Loitering in public spaces: a punishable crime in Rotava

By • on June 21, 2011

The problem of the so called “indecent and inadaptable” Roma co-habitation is about to be solved in a very unique manner in Rotava, located in the Sokolov region in the Czech Republic. The Town Hall’s new regulation is trying to ban its citizens from sitting on steps, palisades, curbs, flowerpots but also from even leaning against any of the abovementioned or against any walls in front of shops. If a policeman catches you while doing so, you will receive a fine of between 100 and 500 CZK. As if that was not enough, the new regulation comprise the controversial ban on bringing out tables, chairs, grills or blankets to sit/lay down in any public space such as housing units or a meadow. It is no secret that the Town Hall is trying to evict Roma inhabitants of the town through this legislation. They spend most of the day outside – Roma are seen and heard everywhere and the Town Hall obviously minds that.

Gathering in groups and communities in order to see each other and to talk to each other is deeply rooted in our traditions and lifestyle. It can be said that this is our particularity that distinguishes us from the non-Roma part of the population. We love groupings of big families. We simply have strong social ties. We especially like to gather in large courtyards and public spaces, which puts us in the public eye. Some mind our loud talk, vivid gestures and naturalness. Some do not take notice as they understand it as an expression of a different ethnicity, culture or lifestyle. Our way of life could be “irritant” mostly in villages as we live in communities based in one bulk – segregated. Everyday we gather in front of our houses to drink coffee, and of course, to talk. While non-Roma do not bring their family matters outside the fence of their own house, the Roma meet and openly discuss no matter what.. However, the biggest problem we face is when we come to town.. When we group up, several of us sit on the bench or steps of the residential unit where we live. Our neighbors are not fond of it as they perceive it as “public disturbance,” bad manners or inability to co-live in tune with the others. There are only very few places in towns where it is possible to bring your blanket and to have a picnic like abroad where they aim to create and not to ban recreational space.

The controversial regulation unleashed a fiery discussion. Some are for it but some are against it because they obviously see it as a matter of discrimination. It is a fact that mostly Roma gather in public spaces. The new regulation forces them to stay locked at home, not being able to spend time outside. They can but they need to be “moving,” not standing, leaning or sitting. But the Town Hall’s new regulation surely managed to kill two birds with one stone: it aroused another wave of anger towards Roma as non-Roma have to obey the new law as well. So called decent citizens must feel hurt when they are unfairly punished. So if tired pensioners stop somewhere, they get a fine. If a pregnant woman feels uneasy and there is no bench around, she cannot rest on the closest steps because it will cost her 500 CZK. And what about tourism? Rotava is doing great to scare away all possible tourists. They always want to take their heavy backpacks off, to sit whenever possible and to photograph, to rest, to see what is happening in the town they are visiting. They will be surprised how much it will cost them to lean against a wall.

The Town Hall did not come with a plan of how to extend the leisure space but it presented a perfect example of discriminatory regulation by prohibiting loitering in public spaces-as if this was martial law. The Town Hall’s officers are not a bit worried by the fact that the town should offer more benches to sit on or to extend the public space but rather they do their best to evict the Roma out of the town. They’d rather “waste time” and come up with this splendid discriminating plan instead of working on something constructive. Maybe once the Roma would be out, the Town Hall could sell their flats for a really high price. Lucrative Romani flats have always been a matter of an interest. Maybe those petty politicians from Rotava are aiming for grand politics and they needed to arouse public notice somehow. But once again, they would not be the first or the last ones using Roma in order to say “Hey, look what a grand politician I am.” Misusing Roma is the number one hit when it comes to campaigning. Actually, what would those politicians do without Roma? I guess they would really have to start working then.

The Rotava Town Hall should take into consideration the fact that the town lacks recreational space, and that the problem would be solved once this is created. But instead of that, the state organ is only masking its inability by pointing out noisy Roma, thanks to whom no citizen can lean against a wall. But why would the Town Hall invest its money when it could just wait for it to start pouring in from “fundraised fines?” Apparently, the ruder and dumber the solution, the greater the political prestige it conveys.

A pregnant woman already expressed her dissatisfaction for MS Dnes daily recently. She feels guilty when returning from the shopping errands she has a need to sit down and rest for a bit. But whenever resting on the closest steps and seeing a policeman, she immediately springs up. Her friend already got a fine and the policeman supposedly told her that it would be better if she stayed home or went to the forest.

So? It is not possible to live in Rotava anymore. You may only sleep, cook, sit at home or search for the closest forest when wanting to meet up with someone. Absurd? Unbelievable? No, this is reality.

Apparently, according to Rotava’s regulation,even discrimination can be legalized. Politicians ignore the fact that they did not get mandates to become gods who may do whatever they feel like. They must also respect the Constitution, so why are we letting them ignore it?

The City Hall in Rotava is violating the human right of its citizens, their cultural heritage and traditional way of life. However, I still hope that things will not remain this way for long.