Where have Prague’s Romanies gone?|
Prague has of course changed in a host of ways during my 20-odd years
living here. One of the most striking developments has been the dramatic
fall in the number of Romanies in the city.
As today, you would rarely have direct dealings with Romanies in places
like shops, restaurants or public offices in the mid-1990s.
But you would see lots of them out and about on the streets of the
capital. You’d hear them too. Unlike typical Czechs, many don’t seem to
regard making noise in public as an enormous no-no.
Back in the day, the Roma minority were heavily concentrated in some
districts of Prague, particularly Žižkov, Karlín, Smíchov and Libeň.
Those parts of town are still where you are most likely to encounter them
– but in considerably smaller numbers.
Many Czechs associate Romanies with crime. Recently a man I know said he
wouldn’t risk leaving his car by my apartment in Žižkov as “it’s
full of gypsies”.
His prejudice would appear a little outdated as my quite trendy part of
“higher” Žižkov certainly isn’t full of them. And there are not as
many in the grimier lower part as there used to be either.
In fact, according to a piece on the news website iDnes.cz a few months
back, the number of Romanies living in Prague has halved in recent decades
– to around 15,000.
A number of reasons for this trend have been posited. Following the
devastation of Karlín in flooding in 2002 many Romanies who had left their
homes never came back.
Since then the area has been significantly gentrified and many who did
return after the floods later packed their bags.
Smíchov too has gone upmarket. Once rundown and scuzzy and considered
relatively dangerous by Prague standards, it is today home to a busy
shopping mall, shiny office complexes – and far fewer Romanies.
The Roma coordinator at City Hall’s ethnic minority and foreigners
department told iDnes.cz that some had given up their rights to flats for
crazily low prices as they saw their rents increase with the end of
Unscrupulous entrepreneurs have been buying their “dekréts”
(essentially a license to live in a local authority apartment) and offering
them ownership of inferior substitute accommodation in depressed areas such
as Northern Bohemia. This in turn has led to the creation of more ghettos
in those spots.
A guy I know who speaks the Romany language and knew many Romanies in
Smíchov, where he resided for some years, says their exodus has been to
Everybody’s talking today about how to make use of public space and take
life to the streets, he said, but the Roma community have been doing that