Renata Berkyová on wall demolition in Slovakia: What principles do we honor?
Several days ago a report came out about the demolition of a wall at the Luník VIII housing estate in Košice, Slovakia and a visit paid by activists to the residents of Ostrovany there. The media reports that this was the work of activists from abroad, including the Czech Republic.
"Stop barriers! Stop segregation!" That was the message of the activists' visit - but what the local Romani people think of this action, their exclusion, and those walls we only hear second-hand.
The physical erection of segregating walls is a clear signal of the barriers that exist in people's minds. This spatial segregation overlaps with the social exclusion of this particular group - in addition to making sources of subsistence inaccessible to them, it degrades their human dignity and self-respect, without which these people have little chance of joining society.
That is probably the philosophy of the activists who went to the Romani settlement of Ostrovany. Even though their intention was to destroy the wall separating Romani dwellings from the houses of the gadje, after discussing the idea with local Roma they did not go through with the action.
The next stop was Košice. There, too, they did not manage to convince the occupants of the excluded Luník IX locality that they should demolish the wall at Luník VIII themselves.
However, the activists took justice into their own hands there anyway and partially demolished the wall. By the time it was repaired within a couple of hours, the activists were long gone.
We cannot deny that the activists have succeeded in sparking discussion about these walls and once again drawing attention to the exclusion that many Romani people in Slovakia unfortunately face. The question is whether such an action is still acceptable and excusable when activists, as foreign elements, invite themselves to interfere in the affairs of a locality and take over the initiative from those living there.
Doesn't that approach meet the definition of part of that famous slogan "Nothing about us without us"? Is a person with good intentions justified in interfering with the decisions of others, or should the limits of that person's aid end where the free will of other individuals begins?
Can we say that what is good for us is also good for others? When we think of activism, we mostly think of intensive advocacy of certain aims on the basis of our personal convictions.
What constraints, however, are we under during this advocacy? On the basis of what principles of respect and solidarity should activists operate?
These questions raise even more questions. That's why I cannot unequivocally give a "thumbs up" to this action.
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