April 2013

Written by Tadeas Riha (CZ)
Inspired by the document: Life and Death in Tanvald

Three older Roma men are sitting on a fountain wall in a small, north Bohemian city. The sun is not shining. Innocent picture it may seem. However.

As elsewhere in Europe, the co-living of local and Roma population is not perfect. Prejudices on one side face pre-self pity on the other. Indeed, this is not anything specific for Czech. On the other hand, Czechs as a nation, do have few „urban“ specifics.
In general, we are quite closed, closed as individuals, as families, as a society.
In the communist times, the basic programme of a flat was not an accommodation; every household was primarily a fortress against the rest of the world. In a society where everything belonged to everyone, thinking about common good would never surpass your own threshold.
Public life was characterized by acting and pretending. Even now, 24 years after the revolution, when in public space you are expected to behave in a certain quite precise way, or, if possible, not behave at all. We are an invisible society.
Hannah Arendt argues that public space is where people can and must be seen. But what if an approach of one ethnic group to „being seen“ is exactly the opposite to the one of the other?
The Roma population doesn’t care about being seen. People just behave as it feels natural for them.

Despite Romas protests, sitting outside is now forbidden”News headline from August 2012, with original illustration.

This refers to a small city of Krupka, where locals felt insulted or just felt uncomfortable because of their Roma neighbours sitting on a grass. What was the problem? There was more than sitting: singing, dancing and exercising or even a barbecue and possibly meat smoking. To solve this, the municipality decided to forbid placing any „recreational objects“ like chairs, barbecues or portable tables anywhere in the public space for everyone.
Roma families quite often concentrate to the cheapest apartments that are quite often in the peripheral modernist neighbourhoods. There, the public space is endless, green or paved, completely useless in both cases. And now, when you prove an attempt to actually use it for a simple purpose of gathering and spending time together, you are breaking the law.
This might get even sillier when you compare the example from Krupka to the effort of young Czech and Slovak architects in Prague and in Bratislava, who are desperately

trying to make people from big cities use their public space once again.
Inn a 2010 competition “Urban interventions”, architects could propose whatever they felt was there to improve in a public space.
In a project, New Stage PicnicRoháč Stratil proposes putting temporary grass cover on the stone piazza in front of National Theatre for the purpose of … huge picnic. This was actually carried out.

Another example: urban picnic Brno – different city, similar proposal. Only here, there is no need for putting the grass cover since it is already there. Let’s make the picnic…on a railway track.
Last one, Bratislava, Slovak capital, Benjamin Brádňanský, Víto Halada: in order to make people understand, that the public space is their to use, they are placing a series of objects to one of the city’s fanciest squares. Unknowingly, they use the exact same tools that are forbidden in Krupka: Portable Chairs, Plastic tables, and Concrete barbecues.

This whole situation loses its grotesque tinge when you talk to people from the north again.
Why is it, that You personally don’t like the „gipsies“?
Just look, they are out there (pointing), sitting on the fountain wall for quite some time already. Why they are not working? Or why they’re not at home at least? Even the sun is not shining“
“The sun is not shining” is stressed, like it was a final and conclusive evidence, that there is something terribly wrong.
In an invisible society, you are expected to be only an invisible minority.



Tadeas Riha