Ghetto Nr. 1: new Czech film documents life at country's biggest Roma ghetto
"There are more places like this one in the country but as far as size, uniformity, and fame are concerned, we can rightfully claim that Chanov is our Ghetto No. 1." - a quote from a new 90 minute documentary on one of the most infamous Roma housing estates in the country. For almost a year, Czech director Ivan Pokorny filmed the daily life of its residents and explored why Roma and non-Roma Czechs find it so hard to co-exist.
"It is difficult to say what the documentary is about because it doesn't have a storyline. It is not a feature film. It is a documentary that tries to map out the way we think and the way the Roma think and it looks at the syndrome that we are calling the 'Roma Problem' or 'Roma question'. So I asked those involved in various spheres to state their views on the current problem and I've also followed the lives of several Roma in Chanov throughout that three-quarters of a year and then I put it together in the editing room."
Although the residents at Chanov are a closed society with their own internal rules and regulations, some of them, including this woman, allowed the film crew into their homes. Flats that once had electricity and running water are now rundown and almost untenable:
Ivan Pokorny says:
"Chanov is a housing estate that came to being in 1979 as a genuine attempt by the then Communist government to solve the Roma integration problem. So they tried to bring the Roma and non-Roma together by housing them in the Chanov district, which is about 2-3 kilometres on the outskirts of the northern town of Most. Naturally, after a few years the non-Roma population moved away, leaving the Roma behind. The Roma then started leading their own lives by their own rules and regulations and, unfortunately, devastated the place.
[Narration in film] "At the end of 1938, the Czechoslovak government sent a special delegation to Nazi Germany to gather information on the operation of their work camps. On February 6, 1939, the Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia Rudolf Beran, proposed the setting up of work camps "for gypsy families and other vagrants". And on March 2, 1939, two weeks before German forces entered Czechoslovakia, Beran's cabinet approved the order for the establishment of disciplinary work camps. After the war, none of the people responsible for the camp at Lety were brought to justice - neither by a Czechoslovak nor a German court."
Some of those interviewed by Ivan Pokorny were willing to speak but unwilling to reveal their identity. This local administration worker prefers to stay anonymous - for safety reasons, she says:
"We're always proclaiming that the employment of Romanies has to go hand in hand with education. But this isn't true. Not at all. Because educated Romanies end up unemployed just like the others. And so, it's actually counterproductive because they say 'why bother if I can't find a job anyway - because I'm a gypsy'. And that's the way it is."
"At this time, because that's where fate has led them to, there are many Romanies, who aren't eager to work. But on the other hand, there are many non-Roma who don't even have the faintest idea of what it means to be Roma and their perception of the Roma is that he is dirty and a thief. And that is absolute nonsense.
"Our mutual relationship is burdened by many prejudices. I'm not saying that they are all false. Many of them are true and not everything is rosy. But if we don't address these prejudices now and do something to make them a matter of the past, we might as well give up; it would end badly."