The area bordering Prague’s Vysočany and Hrdlořezy, not far from the stately building of Sazka, doesn’t look like a social time bomb at first sight. But at the second sight it does – an abandoned card stock dormitory is home to dozens of Roma from Prague who not so long ago lived in Prague’s districts of Nusle, Karlín, Libeň or Žižkov. They were bribed to leave their homes. Now this unpleasant place, located just outside the large premises of the city’s waste management Pražské služby, has become new home for entire Romani families.
Roma “disappearing” from Prague
A man’s loud singing comes out through half-opened dormitory windows. A guitar is playing. A sign on the door bans noise at night. Inside it is warm; right behind the door is a reception desk, a combination of a bar and a kiosk. A roll of rough toilet paper costs CZK 10, two deciliters of birch shampoo is CZK 25, the same as a plastic cup with 10-degree beer.
Men wearing only undershirts and trunks are circling around the reception desk, while women are walking by with children and laundry to wash. “We like living here, but one needs to have a job and money, otherwise it is bad,” say the locals in front of the dorm. Most residents here are Roma with a few workers from former Soviet Union countries. Part of the facility is a camp.
“We can’t go there unless we ask the owner,” the reception clerk says when asked to let us in.
“The only bungalows available now have no heating, but we could do something about it if you pay,” he offers. The cost of one night in a bungalow for four is CZK 500, one night at the dorm costs CZK 250. One month in a bungalow thus costs unbelievable CZK 15,000.
“The dormitory owners often charge excessive rents. A family living in a wood-fiber house paying CZK 15,000 for rent is not an exception. The problem is that nobody else would offer them a place to live. And the irony is that they are happy for the little they have and many of them don’t complain,” says Jakub Čihák, director of R-mosty association dealing with Romani community in Žižkov.
There are more places like that in Prague, slowly emerging ghettos. Most people have no idea the big city looks like this. Although residents of some Prague districts admit they have noticed less Roma in the streets and houses in their neighbourhoods. They didn’t care thought where they had been “disappearing”.
“Demand for flats in larger Prague has grown pulled by the growing prices of property in the centre. People who didn’t have enough money had to move somewhere else,” says Helena Kačerovská of Maxima real estate agency. In addition, the Romani community lives by specific rules.”They were selling their housing certificates for CZK 200,000 or as little as CZK 50,000. Town halls in most cases didn’t interfere and Roma have ended up with no place to come back,” says Jakub Čihák. Apart from Prague, Romani families, which used to live in the capital, now occupy dormitories in Prague surroundings, such as Králův Dvůr near Beroun.
Janov is not the only one
Experts say forcing low-income Romani families to move in together under such poor conditions could result in serious problems. “We see what happened in Janov where social-ethnic problem turned into ethnic-security problem. Such places often become grounds for money lender, prostitution or organised crime,” says sociologist Ivan Gabal.
Such places could also be dangerous for a different reason. The nationalist Worker’s Party often provokes their members and followers with links to neo-Nazi groups to march to areas populated with Romani families. The party leadership has said that the Litvínov district Janov, which saw the biggest police clash with radicals in eight years, was not their last target. Prague’s Žižkov was among others they mentioned.
“The state had ten years to solve this disgraceful situation. Radical groups now use it to their benefit. Shutting down the ghettos will be more costly, will have lower effect and lower public support,” says Gabal.
Translated with permission by the Prague Daily Monitor.