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"A Wall Runs Through It"

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In Kosice, a communist-era housing estate called Lunik IX has come to embody all that has gone wrong with Slovakia’s Roma population. 

Built in the late 1970s for army and police personnel and de- signed for 2,500 residents, the crumbling tower blocks now officially house 6,542 (12/2015) registered inhabitants and almost all of them are of Roma ethnicity, many living without electricity or running water. 

From the beginning of the 1980s a large part of the Roma residents living in the city and in nearby settlements were moved to Lunik IX.



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Pepa (54), who grew up in Opava, Czech Republic, 
is a long-time resident at Lunik IX and was mayor
of the estate for four years beginning in 1998.

About 3,770 of its residents are old enough to work.





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Young adults play football on a road
that bisects the residential blocks of
Lunik IX.

About 2,563 inhabitants are children
and teenagers.

  

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Children carry their shopping up 
the crumbling concrete stairs.

About 209 inhabitants are elderly.








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Milena’s family is ready to leave the apartment where
she grew up and her mother Bozena lived for 32 years.

The building was in an appalling state when the city of
Kosice demolished it in August 2014.

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Lunik IX seen from Marek's flat (above) and from the hill on the backside of the estate. A map shows an overview of the area and buildings which were demolished in the past.
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The prefabricated buildings were originally built as new homes for members of the army and police and their families, who gradually moved away.

The Roma inhabitants stayed, becoming isolated into a ghetto. Living conditions at Lunik IX are mostly very poor; the electricity, water or gas have been turned off in many buildings because of unpaid bills and debts.

Much of the housing complex is without windows, and all kinds of metal, such as that in railings and doors, has been removed. Inside the flats the residents try to live as well as they can under the circumstances.

Often there is a sharp contrast between outside and inside – inside, many of the flats are in a better state than the outside facilities. Most of the inhabitants are unemployed – roughly 95% – and survive on social welfare.  

The pastoral mission of the Salesians of Don Bosco – which has a church and a community centre at Lunik IX – is presently the only organization working long term with the Roma community.

They started working at the estate in 2008 and are supported by volunteers. For the Salesians the church is meant to be a place where the Roma can meet not only with God, but also with each other.

The pastoral centre offers cultural and leisure activities and a space for friendship. “Positive personal relationships must be produced among
people living on the estate.”

Marcel Šaňa (38) is the in 2014 new elected mayor of Lunik IX. He is living almost his entire life at the estate himself, is married and father of two. Mr. Šaňa worked before for eleven years at a steel company in Kosice, he also studies at the St. Elizabeth College of Health and Social Work in Kosice.

His predecessor Dionýz Slepčík committed suicide in 2014, in the age of 39 years.





























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Lunik IX seen from Marek's flat (above) and from the hill on the backside of the estate. A map shows an overview of the area and buildings which were demolished in the past.
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A new building grew on the site of one of the demolished
block of flats on Hrebendova street with 12 flats for roughly sixty residents of the housing estate. The project was
accomplished with mainly EU funds.

The first families moved there in 2016.





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Pepa among the estate’s high-rise
buildings in January 2016.

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This concrete building is decrepit and will be soon demolished. Most of the former inhabitants have already moved out; a very few families still live in it. Since Milena, her mother Bozena and the rest of their family had legal contracts, they are expecting compensatory flats. 

The building had about 30 flats with approximately 200 inhabitants. As 95% of the other residents did not have contracts, they have no right to any compensation.

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Milena is the mother of four
daughters and a son. She is
the daughter of Pepa's sister
Bozena.




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Six months later. The family has moved to their first compensatory flat. At the moment, three generations, including a newborn baby, are living in the flat and
conditions are very tough. There is no gas, electricity
or running water. The day before, thieves stole pipes
from the flat above and since then water has been
leaking from their ceiling.

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Milena burning wood in a furnace,
the only way to heat the flats a bit
in winter.

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Artificial flowers.

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The family in their second
compensatory flat, before
moving again.

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Bozena, Milena’s mother, with her grandchildren.

Bozena has lived at Lunik IX for more than 32 years, during which she has witnessed the transformation of the housing estate.


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Milena's daughter dancing for
her four-month-old son, Michal.

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The word "love" written on a staircase
wall in a decrepit building.

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   The view from Hrebendova 34–36 onto the
   buildings on the other side of Krcmeryho
   Street (2013).

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Maria (50) in her grocery store at Lunik IX.
After living on welfare, she decided to earn
her own money and become independent.

She and her husband have been running
the business successfully.

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The living room in Maria's flat.

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Darina with her daughter Jana and newborn

granddaughter. Darina is working for her
friend
Maria, who owns a grocery store.

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Lidia in her kitchen
at the estate.

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The daughter of the family.

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On 1 July 2008 the Salesians officially arrived at Lunik IX.
They head a team of Salesian Fathers, Salesian Sisters and volunteers that help the Roma community in different aspects of their lives. "Education is the only path to humanization.”

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A young Roma girl is receiving tutoring at the Pastoral Mission of the Salesians of Don Bosco. She is rewriting a fairy tale named "The Beautiful Gypsy."

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Volunteers performing with local
musicians from the estate.

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Holly Mass at The Church of the
Risen Christ at Lunik IX.


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                            During the service.

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Sister Anna with two girls in front
of the elementary school.

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Children playing beside a fire.

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Anna Maria (10) with her friend.

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After receiving two warnings because his children were not going to school, Ondrej (50) was sentenced to two years in prison.

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A police officer and his dog are keeping children and inhabitants at a distance from a fire that has just
broken out.



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The family of Ondrej and his brother.

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Ondrej's family kitchen.

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Ondrej (50) and his wife Janeta (42) live in this
flat with their eight children. On the right is
Ondrej's younger brother.


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The building at Hrebendova 34-36
in January 2014 before demolition,
with families still living inside.

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Two years later (01/2016) the building is gone. It is the sixth building to be torn down since demolition started in 2008.
The blocks of flats, in a state of serious decay and structurally
unstable, were dangerous to live in according to the city of Kosice.


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Sister Anna and a little girl walking along
a muddy path to a growing shantytown a
few hundred metres from the estate.



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Alternative housing was only provided to residents who
had had valid agreements. Most of the inhabitants of the demolished buildings had no rental agreements.


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Many of them moved here; they did not know
where else to go.

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This story is part of a long-term project. Chapter three 
will be about Rankovce, a village with a Roma mayor
working with the NGO ETP Slovakia on a project to
establish micro-loan funds to create transformative
change in socially excluded Roma communities. The foundation also supports self-help home constructions
where the ownership belongs to the Roma.

Music by Mario Bihari
Photography // Video // Audio by Björn Steinz

More here: http://a-wall-runs-through-it.oka2.com

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