неделя, 10 май 2015 г.

Shoot me and you are dead. A walk through Republica - Снимаш ли ме, умираш



AUTHOR MILLENA MIHOVA       PHOTOGRAPHER HRISTO RUSEV







       



















 
  A coulee turned into a wasteland shelters more than 300 hundred people in the South Bulgarian town of Haskovo. Creeping out from under the piles of colourful garbage and dirt are the residents of Republica. They are shabby men, women and children widely regarded as roma but convinced in their Turkish origins. Most of them inhabit huts made of mud bricks or wood without running water and often without electricity too. It comes as a surprise to many that the population of this poverty stricken ghetto plays a decisive role in winning or losing every election held in the town for years. Poverty has taught the residents of Republica that everything in life comes at a price, including the vote. “We do sell our vote. It is too tempting not to. When the Election Day approaches all the big parties send their people here. And the buying begins”, says the street trader Ahmed. Unemployed for years he has been making a living from what the Bulgarians call “suitcase trade”.  At least once a week he  travels to the near by Turkish town of Edirne where he buys small amount of  food such as rice, pasta and sweets that he later sells in the streets of Republica. 

Photo by © Hristo Rusev 2015
Photo by © Hristo Rusev 2015
Photo by © Hristo Rusev 2015
Photo by © Hristo Rusev 2015
Photo by © Hristo Rusev 2015
Photo by © Hristo Rusev 2015
Photo by © Hristo Rusev 2015
Photo by © Hristo Rusev 2015
Photo by © Hristo Rusev 2015
Photo by © Hristo Rusev 2015
Photo by © Hristo Rusev 2015
Photo by © Hristo Rusev 2015

  Because of the state of the building emergency teams often are reluctant to come to the place when called for sick patient. “They are scared as if we are not human! We are forced to take care of our sick relatives alone. And sometimes we drag them to the hospital on foot. Can you imagine how painful that can be?”, argues the 41 year old Nefize.
Photo by © Hristo Rusev 2015

“All the parties choose locals as their vote dealers in the ghetto. How to recognize them?! That’s easy. Look for people who made a fortune overnight.”, the trader explains. “Dealers are greedy; they tend to keep part of the money for themselves. For example if their boss wants them to give each voter 50 leva / 25 euro/, they give just 20 leva /10 euro/ and keep the rest to themselves.”, he adds.  Usually the payment is done after the elections when the results are announced. It turns out that dealers choose small local coffee shops to make payment. “People wait in a queue to get their money. It is a funny little sum, but still better than nothing”, Ahmed tells.  

Most people in Republica are used to the life of unemployment and on benefits. “Bulgaria is for the Bulgarians. No place for us. They often tell me – we can’t give you work because you have no education. To which I reply – we can’t all be doctors, can we?! I have studied to 8th grade only.”, 39 year old Zeyneb says.  

The only business that is blooming in the ghetto is the illegal cigarettes trade. Dare to take a walk through the coulee and the near by streets and you will get tens of offers for cheap cigarettes. Shopping in the ghetto is twice as cheaper as it is in the regular tobacco kiosks in town. And slowly but surely this illegal trade is replacing social benefits as the main source of incomes for the locals. 

Despite the regular police crackdowns in the ghetto the cigarette business persists. Amongst its clients are people from wealthiest parts of the town. They often purchase the illegal packs straight through their fancy cars’ windows. Not everyone in Republica though is brave enough to get involved in the illegal tobacco trade. But those who are are often hostile towards journalists. “Shoot me and you are dead”, shouts a man in his 20’s at the sight of the camera. The Mayor, this is how he is referred to by everyone in the neighbourhood. The Mayor is quick to take shelter in one of the near by huts. 

Another young man, Erdjan /22/ is not so camera shy. “All we want is for the council to take care of our homes. Look at the misery we live in!”, he says. Erdjan inhabits one of the concrete flat buildings in the ghetto. The place under the number of 42 is owned by the Municipality of Haskovo. It is notorious for its basements filled up with fecal waters, its entrance where animals are being slaughtered and for its stolen concretes staircases between the floors. When asked whose fault it was, Erdjan replies: “Why should it be ours!?”. Because of the state of the building emergency teams often are reluctant to come to the place when called for sick patient. “They are scared as if we are not human! We are forced to take care of our sick relatives alone. And sometimes we drag them to the hospital on foot. Can you imagine how painful that can be?”, argues the 41 year old Nefize. For the past 8 years the woman has been working as a cleaner in a London restaurant. Her monthly wage is around 800 pounds, just enough to pay for the place she is staying at and buy her food. “I would love to come back home for good and work for so much less. But there is no job here. We are doomed if we stay”, she explains. 

“I would sell my vote. I’m just waiting for the right offer. I have struggled without anything for much too long. I have got two kids to take care of”, tells Nefize’s neighbour. Her greatest fear is that the mud brick hut she calls home will be destroyed by the municipality and she and her children will be placed into a council estate flat where she will have to pay rent. 

 Photo by © Hristo Rusev 2015
Photo by © Hristo Rusev 2015
Photo by © Hristo Rusev 2015
Photo by © Hristo Rusev 2015
Photo by © Hristo Rusev 2015
Photo by © Hristo Rusev 2015
Photo by © Hristo Rusev 2015
Photo by © Hristo Rusev 2015
 Photo by © Hristo Rusev 2015
 Photo by © Hristo Rusev 2015
 Photo by © Hristo Rusev 2015
 Photo by © Hristo Rusev 2015
 Photo by © Hristo Rusev 2015
Photo by © Hristo Rusev 2015
Photo by © Hristo Rusev 2015
 Photo by © Hristo Rusev 2015
Photo by © Hristo Rusev 2015
 Photo by © Hristo Rusev 2015
Photo by © Hristo Rusev 2015

Despite the high level of unemployment most of the families in the ghetto continue to raise three or more children. Most of the youngsters go to school for fear of their parent being left without social benefits. Amongst a few who have given up education is 14 year old Nebie. “Boys were teasing me. They wanted to get married so I quit. I don’t miss it”, explains the girl. Many mothers in the ghetto claim they know exactly what she is talking about. Each day at noon the local school is occupied by parents waiting for their daughters. All of them are driven by the fear of early marriages. 
“People here deserve better. They just don’t get that many chances. I was lucky to go and work in Germany. But not everyone is like that. “, says the father of 3 Rasim Ismail who is just preparing a special dinner for the birth of his youngest child. His neighbour Rosa considers herself not so lucky. “I have a sick husband to look for so I can’t go anywhere. I am tired of being lied to by the politicians. I won’t vote again. If the politicians decide to come to the ghetto, let them feel warned that I don’t want them anywhere near me. I can’t stand them anymore.”


Text by © Millena Mihova 2015
Photos By © Hristo Rusev 2015
All Rights Reserved!!!


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