We want to live like normal people

Prague, Czech RepublicDecember 6, 1993
Milena HubschmannovaChairman, Romany Studies Program, Charles University
In April four Rom families were sent from Usti nad Labem to Slovakia. They were promised that if they gave up their flats in Usti that they would get another flat, and jobs. This did not happen.
The family came back to Usti. They lived in a park for a month. Then the Office of the President of the Czech Republic provided three flats.
The authorities in Usti said that the families gave up the flats voluntarily. But it would seem that they gave up the flats because they were under pressure from the authorities.
When they got the new flats three weeks ago Sunday, television news said that they had received flats and destroyed them. But they had moved into the flats one day before, and could not have destroyed them in a single day.
Iveta Cervenakova
I’ m glad we have the flat, but we have problems. Every day the police come, every day. What they say in the papers is not true. We did not destroy the flats: the flats are still in good condition. [she is unable to continue]
Hana SyslovaRomany Studies Seminar, Charles University
The TV coverage that Dr. Hubschmannova mentioned claimed that the Cervenak family burned down the doors and so on. But before they moved in there were no doors between the rooms: even the door frames were not there; they had not been installed.
In other articles the granny of the family is called the black Indian woman or something like that, and Iveta says that the city police go to their place every day and say that they stole certain things. But they have no evidence.
Because the family’s address was changed from permanent to temporary, one member of the family cannot have Czech citizenship.
Local doctors refuse to treat the Cervenak children.
When they were staying in a ruined house that the Chairman of the Democratic Union of the Romany provided for then, there was no running water, no electricity.
One two -month old child got very sick and got a bad rash. The doctor refused to treat the child; he said the child was Slovak and could not have medical care. So half the family got this skin disease.
Jana Chalupova Office of the President of the Czech Republic
The press had an objective and extensive report from the press agency about the Cervenak family. Part One was a report by the Usti nad Labem police authorities, and then there was a statement by the Office of the Presidentbecause we also investigated the case. It was the usual sort of investigation when housing is involved. Part Three wasa neutral report about what happened. After seeing the press agency report, I was horrified when I read the newspapers. They used only one part: what the Usti authorities said. This was not objective.
With regards to how the press deals withsuch problems, I too think it is a matter of professionalism: how journalists collect information, how they inform the public. What happened was a hateful racist campaign. In our office we received anonymous letters, and also letters from very decent peoplewho signed the letters and said that they were not ready to admit the argument that the municipal authorities had made a mistake and had broken the law. They thought it was the Cervenaks who had broken the law because they wereGypsies. This was the influence of the media.
Iveta Cervenakova
When we were first evicted and then returned here, we were sleeping in parksOur children were in hospitals. We had no warm meals. When we got some money to buy some food, we always ate it in the park. Our family had nothing to eat for days.
Then my husband got a job through the job center and Petr Mirka also got a job. Then he was laid off, and my husband will only keep his job until the end of this month. We have already been informed that he will be laid off then. For us it is very important to keep this job. I am terribly nervous and terribly excited: I’m sorry, but our life has been a hell recently, and what has been said about our family – .
You had those reports about how we had been destroying the flat: that is not true. Those people are saying that they had already invested one hundred thousand crowns in this flat. That is not true. All they did was to put in some washbasins and some new coverings on the floors: that was all. There is only one stove in the flat, and there is no bathroom. The toilet is in the corridor; there is no door to the toilet. There is no door downstairs. And these were the conditions when we moved in. What we got was not a renovated flat; what we got was something that had never been finished.
But we want to live like normal people. We want to enjoy life, and all that people hear about us is that we have been destroying property. What you can read in the papers is not true: our family has never done anything to this property. The condition of our flat is the condition it was in when we got it, and we have people coming to inspect the flat almost every day.
When we want the doctor to treat our children he asks us to pay, but we haven’t got money for this. We have so little money that all the money we have is just enough to feed our children.
When we go to the surgeries, they don’t even look at our children. This morning I went to see the doctor with my small baby: she was going to throw me out. My child was in hospital on Friday: we brought him back today but he has been coughing for two months. I went to see the doctor, and I said, Look: this boy is not healthy. And she wanted to throw me out.
She said, “You come every day.” I said, “Of course I come every day: the child is sick and it is my duty – I am responsible for the health of my child.” So she said, “In that case you will have to pay for this treatment.” But I said, “I don’t have enough money for that: I don’t have insurance coverage for my child.”
She wanted me to pay in cash, but I had none. So she refused to give me medicine for my boy. I’m really scared – this child has been coughing for two months now and I don’t know what to do.
Jana Chalupova
I would like to ask the members of the press if they could do something for the Cervenaks. They could try to stop this hate campaign. The authorities have never investigated this moving out,and they will probably never get to it. But the family is threatened, because anytime the municipal police comes to the flat just by bothering them they will make their lives really a nuisance. They will have to go through the social security services. I have spoken with some of the social workers and I think that their approach is anti-social. The journalists can ask the authorities and the family and their friends what is really going on. If you look at it from both sides, readers can get an objectivepicture.
Margita ReiznerovaPoet; Roma Association for Children and Youth [currently (1999) living in exile, in Belgium]
How shall we see to it that the doctor is willing to provide treatment for the Cervenak children? What are we going to do about it?
The Romany issue has been discussed for four years now, but there have been no solutions suggested, and the situation has become more acute. As long as the government and parliament do not pass appropriate laws concerning minorities, we shall see more and more such conflicts more and more such incidents, and the situation will be even worse than it is today. Under the Communist regime, the Gypsy community was seen as the lowest on the social ladder. Now the situation is much, much worse: now there are people actually starving, having been evicted by the new landlords: this is of course precisely what has happened with the Cervenak family. I think it is very important for local governments to help these people: that is what they are supposed to do.
MEDIA AGAINST INTOLERANCEA Conference Organized by The Fund for New Performance/Video
Franz Kafka CenterPragueDecember 6, 1993