status quo. Attitudes of Czech inhabitants towards members of national minorities, with whom they live continually, are a little more positive than to the newly coming foreigners. National minorities, that have “gained” their right to “special treatment” and to preservation of their own culture (except for certain exceptions), fit in the life of majority population fairly well and they know how to keep together and defend their own interests. Newly coming migrants are in a far more difficult situation; they have to cope with the change of environment and also with being labelled by the majority society as “foreigners” for a long time.

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