I first heard about the intention to build
a wall in Matièní Street in Nestìmice from a national
newspaper. The information the article revealed was incomplete and was
in line with what everyone was probably thinking at the time: "Here is
another one of those scandals which will get completely blown out of proportion
but will only leave us feeling more depressed when it quickly disappears
from the headlines." Of course, this story did not exactly run the usual
course, and the reporters, including foreign ones, took to it like a starving
mouse takes to a ripe piece of cheese.
A friend of mine raced up to Ústí
to get a photo of the "horrible squalor" which necessitated separation
by stone. Upon his return, he described the situation. "It's not much,"
he told us. "There are really only three or four houses on one side and
two apartment blocks on the other where mostly Roma live. It's hardly squalor."
So, in fact, it did seem at first that people were making a fuss over nothing.
But things are not always what they seem. The foreign reporters evoked
horror on the international level by comparing the wall in Ústí
to the Berlin wall and concluding that Czechs were incapable of living
with Roma in the same place and solving their problems by normal, peaceful
To top it all off, the Deputy Mayor of Nemìstice Jan Kocourek
shocked and outraged the foreign reporters when he compared the Roma to
the American Indians and then like a mad pitbull barked at them: "What
human rights are you talking about? They (Roma) have the right to work,
but they don't work. They have the right to vote, but they don't vote.
They have the right to pay their rent, but they don't pay it." In defending
supporters of the absurd wall, Kocourek seems to have forgotten, among
other things, that it is not just those who do not pay their rent who live
on Matièní Street.
First there will be restrictions limiting the places where we are allowed
to be, then everything will be forbidden. Everyone realizes that this will
be a ghetto and that life behind the walls will resemble ghetto life. Even
Kocourek recognizes it intuitively. Otherwise, why would he ask the foreign
journalists: "Gentlemen, did you consult the Indians when you set up their
The main problem is a complete unwillingness to come to a civilized
agreement. It has been decided that the matter will be solved simply rather
than through the more difficult path of discussion. In front of reporters,
the authorities will say that the wall is being built to separate regular
tax-paying and rent-paying citizens from a group of boisterous and disorderly
freeloaders whose unsupervised children only disturb the neighborhood with
their noise and chaotic playing.
People will say that the area around the two apartment
blocks is unhygienic, but the world is not likely to learn that in each
of these two apartment blocks there is only one bathroom. Some will be
horrified by the "tons" of garbage outside the buildings, but few will
discover that the garbage collectors only come around very rarely or that
most of the trash is not from the Roma themselves but from a local firm
where some of the Roma work as cleaning staff.
Why should anyone care about the families here that pay all their bills
and have lived here for years only because they were moved here by the
housing authority "temporarily" - some after their houses had been leveled
as part of the city's development plans? It is clear that the public, including
the Roma themselves, have become accustomed to judgements based on collective
guilt. Why should anything change?
The city intends to build its four-meter high wall to the tune of 300,000
Czech crowns (9,000 USD). I cannot be the only one who thinks this money
could be better spent.
Roma regional representatives and activists
condemn the plan of the local authorities in Ústí nad Labem
to build a wall which will divide both land and people.
The intention to isolate one group of citizens from another represents
a return to an era when concentration camps of Lety u Písku and
Hodonín u Kunstátu were in operation. Those camps interned
people who were classified as "asocial" - they were mostly Roma. The vast
majority of those people did not survive the camps. For us Roma, this chapter
of history is open and alive today. It is very humiliating for us to see
that on this location of great suffering, rather than graves honoring the
victims of the Roma holocaust, stands an industrial hog farm.
But even more horrifying for us is the fact that the authorities in
Ústí nad Labem today completely ignore this bitter past,
as does the Constitution of the Czech Republic and the country's Charter
of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms. They are presenting a dangerous idea
which could start a process of introducing anti-Roma measures cutting the
Roma off from society and turning Roma into second-class citizens in the
eyes of the law. The monstrous concept of building the "Wall in Ústí"
is for us a warning that even today in the middle of civilized Europe,
the Roma could be again threatened with barbed wire and concentration camps.
* We call upon all the city authorities and elected members of the local
council in Ústí nad Labem who have supported the building
of the "Wall in Ústí" to resign their posts immediately.
* We also call upon their subordinate representatives, institutions and
bodies to investigate the whole matter and to explore the possibility of
legal action against all who took part in this action.