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Shoot me and you are dead. A walk through Republica

    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.

    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.

    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.

    “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.