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Interview with Romani activist Veronika Kmetzová of Předlice in the Czech Republic

18.3.2017 9:47
Veronika Kmetzová. (PHOTO: Jana Plavec)
Veronika Kmetzová. (PHOTO: Jana Plavec)

Veronika Kmetzová (age 29) is a Romani activist who, in collaboration with other partners, has established an association, Amare Předlice, which has tasked itself with aiding the improvement of the lives and social situations of the inhabitants of the Předlice neighborhood of Ústí nad Labem, Czech Republic. In its manifesto, the group says one of its aims is to "focus on improving public spaces in Předlice and on work with the local community to involve them in finding solutions".

The association also wants to "organize cultural and sports events, clean [Předlice] up and get it back on its feet". News server Romea.cz interviewed Kmetzová to learn exactly what the association envisions its formidable intentions to be and what it is like to live in the socially excluded locality.

Q: Are you from Předlice?

A: Not me personally, but my family is, yes. Until the age of 14 I lived in a prefabricated housing estate in Dobětice where my parents later bought a house. However, before then I frequently visited Předlice to visit my grandmother, for whom it was difficult to travel to us at the housing estate. We then remained here.

Q: Why did you decide to establish a civic association? What are you anticipating from doing so?

A: We established the association as a reaction to the cheerless situation in Předlice, I am of the opinion that, as locals, we best understand the local problems and that we can manage to find solutions together to improve the standard of living here.

Q: What do you envision your specific steps will be?

A: We would like to involve as many inhabitants of Předlice as possible in our program. For the time being, we are debating possible changes, and we understand that one of the first specific tasks we must address is garbage pickup. We are planning to building a playground. Children are using local abandoned buildings as places to play that are very dangerous. We want to build a sandbox with climbing frames and swings and we would also welcome construction of a new football pitch soon.

Q: What has Amare Předlice already managed to improve?

A: We have already built a smaller playground here. My sister and her friends decided to hold a small Romani festival, and with the proceeds we bought climbing structures and sand and had them delivered. We installed it all ourselves.

Q: Can you name some other specific points you would like to address with your association in the future?

A: There's a great deal we would like to change. For example, traffic safety. There is a lack of crosswalks in Předlice, there are holes that are meters wide in the roads, and the city has forgotten to repair the roadways in Předlice. Communication with the city is at a very bad level in general. Another point we are discussing is attracting more people to church. The church in Předlice is beautiful, but almost nobody attends it, of course. You will encounter, at the most, five local grandmothers there. That's why we want to meet with the vicar to discuss how to improve the situation in that direction as well.

Q: What is your view of the complicated housing situation in the Předlice ghetto?

A: That situation is getting worse and worse, mainly ever since private owners began to buy up real estate for the purpose of leasing it for profit. We hear rumors that the buildings are being bought by people with no relationship to this place and that they are leasing apartment units for high rents. Very often they do this despite the properties being in a catastrophic state of repair. Then they think better of the enterprise and sell the building to somebody else, and the new owners again lease the units to new "inadaptable tenants". That's the same way the so-called "Moravians" behave - local Romani people who frequently illegally manipulate the apartment buildings and their units and exploit the bad social situations of their inhabitants for their own benefit.

Q: Can anything be found in Předlice that has already changed for the better?

A: Certainly, yes. I have the feeling that drug-addicted people are moving away from Předlice, as is drug production. Previously you could encounter drug users everywhere. Today the situation has somewhat calmed down, and we are very glad. We are just afraid that it might repeat itself as a consequence of new arrivals moving in. We are mainly concerned because we don't want to have to watch our children grow up in such an environment. That was one of the reasons that we have established this association.

Q: I'm going to turn away from the housing issue now. How do you see the plan of Vice-Mayor Karel Karika to build a recreation area in Předlice and establish the Jaroslav Foglar Museum there?

A: I personally have to say that I disagree with building the Jaroslav Foglar Museum here, and I also disagree with the vice-mayor's other ambitious plans. My impression is that our voices are not of much interest to Karel Karika, even though he presents himself to the media in a different light. There's a lack of communication here. We would be glad to have the chance to express ourselves when it comes to such plans, for our voice to also be heard. Sincerely, I also believe that our quarter has other, much thornier problems that it is necessary to do more to solve now than whether a museum will be here in the future, and those are the problems I have already named. I'd welcome it if we frist began to solve exactly those problems together. On the other hand, we have now achieved a success in our negotiations with the city, which will be providing us with a dumpster free of charge, and we are organizing a public cleanup of Předlice, and we hope as many local residents as possible will be involved.

Q: What do you consider the key to be when it comes to housing, so your lives can be satisfactoy and it will be possible to live in Předlice in a dignified way?

A: What I consider important, above all, is to have a relationship toward one's home, one's place of residence. My family has lived here for decades, we decided to permanently settle here, and we take good care of our property. I see the key to improving the situation as being exactly that approach. If you approach property as something that basically doesn't belong to you, then you have no need to care for it. However, once you realize that your housing is in your own hands, you will begin to think about it differently. Moreover, if you take good care of it, then you basically indirectly make your immediate surroundings - the street, the quarter and the city itself - more beautiful.

Jana Plavec, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Housing, Předlice, Socially excluded localities, Volunteering



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