August 19, 2022
Cluj is a modern, European city, with good wages and conditions. It is possible to achieve this when the mayor – current or future – and the local administration will accept that all residents have equal rights.
Also known as the “garbage dump of the city of Cluj-Napoca”, the Pata Rât neighborhood is among the areas that the people of Cluj are not proud of. The neighborhood was mentioned, in 2010, in all the national newspapers, this after the Cluj City Hall forced over 350 people of Roma ethnicity to be relocated near the landfill.
For those from the province, the Pata Rât neighborhood does not exist. Neither for the others, nor for the Cluj-Napoca City Hall. Most of the people present here live in abject poverty, without access to running water, sewage or natural gas. Added to which is the pollution caused by chemicals present in landfills. At the same time, the area does not have access to a medical office, and the population of this neighborhood is very young, because the elderly cannot cope with medical problems.
Contrary to beliefs generally spread throughout Romania, in the neighborhood of the forgotten in Cluj only 15 percent are beneficiaries of social aid, according to estimates made by the United Nations Development Program. Many of the locals in Pata Rât are employed full-time by the state, as security guards or in cleaning services, or by private sanitation companies. In the case of those who are not employed with papers, the “unofficial” work is another way in which the locals of Pata Rât contribute to the economic development of the city, that the money earned goes back into goods and services.
The context in which I’m talking about Pata Rât is that I was there at a festival dedicated to them with artists preferred by the locals and whom the organizers were able to bring. It is about Kethane who, in addition to concerts, also had a local talent show, but also fashion presentations or debates. In a non-conformist way, the festival was set in antithesis with other events of this type in the country.
Talent from Pata Rât
Entry was free, and the festival began with the finale of the talent show organized many months before. “Pata-Cluj we have talent” brought together traditional dances, very good voices and, of course, a vibe that you can’t meet at another festival, with manele rhythms, but also electric guitar chords. Many of the traditional songs that were heard at the festival were based on a light rock cover.
Even if the world was not used to this kind of event right near them, the Kethane organizers took care of convincing the locals that there is reason to party and have fun at Pata Rât, even if no one would have thought so.
The festival was located right next to a waste collection center, with the event organizers arguing that it was a message to the municipality. Being also in close proximity to the entrance to Cluj, the festival organizers even prepared special buses for those who wanted to have fun at the festival of those forgotten by the administration.
In addition to the talent show, the festival-goers could also enjoy other surprises. Thus, in addition to Alex from Cluj, on the first day of the festival, we also had Paul Fantezie or Victor Plastic.
The next day, however, was one that would bring together the Roma community and the people of Cluj who enjoy all the benefits of life in the city. In addition to the public debate dedicated to handcuffs, the people of Pata Rât would get to know a new face of handcuffs: the proto-handcuffs. Andrei Dinescu together with Impex managed to put on a great show on the Kethane stage where they brought to the speakers a cultural mix that is only good to listen to during the weekend and beyond.
In the end, the Golden Princess was the most expected personality. It was further proof that elitism disappears when the stall is hit and everyone is having fun.
The last day was dedicated to Roma culture and traditions, including a fashion show by Zita Moldovan and several traditional Roma costumes. At the end, they were donated to the women of Pata Rât.
With this approach, to organize a festival right there, the inhabitants of the area were removed, even for a few days, from the routine of survival near the city that dreams of a kind of great European capital of inclusion, development and well-being. At Pata Rât, however, people are not so much concerned with international prestige as with the worry that the water in the water table could make them sick because it is polluted by the waste from the landfill. And, by the way, if you are unlucky enough to need a doctor, the closest one is precisely in Cluj, because there are no medical units in the neighborhood.
How important is a festival of this type, beyond music and entertainment, for the Roma community and traditions? Sociologist Gelu Duminică pointed out to VICE that every cultural promotion event is very important and is all the more necessary for a culture that is heavily stereotyped, as is the case with Roma culture. He added that institutional racism is behind the conditions in Pata Rât, the way the City Hall relates to the poverty in this neighborhood. “Pata Rât is a shame for any municipality, but instead of solid intervention for urban regeneration, there is ignorance and ignorance.”
In 2019, in an interview given to Emil Boc by George Buhnici, the mayor described the city as one for which tolerance is defining. “Let everyone feel at home in his own city.” Which is fff possible, if you’re not born or forcibly moved right next to the city’s garbage dump.
How the Roma came to be relocated to Pata Rât
The history of Pata Rât, an area that Cluj City Hall, through various mayors over the decades, has tried to hide and forget, was presented in detail in the book “Pata” – which you can read online here – published in 2016 and coordinated by Enikő Vincze. Analyzes signed by various authors are published in it.
At the time of the appearance, Enikő explained that Pata Rât is a space of marginality produced by an economic policy based on exploitation and expropriation, as well as on the increase of profit both in the field of work and in the housing field.
“The history of the emergence of the Pata Rât area begins with the formation of the Dallas colony at the end of the 1960s, when not only the city was changing due to socialist urbanization and industrialization, but also its waste dump was growing, creating informal jobs. But it also includes the establishment of the Canton colony from the end of the 1990s until today, the result of the phenomenon of becoming homeless following retrocessions or evictions from former state housing due to non-payment of rent or utilities, or due to the renovation and change of destination of workers’ dormitories and of pushing to the periphery, through administrative decisions, people who work in the city but do not have the resources to purchase housing on the private market.”
Enikő also recalled the moment of the construction of modular houses in the Pata Rât area from the local budget in 2010, dedicated to people evicted from Coastei street, i.e. from a central area “cleaned of unwanted elements throughout its gentrification”. Thus, the processes of residential marginalization towards Pata Rât are one after the other, under various local administrations, under various country management regimes.
He summarized the Pata Rât situation as follows: “[…] a case of ghettoization, if by ghettoization we understand the process of producing housing spaces deprived of adequate conditions, where people belonging to the precarious working class live, with a preponderance of Roma ethnicity, spaces that they are separated from the rest of the locality by material-geographical and symbolic transgressive signs and gestures.”
Adi Dohotaru, one of the authors published in the book, said in the same interview mentioned before that in the case of the Pata Rât area it must be taken into account that many people moved, forced by economic circumstances, to work on an informal waste market. “For over two decades it was a profitable market, because social and environmental costs were externalized. The area is polluted due to the improper storage of waste because there are piles of garbage as big as a five-six-story building, and the people who worked informally until recently do not have health insurance, pensions, or a minimum of social protection.”
In 2010, in the dead of winter, 76 Roma families were evicted from their homes. They got the news right around Christmas and were given about two days to pack and prepare for evacuation. And the news was received with great fear by the locals. A resident of Pata Rât told me that the two days were a nightmare. “Nobody packed anything until December 17 at 5am when the Gendarmerie and the hooded police came.”
Those families were relocated to Pata Rât, near the landfill. For all this craziness, they were given a room in a module that had a rental agreement. Many of them were forced by necessity to call their close relatives with them, who did not receive anything from the City Hall.
As for the new “houses” they were going to live in, they had a shared bathroom, two sanitary units and two cold water showers, with no partitions between them. The new tenants had to share their bathrooms with the other families that were in the module, and in some modules there were even 30 people in a single shared bathroom. Exactly like a dormitory at a university in Romania, only ten times worse.
In response to the accusations brought by human rights activists, the City Hall did not, at that time, provide an answer. Later, the institution argued that the very high level of unsanitary conditions and, among other things, several complaints from citizens were behind the relocation.
The “Babeș-Bolyai” University, which built a new seat of the Faculty of Orthodox Theology, a campus and a church on the land of the town hall, enjoyed the land where the Roma were before the resettlement. In addition, the Wizard of Oz Public Nursery, as well as several real estate companies, also enjoyed it. Today, an apartment in the place where the 76 Roma families lived costs about 2,000 euros per square meter, and a garage can be purchased for about ten thousand euros, as I learned from a photo exhibition in which presented the history of that moment and what happened after the evacuation.
After being forcibly evicted, in 2011, the Amare Phrala Association and the Desire Foundation, supported by the Civic Organizations Working Group, submitted a petition to the National Council for Combating Discrimination regarding the dramatic events that took place on the Roma community. Also in 2011, together with the support of the European Roma Rights Centre, the Cluj authorities were brought to court. Even now, the case is before the European Court of Human Rights.
Next year, if you are in Cluj and want to go to a festival where the entrance is free and you can see, in fact, in what conditions some people end up living who pay fees and taxes, but have no support from the City Hall, s- maybe at Pata Rât you can get your dose of: amazement, anger and adrenaline brought by a non-conformist event organized right next to a garbage dump. Even the public transport that every neighborhood of a city should enjoy is deficient. In order to get from the landfill to the first bus stop, the locals have to walk a little over three kilometers.
However, that did not stop them from taking care of the sanitation of the Untold and Electric Castle events and others that are happening around Cluj. In 2022 they had a festival of their own with this implicit message that they were pushed to the sidelines, but that shouldn’t mean oblivion and ignorance.
The article was originally published on vice.com.