Job Losses in Mladá Boleslav’s car factory

By • on April 22, 2010

“I was working in the car factory for twelve years and they let me go already during the first wave of dismissals. I lost my income and old friendships. What is left are incredible debts. I would get paid up to twenty-three thousand Czech crowns per month, so my girlfriend and I were not afraid to take a mortgage for a house and furnish our home. But it’s now been a year since I’ve been without a stable job. I can’t be not working; it frustrates me. Losing work had changed my whole life. And people look at me differently now. As if I am a thief. If you’re unemployed, for some people it means that you’re not the same human being as they are. You lose your dignity amongst people when you lose your job, even though you didn’t cause it. When they informed me that I was fired, I suffered a shock. I didn’t expect it. I rehearsed how I should tell it at home. It was so hard. I have worked since I turned seventeen…” This is how 30 year-old Ivan from Vranov region in the east of Slovakia describes his desperate situation.

He started working in the car factory in Mladá Boleslav when he was only seventeen. Roma, as well as others, didn’t only lose regular income but also years-long friendships and social attachments. They suddenly found themselves in isolation. “Out of the blue I was without acquaintances that I had lived with for ten years. We helped each other, shared our experiences – knowing about each other’s sorrows and joys. Suddenly we lost it all as we dispersed in different towns and countries in search of work. It’s like losing a family member or leaving a family,” explainsBeáta, a 38-years-old woman originally from Košice, who has been living and working in Mladá Boleslav for ten years. “I remember those times when we were helping each other to look for accommodation – we would share flats and could always rely on each other. Those were amazing years. Many of us even got married here…,” adds Beáta.

The financial crisis that struck the car industry in Boleslav didn’t only mean an end to important friendships. Some marriages between Czechs and Slovaks broke because they were not able to deal with financial difficulties.

Even the social life of the town was infected by the crisis. According to some Slovak Roma, bars and discos that used to be packed are now empty. But “hospodas” (traditional Czech bars) are full of people who come to drink away their troubles. And you can see the homeless on every corner. Slovak Roma and non-Roma are amongst them – after losing their jobs they have ended up on the street. They have nowhere to return to and no-one to return to. So those once working citizens, turned into forlorn stinking people sleeping on benches.

Until recently, before it got struck by the financial crises, Mladá Boleslav’s car factory was offering work to many Roma, especially from east Slovakia. But nowadays, the number of unemployed is on the rise not only in the Czech Republic but also in Slovakia. Czech Republic used to be a “working sanctuary” to many Roma from Slovakia as the language and geographical proximity were an advantage for them. But the Czech Republic itself is fighting with high unemployment and therefore opportunities for Slovak Roma to find work there are  fewer than before. It seems the Czech Republic is only now having to fight growing unemployment, a situation that Slovakia was in immediately after 1989.