Culture at the Margins, Culture-Free Margins? Lunik IX

Empty window frames, trash heaps, demolition, lack of access to water, electricity, or gas. The Lunik IX borough in Košice, Slovakia has been notorious for years. The buildings are being systematically wrecked, however, and many Roma are leaving for the West. Yet tents are also appearing, housing those whose apartment blocks were wrecked– whether on the grounds of the same housing development or in another of the dozen-odd Roma slums in the vicinity. And there is nothing to suggest that anything is going to change.

When the Austrian writer and reporter Karl-Markus Gauss published his moving book Die Hundeesser von Svinia (The Dog-eaters of Svinia) in 2004, he estimated that from four to six thousand Roma inhabitants were living in the Lunik IX borough on the outskirts of Košice– the second largest city in Slovakia, located in the eastern part of the country. Nearly a decade later, estimates are closer to between six and eight, or even ten thousand Roma in that housing development. Lunik IX was built in the 1970s for two and a half thousand people, located southwest of the center of this then heavily industrialized city. For years, Lunik IX has held an inglorious place at the top of the list of the largest urban Roma ghettoes in Europe– with dramatically poor living conditions, almost 100 % unemployment, and deepening isolation from the majority society. And all of this in what was the European Capital of Cultural just three years ago. Although in recent years, according to certain members of the community, the population has decreased, due to economic migration, to the level it was at when Gauss visited, it remains difficult to depose Lunik IX as a model example of ghettoization, separation and marginalization of a minority. But it wasn’t always that bad.