Novy Prostor, a weekly street magazine sold by the homeless, has recently celebrated its first anniversary. As an alternative to mainstream media, this magazine focuses on controversial issues which are often overlooked by other publications. But Novy Prostor attempts to be more than just a magazine; in today's Talking Point Pavla Navratilova will be looking into the new social network that has grown out of this publication.
Britain's "The Big Issue" is probably the world's most prominent street magazine; a publication which homeless people buy at half the cover price and then resell to the public as a source of income. After a trip to London Robert Sztarovics decided to start a similar magazine in Central Europe, and the Czech edition was founded in Prague a year ago. Originally a bi-weekly named Patron, it has evolved into a popular weekly magazine called Novy Prostor. I had the chance to catch up with the publication's editor in chief, Jaroslava Fricova, who told me about the progress that Novy Prostor had made in the past year. The name "Novy Prostor" translates as 'New Space' which, as Jaroslava Fricova explains, suggests the goal of the publication: to provide a new platform to everything in society which isn't normally accepted. So when she talks about her hopes for the publication's "opening up" in the future, she is referring to issues that are often sidelined in the mainstream media: such as minorities, racism, feminism and homosexuality. But of particular interest would be issues such as poverty, unemployment, and social welfare which deal directly with the lives of people most affected by Novy Prostor: the homeless.
This counter-culture magazine is unique because it's run as a non-profit organisation to help provide an income to the unemployed and homeless. I caught up with two Novy Prostor vendors at Muzeum Metro Station in Prague...
"Every day we sell about 25 to 30 copies each, from which we earn about 300 Czech crowns a day; that pays just enough for food and rent. Currently, where we live it costs about 110 crowns per day for rent... but we have to make sure we have enough for the weekend or else we'll end up on the street. I'm still waiting for the construction company that I used to work for to pay me... they owe me money and that's how I ended up on the street...."
Although many marginalised people in the Czech Republic end up in Prague, Novy Prostor is also sold in smaller quantities in Brno, Plzen and Ostrava. Novy Prostor's Project Co-ordinator, Robert Sztarovics, is the man who initially brought the idea from Great Britain to Eastern Europe. He stressed his hopes that Novy Prostor will be able to use its resources to benefit the marginalised groups which it originally intended to help, beyond simply providing jobs. Novy Prostor itself is located in the Branik district of Prague 4, and one of the objectives he sees for a second year of publication is to develop Novy Prostor into a social organisation. His first step was to designate a club room within the building for the use of the magazine's vendors.
"The first social event we co-ordinated was the Christmas gathering where about 40 of our one hundred vendors showed up, which is quite promising. We hope that this clubroom will become their own. Our intention isn't to become a charity organisation, rather we want to offer these people an opportunity to engage in a lifestyle similar to the average citizen. Charity organisations strive to save the lives of the marginalized members of society with food and shelter, but unfortunately further assistance isn't often available once they are no longer in immediate dire need. We are hoping to provide them with an opportunity to become involved in social functions that may by be otherwise out of their reach, in an attempt to return their sense of being part of greater society.
Some of the activities we're hoping to start up here are a drama club, a writing club, and a soccer team. These may not seem like common activities for a social organisation which deals with the marginalised in society, but we're reacting to the great deal of interest that was shown in these areas when they were proposed to our vendors.
The writing club is probably one of the most interesting proposals created by Novy Prostor. It will parallel the British online journal called "Writing Group" and will collect and publish stories by Novy Prostor vendors. Many of these vendors have probably never had the opportunity to have something published, but it is the belief of Robert Sztarovics that many people on the streets have stories that need to be told.
A university student has volunteered her time to work with any of our vendors who want to learn how to put their thoughts on paper. We will publish all of these stories on the internet and also print some of them in an internal newsletter for our vendors. I think it will be interesting for the public to read what these people are thinking about. I know I'm constantly surprised. Sometimes it's so beautiful, while the stories of others are so unbelievably tragic. But they're always interesting.
We also hope to help each of our vendors set up their own internet site. There you will be able to find information about our vendors: their names, their faces, but most importantly their stories. Often we get readers asking about the vendor that they buy their Novy Prostor from... why they're on the streets and how they can help them. I'm hoping that by giving each a website, and in turn an email address, it might open the communications networks that such people need as a starting block. This may well be the first written communication some of our vendors have received in years! Not only will it be therapeutic, in that they'll be given the opportunity to tell their own stories, but it could perhaps lead to a job or a future. We see it as a link within our country's social network.
The vendors themselves are involved in the development of the social organisation which is growing out of Novy Prostor's success. They have expressed interest in receiving their own business cards with contact information, such as this email address, which can then be distributed to interested readers. Often these readers are commuters who may not know how to broach such a subject or may be in a hurry, but providing such contact information could be the first step in connecting them with someone who wants to help.
So while Novy Prostor has concerned itself with increasing overall social welfare, as a magazine it has gained a solid footing as an alternative media within the Czech Republic. There are, however, still many hurdles in presenting such difficult issues to the public, so what are the aims for the year ahead? Jaroslava Fricova: And if you are in Prague, you can find the most recent issue of Novy Prostor being sold in most metro stations around town.