PRAGUE — Canada's visa requirement will inflame racial discrimination in the Czech Republic, where Gypsies now face the blame for causing travel inconvenience for all citizens, influential Czech groups say.
An influx of Czech Gypsies prompted Ottawa to announce last week that Czech citizens must get a travel visa before entering Canada.
Although the Prague government did not immediately retaliate, several groups in the Czech Republic were alarmed by Canada's move. Most agreed the visa requirement would have a negative impact on Czech society.
"This decision is an unpleasant one for us,'" said Vaclav Trojan of the Helsinki Citizens Assembly, a human rights watch group.
He predicts the move will heighten racial tensions in the Czech Republic, where Gypsies — or Romas, traditionally a nomadic people who speaks the Romany language and are also known as "Romanies" — have long complained of discrimination from other Czechs.
"The average Czech citizen is going to be more racist toward Romanies than before," Trojan said. "Czechs will blame Romanies [for the visa requirement]. The decision will have a negative impact over-all."
"If Romanies cannot live here, we need to have a chance to leave this country and live a decent life somewhere else," said Hilda Pasova of the Romany Civic Initiative. "There is a feeling that we cannot go anywhere or do anything, and this makes some Romanies more aggressive."
An August television program showing Canada as a haven for Gypsies prompted large numbers of departures.Immigration Canada said it handled more than 600 refugee claims from Czechs in August and September – almost triple the number of last year.
PRAGUE – Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus begins a three-day visit to Canada today to push for greater investment in the Czech Republic. The task before him is formidable, economic analysts say.
He will have to convince Canadian businessmen that several domestic issues vexing Czech leaders and worrying foreign investors are not critical.
In a welcoming statement, Prime Minister Jean Chretien said: "It is fitting that Prime Minister Klaus, who was a key architect of the Czech political and economic transformation, will be the first Czech prime minister to visit Canada since the republic became a democracy.”
The former Czechoslovakia split into the Czech and Slovak republics on Jan. 1, 1993.
Canada's trade with the Czech Republic reached $160 million (Cdn) in 1996, up from $138 million the previous year.
Klaus will visit Ottawa, Toronto and Banff, Alta., during his Feb. 20-23 visit.
Economic indicators for the Czech Republic are promising, with the economy expected to grow by at least four per cent in 1997.
Boris Gomez, a research analyst at ING Barings, a Dutch investment bank, says there are investment opportunities here in banking, utilities and chemicals, industries which crave foreign capital and expertise.
But the country has been troubled by recent scandals in the banking sector and a poorly regulated stock market.
Czech government ministers are also worried about the trade deficit, which was equivalent to about $7.8 billion in 1996, up $3 billion from the year before.
The trade deficit, blamed in part on economic growth and consumer demand, is seen us an obstacle to the country's bid to join the European Union.