During our stopover in Bucarest, we had the chance to meet some members of an evicted community, who is resisting in the streets of Bucarest, organized in a camp, waiting to be allocated to a decent home by the municipality. This community is known as “Vulturilor 50”, the name of the street where they used to live before the evacuation.
We attended one of their regular meetings in the premises of the FCDL association (Common Front for Housing Rights) who hosted the Feminist Caravanan, where they shared with us their story of resistance during the long and cold months that have passed since their evacuation. The next interview is to Nicoleta Visan, the community spokesperson:
I: Can you please say your name and explain a bit how all this situation started? Also explain how all your struggle started.
N: My name is Visan Nicoleta, I am 30, I have a 2 year old son and carrying a second one right now. I got caught in this stuggle, actually, I did not want this situation. I didn’t even think that one day I would be doing all this, that I would collaborate with so many people for a common cause. In fact it’s more like a war.
Before being kicked out, I didn’t pay too much attention [to our situation], as my mother had a contract, so we were supposed to received a house of our own. I was young back then, I was 13 or 14 when I first found out that we would be evacuated. Over time, no one actually came to kick us out, so we thought they would leave us alone. But now I know that any rumor or warning coming from municipalities must be taken seriously. They might come later than expected, but they end up coming. The thing is that I got involved in this struggle somehow pushed or encouraged by other people and because I wanted my children to have a home. That’s what really convinced me to keep going and hoping that, even if sometimes doors are shut in my face, other doors will open. And I pray God every time to help me know what to say, when to speak up… and understand the words and terms used in the different institutions I have to visit, because often, they look at your clothes, at your face, they know you are a Roma woman and they do things on purpose, just to make you feel that they are important, they educated, and you are nobody. And they really believe their time is too precious to lose time talking to you… and that’s when they start mocking you.
The fact that I was in the street with a kid in my arms helped me be determined in this struggle and protest. I was also the one with the long tongue in the group, more combative and explosive and each time a heard a rumor or I saw someone being unfair, even if it didn’t concern me, I used to speak up in front of everyone. So the evicted community saw that what I was saying was exactly what needed to be said about them, who are generally much older than me, but who didn’t have the courage to speak up. Some of them used to come and tell me: “Even though you are much younger than us, you are more skilled in what you say and do and you are not afraid of speaking up whatever is needed to be said”. So when they saw me arguing or fighting with different people who came from the city hall, the police or other institutions, they started to trust me and somehow expected me to take the next step forward and help them. They found support and strength in me and decided me to represent them and their rights. This is why I say I was chosen to be leading this fight. At the beginning I only wanted a home for me and my kids, I didn’t imagine I would have to fight for these people too, but when you understand that you can actually help other families, you feel joy and gratitude, like a personal satisfaction of having achieved something good. And every time we got good results or positive answers, I felt happy to see a change in them, to see some light on their faces.
N: Yes. When they came to evacuate us (Bucharest, Vulturilor street, sector 3), there were a lot of police cars, gendarmes… We were around 200 people. The next day we decided to go protest in front of the district municipality. A few people came to support us from NGOs, Carrousel (HR association), FCDL (Common Front for Housing Rights), Romani CRISS (Roma Center for Social Intervention and Studies), etc. The municipality shut the windows and doors closed, they barricaded themselves inside and ordered the gendarmes to chase us out. When we got to the place where we had left our things together, they came with the street cleaning company and more policemen and we started to fight. They beat men, women and children indiscriminately.
I: Did you take any legal action against that episode of violence?
N: We didn’t file a complaint, but we had the forensic reports done, we have several demands ready for submission to court for starting the trial against them and we also want to win another trial against them for having taken our clothes and stuff away, without our consent. They are not allowed to do that and there was no legal document to authorize them to take everything away from our houses.
I: And what did they do with the things?
N: They said they took them to a shelter and that we had 15 days to pick them up, but we had to justify that we were not taking them back to the street, but to some other place. Otherwise they wouldn’t let us take them back. So nobody went to get back their stuff. We only had our clothes on. And we started to get mobilized that same evening, to look for cardboard, pile it up, we gave our jackets and warm clothes to the kids and that’s how we slept the first nights after the protest. That was in September (2014). Some organizations helped us with some food and blankets for the kids.
I: So you still live in the same place you occupied that day?
N: Yes, we camped on the sidewalk [in the city centre], we started to receive clothes and food from different organizations and NGOs, from our former neighbours, who came every morning to bring tea and sandwiches for the kids and coffee for adults. But we cannot expect people to do this every day. People did what they could to help us during the first week, but we’ve been living there for 6 months now.
I: And how did people in the street react when they saw you?
N: We didn’t experience violent behaviors from passer-bys. People used to stop and ask us what were we doing there, how did we get in that situation and how long had we been there. And normally they helped with some bread, milk, a sandwich… they even brought us some clothes for the kids or even for the adults. Some street artists also got mobilized and started to bring us food in the evenings because we didn’t have anything. Later, they gave us some mattresses, blankets, pillows, so it started to be a little warmer.
I: Did you feel any difference from the moment you started to be mobilized and got people involved, like FCDL? For instance, did things improve somehow with the authorities or in court for the fact that your case was gotting press coverage and attention from activists?
N: We were strong on the position of not accepting money for a rent and not being hosted in shelters, men separated from women and kids. We were clear on the principle of staying together, as families, even if it meant to die in the street. We wanted our house! We had our house, they took it away from us, now they had to give us another one, that was not negotiable! The truth is the authorities did not expect us to get so organized and to receive so much help from organizations, who helped us a lot with information, they often accompanied us to different places, to court hearings, they came to our protests, supported us during many procedures. All this was a big support for us, but also all the pressure from some people from the back – so to speak. The authorities recognized that the procedures would have been much slower without all this pressure. Other similar, but small-scale cases, were waiting in a box for years to be addressed, so when we knew this, we felt a little encouraged and that kept us even more united and helped us to resist. In the wintertime we were very cold, but we resisted together, we prayed to God for a house.
I: How many people are currently living in your community and how many of them are Roma?
N: We are around 13 families, so around 60 people including kids. Most of them are Roma, but some are non-Roma, like my husband. There are 3 or 4 non-Roma people.
I: If all of you get a house in the end, do you intend to keep this network that you created active and help others in your situation?
N: We have discussed this and if we succeed, we would like to create a group to support other people in our situation. We would be like a resistance group for people in other districts or cities, even other countries. And maybe our example can inspire and serve others and help them solve the problems much earlier than us. We are still in the street and don’t know what we will receive, if we receive it. But we know that at least our case is not stuck in a box, ignored by everybody, we know they are working on it.
I: Yes, you are setting a precedent. We hope this will get solved soon and you all get a house for your families. Knowing that there are a lot of empty buildings in Romania and in other European countries, it’s unacceptable to force people to live in the streets.
N: Yes, someone even suggested that we sue the constitution, because having a decent living it’s a universal right for every citizen. And having to live in the street, in the cold, in the rain, that’s not a decent living, the State is not fulfilling its obligation towards its citizens.
The feminist caravan was in Bucharest in April 2015. The situation of this evicted community has not changed. Last 14 September they completed 1 year since they first set their camp in the streets of Bucharest, only 2 km away from Casa Poporului (the Palace of the Parliament). Nicoleta has already given birth to her second kid. Currently there are still 6 families (around 30 people) living in the camp, still waiting for a solution from the municipality. In a recent interview, Nicoleta said: “Our protest camp is right under their nose, only 2km away from the Parliament. If not even here, in the center of the capital city, we manage to have an influence on them, how can we expect that they care about people that are far away?”