Roma ghettos - hundreds, not dozens?

Could the number of Roma ghettos in the Czech Republic be much higher than official government estimates? That is the preliminary result of a new study, commissioned by the Labour and Social Affairs Ministry. It suggests there are over 300 Romany ghettos - including districts, streets and even individual apartment buildings. That contrasts greatly with the findings of the government's Council for Roma Affairs: it says there are at most only a few dozen ghettos.

The man behind the new report is sociologist Ivan Gabal:

"It was decided last year to draw up a very detailed description and study of all Roma localities that are potentially threatened with social exclusion. The research project was launched in late October and we are supposed to deliver its results this June. This will help the Czech government draft its proposal to the European Commission on the use of money from the European Social Fund for the integration of Roma, who have been isolated from the rest of society.

"This society [Czech society] is really in a long-term transition period - labour market, the restructuring of heavy industry, the new phenomenon of unemployment, and so on. In this whole context of enormous social change, the Roma minority has found itself among those who really are downwardly mobile in terms of the labour market, living conditions, housing conditions, and so on and all these conditions can bring people into certain localities, where they can really live in social exclusion and develop social exclusion into a sort of lifestyle."

From the research that you have done so far, what would you say has been the most common cause of this poverty that you have seen?

"It's too early to say. However, and I'm speaking hypothetically, we see the effects of several important factors. One factor is long-term unemployment and the lack of performance on the labour market for several reasons. The other factor is the process of the restructuring of housing ownership, the privatisation of houses. And the last, but not least, factor is a certain tendency of city halls to pressure them into either doing something with themselves or leaving."

Do you think this country has the means to provide all the different educational programmes and the various projects that are needed?

"We will have knowledge; we will have the financial resources. We have seen quite clearly that in those localities, where the services of street workers from the People in Need organisation are present, the situation seems to have stabilised at least. We are also talking with other NGOs and organisations and we will see how far the new government after the next elections [June 3,4] will be able to act.

"I can see two different directions in which the efforts should go. One is to at least give a chance to those families who wish to leave socially excluded communities and provide their children with better chances and opportunities. The other is to handle and tackle the situation of those who are really satisfied with their current social exclusion and see some normality in the way of life that they live."