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Czech Republic

Constitutional & Legal Foundations

The Czech Republic is a parliamentary democracy established by the Constitution ratified on 16 December 1992 that became effective 1 January 1993 with the country's formal separation from Slovakia. The Czech Republic has a legal system based on Austro-Hungarian civil codes dating from the years when the country was ruled by the Habsburg monarchy.

Political Participation: All citizens of the Czech Republic 18 years and older are eligible to vote; men are also eligible for military service at that age. At the national level of government, the chief of state is the president, who is democratically elected to a five-year term of office by the Parliament and is eligible for reelection just once consecutively. The executive branch of the national government also includes a prime minister, deputy ministers, and a cabinet of ministers, appointed by the president upon the prime minister's recommendation. Since 2 February 1993 the president of the Czech Republic has been Václav Havel, an ardent supporter of democracy and human rights during the Communist era and one of the country's key campaigners for a more liberal, democratic state. Havel was re-elected as president in 1998 for a second five-year term. Any citizen of the country who has attained the age of 40 and is an active voter is eligible to run for election as president.

At the national level the legislative branch consists of a bicameral Parliament (Parlament) consisting of a Senate (Senat) of 81 members elected by popular vote for 6 year terms in office and a Chamber of Deputies (Poslanicka Snemovna) of 200 seats whose members are popularly elected for 4 year terms. Any citizen of the Czech Republic who is at least 21 years old is eligible to run for election to the Chamber of Deputies; the minimum age for Senators is 40 years. The third branch of the national government, the judicial branch, consists of the Supreme Court, which is the highest court of appeal, and the Constitutional Court, which has final decision-making authority regarding the constitutionality of legislation. Courts exist at district, regional, and higher levels. Since 1998 with the implementation of a new regional administrative system, sub-national affairs have been administered through a network of 14 regions, 86 districts (okresi), and 6,200 municipalities.

Despite the progress made in the Czech Republic during the 1990s in popular participation in government and the vastly improved climate for the free expression of secular and religious beliefs, international human rights organizations and agencies such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor identified significant human-rights problems in the Czech Republic in the year 2000. For the most part, these problems centered around the trafficking of women and children, gender discrimination and violence, ethnic discrimination and racist violence (especially against the Roma), and infringements on the rights of employees (particularly senior-level executives) who often were required to produce "lustration" or vetting certificates to prove their non-collaboration with the former Communist regime. Although the legal system guarantees women equal rights with men, in practice many women (reportedly almost half the female workforce, including female soldiers) frequently face sexual harassment in the workplace and about one in ten women is subject to domestic abuse. A 1998 study found that about 13 percent of women had been forced to have sex against their will; 51 percent of the abusers were the women's husbands or partners and another 37 percent were persons known to the women who were raped. Legal protection from spousal abuse is inadequate, although the Police Academy and secondary police schools in 1998 introduced training for their students and officers designed to help officers better identify victims of abuse and treat victims more appropriately. Additionally, women typically earn wages lower than those of men because women often are channeled into lower-paying, gender-stereotyped jobs. Few women in the Czech Republic hold high-level management positions in business, and women are significantly underrepresented in the Ministries and in Parliament. In December 2000, for example, none of the 16 government ministers was a woman and of the 200 members of the Chamber of Deputies and the 81 members of the Senate, only 30 deputies were women and only 10 senators were female.

The problems of the Roma minority are equally serious. Long an ethnic minority traveling through and residing in Central Europe, the Roma continued to face very serious human rights abuses in the Czech Republic in the year 2000 in the form of education and employment discrimination, racist attacks, residential segregation, rampant prejudice, and discriminatory treatment, sometimes condoned by government officials and the police. Human Rights Watch declared in their World Report 2001, concerning the problem of racial violence in the Czech Republic, that despite certain encouraging steps taken by the government in the year 2000 to confront these abuses, "increasing racial violence against the ethnic Roma minority demonstrated an alarming pattern of neglect on the part of police and legal authorities to investigate and prosecute hate crime. This pattern included lenient sentences for perpetrators of hate crimes, incompetent and protracted investigations, and little recourse for victims who in many cases feared reprisals."

As in many other European countries, violence against the Romani people and other minorities has increased since the break-up of the Communist system, and in the Czech Republic, prejudice against the Roma is held by many groups. As the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor reported in early 2001, "Roma suffer disproportionately from poverty, unemployment, interethnic violence, discrimination, illiteracy, and disease. They are subject to popular prejudice, as is affirmed repeatedly by public opinion polls. Nearly 65 percent of the respondents in a September [2000] opinion poll admitted to an unfavorable opinion of Roma and to racial intolerance, with more than 50 percent saying that there were too many non-Czechs living in the country."

By the start of the new millennium, the Czech Republic's government was attempting to address these problems more actively by establishing a Human Rights Council headed by a Commissioner for Human Rights. The Council was set up in January 2000 to provide the government with advice on human-rights issues and to develop proposals for legislation oriented toward protecting human rights in the country. In December 2000 former Justice Minister Otakar Motejl was named Ombudsman for Human Rights by the Parliament.

Developments concerning interethnic and international relations of a more-positive sort also have taken place from the 1990s on. The Czech Republic now participates in numerous regional and international organizations, including NATO. The country is expected to become one of the first former-Communist states of Eastern and Central Europe to accede to membership in the European Union (although a setback occurred when a majority of the Irish people voted in June 2001 not to extend EU membership to states beyond the EU's current 15 members). To a significant extent the Czech Republic served as a model in the early 1990s for other postcommunist states, setting precedents for economic reforms where unemployment was kept low and inflation did not skyrocket. The country became one of the first in the region to free up government assets by selling off nationalized industries to foreign investors and to move toward decentralizing its economy. Receiving international assistance in the form of grants, loans, and technical advisors to assist in the transition from a state-controlled, centralized economy to a free-market-based economy and to make further democratic reforms, the Czech Republic officially became a member of the World Bank in 1993 when it separated from Slovakia (already having received a sizable Structural Adjustment Loan from the Bank amounting to US$300 million in 1991). Additional World Bank loans have helped the Czech Republic restructure its economy, privatize industries, and provide greater management training and support to executives seeking to manage enterprises in a dramatically transformed, privatized environment.

Educational Philosophy & Policy: With the split from the Soviet system in 1989 and again shortly after the break with Slovakia in 1993, the Czech Republic's government leaders began efforts to upgrade the quality of the country's education system and to ensure that education and training programs would be more responsive to labor market demands. Under the centralized Communist system, the goal of education had been to produce a uniform workforce narrowly trained in the specific skills needed for particular trades and occupations. The goal of the teacher remuneration system was to maintain a roughly similar wage structure for all those employed in the teaching field. Budgeting and management in education also were to be uniformly performed. As the country has shifted to a free-market-based economy and more democratic functioning, the Czech Republic has sought to develop better programs for preparing a more broadly trained workforce with flexible capabilities applicable across occupations and industries, including newly developing fields. Furthermore, developing a skillful set of teachers able to implement modern teaching methodology has become a priority, and new recruits to the teaching field are very much needed. The country may succeed at training sufficient numbers of new teachers only if the wages for jobs in the education field can be increased, which may be accomplished more easily through private investments in education. Attracting support from the business community—for example, from enterprises wishing to sponsor particular training and retraining or continuing education programs for current or future employees—has been seen as a necessary means to developing a more-skilled labor force in the teaching area that is ready to meet the needs of incoming classes of students.

Additionally, a major goal of educational administrators and school managers in the Czech Republic starting in the 1990s and becoming even more sharply accentuated around the year 2000 has been to harmonize educational standards, examinations, and certificates—and to a certain extent, the training programs themselves—with European standards. As the Czech Republic prepared itself for membership in the European Union, increased attention was given to promoting exchanges of students, teachers, and professors across the EU and EU-affiliated countries and to fostering international cooperation among researchers. The Czech Republic participated actively in planning and implementing policies and legislative initiatives aimed at harmonizing training methods and education systems so the country would fit better into the EU system and could benefit from the information and personnel exchanges facilitated by membership in the EU.

Laws Affecting Education: The Constitution of 1993, the 1993 List of Basic Rights and Freedoms, and a series of education laws enacted in the decades leading up to independence and since independence provide the basic principles for the national education system's mission, structure, and operation. According to the List of Basic Rights and Freedoms, for example, everyone has the right to an education and school attendance is required for a certain legally stipulated period; citizens are allowed a free elementary and secondary education, and, based on individual abilities and societal resources, a higher education as well; non-state schools charging fees for educational services are permitted to operate only according to the conditions provided by law; and legislation specifies how citizens can receive educational assistance.

An education law passed in 1995 introduced a new method for managing education by sectors or professional fields and also established the responsibilities of the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sports and other ministries with education-related functions. Previously, the Ministry of the Interior and the Communist Party had managed the country's education system. The 1995 law amended the Act on State Administration and Selfadministration in the Education Sector and established the basis for an official "school network" (registry of schools) administered by the Ministry of Education in order to better determine school functions and manage school principals in a more-active way. Key laws pertaining to higher education before independence included the Acts Concerning Institutions of Higher Education of 1950, 1966, and 1980. However, with the democratic revision of governance after the break with the Soviets in 1989, Czechoslovakia passed a new Act on Institutions of Higher Education in 1990 to reestablish academic freedom (substantially denied under Communist rule) and to limit state influence on higher education. Another Higher Education Act was passed in 1998 to authorize the creation of private institutions of higher education while keeping higher education a state monopoly and the national budget the principal source of financial support. The 1998 act also clarified the role of the bachelor's degree as one culminating a course of study that could lead directly to a career as well as to more-advanced studies. In addition, it enabled schools to generate education funds from other sources, such as the charging of tuition fees.

Additional topics

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceCzech Republic - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education