Jan Gregor - reporter for a London-based magazine for Czechs and Slovaks

26-10-2006

Jan Gregor is a reporter for Echo, a magazine for Czechs and Slovaks living in the UK and Ireland. Jan, who comes from the Slovak city of Banska Bystrice, is himself one of the many thousands of young people from this part of the world who have moved to the British Isles since European Union enlargement in 2004.

When we met last week outside a pub on a noisy road in north London, I asked him how long the magazine had been going.

"Echo magazine started I think three years ago. They stopped it after the first year because they didn't have enough money. A year later they decided to continue, so now it's almost a year that we've been trying to survive again.

"Fortunately it's getting better. We've found a new investor who is supporting us, because we still don't have enough adverts, so it's just beginning. And this community is not so big that we can be big immediately - there aren't as many Czechs and Slovaks as for example Polish people. That's a big difference.

"We were struggling for a few months but now it's going quite well. We distribute this magazine in England and Ireland, and we also plan to distribute a few hundred or thousand copies in the Czech Republic and probably in Slovakia also. That's our future plan."

How many copies do you print now? And how often does it come out?

"We started last November with a few thousand copies and now it's about 10,000. The aim is about 25,000 copies - in six months probably."

Who are your readers? Are they the new arrivals - people who came in the last two years after EU enlargement? Or are they people who've been here longer?

"I think most of our readers are new arrivals, but it's hard to say - we don't know exactly who are readers are...it's a free magazine and anybody who wants to can pick it up in London and other towns and cities.

"But I think probably 80, 90 percent are these new arrivals because there wasn't a big Czech and Slovak community before EU enlargement."

LondonLondon What about the language aspect - is it half-Czech, half-Slovak? Or does one language predominate? I know you're Slovak.

"That's a problem because my boss, my editor-in-chief, is Czech and in fact I'm the only journalist working for them at the moment, and I'm Slovak, so that's a problem. But we are trying to keep some balance.

"Most of the people who write for us do it for free and most of them are Slovak. Slovaks I think are a little bit more active. First there are more of them - and they're more active."

The Czech Republic is much bigger than Slovakia in terms of population - how do the communities here compare in terms of size, if it's possible to say?

"The question is how many Czechs and Slovaks live in the UK and Ireland. It's approximately 150,000 people and I think about 100,000 of them are Slovak. The Slovak economy isn't so good as the Czech economy, so it makes sense that...There is higher unemployment.

"And there is a big tradition in Slovakia to move to another place to move and find work abroad. Slovaks quite often went to work to the Czech Republic, for example.

"But now it's just two hours to get from Bratislava to London, so a lot of them work here. The Slovak community is probably twice as big as the Czech community."

Do they stick together? Do they go to the same places and...meet up?

"Yeah, yeah. A lot of people who don't know Czechs and Slovaks very well think we don't like each other, because the politicians divided the country 14 years ago.

LondonLondon "But that's not true. The community is Czechoslovak here. Of course there are Czech-only and Slovak-only organisations but people, how they behave, who they are meeting, who they are dating, who they are making love with...it's natural to be together.

"Most of the people who live here were very, very young when the federation was separated, but they still keep in touch...we are the closest nations here."

What are the biggest problems or difficulties facing young Czechs and Slovaks who come here to London looking for work?

"The biggest problem is unrealistic expectations. Because a lot of people come here without any knowledge of English or they speak just a few words. They have an expectation that they will very soon find a good job and earn a lot of money and their English will improve, and all this stuff.

"But very often it's not true. A lot of people are struggling. And there are also a lot of people who cheat on them, they promise them work 100 percent guaranteed. But if somebody is offering you work in the UK be careful, because usually these people are just cheats. You have to come to the UK and go for an interview - it doesn't work like that.

"I think maybe 70 or 80 percent of all people are quite successful. At least they have a job, accommodation and their English is improving.

"But maybe 20 percent of people have big difficulties surviving here, and they are too proud to go home. They are trying to survive but it's not so easy. For example last month we had a big article about the mental problems of people living here."

Do you think most of them will only stay here for a short time - say a year or two years? Or do you think some of them may stay indefinitely?

"It's hard to say, but I think they are trying to settle down. It takes a long time...If you come as an immigrant who doesn't speak English and spend the first one, two, maybe three years in some crap job...if it's getting better it's very difficult to go home, because it's time to stay and enjoy your life after a very long time of waiting for success.

"We'll see. But I think a lot of people will stay longer, maybe five, maybe 10 years."

How do you think British people perceive immigrants from Slovakia, the Czech Republic - or even from Poland or other countries in the region?

"I think Polish people have stolen our identity, because for British people all of us are just Polish. About 60 percent of these new immigrants are from Poland, so it makes sense. Poland is a big country, with history and good literature and so on. So it makes sense."

"For example Czechs and I think also Slovaks are sort of invisible. In newspapers they usually mention Czechs or Slovaks when somebody...when there is a problem with some person. Last year one man killed his girlfriend, and he was half Czech and half Slovak.

"So they mention us in these...cases but mostly they are writing about or mentioning the Polish community."

www.echomagazin.com

26-10-2006

Choose Karel Gott´s greatest hit (More)