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Czech Republic: Social Darwinists humiliating the poor

Prague, 8.2.2013 19:25, (ROMEA)
Housing for Romani people, Ostrava-style, 2013. A colony for homeless people in abandoned garages. Photo:  František Kostlán
Housing for Romani people, Ostrava-style, 2013. A colony for homeless people in abandoned garages. Photo: František Kostlán

The situation with respect to housing and work for impoverished people in the Czech Republic is serious. Social housing practically does not exist here. There is often not enough work for middle-class people, to say nothing of the socially vulnerable, be they Romani or "white".

Romani people and poor people in general are viewed as "inadaptable parasites" in the eyes of a rising number of people here, including those working in social welfare departments. This is an explosive cocktail.

According to our personal experiences reporting from impoverished ghettos, neighborhoods and residential hotels, many of the poor find themselves in a debt trap they cannot escape. In order to be able to eat, they either don't pay their rent or borrow money from loan sharks.

Not paying rent means you end up on the street. Borrowing from loan sharks means, with rare exceptions, becoming an asset to them for the rest of your life as you constantly pay them back, because most of the time one loan will not fix everything.

Many loan sharks in many parts of the country also own casinos and gaming rooms in or near socially excluded localities. Some of the money they loan the poor at high interest comes right back into their pockets if the borrower is also a gambler.

Petty crime committed by the have-nots is growing, primarily shoplifting, and it will continue to rise, as the politicians responsible are relying on repression ("addressing" symptoms) instead of increasing poor people's chances of finding housing and jobs (addressing the causes).

The powerlessness of people at the bottom of the social barrel is increasing. This is why drug use, gambling and prostitution are on the rise.

This is also why bad social habits (such as poor hygiene) are intensifying and otherwise common social habits are not being acquired. If a family is in its second or third generation without work, how are children supposed to acquire that social habit?

Impoverished families have more children than the wealthy. This has been true throughout history. The poorest of the poor have always had more offspring in order to have someone to take care of them in their old age. This is also why children are such a joy for them, even though they are otherwise having fewer of them today.

Along with all of this, another phenomenon is also on the rise: The knuckleheads writing articles in the media and discussions online through which they seek to wage war with "the enemy within".

The poor of Ostrava have no chance

Two scandals in the media have recently served as deterrent examples of the situations of the poorest of the poor: The case of Přednádraží street in Ostrava, and that of the residential hotel in Krásné Březno (Ústí nad Labem). News server Romea.cz has described both of these scandals in many articles, but the situation is the same elsewhere in the country.

We decided to take a look at what conditions are like in both of these large towns with respect to housing and the possibility of finding work. We have already reported on the situation in Ústí, so let's look a little closer at Ostrava.

The people evicted from Přednádraží street or the adjacent Palackého street are in an even worse situation that the people in Ústí. With few exceptions, the impoverished of Ostrava cannot free themselves at all from the residential hotels or the socially excluded localities. Romani people in particular are prevented from moving into available apartments outside the ghettos by landlords and their potential neighbors.

We have spoken with many Romani people in Ostrava who want to get out of the rut they are in. From the start they have looked for ordinary apartments with cheaper rents. We met one Romani woman who is taking care of eight children and managed to find affordable housing with the aid of thee gadje (non-Romani people).

Ostrava's residential hotels

The residential hotels of Ostrava are the sort of housing that deprives people of all dignity. For example, in half of the rooms of one residential hotel that we visited there were no electrical outlets. Imagine living in one room with another five members of your family without electricity. You share with all the other tenants a common toilet, wash-stand, and small kitchen - and you pay between CZK 15 000 [EUR 595] and CZK 20 000 [EUR 795] per month.

An average example (neither the very best nor the very worst) is the residential hotel on Cihelná street. Adults pay CZK 3 500 per month per person and are charged CZK 2 000 per month for each child. A family with five children, therefore, pays CZK 17 000 per month for one room roughly 20 meters square.

Some of this is paid for them by the state through the housing subsidy. However, because these people eke their living out of a few crowns a month (no fantastically high welfare awaits them anywhere), the amount they themselves contribute toward a residential hotel rent represents a very high proportion of their income.

Each floor of the residential hotel on Cihelná street has 10 rooms, which means a total of between 40 and 50 people live on each floor. Recently, the manager even refused to rent a room to a single mother with one child, because this two-member family was "not enough for one room".

For these several dozen people per floor there are three wash-stands, three showers, four toilets, and a small electric hotplate (two or three burners altogether). It surprises no one that dysentery has spread throughout the population of the building.

"This is the only way out, we can't live under the bridge," a mother of four told news server Romea.cz when asked why she was still living at the residential hotel despite the dysentery. Another mother with eight children was still living there even though the entire perimeter of her room was covered in mold from the damp about 30 centimeters from the ceiling.

"The children were always cranky, they had high fevers. Once I called an ambulance, but they told me they wouldn't come to our neighborhood. I had to walk to the hospital with my child in my arms. We all caught dysentery," that lady told us. Today she is living in much better conditions thanks to the civic association SPOLEČNĚ - JEKHETANE (TOGETHER), which helped her find housing.

It is only now, in 2013, that the Czech Labor and Social Affairs Ministry is planning to define the rules of social housing (or at least says it is). Of course, the government has not released any money to construct such housing and is not planning to. The towns, for the most part, have privatized all of the housing stock they once owned.

Unemployment rising in the Czech Republic

Unemployment here has now crossed the 10 % mark. As of the close of last year, the Labor Office reported a total of 33 794 jobs available. There are, therefore, an average of 17.3 job-seekers per available position in this country.

Despite this fact, one can still find knuckleheads willing to shout "Gypsies get to work" as they march through the ghettos. The work situation is the same wherever you are in the country.

"I've had good jobs twice, but in each case the firm either went bankrupt or got into problems and had to lay people off. I have applied for many jobs at the Labor Office, I have good qualifications. I graduated from a technical high school in the restaurant field (cook, waiter) and so I thought I would definitely find something. It has happened to me several times that I have telephoned a business and been told on the phone that they were hiring, but after I showed up in person, they told me they would get in touch with me and then didn't bother to. Several times they have also told me straight out that they do not hire Romani people. A lady in one restaurant said to me:  'Don't be angry, but if I hired you, they would fire us both.' I appreciate that kind of honesty at least," one young Romani man who lived on Přednádraží street told news server Romea.cz.

Attack of the social Darwinists

The hunt for the "enemy within" who is "to blame" for the deteriorating situation is growing, and here Romani people lead the field as suspects by a wide margin. The loudmouths are bothered by the CZK 4 billion [EUR 160,000,000] the state pays for welfare (which does not only go to Romani people, of course) but they are not bothered by the asocial policy of this government, which is gradually pauperizing not only the poorest of the poor (where pensioners also frequently end up) but also the lower middle class as well.

On the internet and in the media, a kind of social Darwinist still survives among the journalists and other members of editorial staffs, among the authors of articles and blogs, and among those posting comments and holding discussions underneath online articles and through social networking sites. These people distinguish themselves through the following opinions and others like them:  Only the most competent, the strongest, survive - and that's how it should be. Each person should fend for himself. If I can do it, anyone can! Whoever doesn't is just a loafer leaching off of my work. It's all the same to me that the weak don't survive, it's their problem and I do not intend to pay for it.

Sometimes these "competent, strong individuals" turn out to be long-term unemployed people themselves, pushed by their frustration over their own impotency and powerlessness to seek an enemy. However, more frequently these individuals are just ordinary egoists with zero "social intelligence", suffering themselves from emotional deprivation. These people are indifferent to absolutely everything, including the suffering of others.

While such people definitely do not predominate in our society in terms of numbers, they are setting its tone nonetheless. Even when they are employed, it does not prevent them from participating in these internet discussions during their work hours and cursing others for not working and for living off of their taxes. They make sure to take the time to shout down these others and displace them from the public space, including on the streets. I once heard demonstrators of this sort at an anti-Romani event in the Šluknov foothills shout the following at Romani people: "Give us your welfare."

"I'd be glad to trade them my welfare for their job," laughs one of the Romani women in Ostrava who has been evicted from Palackého street. She lives on CZK 13 300 [EUR 530] a month total, including the welfare contributions for her children and her disability payments (after several spinal operations). She, her husband and their four children share a one-bedroom apartment. Some months all they have left to spend on food, clothing, and their children's school supplies is CZK 1 200 [EUR 48]. They could not survive without the occasional, one-off jobs they pick up. Fortunately, one of their adult sons has now found a permanent job with the municipal maintenance department and can now contribute several thousand crowns a month to the family budget.

Why is it even necessary to mention the "social Darwinists" here? Because their numbers are growing, as is their volume, which can make it seem as if social cohesion is not as important as it once was here. The stories of specific people, however, show us that our solidarity with the poorest of the poor, which maintains that social cohesion, is needed now more than every before. Or do we want to wait for the dangerous mixture I have described to become a "Molotov cocktail"?

Next week news server Romea.cz will be publishing more stories about specific people, their financial options, their housing, and their jobs.

František Kostlán, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Bezpečnost, Bída, Demonstrace, Děti, Diskriminace, Dotace, Drogy, Ekonomika, Exkluze, Chudoba, Kauza, Komunální, Kriminalita, Krize, Legislativa, Lichva, Média, Menšiny, Nezaměstnanost, Ostrava, Politika, Přednádraží, Předsudky, Sociální, Sociální dávky, Sociální vyloučení, Soužití, Stěhování, Ubytování, Ústí nad labem, Vystěhování, Anticiganismus, Fámy, Korupce, MPSV, Nacionalismus, nepokoje, občanské sdružení, Romové, Romské ženy, segregace, sociální bydlení, Šíření nenávisti a nesnášenlivosti, ubytovny, Commentary, Czech republic, Extremism, Ghetto, Housing, integration, MPSV, Racism, Roma, Zaměstnanost, Zaměstnávání, Zámky



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