Miroslav Brož, holding a can of Krušovice beer, greeted me and Eli Naegele, a Czech reporter, one April afternoon last year. We had just arrived at Předlice, a neighbourhood 15 minutes by bus from the desolate centre of Ústí nad Labem, a visibly poor industrial town near the Czech-German border. Gesturing at the graffiti, grime and abandoned buildings that bordered the open field in front of us, Brož, the 38-year-old president of Konexe, a Prague-based Roma-rights NGO, described Předlice and its dilapidated housing as “the worst Roma ghetto in the country.”
The conditions under which the Roma or Romani—a traditionally itinerant group, comprising between 10 and 12 million people in Europe—live in the Czech Republic are particularly dire. According to a survey conducted in 2015 by the European Commission, respondents in the Czech Republic reported the most negative views towards the Roma out of all respondents in countries of the European Union. The Czech Roma—48 percent of whom live below the poverty line—are three times more likely than the general population to have gone no further than primary school, and face unemployment rates as high as 90 percent in some communities.
The Roma experience hostility across the European continent. A 2016 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, an American think tank, found that 48 percent of respondents, largely from western European countries, had an “unfavourable” view of the Roma. This included respondents in Italy, France and Germany. France began deportations of Roma in 2009, under the then president Nicolas Sarkozy. Despite the European Parliament’s objections, expulsions continued during the remaining three years of Sarkozy’s term, and intensified under his successor, François Hollande, with more than 56,000 Romani deported between 2012 and 2017.