Anti-Roma petition circulated in Prostejov

A petition signed by 400 people has forced officials in the North Moravian town of Prostejov to examine more closely the problem of coexistence with a community of Romanies living in the vicinity of the town's biggest housing estate. Local people complain of untidiness, noise and frequent thefts, but deny accusations of racism. Alena Skodova has this report:

The problem is not new for the Prostejov councillors and local police. The council says it's spent large amounts of money renovating dilapidated houses and devastated flats and cleaning up the area. Some time ago the councilors were considering the possibility of engaging the local Roma community in a project to build new houses, but the plan eventually fell by the wayside. Now, a new plan has emerged: to find new flats for the Romanies - each in a different part of the town. The town says the problem could be solved if the Roma community was divided.

Czech newspaper reports are using the word 'ghetto' to describe the three rows of bungalows, where the number of Roma inhabitants exceeds by far the official figure of 200. "We are not racists," local people maintain, "we've only had bad experiences with Romanies." They claim the town's councillors lack the courage to deal with the problem, because they're afraid of being accused of racism. "But something must be done," people say, "we cannot live like this."

Last year, several Romanies contracted hepatitis and within several days a hepatitis epidemic spread to the entire town. Eighty people ended up in hospital. At that time, all attention was turned to the wall being built to fence off a predominantly Roma housing estate on Maticni Street in Usti nad Labem. If there was no Maticni Street, people would have talked about us, Prostejov's inhabitants say.

The town hall admits there is a problem, but seems unable to find a solution. When large rubbish bins were placed outside houses inhabited by Roma families, other people started complaining they had to pay for their dustbins, so why were the Roma getting theirs for free?

Prostejov councilors say they've already started planning where individual Roma families could be moved to, but haven' t disclosed their plans in order not to cause panic in town. It seems that finding an acceptable model of coexistence between Roma families and the town's white inhabitants is, as in so many areas of the Czech Republic, a long way off.