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Commentary by Petr Uhl: We will not give up!

Ostrava, 8.8.2012 0:14, (ROMEA)
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In recent days I have heard and read the following phrases in the news: "They've been given an ultimatum... "- "They have to move out..." (the Building Works Authority ordered them to) - or "Officials are controlling...". Municipal and state bodies are supposed to help people rather than "control" them. They are supposed to meet their own legal obligations. The Building Works Authority, which called for the buildings on Přednádraží street in Ostrava to be vacated, is not authorized to order an eviction. Only a court is authorized to do that, and it must address its instructions to specific individuals.

Despite these inaccuracies, the media are reporting on this matter rather impartially, even with sympathy for the tenants affected. From the point of view of human rights, social solidarity, and the Czech state's obligations, both to Europe and internationally, this is a hopeful sign. The people who bear legal and political responsibility for the sewer lines, the buildings, and for halting water supplies - and possibly for soon halting electricity and gas supplies - are saying much worse things than the media are.

One town councilor in the municipal department concerned, Lukáš Semerák (from the Ostravak Movement) is attempting to jail the Czech-Indian human rights activist Kumar Vishwanathan of the Life Together civic association (Vzájemné soužití), who works with the Romani community, by alleging that he has been committing slander, spreading false rumors, and even instructing people to disobey an official decision in the criminal sense. The Vice-Mayor of Moravská Ostrava and Přívoz, Tomáš Kuřec, has publicly said that "inadaptables" are living on Přednádraží street. Kuřec is a member of the Czech Social Democrats (ČSSD), which governs the department in coalition with the Ostravak Movement.

In the Czech Republic, only a court is permitted to decide on evictions and their performance, not any other authority. The Building Works Authority is not holding the owners of the sewer lines to account, but has instead issued a general call to vacate the premises.

Let's imagine for a moment that the people living there are not Romani and that the authorities or municipality (in this case, one department) would call on them all to move into unfurnished residential hotels, and would tar with the same brush people who were rent defaulters and those who had been paying rent properly. Would we consider that normal? I am looking forward to the lawsuits.

The Czech public has learned three things from the media. The overpriced rents at the "residential hotels", where people pay up to CZK 20 000 a month or more for a small room, are being paid from social welfare (the two different kinds of housing allowances) straight to the entrepreneur/speculators who are often in the housing shortage business with the support of the town hall. This is what right-wing law looks like. The Romani tenants are not to blame, they are "only" suffering the fact that an entire family now has to live in a single room.

A second piece of news, this one good: Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková and Czech deputy ombudsman Jitka Seitlová have stood up for the tenants. During her recent television appearance Seitlová demonstrated a feeling for justice, the law, rationality, and sensitivity. Her conclusions in a nutshell: The state-level building and waterworks administrations are mainly to blame.

The authorities must rapidly repair the sewer lines as per the law and get rid of any other deficiencies. The Romani tenants say they are not giving up. They include people who are willing to donate their labor toward running the buildings and improving their homes. That is the third - and most valuable - piece of news.

Published on 7 August 2012 in the daily Právo.

Gwendolyn Albert, Petr Uhl, Petr Uhl, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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