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Czech town wants NGO aiding Romani people to move, NGO suspects retaliation

Ostrava, 20.9.2012 19:48, (ROMEA)

The Municipal Department of Moravská Ostrava and Přívoz has ceased cooperating with the Life Together (Vzájemné soužití) civic association, specifically with its chair, Kumar Vishwanathan. The most likely reason for their decision is Vishwanathan's engagement in exposing the scandal around the ghetto on Přednádraží street. The municipal council has terminated its current leases with Life Together for two non-residential spaces, one used as the headquarters for the group's main office and the other used as its legal and social counseling center.

The municipality's letter does not give any reason for its decision, but simply informs Life Together that the council held an extraordinary session to decide on terminating the leases and is demanding the association vacate both premises within three months. "As of the final day of the grace period you will hand over the vacated non-residential spaces to the Property Administration Division's Property Department," the letter reads. Editors at Romea.cz have a copy of the letter and Life Together's response. The association has written to the municipality asking why the lease has been terminated, given that its cooperation with the municipal department and with the larger city has always gone well until now.

"Both leases for the rental of the non-residential spaces are open-ended. During the entire time that we have leased these premises, there have been no offenses against or violations of the terms of those leases... Since we are not aware of having violated our obligations, this unanticipated termination of the leases has prompted us to speculate as to the reasons for this unexpected step on the part of the Municipal Department Council. We do not want to consider the possibility that the Municipal Department Council would take advantage of its powerful influence in this way because our association has been involved in addressing the issue of the locality on Přednádraží street,“ Life Together has written to the councilors for Moravská Ostrava and Přívoz.

Romea.cz asked representatives of the Moravská Ostrava and Přívoz Council why they have terminated the leases, but we did not get a direct answer. Vice-Mayor Petra Bernfeldová's response was the following:

"The lease states that we have the right to terminate it without giving any reason for doing so. We will have the building concerned held in reserve for tenants of the tower block on Ostrčilova street, which we are planning to reconstruct. We have offered the nonprofit organization Life Together other non-residential spaces on Dobrovského street. Most of the nonprofit organizations that work in socially excluded localities are headquartered right in the place where their work is most needed."

Vishwanathan said the association does not want to lose its currently well-located spaces because their position near the Labor Office is important to their work. "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.

Life Together has been involved in the concerns over Přednádraží street from the very beginning. The association is aiding people there in resisting an order from the Building Works Authority to move out of the buildings because the hygienic conditions in them are poor. Several municipal bureaucrats and politicians are to blame for those conditions because they have not repaired broken sewer lines there due to a dispute with Czech Railways over who owns the land in which the sewer lines are located. Many local people were born on Přednádraží street and consider the locality their home and the place of their roots.

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