European Youth Media Days 2013

The unwanted Slovaks

by Christian Petersen and Anders Nielsen

Thousands of Roma people live at a level of subsistence in ramshackle blocks in the outskirts of Kosice. Their daily fight for survival makes the Slovaks build anti-Roma walls to protect themselves.

A group of Romas have gathered in the street between a block of flats in the eastern part of Slovakia. In front stands a mother with a child in each hand and eyes full of despair.

”We live like homeless people. We’ve lived here for thirty years. But now the government have torn down our apartment block. We haven’t been offered a new place to stay. So now we’re living outside in the forest with 100 other people”.

In front of the forest stand six blocs, grey and full of cracks. There are no windows so one can look directly into the stairways from where children are running out in the open space, dirty and with dusty faces. There is no playground, so they find alternative toys in a fifty-metre long ditch of garbage.

They live in Lunik IX, a Roma-ghetto in the outskirts of Kosice, the second biggest city in Slovakia and the Europe Cultural Capital 2013. Six thousand people are squeezed together. Every room houses on average 16 people . Most of them live without water heat or electricity.

A man from the crowd starts to yell. “You just come here to take pictures. But nothing happens. The conditions are getting worse and worse. Jesus Christ. In other countries people get money, so they can live”

The roof is on fire

The inhabitants of Lunik IX receive 60 Euro each month. The money has to pay for rent, electricity, water, heat, medicine and food. However, as the amount of money is too small to cover the expenditures the supply of heat and water has been cut.

Now they get heat from fires made by wood from the forest or even their own floorboards and sash bars from the windows. The only water supply is a hosepipe, which delivers water two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening.

The frustrated man keeps yelling: “Last time I visited my mother she was sick because of the water. It’s full of bacteria”.

There are 400.000 Romas in Slovakia according to the Atlas of Roma Communities, which gathers the official governmental information on Romas in Slovakia. That’s 7.5 per cent of the total population. Around 108,000 live isolated from the society and nine out of ten segregated Romas are unemployed. Most of them live in the east of the country.

Anti-roma walls on the rise

In Kosice there are big problems with criminality. The neighbours of Lunik IX have experienced vandalism, violence and theft as well as Romas having sexual behaviours in their backyards. Therefore, they have built a forty-metre long wall which aims to force the Romas walk around their housing estate.

All in all, 15 of these anti-Roma walls have been built in Slovakia. They are found in the Czech Republic and Hungary as well. Some of them are up to two hundred meters long. And even though the European Union has put pressure on Kosice to tear down the wall, it still stands. The neighbours are thankful for that.

“The wall is a diplomatic way to solve the problem. If it weren’t for the wall, the only solutions would be brute force. The kids are still afraid to go out because they get attacked by the gypsies. I also saw an old lady being attacked”, says 58 year old Mancek Psuk, who has lived in the area all his life.

He explains that during communist years there were no problems with the Romas, because everybody was forced to work. Otherwise they would go to prison. But after Slovakia gained its independence, the problems with the gypsies arose .

Looking for solutions

PhD Alexander Mušinka from the Roma Institute at University of Presov agrees that the Roma-issue creates big problems in Slovakia.

“Relations between Roma and majority in Košice basically reflects the mood in the rest of the society. Lunik IX, apart from being the largest concentration of Roma people, has also become the symbol in the public discussion on this topic. The people of Koscie see this ghetto very negatively and wish it would never exist, but they do not offer any real solutions”

To find a solution both sides have to accept each other, which is far from the case at present.

“The first step is to start systematically working on integration, to have a plan, to change the public opinion, to create conditions for social change and work opportunities”

Last year the government of Slovakia launched a long-term plan to integrate the Roma-people.

Rather one Slovak than two Romas

The way forward includes massive investments in education, and at the same time the Roma people will only attain social security if they show motivation to become integrated. If for example they get a fine for criminality, the amount will be deducted from their social support.

“We have to be pragmatic. On one side we have to help them. On the other side they have to show initiative to better their own situation. It would be a disaster if we just gave them more money without asking anything in return. It is crucial that people get jobs.”, says Spokesman from the Plenipotentiary of the Slovak Government for Roma Communities.

Back in Lunik IX the Romas look with apathy into the air.

“The government says we have to work, but how can we get a job, when we are discriminated against. If two Roma-people and one Slovak apply for a job, the job always goes to the Slovak”.

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