Current Affairs Romani residents determined to stay in their homes despite eviction notice
After the deadline for evacuating condemned buildings in Ostrava’s Přívoz district passed on Saturday night, around twenty five Romani families remained in their homes and have been carrying out minor repairs in an effort to get the eviction order reversed. Authorities visited the site on Monday to evaluate the state of each building, warning residents that they are remaining at their own risk. Radio Prague spoke to Kumar Vishwanathan from the Ostrava-based civic group Co-existence who had spent almost a week in the Přednádraží ghetto with these families. Here is how he explained the situation there right now.
“People contend the statement of authorities saying that not all the ten houses are dangerous. They are in different states. Some houses are too dangerous to live in and nobody is living there anyway. There are houses which can be repaired with greater effort and there are some houses which can be repaired with less effort.
“There is also the big problem of the sewage system, which is the fundamental problem, from our point of view. And that belongs to primarily to the city authorities. The city authorities, having known the situation for almost twenty years, have not done anything. For the past two and a half years the situation has gotten so bad that the sewage system has completely collapsed.
“The residents are being put under a lot of pressure and health threats because of the failings of the city authorities. These people are saying that they don’t want to go anywhere. These houses are their homes. They think that they have to be renovated, they can be salvaged. There is civic disobedience going on.”
Do these tenants have legal ways of fighting for their rights in this case?
“A legal approach is very complicated, but we’re looking into it. The people are now fighting for the water, because they’ve been cut off from water. They’re fighting for sanitation. There are other things like electricity, structural problems, etc. They are in close communication with the owner. The owner has agreed that if they really want to live there and if he gets the permission that they can stay there, he will invest in everything. But he says his efforts are undermined by the fact that beneath the houses, the sewage system is completely destroyed. So, he says that he should wait until the fundamental problem, the sewage problem is settled. And then he shall go and take these houses from the bottom up and start repairing.
“It has to be solved in Ostrava, by the Ostrava authorities. What we feel is that there are shady deals going on behind the scenes to get rid of the people and use the land for other purposes for industrial purposes. Because the site is very well situated, it has good access to the highway, with good access to the railway connection to Poland, the Baltic and Germany. People think there are other interests especially some town councilmen are involved in business entrepreneurship. They are basically businessmen.”
And there is enough support at this point from organizations like yours for the tenants to remain there?
“We feel a lot of support, actually. In fact, at midnight on Saturday when the deadline expired for people to remain there, and we were all there illegally, the post woman came to express support. In the morning, the waste collector came in his big truck and told us to hold on. There is a lot of solidarity. There are just people, passersby, who stop and, instead of saying rude words at the Romani that usually happens, you hear very encouraging words from people. They see it also as an unfair, not transparent situation that the Romani tenants are being put into and they all are expressing support.”