common ground

Roma/Temeline

Program 0202 January 8, 2002


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(This text has been professionally transcribed, however, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.)

ANIKA DOROGI: [via a translator] If Hungarians lived here they would have been transferred to a nice place a long time ago. But because we’re gypsies, they let us rot.

KEITH PORTER: This week on Common Ground, the plight of Hungary’s Roma minority. Plus, a controversial nuclear power plant in the Czech Republic.

JAN HAVERCAMP: I’ve seen a lot of tampering with documents before, but not to this extent. And it really makes me nervous. We’ve now noticed that basic procedures have been so largely ignored.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. The nearly six million gypsies, or Roma, who live in the countries of East Central Europe, face poverty, unemployment, and oftentimes intense discrimination. Over a decade after the fall of communism, the region’s governments have slowly begun to address the needs of their Roma minority populations.

MCHUGH: And as Common Ground’s Drew Leifheit reports, sometimes a bit of encouragement from the international community can help push things forward.

[sound of people talking, with vehicle traffic in the background]

DREW LEIFHEIT: Cars and trucks roar by a dumpster overflowing with garbage on a muddy driveway leading to the place Anika Dorogi calls home. The walls are dingy and crumbling inside the hallway leading to the small apartment she shares with her husband and five kids.

[a baby cries and screams]

ANIKA DOROGI: [via a translator] This place isn’t very hygienic. It has to be cleaned every day so the children don’t get an infection. With the iron works so nearby we live in the middle of an industrial zone and we can’t do much about it. Three of my kids are terminally ill from this, and they picked it up right here at home.

LEIFHEIT: As members of Hungary’s Roma minority, about 500,000 of the total Hungarian population of ten million, Dorogi feels discrimination is partly to blame for her family’s precarious living situation. Even though the district government placed them in this building on Budapest’s Csepel Island, no one told the family—nor anyone else living in the building—that it had been sold to a private company about four years ago.

DOROGI: [via a translator] If Hungarians lived here they would have been transferred to a nice place a long time ago. But because we’re gypsies, they let us rot. They don’t pay any attention to the fact that they provided us with this place. We didn’t just move in here. They gave all of us one of these apartments, and the end result is we’ll be on the street eventually if the authorities don’t come up with some decision.

LEIFHEIT: Even though this family has always paid the rent and utility bills on time, they and others could be removed from their homes at any time in accordance with the so-called “Eviction Law,” passed last year by the Hungarian Parliament. Because the eviction law predominantly affects the mostly poor Roma population, it and housing discrimination in general are problems that need to be addressed in Hungary, according to Claude Cahn, publications officer at the European Roma Rights Center in Budapest.

CLAUDE CAHN: We now have the prospect that city officials evict on the basis of, of various criteria, some of them very arbitrary. The police implement the eviction. A court may, one or one and a half years later, rule that the eviction itself was illegal and that the person should not have been evicted. However, they will have been homeless or, or—I mean, they may have been homeless for a year and a half since then—one to one and a half years is average court backlog in Hungary. And as a result, we are seeing a dramatic rise in homelessness, Romany and non-Romany homelessness. But most of the reports are that it is disproportionately falling against Roma, and that in many of the cases what is defined as illegal tenancy is very, very shaky.

LEIFHEIT: Aladar Horvah, Director of the Roma Citizen Foundation, says his organization has done everything in its power to try and defeat the eviction law, which he considers antisocial because it puts the financial interests of property owners above the rights of tenants.

ALADAR HORVAH: [via a translator] There are so many disputes with the landlords that if they’re decided subjectively, by the notary and not the courts, families who have no means of defense can end up on the streets. Sometimes they are living there illegally, but maybe they’ve been deceived. People in bad straits are pushed into an even worse situation.

LEIFHEIT: Horvah says a number of civic groups drafted a letter to parliament protesting the law.

HORVAH: [via a translator] Their answers didn’t address our concerns. They basically said, parliament accepted this law and it’s democratic, that only the constitutional court can change it or kill it. Furthermore, they claim the government’s housing agenda will give the poor opportunities to work honestly and buy an apartment. It was a cynical reply and we’ve asked our ombudsman to turn to the constitutional court.

LEIFHEIT: In addition to contending the law is unconstitutional, Horvah believes the eviction law, which oftentimes separates parents from their children, actually costs the state much more money than it does to let Roma stay in their sometimes squalid surroundings. The fuzzy nature of the eviction law and its implementation created an international controversy in the Hungarian countryside earlier this year. The mayor of the Hungarian town of Zamoly, who had previously expressed his intentions to rid the community of gypsies, capitalized on a natural disaster in the town. When a weather storm badly damaged a building inhabited primarily by Roma, the mayor declared it unsafe for them to live there. The Roma Press Center’s Gabor Miklossy has been following the story.

GABOR MIKLOSSY: The families were moved into the cultural center of the village. But, of course, the whole situation was very, very strange. And the public administration of the county decided, or ruled, about a year later that the mayor’s decision to demolish the houses was completely against the law. But that, then of course, it was too late. There were many conflicts with the villagers because they were living in the cultural center without any hope of ever being able to have their own houses again. Then the national gypsy government, the national Roma self-government, intervened. And they decided to buy the Roma construction lots and to built them wooden houses.

LEIFHEIT: The controversy didn’t end there, but erupted into violence as youths from a neighboring village attacked some of the Roma community, and one of the attackers was killed. Following the violence about eight Roma families traveled to Strasbourg, France, to seek political asylum. And nine of the individuals actually received it. Miklossy says politicians treated the incident as a betrayal of Hungary, insinuating that the Roma were actually criminals who had fooled France into granting them political asylum.

[sound of Roma music]

LEIFHEIT: A few hours west of Hungary, in the Romanian city of Cluj, a group of young Roma dressed in flowery costumes sing traditional tunes, one of the songs about the Roma Holocaust during the Second World War. While such a Roma folk group might be typical in other parts of Europe, it’s a rarity in Romania, a precariously poor country with two million Roma, the largest Roma population on the continent. Twenty-nine-year-old Don Doghi is one of the performers and also a Roma activist in Romania. He describes the group.

DON DOGHI: It’s not only about singing and dancing; this is only a part of this. We have to organize weekly intercultural evenings in which to invite other young non-Roma and Roma to discuss and share about their culture. I, we believe that it’s very important. We want to organize a theater section, which means that a few of Roma which have this talent could manifest and express themselves within this section. We want to just develop some kind of multicultural center.

LEIFHEIT: By the end of the year, Doghi hopes the group will become an integral part of Cluj’s cultural scene. Doghi, who is also a program coordinator at a Roma community resource center, says he became involved in organizing Roma activities when, in the mid-nineties he saw other groups misrepresenting his interests as a Roma.

DOGHI: There was a Roma Party in Cluj. At that time, the so-called leaders of that party were people without any kind of education, part illiterate. But this, this wasn’t the main problem. The main problem was that they were evolved in other activities that are, are not moral. I, I was angry on this because I knew that there are many other Roma who could represent in a better way Roma interests. So I, I decided to, to get into this political structure just to, to see how it works. And I spent one month, let’s say. And immediately after that I’ve heard that there is a new opportunity to open a branch of another party.

LEIFHEIT: Following a training conference, Doghi set up a nongovernmental organization called Amareh Praleh, or “Our Brothers.” Being a Roma activist, according to Doghi, means being involved in NGOs and learning how to write grant proposals to international foundations. Still, he says it’s difficult to acquire funding for some of the seemingly most important activities for Roma—things like a legal defense fund.

DOGHI: So we are still waiting for somebody who might be interested on this, and to give us enough money to start the activity of monitoring human rights in Roma communities and abuses and discrimination and other such cases. But we tried for the last three or four years to obtain financial support. But they, they were not so interested on, on this because they said that they could provide funds only for non-Roma.

LEIFHEIT: Young Romanian Roma like Don Doghi are a sign of the future. The Executive Director of the Roma Resource Center in Cluj, Florin Moisa, says the empowerment of Roma in Romania is about developing the younger generation because of the poverty and isolation most of the minority population faces.

FLORIN MOISA: The majority is a mixture of tradition and other life. And this is not very constructive in this moment. So they have to chose what they want to be. Romania and the other countries in Europe, they don’t need a Roma population which is not integrated, which is not able to preserve their language and traditions and traditional trades. We want, in fact, a Roma community that is able to keep the traditions, to keep the cultural identity, but to still to be well integrated; to have a job, to pay taxes, to have social security, and to be fully participating citizens. Now, we’ll see that this is not happening. A lot of Roma are outside of the system.

LEIFHEIT: By selecting young Roma with leadership qualities, the Resource Center engages in training and outreach activities, helping bridge the gap between educated Roma and those living on the fringes of society. One of the center’s highest profile activities, according to Moisa, was prior to last year’s Romanian parliamentary elections.

MOISA: We selected a group of 34 young Roma with the aim of going to 30 disadvantaged Roma communities and making their information available on how to vote correctly, what they are voting for, what is the parliament, what is the president doing, how to understand the electoral process, and to motivate them to go to vote. And the project was called “Show You Care About Your Life,” you know. ‘Cause if you care about your life you’ll go to vote.

LEIFHEIT: Moisa says the activists exceeded expectations, distributing information about the elections to 67 Roma communities. Quite a feat in a population with limited knowledge of the political process.

MOISA: They can be subject to influence, a very easy influence from different parties or for different candidates. There were cases last year when they sold their votes, in fact, for one kilo of sugar and one kilo of rice, for something that was given from a party or another, or a candidate. They didn’t feel very well the connection between the vote and their future life.

LEIFHEIT: Moisa notes that the Romanian government has made recent strides regarding the Roma, adopting a legal framework to protect them from discrimination and an affirmative action-like program to hire Roma in social service agencies. Still, progress in countries like Romania and Hungary has everything to do with implementation. The Roma Rights Center’s Claude Cahn says that for this, European monitoring is crucial.

CLAUDE CAHN: The publics of these countries badly want to be members of the European Union and so we look to European Union recommendations as absolutely fundamental to changing the situation of Roma in central and eastern Europe.

LEIFHEIT: Cahn adds that although international criticism can be embarrassing, without the outside pressure the governmental policies of east central Europe are unlikely to change. For Common Ground, I’m Drew Leifheit.

PORTER: East European nuclear power plant safety, next on Common Ground.

MILAN NEBESAN: This nuclear power plant is prepared for safe operation. We have made some great improvements in information and control system. So I think nuclear power plant is as the same level of safety as others in the western Europe.

MCHUGH: Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details, or visit our Web site at commongroundradio.org. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs designed to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.

PORTER: The last of the Soviet Chernobyl-type nuclear reactors is about to go online in eastern Europe. Temeline Nuclear Power Station was recently constructed in the Czech Republic. It’s become a sticking point in the Republic’s bid for entry into the European Union.

MCHUGH: Both the Austrian and German governments are questioning the safety of the project. As Common Ground’s Charles Michael Ray reports, power company officials say the facility will go online, while antinuclear activists insist the plant should never open.

[sound of birds chirping in the countryside]

RAY: The massive cooling towers of the Temeline Nuclear Power Plant can be seen for miles in all directions, looming over the mixed forests, small towns, and rolling meadows of South Bohemia, near the Czech-Austrian border.

[sound of people laughing and talking at a meeting hall]

RAY: Just across the road from the power plant itself sits the Temeline Information Center, small renovated 14th-century castle that is filled with educational material, a 3-D movie theater, and several interactive models of the plant.

[sound of a warning siren, while people continue chatting in the background]

RAY: Here, a group of high school students is working on a scaled-down model of the reactor core. If they push the wrong button an alarm sounds, the reactor turns red, and goes into overload.

[sound of a warning siren, while people continue chatting in the background]

RAY: Ironically, at this very moment, just across the road, the real reactor was undergoing an actual radioactive leak of several cubic meters of coolant water. The contaminated water spilled from the reactor core into a containment shell and was cleaned without incident. Temeline officials say it was a minor mishap, but critics say the accident was only one in a series of problems at the plant. Jan Baranic, Executive Director of Friends of the Earth-Czech Republic, says the plant is dangerous because it uses a combination of Eastern and Western technology, mainly an old Soviet Chernobyl-type reactor core that is run by computer systems built in the West.

JAN BARANIC: It faces a lot of technical problems. It was a unique project. It was never, there is no other reactor like this anywhere in the world, so it is obvious that there will be big problems with starting it up. There were several emergency shut downs. There were leakages. There were fires.

RAY: The Chief of Public Relations of Temeline, Milan Nebesan, says the plant is completely safe and has passed a host of regulatory tests to prove it. Nebesan says that similar nuclear power plants with a mix of Eastern and Western technologies are in operation in northern Europe.

MILAN NEBESAN: This nuclear power plant is prepared for safe operation. We have made some great improvements in information and control system. So I think nuclear power plant is as the same level of safety as others in the western Europe.

RAY: Nebesan says the Temeline reactor is now operating at about 55 percent capacity while officials complete a series of preparation tests under a temporary operating license that was issued by the Czech Nuclear Safety Office. That’s the governmental body that regulates nuclear power. While the testing is under way, many are questioning the current safety of the power plant.

JAN HAVERCAMP: This the first time in my life that I am scared for a nuclear power station.

RAY: Greenpeace nuclear expert for central Europe Jan Havercamp, says Temeline is not secure under the State Office of Nuclear Safety. Havercamp alleges that during the building of the power plant there were several serious construction errors that were not followed up on properly. He cites a case where a major coolant pipe was welded on the wrong way and that the subsequent police investigation into the issue was on the wrong area.

JAN HAVERCAMP: And I’ve seen a lot of tampering with documents before, but not to this extent. And it really makes me nervous. We’ve now noticed that basic procedures have been so largely ignored. I cannot rely completely anymore on the judgment of the State Office for Nuclear Safety. Now, if I can’t rely on that judgment, I cannot rely on, on the safety level of Temeline. It doesn’t have to mean that Temeline will blow up or will blow up soon. But the chance that when there, a human mistake has been made it will be followed by a chain of technical problems which were not foreseen; that chance is growing a lot.

RAY: The spokesperson for the State Office of Nuclear Safety, Pavel Piterman, says his organization has followed up on every issue that has been brought up by Greenpeace, but that no problems were found. Piterman says Greenpeace is only out to discredit and shut down the project.

PAVEL PITERMAN: For more than one year we are discussing problems of welding. There came one year before with some problems. They showed us what this is, we started to solve it immediately. We spent a lot of money, a lot of time; at the end nothing happened. There’s no proof that they were right. The safety of Temeline NPP is practically the same as any or for all American nuclear power plants.

RAY: Both Germany and Austria disagree and have voiced their concerns over the safety of Temeline to the Czech government. Temeline sits near the border of Austria, a nuclear free country; and the plant fails to meet German safety standards. Power companies from both countries have stopped purchasing electricity from the Czech Republic in protest. The disagreements over nuclear safety have become a sticking point in the process of the Czech Republic’s bid for entry into the European Union by 2004. To work out disagreements over this issue, the three countries have forged what is called the “Melk process,” named after the Austrian border town of Melk. Through the Melk process the countries are holding a series of meetings to find common solutions to their problems. Petra Dachtler, First Press Secretary with the German embassy in Prague, says Germany is convinced the way to solve this issue is through the Melk process, which will soon publish a report on the safety of Temeline.

PETRA DACHTLER: And it probably will be stated by this report that there are lacks in security and safety. This doesn’t mean we will ask the Czechs to close Temeline, or block the negotiations; this just means that there have to be additional measures taken in order to set aside these problems which exist.

RAY: Like Germany, Austria is also confident that the Melk process can reach compromise. Gregor Schusterschitz, Press Attaché for the Austrian embassy in Prague, says that the Austrian government wants all safety issues at Temeline answered before the Czech Republic can enter the European Union. Currently, negotiations are centered over the energy chapter, one of 32 chapters that must be closed before the entry of the Czech Republic is allowed.

GREGOR SCHUSTERSCHITZ: The completion of the energy chapter during the negotiation process for the enlargement of the European Union, we said very clearly from the very beginning that if in the case that all outstanding security questions of Temeline are solved and there is a solution to the different problems that we have, that we have nothing against closing this chapter. But until these questions still open, of course we cannot close it.

RAY: Many Austrians are going even a step further in their opposition to the plant. The ultra right-wing Freedom Party is pushing to overtly block the Czech Republic’s entry into the European Union until it deals with nuclear safety. Meanwhile, environmental groups in Austria are calling for Temeline to be shut down completely. Dr. Corine Veithen, with Friends of the Earth-Austria, says the EU should develop comprehensive nuclear safety regulations for countries who are seeking entry.

DR. CORINE VEITHEN: It’s been a very long struggle and my hope is that, that there can be an agreement between the European Union, Austria, the Czech Republic, not to take this thing on the grid, not to, not to really make us more problems for the next 20 years. Because we have already enough problems with nuclear power plants around the world and especially in Europe. So we hope that Temeline will be a first positive sign to phase out nuclear power in, in the whole Europe.

RAY: European Union Ambassador to the Czech Republic Ramiro Cibrian, says while the EU has no codified standards for nuclear safety, there is ample intergovernmental cooperation on the regulation of nuclear facilities between EU member states. Cibrian says that it would not be possible for Austria alone to overtly block the entry of the Czech Republic into the European Union over this issue without threatening the entire process of EU enlargement.

RAMIRO CIBRIAN: In the reality world we have seen in the last, in last eight weeks is very positive because we have seen that indeed, political leaders, including in Austria, are fully aware of what is at stake. And I think this is a positive development, that in the last days key political parties are adopting the constructive approach that is necessary. And I am confident that these constructive approaches will continue to prevail.

RAY: While Germany and Austria have come to the negotiating table insisting on a higher standard of safety at Temeline or a shutdown of the project, the Czechs say the plant is entirely safe and will go on the grid. Ivan Novak, with the Department of Strategy at CEZ, the parent company of Temeline, says the plant is as safe as any in Europe and that millions of dollars have been spent on its construction and safety mechanisms. Novak adds that CEZ will not consider scrapping the project so late in the game.

IVAN NOVAK: I think the problem is that, that we have to deal with people who already have some attitude and they simply do not want to change it. They, they hate nuclear power and no reality based argument can change such attitude. That’s, that’s our problem. And, no official, in my eyes, should ask the business company to change it, to change its business plans. It’s simply, it’s our money and we have to make it profitable.

RAY: While the negotiations continue over the fate and safety level of the power plant, Temeline officials continue to work to bring the plant up to full operation.

[An announcer reads during a promotional film or video]: While the principle of a nuclear reactor is quite simple, it’s structure is, in fact, quite complicated.

[A second announcer reads]: A total of 163 tube assemblies are loaded into the Temeline reactor and these then create the so-called core of the reactor. The core is surrounded by a cylinder and is placed in the internal reactor cavity.

RAY: Back in the Temeline Information Center, a 3-D movie informs visitors about the inner workings of a nuclear reactor. Activists say they expect technical problems and political pressure will put an end to Temeline before the power plant goes on the grid. The Czech government has agreed to keep Temeline out of commercial operation while intergovernmental negotiations over the project continue. Meanwhile, company officials insist that Temeline will be ready for full and safe operation by the end of the year. For Common Ground, I’m Charles Michael Ray, in Prague.

MCHUGH: Cassettes and transcripts of this program are available. The transcripts are free; cassettes cost $5.00. To place an order or to share your thoughts about the program, write to us at: The Stanley Foundation, 209 Iowa Avenue, Muscatine, Iowa 52761. Please refer to Program Number 0202. That’s Program Number 0202. To order by credit card you can call us at 563-264-1500. That’s 563-264-1500.

PORTER: Transcripts are also available on our Web site: commongroundradio.org. Commongroundradio is all one word. Our e-mail address is commonground@stanleyfoundation.org. For Common Ground, I’m Keith Porter.

MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. Cliff Brockman is our Associate Producer. B.J. Liederman created our theme music. Common Ground is produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

© 2002 by The Stanley Foundation

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