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Czech municipality gets tough on Ostrava ghetto residents again

Ostrava, 10.10.2012 17:21, (ROMEA)

This morning technical service workers began using tape to obstruct the entrances to buildings in the ghetto on Přednádraží street, warning people not to enter them and posting signs banning entry. The reason is said to be the fact that the landlord has not secured the buildings against entry, according to Jana Pondělíčková, spokesperson for the municipal department of Moravská Ostrava and Přívoz. Almost 50 people, including children, are still living in the locality, most of them Romani. According to the Building Works Authority, the buildings are allegedly not fit for habitation and are in danger of collapse.

"All entrances to the buildings will gradually be obstructed, including the doors. The tape will also be used on the buildings which are still being occupied despite the authorities' disagreement," said Pondělíčková, adding that the labeling of the buildings was ordered by the Building Works Authority. In addition to the warning tape, signs reading "Entry Forbidden - Danger of Injury" will be posted as well. "The buildings continue to be devastated, their structures are disturbed, and the people who are living there or walking into those buildings are doing so at their own risk," Pondělíčková said.

The authorities have repeatedly called on residents to leave the dilapidated buildings. Many of them, however, continue to refuse. Originally around 200 tenants were living there. According to Pondělíčková, social workers are visiting the locality daily and doing their best to help people. They have arranged accommodation for some of them in residential hotels or the local Halfway House. Two municipally-owned apartments have been leased to those families meeting the criteria.

"We consider obstructing the buildings 'for safety reasons' to be an alibistic gesture on the part of the municipal district of Moravská Ostrava and Přívoz and a continuation of the pressure being placed on the residents of Přednádraží. From our point of view, it is still the case that the town should take care of its inhabitants who are in distress, not aggravate them when there is no legal obligation to do so. We doubly expect a town to help its own residents that has applied to the social inclusion program, which is directly intended for solving such problems," Petr Hauzírek of the SOS Přednádraží initiative told news server Romea.cz.

According to a statement previously released by the initiative, politicians should be striving for an acceptable, dignified solution to the situation. The challenge calls on the authorities to restore the buildings to a habitable state."In particular, the sewer lines should be repaired which are owned in part by the town of Ostrava, which is responsible for them, and the supply of electricity and potable water should resume," reads the appeal.

The town of Ostrava, however, has previously rejected the claim that it owns the broken sewer lines. On the contrary, the town believes the lines are owned by the state (specifically, by Czech Railways) and is seeking a declaratory judgment on the issue from the District Court in Ostrava.

This is not the first time the municipality of Moravská Ostrava and Přívoz has taken a harder line with respect to the people living on Přednádraží street and those assisting them. The municipality has also stopped leasing two non-residential spaces to the Life Together association (Vzájemné soužití), one used for its main office and one for its legal and social counseling center.

According to Life Together's chair, Kumar Vishwanathan, the association does not want to lose its existing, well-situated spaces because their location near the Labor Office is important to its activity. "That's also the reason why our legal and social counseling center has been accessed by people from all over Ostrava for 11 years - it's very close to the Labor Office," Vishwanathan told news server Romea.cz.

Vishwanathan believes the termination of the leases is intentional. "I have the feeling that this is an attack on freedom of speech and assembly, that the Moravská Ostrava and Přívoz Council is behaving toward us a bit like those in power behaved toward people pre-1989. It's as if they are doing their best to shut us up or force us to conform because of economic and political interests. We, however, are part of civil society, and we cannot just fall in line with something like this. We will always stand up for those who are deprived. Now we are waiting for an answer from the municipal department council. If their answer will not be satisfactory, we will consider addressing this through legal means," Vishwanathan said.

ČTK, František Kostlán, Gwendolyn Albert, František Kostlán, Czech Press Agency, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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