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Housing for All: We charge the system with failure and incompetence

Ústí nad Labem, 4.2.2013 23:46, (ROMEA)
A press conference on the afternoon of 4 February by the former occupants of the residential hotel on Čelakovského street in Ústí nad Labem - Krásném Březně transformed into a
A press conference on the afternoon of 4 February by the former occupants of the residential hotel on Čelakovského street in Ústí nad Labem - Krásném Březně transformed into a "happening" where activists responded to the current situation around the property. The banner reads "Hands Off the Poor" (PHOTO: Czech Press Agency)

An improvised press conference of the Housing for All initiative (Bydlení pro všechny) took place this afternoon in front of the residential hotel in the Krásné Březno quarter of Ústí nad Labem. News server Romea.cz is publishing in full translation below a declaration that was read at that event.

Declaration by the Housing for All initiative (Bydlení pro všechny), 4 February, Ústí nad Labem

We have been covering our faces with bandanas here so that what is important isn't faces and names, but the revelation of a problem. For the time being we have decided to leave half of our faces visible so the colors of our skin would be obvious. Black and white people have joined forces here.

We did not come here to convince the occupants of the residential hotel to stay there. We are not manipulators, even though people who cannot imagine any relationship with the dispossessed and the poor other than one of manipulation have been claiming that about us.

We came here because we took seriously the determination and the word of the local people. We came to support them in making their own decisions. We came as their guests and their supporters. We came because we have had enough of  mud-slinging at poor people.

The fact that we met one another here is to the credit of those who hosted us, the few brave families at the residential hotel in Krásné Březno. Those people have refused to let others shit on them and have showed the kind of courage that the majority society only sees in films and old books. Thanks to them, we waged a common struggle, helped one another, and experienced an unprecedented atmosphere of solidarity.

The atmosphere here has been full of chaos, improvisation and unrest, but also full of an unusual energy, thanks to which we have managed to overcome the hardship of the families in a residential hotel disconnected from electricity, heat and water and to find them dignified housing in an incredibly short amount of time. The institutions of the state, the town, and the NGOs associated with them were unable to do that over the course of several months.

We have managed to avert the risk that mafia members will profit from the grievous situation into which these families were forced, a situation in which the poor once again became a source of profit by leasing the apartments offered them by the Ústí branches of nonprofit organizations. That risk no longer exists, and the people occupying the residential hotel have now left Krásné Březno.

Yes, we are humbly aware of the fact that we had a great deal of luck in the middle of this misfortune and that the situation could have ended up differently, and much worse. However, our consciences are clean. We did everything in our power to reach that luck. We let the acute nature of this entire problem be known at such a volume that the media took it up and, with their help, the way out of the ghetto was found.

A lot was at stake here - actually, everything was at stake. These families were concerned about what is most precious to them, their children. Our concern was an apparent banality: We wanted to be able to look at ourselves in the mirror. That has succeeded. We made it clear to ourselves that people do exist - and there will be more and more of us - who say ENOUGH to the naturalness and normality of racism, ENOUGH to blaming those at the bottom of the barrel, ENOUGH to abandoning our responsibility at their expense.

We always say "thanks" to the people from the residential hotel, but we know that among gypsies what matters is "don't thank, remember". We sure as hell will remember these days in Krásné Březno.

We will also remember these past few days because they have taught us a good lesson about the cockeyed nature of this world. We found poor people in a residential hotel in a completely desperate position who could still serve the residential hotels, the mafia, the real estate companies and the NGOs as a source of economic and eventually symbolic profit. We saw squalid little rooms in a residential hotel where the rent is equivalent to that of a luxurious apartment in the center of a metropolis. We saw a company with billions in assets, some of which come from running such residential hotels, that had no problem turning off the electricity, heat and water to families with children.

We met Social Democrats whose "social" side consists of attacking the poor and whose "democratic" side consists of authoritarian challenges to the poor to do their best and not bother them with any demands. We saw the gigantic NGO People in Need (Člověk v tísni) and we found out how a monopoly distributor of the so-called "good" behaves when a person gets into acute need and at the same time dares to act and think for herself. When People in Need, during the worst moment of this crisis at the residential hotel, when there was a risk that people's children would be taken into state care, released a lie to the media claiming that the residential hotel occupants had rejected 20 apartments, they crushed the faith of the people they were collaborating with, as well as the overall faith of the public in NGOs. At the same time, this organization showed that its media image and the provision of an alibi to its allies at the town hall, from which its grant money flows, is more important to it than are human lives and a good resolution to a crisis situation.

We also observed a state that constantly talks about how indispensable it is, but which, when confronted with questions about the fate of the poor, declares itself powerless. After our experiences, we can say it was telling the truth: State, you really did not manage to help. You just managed to create obstacles, to play the game of the mafia and the private property owners, to make excuses and threats.

All of these institutions abandoned their responsibility by solemnly swearing they were proceeding precisely according to the law, even though the entire machinery of the system was all but spitting people onto the street and trying to blame them for it. The system charged these people with incompetence - the poor were said to be responsible for their own failures. After our experiences in Krásné Březno, we charge the system with failure and incompetence.

Today we are Housing for All. Yesterday we called ourselves something else, and tomorrow we might be called something else again. You have given us various names - activists, anarchists, drug addicts, squatters. You can call us evil extremists or "white gypsies" for all we care - names are not important.

What's important is this: We will always be the conscience of those in power. We will be bitchy, bothersome, and ugly to everyone who denies poor people their dignity and rights. We will be passing on what we learned in Krásné Březno. We will turn up again in places where the powerful least expect us and where people at the bottom of the barrel want to fight for their rights to a dignified life, for the rights of their children, for housing, and against racism. Afterward we will go quiet again, put away our bandanas, and keep watch from the darkness.

press release of the Housing for All initiative (Inciativa Bydlení pro všechny), translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Antidiskriminace, Demonstrace, Děti, Komunální, Kriminalita, Lidská práva, Menšiny, Neštěstí, Předsudky, Sociální vyloučení, Soužití, Stěhování, Ubytování, Ústí nad labem, Vystěhování, Aktivismus, Anticiganismus, Cigáni, Občanské iniciativy, Předlice, Romové, Romské ženy, sociální bydlení, sociální služby, ubytovny, Czech republic, Člověk v tísni, Housing, Press conference, Racism, Roma



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