Slovak Roma vote in great numbers

By • on December 7, 2009

Elections to the Higher Territorial Units (VUCs), which took place on 14th of November in Slovakia, showed this year again that Roma turn out to vote in great numbers. It is hard to judge whether this is good or bad as everyone votes freely and it is their civil right to do so. General participation of voters was very low but it is not surprising at all for this kind of elections. But yet, what annoyed and appalled many was a high turnout of Romani voters. However, as I know from several former elections, a Romani voter is disciplined- no matter whether he or she is bought out or is led by rationality and votes for a better program, which may offer a better future to his or her family. To be honest, what is being voted for is, in fact, a lesser evil as no one has yet introduced a program that can solve problems and fulfill needs of the Roma.

Roma like better communal elections into parish councils. They consider these elections a matter of course, as in regard to the quality of their lives; a parish council is the determinant institution. Through communal elections they had often managed to place a Romani candidate several times into a mayor’s seat or even representatives’ posts. In some communes with a majority of non-Roma inhabitants, Romani candidates were able to take 60% – 99% of representatives’ seats.

VUC elections are very foreign to Roma. What they mean to them is politicians sitting in far away offices, often even up to hundreds of kilometres from their commune or town. But Roma had shown a higher interest in proportion to the majority in the last elections. For the first time in the history of VUC elections, at least one Romani candidate was elected. One representatives’ seat in prešovská župa in east Sloavkia (Župa is a territorial division of units in Slovakia. Župan is a district governor.) belongs to Miroslav Daňo, a businessman from Vranov district.

Since the Velvet Revolution and the first democratic elections, Roma have had several chances for pushing their representatives into important political positions but that never materialized before. It seems to be too late now but at least it finally happened. The achievement is not a župan’s post but at least one Roma representative in VUC introduces motivation for further intention to succeed. Mr. Daňo is a man who has not been among Roma activist and politicians, and really, we do not know much about him. But he was a candidate of a new political party, The Party of Roma Coalition (SRK). Alone he will not be able to vote through much, but at least there is a chance for finding new ways in the scope of possible cooperation for achieving at least some targets. The new party made a goal already at the beginning and thereby showed that it may be a party which Roma should take a notice of and believe that it can be as trustworthy as any non-Roma party.

I say this because many Roma unfortunately still live in a belief that only non-Roma are specialists and only non-Roma can achieve something. It is some kind of a leftover negation which has been pushed into their head for a few centuries… There were whispers about the formation of a new party already before its actual birth. I knew that the founders were preparing themselves for great matters and it looked like something new was really about to come. It appears like they really contrived to achieve what other Roma parties never yet gained- to get a seat at VUC. It is only one župa, but still. Other Roma parties which have existed until now did not reach these posts. Not because they would not have good candidates but because Roma, even if interested in elections, were doubtful about the potentials of a Romani candidate.

We do not know yet how Mr. Daňo managed to persuade the Romani voter. But Gejza Adam, a representative of SRK, stated for the media that the party did not have money for an election campaign but it reached out to its voters with a program focusing on economic and social development. SRK candidates covered the campaign cost with their own money. They talked about the importance of well-structured strategy for gaining voters with programs, in scope of which problems of Roma would be solved already before the party had even been established. This means to be at the voters’ disposal if he or she needs help. Let’s hope that the new Romani party will achieve much more and that once it will even reach for parliamentary seats. The party has Roma as well as non-Roma members in its line, aspiring to talk to every voter. During the party’s first elections, its members agreed with other Roma parties on the fact that mutual cooperation will be inevitable.

Much was said in the media about buying out Romani votes. Some were outraged about Roma deciding about VUC elections again. But who does not vote goes against oneself. The majority of citizens are disgusted with the contemporary political situation where politicians are only arguing about who is “going to be by the feed-tank.” But actually, voters give politicians their vote with their absence, in a way of letting them influence that tiny bit of voters who decided to vote. So, in the end, anger of those people is absolutely misplaced. Of course, there are rumors about buying out Romani votes and about manipulation. But this has always been done. Various Roma communities and families attended the last elections and “people” from various parties kept bringing them alcohol and piles of sweets for their children. The majority of Roma accepted “gifts” but in the end they voted according to their beliefs or according to what their associates or relatives would vote for. They also voted according to whether they heard from representatives what they at least wanted to hear. Poverty, unemployment and despair forces people to hope also in what they suspect is just cajolery- forgotten after elections.

But why a Romani citizen does not vote for one of their own? Why he or she does not vote for a Romani party or candidates? Why he or she does not give a chance to their own people but until now always to non-Roma parties or candidates? Except that he or she does not believe in the expertness and impact of a Romani politician yet, the answer might also be that as society itself, the Roma people too need more time to be able to orientate themselves in their civil freedom and be able to apply for their well-being. Maybe they will comprehend it soon. And if there is a suitable Romani party around, they might shift history of the Slovak Roma in parliamentary elections with a great determining step ahead.