Interview with Enikő Vincze
In Decemver 2010, 76 families from Coastei Street in Cluj-Napoca (most of them Roma) were relocated in the vicinity of the city garbage dump at Pata Rât, alongside other ghettoized communities: the one from Dallas and the one from Cantonului Street. Shortly thereafter, the houses from Coastei Street were demolished so that no trace of them would be left. In late May 2011, next to where the houses once stood, authorities and priests laid the foundation for a campus for the Faculty of Theology. The dislocated inhabitants who were now living next to the garbage dump were protesting a couple of yards away, surrounded by security guards and Orthodox religious chanting. The land on Coastei Street was donated by the municipality to the Orthodox Church. On December 6 2013, the theology student campus worth 30 million lei (approximately 7 million euro) was inaugurated. On December 30 2013, the Appeals Court in Cluj ordered Cluj municipality “to grant damages of 2000 euro per person to compensate for the injustice suffered by the plaintiffs in the process of eviction and relocation to the container area in Pata-Rât and for the improper living conditions.” We talked to Enikő Vincze, activist and researcher into the ghettoization at Pata-Rât and elsewhere in Romania.
You were heavily involved in the protests against the eviction of the families from Coastei Street to Pata-Rât. Could you elaborate on the history of these protests and their political relevance?
I learned to articulate in practice a critique of the system which represses the very people it impoverishes. The way I managed this was by protesting the forced evictions in Cluj. We militated for housing rights and desegregation. My involvement in this process was facilitated by Cristina Raț and Adi Dohotaru. The first protest – I am Roma and I want to live a dignified life – took place in January 2011, after the forced evictions of December 2010, and raised awareness about what had happened by emphasizing the injustice of relocating people to the city dump and demolishing the houses on Coastei Street. Then, in December 2011, we built solidarity around the March for Social Justice, which featured many local academics and civil society activists: I think it was an important step towards framing the forced evictions of the Roma families on Coastei Street as part of a wider social issue, namely social injustice perpetrated by the society we live in. The second reminder of the evacuation, organized with Amnesty International and European Roma Rights Center – The Roma marginalized – We are also part of the city! – undertook a 10-minute symbolic takeover of the administration which was meant to benefit the people of Pata Rât. Linda Greta, from the Coastei Street community, who received the award for civic activism from the “Romani Women’s Gala”, was an important part of organizing the protest. When we marked three years since the eviction, we withdrew into the confines of the container-houses and sent the message “SOS! Get us out of Pata Rât!”, which became a landmark of the city’s imagery due to an aerial shot taken by a surveillance drone. In between the protests, we took part in articulating and facilitating several “cultural protests” during international events such as Earth Day (when we protested environmental racism) or Housing Day, when we brought up the inhuman living conditions of the Roma in Pata Rât and framed them in terms of universal housing rights. I was also involved in other types of street manifestations such as I, too, am a garbage man (which emphasized the fact that the precarious labor undertaken with no protection in hazardous conditions was and continues to be useful for the city, since it has ensured the selective collection of waste in Cluj for several decades and now the workers, whose livelihood was threatened by the closing of the dump, were claiming their right to decent work). I took part in the performance Work is no luxury, it is a right!, where we brought together Adi Dohotaru’s artistic-activist ideas and the initiatives of some of the evacuees from Coastei Street (especially Florin Stancu) to establish a social economy unit to work with support from local authorities in creating jobs for the members of the community, generating income for community activities and offering useful services for the inhabitants of Cluj. All these protests – and the way in which they constructed the messages – aimed (and succeeded, I believe) to turn an issue neglected by local authorities – the status of the marginalized communities of Pata Rât and the municipality’s direct contribution to this unjust situation – into an issue which can no longer be excluded from the public agenda. […]
Interview conducted by Mihaela Michailov