Travel

Spending Quality Time in Slovakia’s Infamous Roma Ghetto

A journey into the strange, bombed-out neighborhood of Lunik IX.

by Alex Sturrock and Martin Slepcik
Mar 9 2015, 4:00am

I first met Martin Slepcik and his family while taking photos in Cliftonville, England. I would see them out and about almost every time I visited the coastal town, and they became one of the focal points of the project I was working on. Then one day, without any warning, they disappeared.

Neighbors told me the family had returned to Slovakia. Hoping to visit them and continue the photo series, I asked around town for an address or phone number. All I learned was that they'd gone to a place called Lunik IX, and that I shouldn't take my dog there, as he'd be eaten. Some people I spoke to said the area was straight out of District 9.

Lunik IX is built into the hills and woods outside Kosice, a small, picturesque European city. It has everything you could ask for in the way of shopping, entertainment, and infrastructure, which makes Lunik IX even harder to wrap your head around once you arrive.

I'd done some basic online research about Lunik IX, though a lot of articles were a couple of years old and claimed it had been demolished. But it's very much still there. The project was originally built in the late 1970s to house Roma alongside soldiers and policemen, a grand social experiment typical of Communist-era Czechoslovakia. Eventually all but the Roma moved away, and today much of the neighborhood lacks running water, electricity, and heating. Roma experience extreme prejudice in Europe, and opportunities in the ghetto are nil.

Even from a distance you can tell this place shouldn't be standing, let alone occupied—or over-occupied, as it's been for decades. Lunik IX looks bombed out. Burns and smoke stains mark its walls, and household rubbish is stacked well over a story high. Most streetlights and windows are broken, and at night people roam with flashlights and phones to see where they're walking. There's a direct line of sight to Optima, a shiny modern shopping mall that taunts Lunik IX from across a highway intersection.

Over two visits to Martin and his family, I took photos of the project and gave Martin disposable cameras to capture his own experience of this strange, dystopian ghetto. Here's what we saw.