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Jarovnice's Romanies still recovering from floods

Three months ago, flood waters in eastern Slovakia took the lives of 48 people, mostly Romanies living in a ramshackle settlement in the village of Jarovnice. Today, the displaced families are still trying to recover a semblance of normal life and ensure that they at least have a roof over their heads as winter approaches.
In their efforts, the Romany villagers are being aided by Jarovnice village, as well as by many Slovak corporations, NGO's and the Ministry of Construction. But as temporary shelters are erected on the sites of former Romany shacks, Slovak bureaucracy and Romany culture are finding themselves increasingly out of step.
Maria Richmanová of the Prešov region's Department of Social Affairs said that the state had ordained that in each temporary one-room cottage, or 'unimobunka' erected, only four people are allowed to live, "so we have had a problem deciding what to do with families with more than four members."


In transition. These Romany children in Jarovnice are still waiting for new homes after tragic July floods.
Miša Lacušková

Three months ago, flood waters in eastern Slovakia took the lives of 48 people, mostly Romanies living in a ramshackle settlement in the village of Jarovnice. Today, the displaced families are still trying to recover a semblance of normal life and ensure that they at least have a roof over their heads as winter approaches.

In their efforts, the Romany villagers are being aided by Jarovnice village, as well as by many Slovak corporations, NGO's and the Ministry of Construction. But as temporary shelters are erected on the sites of former Romany shacks, Slovak bureaucracy and Romany culture are finding themselves increasingly out of step.

Maria Richmanová of the Prešov region's Department of Social Affairs said that the state had ordained that in each temporary one-room cottage, or 'unimobunka' erected, only four people are allowed to live, "so we have had a problem deciding what to do with families with more than four members."

The Ministry of Construction, according to Richmanová, has also balked at building more permanent housing on the sites of former Romany shacks "because all these [shacks] were built without building permits, which mean they were built illegally. At the moment, we can't start to build new houses because of this fact."

Jarovnice Mayor Marián Kyjovský said that despite the bureaucratic dithering, a great deal of progress has been made in ensuring that the affected families will winter comfortably. "We still have 4 trucks, a bulldozer and an excavator which are being used to get rid of all the rubbish and fill the craters [left by the floodwaters] with clay," he said.

"Bricks, lime and cement have been bought with village finances, and are being supplied to Romany inhabitants."To date, Kyjovský reported, 31 'unimobunkas'had been completed, "and if it wasn't still raining, all work would be finished within the week."

While the work of reconstruction is moving apace, state administration minds are still vexed by the question of who is to pay for it all. "The biggest problem we are dealing with at the moment is the financial situation", said Jozef Škovran from the Department of Finances of Sabinov district, under whose jurisdiction Jarovnice lies. Regional state bodies had provided financial means to pay 50% of all expenses, he said, while additional help had arrived from companies like the Slovnaft refinery, which had contributed 1.05 million Sk ($29,200) to village coffers.

The state money is being distributed to Jarovnice and its Romanies under the terms of a new Social Assistance law which came into effect on July 1, 1998. Under the law, explained Richmanová, the village receives finances which are then spent by social workers on things like groceries and clothes for the stricken families.

The law's inherent paternalism is rooted in the conviction that if the cash was put directly into the hands of the Romany homeless, very little of it would actually be spent on the necessities of life. "Earlier, there was the problem that Romany families didn't use the money for food but for alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs," said Richmanová. "There is less crime now because they don't have as much alcohol as before."

In Jarovnice's grocery stores, even brunches for children are prepared, which get picked up by Romany students on their way to school.

State financing and bureaucracy apart, the real tragedy of the July 20 floods is still being lived out in the streets of Jarovnice. Kyjovský reported that racial tensions had risen as the waters subsided, and that "the critical flood situation didn't bring people closer together, it just tore them apart."

And while Jarovnice's white residents stew over the money being spent on Romany resettlement, reminders of the human toll of the floods are still being unearthed in the shantytown mud. "Three weeks ago, the rescuers group found three bodies," said Kyjovský, "but five people are still missing."

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