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Strange days

Usti nad Labem is an industrial town situated in the north of the Czech Republic against the German border. The town suddenly found itself put on the map when the town's local authorities built a three metre high concrete wall around the roma ghetto so as to protect the "honest people" from the "antisocial" ones. According to the town's mayor, the aim was not to separate the two populations but to bring together the "Whites" living in their pavilions on one side of Maticni street and to unite the sixty odd roma families living in the two high rise buildings on the other.

"This "Wall of Shame" is not only a symbol but it is a clear demonstration of czech society's xenophobia. In a country where 80% of its population declare that they would do anything in their power not to have Gypsies as neighbors, the Roma are stuck for a place to live and it is not surprising that each month hundreds are leaving for more welcoming countries. In the past ten years many Roma have died following injuries inflicted by skin heads or neo-nazi groups who identify themselves by their opposition to Roma communities."
Martin Plichta, Le Monde, October 1999.

The Maticni street wall has since been dismantled and sold to the local zoo. Both roma and non-roma communities no longer want to hear anything about it, but the animosity between the two remains. The Non-Roma strongly resent the international media coverage surrounding the issue, considering it to be unjust and impartial, the Roma are marginalised and feel that discrimination against them has increased.

The "Wall of Shame" was not the solution but the last straw in an on going battle, fought between both communities since 1995. In Usti the difference between Roma and Non-Roma is immediately apparent, each community's respective language, traditions, social behavior and beliefs are radically different, all contributing to what could appear to be an incompatibility between the two.

The Non-Roma (photographed in black and white) live a structured daily routine, working within industry or commerce where rules, reglementation and authority are respected and feared.

The Roma (photographed in colour) express a high disregard for authority and schooling, considering them to be a restriction of liberty and a threat to their culture.

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"By the end of September, a wall is to be built on the area between buildings with city flats for rent defaulters, mainly inhabited by Roma, and a number of family houses on Maticni Street in Usti nad Labem." : Speech made by Usti mayor Ladislav Hruska to homeowners' representatives 13/05/98 : Saturday evening, Hana and Lenka dress up and hang out. Town centre, Usti nad Labem, Czech Republic.