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Analysis: Czech political parties cleanse municipal district of “Romani garbage”

Ostrava/Prague, 28.4.2013 4:06, (ROMEA)
Housing for Romani people and impoverished
Housing for Romani people and impoverished "whites", Ostrava-style: A homeless colony in abandoned garages. Water comes from a nearby stream, electricity is only available sometimes, stoves are used to burn anything and everything.

The municipal department of Moravská Ostrava a Přívoz, which is governed by the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) together with the Ostravak (“Natives of Ostrava”) movement, is gradually “purging” this central section of Ostrava of “Romani garbage”. At least, that is how developer and municipal department councilor Lukáš Semerák (Ostravak movement) expressed himself last year when explaining his desire to purchase buildings on Přednádraží Street and his purchase of an apartment building on Palackého Street just a few steps away.

“My only intention is for this whole locality to be raised up and for adaptable citizens to return here. Přívoz is one of the oldest parts of Ostrava and has a long history. Unfortunately, after the great floods of 1997, when the Hrušov quarter was affected, Romani residents from there ended up on Přednádraží Street. I regret that this neighborhood of Ostrava has become a garbage can,” Semerák told news server Novinky.cz last August.

The first garbage removal: Přednádraží

ČSSD and the Ostravaks are gradually pushing impoverished people out of Moravská Ostrava a Přívoz, intentionally and mercilessly. The first bastion to fall during this crusade was Přednádraží. A broken sewer line there was left unfixed so the buildings filled up with excrement and became uninhabitable.

According to statements made at the time by the owner of 10 buildings in the ghetto, Oldřich Roztočil, the town was pushing him into a corner because it wanted to buy his buildings in order to create a new industrial zone there. “They simply want to cleanse Přívoz of Romani people, and that is why they are constantly blaming me, even though for two years I have been doing my best to get the town to repair the sewer line. I even started repairing my buildings, but the wastewater seeped into the basements and the ground-floor apartments, so I halted the work,” Roztočil said.

According to this landlord, it is completely certain that support for the entrepreneurial activities of, among others, town councilor Lukáš Semerák is what lies behind the town’s inactivity with respect to the sewer line. Semerák had previously expressed his interest in buying the buildings. “I refused to sell them to him, so he is trying to get them another way, and he is certainly not the only one,” Roztočil said.

What happened next? The Building Works Authority instructed the occupants to move out. With the gradual departure of the tenants, metal-scavengers turned up to complete the devastation of the buildings. Officials then condemned the Přednádraží properties. The tenants who remained - they didn’t want to go live in residential hotels because a dysentery epidemic was raging in those facilities at the time and there was no other housing option available – were advised by the town hall that they were no longer entitled to their housing benefits. Today, of the original almost 300 residents, only 25 remain in Přednádraží.

The second garbage removal: Palackého Street

After this, all of the buildings on Palackého Street were purged of their tenants. Semerák did not manage to purchase the Přednádraží properties, so he bought one of the buildings on Palackého Street nearby, where impoverished people, predominantly Romani ones, were living, and an adjacent building was purchased by a business colleague of his.

“We wanted to ensure a calm environment and lend a helping hand to the management of the private Karel Engliš College, which is headquartered across the street from our buildings and will start instruction there in September,” Semerák said at the time. Ironically, the school will not be instructing anyone in Ostrava this September, as it is closing its operations due to the incompetence of its managers.

Once Semerák and his colleague had purchased the buildings, they started “taking out the garbage”. They refused to renew short-term leases and pushed those with open-ended leases out through other means. News server Romea.cz spoke with a lady who claimed that she gave up her open-ended lease in a Palackého Street property after receiving constant telephone calls threatening to kill her children.

The third garbage removal: Božkova Street

Next, the municipal department announced it would be closing the residential hotel on Božkova Street. The residential hotel is reportedly intended for debtors and is managed as a transitional accommodation where tenants are expected to stay for a maximum of six months.

"For financial reasons (an annual loss of roughly CZK 1 million), and in order to cultivate the neighborhood, we have decided to close the residential hotel. We will be concluding new, fixed-term leases with the tenants. Should they fall into arrears, we will not extend their leases and we will also not be obliged to provide them with substitute accommodation,” Jana Pondělíčková, press spokesperson for Moravská Ostrava a Přívoz, told news server Romea.cz at the time.

The phrase “cultivating the neighborhood” is just a more cultured way of expressing what Semerák said in plain terms: Whatever is "uncivilized" has to go. Where should it go? Mainly away from Moravská Ostrava a Přívoz - the bureaucrats and politicians don’t give a damn.

The fourth garbage removal: Cihelní and Tomkova streets

Now the time has come to clear out two (and maybe three) residential hotels on Cihelní and Tomkova streets. Municipal bureaucrats and politicians are forcing people to move away from them through a time-tested method. The Building Works Authority has allegedly discovered during a recent inspection that the properties cannot be used as residential hotels. They are supposed to be used as apartment houses (leasing whole apartments, not individual rooms) or as office buildings.

These tenants will, like those before them, lose their housing benefit, which means only one thing for them: Moving out. They could never pay the usurious rents out of either their own salaries or welfare.

The closure of the residential hotels should have a positive impact, because the living conditions in them are horrific, but their occupants need somewhere to go so they don’t end up living under a bridge. Despite this fact, Moravská Ostrava a Přívoz has already ruled out leasing them any of the apartments owned by the municipal department.

"Currently, roughly 90 residential hotel tenants have received warnings from the Labor Office that their housing benefits can be cancelled,” municipal department Vice-Mayor Tomáš Kuřec (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD) said, adding that social workers are now addressing the people’s situations. However, he does not agree with proposals to house the tenants in municipally-owned apartments.

"Unfortunately, the people in those residential hotels are deeply indebted as a result of their previous rental relationships, either with private landlords or our own municipally-owned apartments. Our principle is not to lease apartments to debtors,” Kuřec said. If even the Social Democrats don’t want to break the vicious cycle of indebtedness, then who else will?

The fifth garbage removal: Throwing out the resisters

In order to make it clear how serious the ČSSD and Ostravak movement councilors are about this gentrification, they have even evicted the Life Together (Vzájemné soužití) association from its former office space. This organization has long stood up against the municipal department on behalf of local Romani people and assisted them.

"The current leadership of the municipal department of Moravská Ostrava a Přívoz evicted us from the commercial spaces in September 2012 and gave us until 31 January 2013 to leave them. We are of the opinion that this action is a response to the association’s engagement in the scandal at Přednádraží. Unfortunately, this has led us to the conclusion that the Council of the municipal department of Moravská Ostrava a Přívoz is just taking advantage of its powerful influence, because for the entire time we have been using the spaces at 30. dubna 1 we have never committed any wrongdoing, nor have we violated any of the terms of the lease agreement. The empty spaces continue to be listed by the town as available for lease as commercial premises,” Life Together wrote in a declaration on the issue.

The organization's legal and social counseling center, which had assisted people for many years from the well-located premises near the Labor Office, has now moved into spaces leased by a private firm. Otherwise it would have had to move out of the central municipal department and people would have had to trek God knows where to access it.

Whoever votes for anti-social parties is voting for the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM)

Moravská Ostrava a Přívoz is definitely not the only municipality doing its best to get rid of its citizens instead of helping them. Legendary welfare recipient Jiří Čunek became famous for this a while back, but even he wasn’t the first.

We could also call this behavior racist, but the problem has a strong social aspect to it. It’s not just about Romani people, but about the approach towards impoverished people in general. The numbers of those who are the worst off are steeply rising and, as we see, the approach of ČSSD to their problems is not much better than that of the current government. Where has the high priest of the Social Democrats, Lubomír Zaorálek of Ostrava, suddenly disappeared to? Why isn’t he protesting the behavior of his fellow party members? Maybe his high salary means he has lost sight of those below, at the very bottom.

If the KSČM win yet another seat in parliament at the expense of ČSSD, please don’t be angry or surprised. Communists don’t get their seats because of low turnout, they get them because of those who vote for the ČSSD, the Civic Democrats (ODS) and TOP 09 – political parties that play right into the communists’ hands by overlooking the problems of the most impoverished.

František Kostlán, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Anticiganismus, Czech republic, Ghetto, Housing, news, Roma, segregace, Racism, Sociální vyloučení, sociální bydlení, sociální služby, ubytovny, ČSSD, KSČM, ODS, Ostrava



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