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Czech Republic: Power cut to ghetto, Romani residents plan temporary move

Ostrava, 19.9.2012 17:53, (ROMEA)

The situation in the Přednádraží locality of Ostrava is still inconclusive for the local residents. Kumar Vishwanathan, chair of the Life Together (Vzájemné soužití) civic association, which aids Romani families living on Přednádraží street, has confirmed the lack of a resolution to news server Romea.cz. The families living there are trapped in a vicious circle and have no other choice now but to move out. However, they say they want to return to the locality in the spring.

Yet another disaster has befallen the community on top of the long-broken sewer lines and the weeks during which their potable water service was cancelled. Yesterday electricity was cut to most of the apartments there. "People there cook on electric stoves. Since yesterday the children have not had any hot tea and have been eating bread instead of hot food," Vishwanathan said.

The power is not on because the tenants have not paid their bills. The people living on Přednádraží street are some of the most impoverished in the area and most of them are unemployed, even though they have been seeking work. They are unable to pay the power bills because they are no longer receiving the state subsidies for housing to which they would normally be entitled.

"They are not permitted to live here because the buildings are classified in the real estate registry as 'other than residential' constructions. That is how the previous owner, Czech Railways, registered them at the start of the 1990s so the property taxes on them would be lower. The Labor Office suddenly discovered that fact this year and is therefore refusing to disburse the housing benefit for unemployed people to the residents in those buildings. Some families have lived in those buildings for generations, for more than 100 years even," said Vishwanathan.

In his view the situation is still unresolved. The families are intensively seeking housing that will be as adequate as their current apartments are. They do not want to move into residential hotels, because such accommodations are overpriced and are worse in terms of hygiene, as the bathing and cooking areas are shared by all residents.

"In one residential hotel in Ostrava there is an epidemic of dysentery, 13 people have already been hospitalized because of it. It sounds like a paradox, but on Přednádraží street, where the sewer lines don't work at all, the conditions for adhering to hygienic norms are much better than they are in the residential hotels," Vishwanathan said.

The Romani residents of Přednádraží street, however, are unable to find other apartments to either rent or sublet. The main reason is that landlords want very high deposits. Paying one month's rent as a deposit is already high, but landlords want deposits of several months in advance. It is impossible for these people to put together several tens of thousands of crowns at one time. Vishwanathan says the owner of the buildings on Přednádraží street has already stopped making any more repairs there because of his own poor economic situation. Representatives of the Municipal Department of Moravská Ostrava - Přívoz initially promised during recent negotiations to accommodate seven families in municipally-owned apartments, but now, of course, they are only offering accommodation to three pensioners.

"The municipal department council is refusing to discuss the option of declaring this an emergency situation. If they were to do so, that would make it possible for them to house the people from Přednádraží street in seven of their available apartments. It was the Building Works Authority who ordered the tenants to move out of the locality. The city has long failed to repair the sewer lines there - instead, it has been arguing with Czech Railways over who owns the land where the broken sewer line is located. Declaring an emergency situation would at least aid the people whose lives have been so saddened by all of this official buck-passing. Instead, the council has been investigating me over statements I made about Přednádraží street, and they have approved a motion to evict our association, Life Together, from the spaces where we have been headquartered and from which we have run our legal and social counseling center since 1999,“ said Vishwanathan. (Romea.cz will publish a separate article on that topic.)

The Romani residents of Přednádraží want to return to the locality in the spring, of course, and create their own self-administration there. "The men will remain here during the fall and winter to make sure no one demolishes or loots their homes. In the spring they would like to do something like the small coexistence village we built in Ostrava in 2002 in cooperation with the city and a charity. In a community like that, people can learn to better manage and to effectively maintain and repair their homes. Of course, we need someone who would contribute to us financially for that. We also need the support of personalities who understand the situation, who respect the relationship the Romani families have toward their homes on Přednádraží street, and who disagree with the persecution the people here are facing," Vishwanathan told news server Romea.cz.

František Kostlán, Gwendolyn Albert, František Kostlán, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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