Spatial Separation. The New Ghettoization of the Roma in Ochotnica Górna

Ochotnica, the longest village in the Podhale region, located between the Lubań and Gorce ranges, stretches 27 kilometers wide. In fact it divides into two villages, Ochotnica Dolna and Ochotnica Górna, which together form the municipality of Ochotnica Dolna. In Ochotnica Górna, right next to the main road, along which the village extends, there is a settlement of people who belong to the Bergitka Roma community, the poorest and least attached to Roma tradition of the Roma groups living in Poland. For that reason they are treated by other Roma groups as a community with lower status. The residents of Ochotnica are convinced that the Roma – commonly called Gypsies, or, in Slavic languages, Tsigani– have always lived there. The oldest members of the community, however, remember that during the German Occupation they lived in Młynne, in a valley adjacent to Ochotnica Dolna. The Uplanders (Gorale) of Ochotnica Górna know little of the Roma’s past, culture, language, customs, and social order, and what they do know is the result of very superficial external observation, since there is no social interaction between the and the Roma. A quarter century ago, there was still an old neighbor who remembered them and reminisced about a meeting in his house with the Roma smith Szczerba over coffee. At present meeting for coffee is unimaginable, though one Roma woman works in the local elementary school as an assistant with Roma children and, as a co-worker on the school staff, is invited to school events, including those of a social character. She speaks with pride of the charm and kindness of the administrators and teachers, of their egalitarian approach, of the absence of any kind of prejudice towards her and her family. Roma and Uplander children meet at school, but there is no talk of coming over to each other’s houses. The “impenetrability” of the two environments is an enduring fact, similar to what Czesław Miłosz described in Native Realm with regard to the Polish and Jewish communities in the Vilnius of his youth. Until recently, this impenetrable coexistence did not bear the signs of conflict.