Czech town to raze apartment buildings where local council briefly fenced off Roma residents after non-Roma neighbors complained

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The ceramic barrier in Matiční Street in Ústí nad Labem, Czech Republic, protested in 1999 by Roma whose placards read ‘Do you think you are superior? We have seen it here before and we know how it turned out finished!”, “1989-1999 was hell for the Roma”, “Give our children a chance”, “Matiční is a symbol of racism and intolerance”. (PHOTO: TV NOVA)

The city of Ústí nad Labem in the Czech Republic has handed over two apartment buildings on Matiční Street which are to be demolished to the construction company contracted for the work. Demolition is expected to be completed 10 weeks after delivery and the decision as to what will replace the buildings will be made at some point in the future.

The locality also includes a third apartment building belonging to the Czech Ports. Its possible demolition is still under negotiation.

Deputy Mayor Pavel Tošovský (Civic Democratic Party – ODS) informed the Czech News Agency about the events on June 13. The last tenants left the buildings intended for demolition, in very poor condition, in 2011.

“We are planning a meeting with the Czech ports as soon as possible. By taking this step, we want to show them that we are serious,” said the deputy mayor.

“Currently, the buildings have been abandoned and unoccupied for several years and in terms of their construction, their stability is technically unsatisfactory,” Tošovský told the Czech News Agency. The demolition will cost the city about CZK 3 million [EUR 121,000].

In the future, a park or other recreational space could be developed here. The deputy mayor said a lawn would be planted there in the meantime.

In 1994, Roma residents who owed rent to the city as tenants of the surrounding high-rise buildings were moved to the units on Matiční Street. Longtime residents complained that coexistence with them was not working and demanded that a wall be built to block their view.

The municipal department of Neštěmice decided to build the barrier, and a year later erected a fence on Matiční Street separating municipal buildings inhabited by Roma from long-time residents of the neighborhood. A wave of protests against this decision immediately erupted from human rights defenders and Roma organizations, and the Czech Republic was even criticized by the European Union.

The ceramic fence was 1.8 meters high and remained in place from October 13 to November 24, 1999. The local council had it removed after the state pledged CZK 10 million. [EUR 404,000] to resolve the situation.

Some of this money was used by the local council to buy out the three single-family homes of long-term residents who had complained, while the rest of the money was used to bring amenities to the surrounding area or for projects of a social nature. The barrier was dismantled and became part of the local zoo’s fence; a section of it is also in the local museum.

The municipal department of Neštěmice administered the apartment buildings in question after the city gave them the properties. The current mayor of Neštěmice, Yveta Tomková (Vaše Ústí – Your Ústí), agreed to the demolition on the condition that the land would no longer be used for housing and that the space would instead be used to develop the locality.

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