The Vietnamese markets of the Czech Republic form labyrinths upon which one can get lost with ease. Yet hidden deep within these communities lies hidden rooms that fund the more sinister side of the community’s economy. Officials across Central Europe are alarmed by the spike in production and seizure of methamphetamine, around the border regions between Germany and the Czech Republic. In their search for the culprits, the police have focused their crosshairs on the tightly-knit Vietnamese communities of the Czech Republic’s borderlands, with their last hope being the arrival of police from Vietnam.
Arriving in the 1970s and 1980s, the Vietnamese community today in the Czech Republic has ballooned to a population of 60,000, making up nearly 1% of the population. They have a visible presence in the nation’s capital – Prague, but it is in the country’s west, along its German border, where their influence is most felt. In the Karlovy Vary region, specifically in the town of Cheb, the Vietnamese have formed a close community, residing together in the area surrounding the market.
Economic difficulties haunt Vietnamese communities in the Czech Republic. Nestled in these markets along the border lie marijuana farms and methamphetamine labs, problems with addiction in nearby German provinces have been attributed to these gangs, as most of the markets are located in inconspicuous towns along the border. The location of these grow houses and labs remain a secret due to the sincere loyalty held between the residents.
Many Vietnamese hold very strong family ties due to the importance of family in Vietnamese culture, this has led to the Czech and German police failing to infiltrate the Vietnamese drug gangs. Realising the error of their ways, Czech police sought an alternative approach to policing, Vietnamese police officers from Vietnam were invited to assist their efforts.
In 2013 these Vietnamese officers were able to take an approach that the Czech could not. Undercover operations have been widespread, and these officers have been able to build relationships and trust within the community as to expose the minority of people in the community who have fallen into gang culture.
The Vietnamese community itself has recognised the issue and taken steps to try and bring about a culture of rejection towards gangs. The ‘Vietnamese-Czech Drug League’ organise regular events called the ‘Konfrence Stop Drogam’ (Stop drugs conference), with live music from Vietnamese musicians to attempt to promote an anti-drugs culture within the community in the Czech Republic.