Before my trip, I put two extra packs of Camels in my bag — this is what I'm planning to regale drug addicts with when they will be confiding to me about their lives. Young journalists tend to be romantic, and I do not yet know that the heroin addicts from Pentagon are not as friendly as the squatters from Warsaw with whom Polish journalist Cezary Ciszewski fatally fraternised.
Tomáš, a member of our local team who promised to keep me company during the expedition, hopes until the last moment that I change my mind and give up on the visit to the infamous Pentagon in Vrakuna (a district of Bratislava — Ed.). When I call him in the morning, on the other end of the line, I hear: "So you still want to go there? Doesn’t the rain bother you?" Nothing bothers me.
Bratislava is a small town; although Vrakuňa is located just 20 minutes from the downtown by trolley, I feel like I am going deep into the suburbs. The landscape changes gradually — beautiful Slovak buildings begin to give way to vast car parks, garages and supermarkets. However, contrary to my expectations, on the site I find no slums, but a post-communist, though pretty neat residential area. I get off at the stop Toryská, where Tomáš is already waiting for me. When he sees me, he immediately points his finger at a building distinctive from the others. So, this is Pentagon — a grey cry among settlements colorful like kindergarten walls, a tattoo with a spelling mistake on Vrakuňa’s arm. The enormity of livid concrete overwhelms me and the wing structure of the building gives me the impression that it will devour me like an insectivorous flower. The building’s walls are studded with white satellite dishes, a breath of post-transformational illusory prosperity. Plywood and cardboard peer from some of the empty eye sockets of windows. In others, I glimpse drying children's clothing. We have already been noticed. Skin wrinkles on our backs under the fire of a thousand glances of watchful eyes — invisible, but sharp as needles.
“Heroin? Fourth floOR, to the right”
The problems in Pentagon began after the fall of communism, when the appartments in the building passed into the hands of private owners. As a considerable number of the new owners were drug dealers, over time, the former student dormitory turned into the biggest supermarket for hard drugs in Bratislava. According to Milan Čupka, the author of an article about Pentagon which appeared in 2010 in Pravda, the building had floors, where out of eight flats, three were drug shops with a capacity of more than fifty customers per day. To this day, the customers are divided into those who take Mrs Brown to go and those who consume the drug on the spot and linger in the stairwells for hours, to the horror of some tenants. Pentagon drug hollows are supposedly family businesses, so even if one person goes to prison, the rest makes sure that there are no interruptions in supply. Some local traders live with people with disabilities, whom city hall cannot evict, to secure their business.
At first glance, we have an impression that there is some kind of a grand neighbourhood picnic organised on a large grassy courtyard in front of Pentagon. However, when we approach it closer, we realise that the people lying on blankets are unconscious and those who sitting are just looking for a vein to inject. There is a magnificent blossoming rose next to one of the trees. In its shadow lies a woman, about 40 years old, deeply immersed in a heroin-induced lethargy.
The stench of a urine nitrogen cloud hovering in the air envelopes the building. In the corners of one of the walls, I notice a niche. I immediately let myself be driven by curiosity to discover what it hides and before Tomáš stops me, I trespass into the abyss of hell, full of syringes and human excrement.
NEEDLES AND Argentinian tangos
In addition to addicts and drug dealers, the pentagonal shame of Vrakuňa is home to more traditional tenants. In the parking lot at the courtyard, we see a family packing their shopping out of the car and an old lady throwing away some garbage. In one of the windows, there sits a father with a child of about two years. From another comes some music, maybe even an Argentinian tango. However, these residents are not the most conspicuous representatives of Pentagonian society. In one of the corners, junkies are sussing out furniture left by someone outside of the building. The sink will go to the scrap yard. Boards will sell. One of the men nervously tugs cupboard doors that will not open. When I look at him closely, I notice a dirty bra strap sticking out from under his t-shirt. I realise that this man is a woman. All three members of the troupe are visibly upset about something and we decide not to stare pointedly at them, preferring to vanish. The Pentagon’s addicts are dressed as if they still lived in a previous era. Baseball caps. Sweatshirts tied around waists. T-shirts printed with Rambo, Mickey Mouse, the University of Oklahoma and Hello Kitty. It makes me sentimental for a moment.
We want to talk with the residents Pentagon, but apparently our magnetic field repels them. After a long search, we come across two young fellows. I ask Tomáš to ask them in Slovak about the myths associated with Pentagon. They say that once the place was terrible and dangerous, but today, the situation has improved significantly. Street fighting was the worst thing here. We ask about the fame of a drug supermarket. They say that if we want to buy hard drugs, we are in a perfect place. "Is true that the building is mostly inhabited only by drug dealers and junkies? We have also seen some families" - we ask. "Half-half" - they say. "Half of the building is inhabited by families that pay rent, the other half is occupied by junkies, who not only do not pay rent, but shit on the sidewalk" - they respond. And what's the city’s reaction to this? They don’t know.
The Slovak side of the Internet provides information that the authorities of Vrakuňa have undertaken several initiatives to improve the situation in and around Pentagon. In the framework of one of them, social workers clean the area of needles and syringes to protect children who play there from diseases. All this has greatly improved the safety outside the building and reduced the number of fights and shootings, but did not affect the dreadful bowels of Pentagon. On Slovak fora, I read that people discourage others from purchasing apartments in this area, listing the presence of ‘representatives of social margins’ as the main reason. These warnings are probably effective because rent in Pentagon and on the whole Stavbárska Street is half of any other part of Bratislava.
We are not given a chance to spend more time at Pentagon, because our presence, and especially the presence of our camera, became unbearable for the inhabitants of the building. Our curiosity has caused a fatal reaction with their hatred for daylight and visitors from the real world. When a man with tribal tattoos on his shoulders and calves starts hurling threats in our direction and starts to come our way, exclaiming that as soon as reaches us, he will ‘smash our fucking camera into shreds’, we fully realise that it’s time to go and to go fast. And yet not a single Camel has been smoked.