THE MAYORS of three eastern Slovak villages have written an open letter to Prime Minister Robert Fico protesting the construction of a Roma housing estate that is being built next to the road leading to the Slovenský Raj national park just a few kilometres away.
The village of Letanovce's Roma community of around 1,000 will soon be moved from their shanty town, which lacks electricity, running water, and a sewage system, two kilometres further away from the village to a newly built housing estate.
The mayors of the neighbouring villages of Spišský Štvrtok, Hrabušice, and Betlanovce see Letanovce's move as an 'extremely improper' attempt to pass the responsibility of caring for the Roma onto someone else's shoulders, and claim that building housing for the Roma outside the village without shops or a doctor will not solve anything.
"We have a population of 2,230 and 520 of them are Roma," said Mayor Štefan Bajtoš of Spišský Štvrtok. "We built 36 flats for the poorest of them, but all within the village itself. They have electricity, running water, and a sewage system. They behave themselves and there are no problems. But when somebody just shifts people from one settlement to another they won't see any good come out of it."
The Sk60 million project, which was financed by the European Union and the State Housing Development Fund, has met with protests since its initiation four years ago.
On February 28, the mayors of the neighbouring villages sent PM Fico an open letter asking that the Roma settlement be reconsidered. In their letter, they said that the settlement would not solve anything for those living on the edge of poverty and asked that the plan be reconsidered.
"The completion of the new Roma settlement would just transfer this difficult to solve social problem to other villages and inhibit the further development of Slovenský Raj, Slovakia's most visited national park," they said.
In the letter, the mayors asked that a special commission be formed to examine the project and make an objective judgement on whether it is really the most effective solution possible.
According to Bajtoš, they have already tried everything possible to halt the project.
In 2003, they sent a petition to the government with almost 1,000 signatures but the Building Office rejected it because they said that the matter did not fall under their authority.
This time, Mayor Štefan Labuda of Hrabušice believes that the PM's authority and influence should be enough to stop the move.
Mayor Peter Kacvinský of Letanovce still stands behind the project and refused to comment on the letter.
"They have every right to send it," he said. "But we are determined to go through with the project."
A bumpy start
Kacvinský was surprised when construction finally started last year, as it was impossible to find a location that everybody could agree on.
"We searched for the right place together with representatives from the neighbouring villages but they were never satisfied with anything that we found," he said.
In the end they decided on a site less than a kilometre away from Spišský Štvrtok, next to the road leading to Slovenský Raj, but that is when the problems started for Kacvinský.
In March 2006 he received a letter threatening to reduce Slovenský Raj to ashes if he went through with his plan. Later he was sent a package containing white powder. In August 2006 they found some skulls and used shells at the building site and Kacvinský received another letter saying that this was his last warning. In February 2007 an anonymous letter claimed to have poured four litres of mercury into a nearby river, which, though no evidence was ever found, would have poisoned the local drinking water supply.
"I will not be intimidated," said Kacvinský. "The work will continue."
5. Mar 2007 at 0:00 | Mark Northrop