Saturday, March 13, 2010

Roma segregated by wall in Slovakia

Article from here:

(OSTROVANY) - Lucia Kucharova never cared much about the view from her window until its main feature became a wall separating her and more than 1,000 other Roma from the rest of their village.

The white concrete wall, built last month in Ostrovany, a village of 1,800 in eastern Slovakia, has locals as well as Roma and human-rights organisations fuming.

"It's discrimination, the mayor should have used the money to build houses for us instead," Kucharova, a 25-year-old Roma, told AFP.

The wall, which is 150 metres (yards) long and more than two metres high, cost 13,000 euros (19,300 dollars) to build and begins where the road ends in Ostrovany.

But Cyril Revak, the village mayor since 1991, is careful to avoid calling it a wall.

"The fence doesn't prevent the Roma from coming to the village," he said. "It just prevents them from entering private gardens and stealing. It wasn't just petty theft, especially in autumn.

"People don't grow vegetables in their gardens any more, there's no use -- everything gets stolen."

To get from the village to Kucharova's house on the other, rubbish-strewn side of the wall -- and the destitute world of some of the 27-member European Union's most impoverished citizens -- one has to splosh through mud along a slippery downhill path.

At the foot of the hill, Alena Kalejova sorts through the ubiquitous litter for butt-ends that she gratefully picks up from the muddy ground on a chilly, rainy day.

"The children have been stealing apples from the gardens but what can we do -- they are just children," admitted the 21-year-old Roma mother of one.

Apologetically, she adds: "Cigarettes are too expensive, we can hardly live on unemployment benefit at 150 euros a month."

Joblessness in this Roma community is almost 100 percent with most living on unemployment benefits and so-called activation work -- community service aimed at improving job skills.

"These days even the 'gadzos' have problems finding a job," concedes Lucia Kucharova, using the Roma word for "white people".

Her own education ended after nine years of school.

The wall dividing Ostrovany -- whose name can translate as "island village" -- has outraged human-rights and Roma associations.

"We have filed a suit with the prosecutor, we think the wall was built illegally and it discriminates against the Roma minority in Ostrovany," Alexander Patkolo, chairman of the Roma Initiative of Slovakia (RIS), told AFP.

Ostrovany is by no means the only island of Roma poverty in the country, which joined the European Union in 2004.

There are more than 600 Roma settlements in Slovakia where people live without electricity, sewage or running water, most located far from the relatively affluent capital Bratislava.

Behind the wall, in a shack of wood and corrugated iron, Lucia Kucharova's partner Martin proudly tells how he himself built their home, tensing his muscles to display a woman tattooed on his shoulder as he speaks.

"We are lucky to have a fridge, a stove and running water here," he said.

The young couple share a narrow bed with two daughters, while their youngest girl sleeps in her stroller.

Just a few kilometres from Ostrovany lies Slovakia's largest Roma settlement near the village of Jarovnice. Floods killed 58 people there in 1998.

A nation of 5.4 million, Slovakia is officially home to around 89,000 Roma, according to the 2001 national census.

But in reality, the Roma population is much higher.

"The actual number might be approximately 350,000 Roma," says Arne Mann, an ethnologist at the Slovak Academy of Sciences. The EU's entire Roma population is estimated to be 11-12 million.

Mann blames communism for having pushed Roma further toward the margins of Slovak society.

"Before World War II, there was good cooperation between Roma and farmers. Roma used to help during the harvest or with the laundry," he said.

"But after the post-war collectivisation, their help wasn't needed any more and segregation began."

In a 2008 survey, 82 percent of Slovaks said they did not want to have a Roma neighbour.

"The segregation of the Roma can lead to similar problems as France had to cope with during nationwide riots in suburbs in late 2005," ethnologist Mann warns.

Rioting in France, the country's worst urban violence since the 1968 student revolts, was concentrated in deprived out-of-town housing estates largely populated by people of Arabic or African origin.

"It's a natural defence mechanism of people pushed to the fringes of society," Mann said.

I was reading a similar article on the Sofia Echo, and I was horrified to see that people were posting racist bile about Roma at the end of an article that clearly shows unfair treatment of Roma and segregation. I am shocked and saddened-- prejudice and ignorance is rampant among people from neighbours to government officials. Please, whenever you see people posting racist nonsense about any group of people, feel free to correct them. It makes a difference! It educates other readers, and hopefully educates the writers.

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