Hrušov quarter, Ostrava, Czech Republic
3 April 1999
Ostrava is an industrial town which has been hard-hit by the shift away from heavy industry in the Czech Republic, especially since the changes of 1989. Community relations in Ostrava are bad and anti-Romani sentiment high. In 1997, following a speech by extreme right-wing leader Miroslav Sládek, hundreds of skinheads from around the Czech Republic roamed the streets taunting and beating Roma. At the time of the ERRC visit in early 1999, one of the two leading regional daily newspapers ran a front page headline on Roma and drugs - the article went on to make the slanderous assertion that "half to two thirds of the Romani community of Ostrava are affected by heroin use".
The Hrušov quarter of Ostrava has been the site of ghettoising attempts since the 1970s, when local mayors from all of the neighbourhoods of Ostrava reached an agreement that Hrušov, one of Ostrava's poorest neighbourhoods, would house Roma. Into the 1980s, mayors co-ordinated activity so that for every Romani family allocated a flat in Hrušov, flats would be provided to two non-Romani families from Hrušov to enable them to move elsewhere. The neighbourhood was widely held to be an ecological disaster, since local mining had caused the ground to subside by seven metres in thirty years. The mayors were able to agree on a program which would leave the area little more than an undeveloped ghetto.
In the late 1980s, the city built a highway bridge over Hrušov and in conjunction with this project, shut down the school, kindergarten and a number of other public facilities. From that point on, children from the area began attending schools outside Hrušov - the Koblov basic school in Liščina or, in the case of a great number of the Romani children of Hrušov, the Na Vizinĕ special school, a school for mentally handicapped children.
In Summer 1997, heavy rains caused the Ostravice river to burst its banks, creating the largest humanitarian catastrophe in the country in recent history. Hrušov was among the hardest hit neighbourhoods. The flooding of the summer of 1997 brought water up to levels as high as the ceilings of some first floor flats for over a week. Most residents fled, although at least one Rom, Mr Ladislav Bihári, remained in an upper story flat living on rice and flour. He told the ERRC that he witnessed police looting flats during the period when high water made access to the area possible only by boat.
There has been a stop on public works projects in Hrušov since shortly after the floods, and according to a decree of the city, by the end of 1999, all persons presently living in the neighbourhood should move out. This project does not appear feasible; at least thirty families totalling some 130 individuals, many of whom have returned to Hrušov from Canada and Britain, either voluntarily or because they were refused asylum, have moved back into flats in the gutted and unstable buildings.
Some people are moving out. The neighbourhood Ostrava-Jih in the southern part of Ostrava recently allocated sixty flats in a new housing settlement to families and individuals from Hrušov. According to locals, there were many Romani families in the lists of applicants for the new flats. However, the Ostrava-Jih municipality reserved the right to review and approve families and persons with recognisably Romani names reportedly did not receive flats. Roma in Hrušov did not know of anyone who had received a flat in Ostrava-Jih recently. The ERRC observed that there is at least one new pub in Hrušov and local Roma are confident enough that at this time next year they will still be there.