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Czech residents rejecting the mere presence of Romani neighbors

Vyškov, 25.8.2012 0:52, (ROMEA)

The Czech online daily Deník.cz has reported on the case of the Ferenc family, Romani people who until recently were living in the town of Ivanovice na Hané. The owner of the building in which they rented an apartment there told them they had to move out because he had fallen into debt and would be demolishing the building. Today the Ferenc family is living in the Hamiltony neighborhood of the town of Vyškov, where their non-Romani neighbors have complained to the local planning committee about them.

The Ferenc family supposedly had three months in which to move away from Ivanovice. "In reality they had less time than that, because the family has small children who are supposed to attend school in September, so they needed to resolve their housing situation before then. The family's daughter-in-law is also in an advanced stage of pregnancy," said Zdenka Jelínková, a field social worker with the IQ Roma servis organization.

It was not easy to find substitute accommodation for the many members of the Romani family. "Because of prejudice, people often shrink from offering accommodation to Romani renters. We unfortunately address this regularly," Jelínková noted.

The Ferenc family say they were under pressure from their landlord to move out. "I learned from more than one source that the landlord was under pressure from the town leadership to evict us. People were bothered by our children sitting in front of the building or listening to music with the windows open," said Eva Ferencová.

The family finally rented substitute accommodation from Věra Georgiová in the Hamiltony neighborhood of Vyškov. "I didn't know the family beforehand at all. It wasn't until later that I discovered that their youngest daughter goes to school in Bohdalice, where I teach. I told them what the rent would be and asked for a deposit in advance. We came to an agreement about everything and were able to meet each other halfway," said Georgiová.

The new landlady was aware of the risks connected with renting to a Romani family. "I already had one Romani family in the building once before and it bothered the locals then too. My husband is Bulgarian, so through him I have encountered racism my entire life, but I will never give in to it. I really do not understand some people's opinions," Georgiová says.

Complaints against the new tenants surfaced almost immediately. "Various rumors started to spread. At a meeting of the local planning committee I overheard, for example, that at least 30 Romani people were going to move into Ms Georgiová's building and that the town was somehow involved," said Alena Hudcová, the chair of the local planning committee .

Authorities never confirmed the information, so Hudcová took no notice of it. "After some time, a colleague from the committee came to me and said his neighbors were coming to him to complain, telling him the same rumor I had previously heard. I immediately contacted the vice-mayor of Vyškov, and he of course resolutely refuted the entire matter," said Hudcová.

Hudcová said she would not be surprised if a petition asking the Ferenc family to move out were to be put together soon, "even though they only moved in on 1 August and nothing bad has happened here since then. The fact that nothing has gone wrong should calm everyone down, but it seems to me that it just irritates people instead," Hudcová observed.

Other Hamiltony residents' statements confirm that Hudcová's prediction is not unfounded. "I think what everyone else thinks. That family should never have moved here. We're all just afraid of what might start happening," said resident Ludmila Kupčíková.

Hudcová is bothered by the fact that people are speculating about potential problems even though none currently exist. "I don't care about skin color, people should learn to communicate with each other and live together. Problems should be resolved once they actually occur. In my opinion, problems can be averted to a significant extent through dialogue. People's response to this situation was the last straw for me. It's the reason I decided to resign in protest as chair of the district planning committee," she said.

According to field social worker Jelínková, such behavior is unfortunately rare. "It is laudable that Ms Hudcová managed to show people, through her resolute attitude, that they were in fact making themselves look ridiculous," Jelínková believes.

Despite the neighbors' complaints, the Ferenc family is satisfied with their new home. "We like it here very much and we are grateful for this opportunity. The only thing is that I am constantly worrying about the position of the leadership of Ivanovice, because through their behavior, they have indirectly labeled all of us as inconvenient thieves. We definitely are not pleased about that," Eva Ferencová said.

Gwendolyn Albert, Deník.cz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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