Lithuania: Reform with a Bulldozer
France‘s move to bust up Roma encampments and send their inhabitants packing caused an outcry across Europe in 2010. But in Vilnius, officials have been demolishing a decades-old Roma community with barely a whisper of condemnation beyond the country‘s borders.
City Hall says the destruction is part of an effort to clean up the neighborhood and stem drug trafficking. Critics say it’s a ploy by the city’s flamboyant mayor to win support for his fledgling political party before parliamentary elections in the fall.
In mid-February, Mayor Arturas Zuokas ordered the demolition of three illegally built houses in a Roma settlement and has targeted another 19. The settlement, one of two in the city’s Kirtimai neighborhood, houses nearly 200 people in some 20 plank-and-cardboard shacks. Nearly everyone there is unemployed.
The only public service the community receives is electricity, which comes from dangerously dangling illegal cables.
Inside the shacks, though, are surprising signs of affluence, including new televisions and tablet computers set atop wobbly tables. Parked along the muddy roads leading into the settlement are several new Mercedes.
In 2008, the city’s planning and construction department ruled that the houses there were built illegally and should come down.
“The municipality will do everything in order not to have the Roma settlement on the Vilnius map any longer. The Roma themselves agree that the conditions they live in are very adverse to rearing children,” Zuokas said in a statement after the demolitions.
The settlement, near the city‘s airport, has become a notorious drug market, but officials are determined to transform the area into an economic development zone, with the opening of an IKEA store this year as the starting point. (via Transitions Online)