Czech Greenpeace program director: Ostrava plans to use EU money for Roma inclusion
The situation on Přednádraží street in Ostrava is a completely clear example of how "our" authorities and "our" landlords create ghettos and "socially excluded people". Most people here in the Czech Republic, however, still evidently believe that "they" - the excluded - are solely to blame for their own situations.
A comprehensive, exceptional project for "social inclusion" - one unique in the Czech Republic - was presented in the spring of 2011 by politicians from Ostrava in Brussels. The project is a long-term program for integrating socially excluded Romani people. The program would cost almost one billion crowns and the town is seeking these subsidies from both the Czech state and the European Union. The main slogan of the project is: "A better family life = Better coexistence with the majority society". We have yet to see whether these subsidies will aid inclusion or whether they will be invested into general projects to develop the town. So much for politics.
Now for something from real life. Last week the Building Works Authority instructed a couple of hundred residents to move out of the buildings on Přednádraží street in Ostrava. The neighborhood has been written about since 2007 and is referred to colloquially as the Romani ghetto, with a tell-tale stench due to broken sewer lines, mountains of uncollected garbage, standing water in the cellars, and several completely trashed apartments. What to do? Back then the owner was preparing to sell the buildings and no one knew what would become of the tenants.
By the end of last year, when the Ostrava program had long since been presented in Brussels, the situation became more complicated due to yet another hepatitis outbreak on Přednádraží street. Journalists speculated that it might be related to the broken sewer lines and that people would have to move out.
Czech daily Mf DNES then reported the following a half a year later: "More than 100 children in Ostrava's ghetto are living in buildings flooded with sewage." Two weeks ago the water company stopped delivery because the tenants are behind on their payments. After all these years, the Building Works Authority has finally noticed that something might not exactly be in order over there.
For two years the buildings have belonged to a new owner who reportedly bought them as a business investment, only to see that the situation is more complicated. It's hard to say what that means. What is important is that the sewer lines have been broken this entire time, with the mold and the smell increasing. The owner claims the sewer lines do not belong to him. The town claims that only part of the sewer lines belong to them and that there are three owners all told. Everyone involved has concluded the sewer lines should be repaired by someone else - and as a result, no one has repaired them.
The law says the authorities must ensure sewer lines are repaired and then bill their owners for the cost. However, as you all know and can believe, the authorities would probably never see that money.
Let's sum up: Several hundred people, including small children, have been left by the authorities and their landlord to rot in sewage, only to later be told they cannot live in such conditions, as they are unsafe. They can go either into privately-owned residential hotels, which most of them cannot afford, or to another ghetto to live with relatives, or they can end up on the street.
Yes, some of these people - maybe even a significant proportion of them - never paid rent, stole what they could from the buildings and sold it as scrap metal, and put their garbage anywhere they found room for it. Obviously, most of the Czech public is clear on how to view this story: These people are to blame, they deserve this situation, and we're not going keep throwing welfare into this black (ha ha) hole.
That is at least as sad as the sewage-swamped buildings. Přednádraží is a clear case of how "our" authorities and "our" landlords systematically create ghettos and "socially excluded people". Both actually and metaphorically, we flood these people with sewage - and then we are surprised when the citizens emerging from of these mountains of crap are not cheerful, hard-working, responsible, sober and 100 % integrated.
Originally published in Literární noviny on 9 August 2012. Also published at http://blog.aktualne.centrum.cz/blogy/michal-komarek.php?itemid=17175 - reprinted with the kind permission of the author.
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