Beňák (ČSSD), Romani candidate to the lower house: ČSSD is a strong platform for defending Romani interests
An unusually high number of Romani people are running in this year's early elections compared to years past. The monthly Romano voďi, published by the ROMEA association, has done its best to interview all the candidates running for the lower house and will run those interviews in addition to publishing analytical material about the elections.
News server Romea.cz will be gradually publishing these interviews. We consider these elections to be important, key, and we hope to bring you the opinions of all those asking for your vote.
This interview introduces David Beňák, candidate for the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) in Prague in 9th place.
Q: How long have you been a member of the ČSSD, and why? Have you ever been a member of another political group before this?
A: I have been a member of this party for more than 10 years. I decided to run for this party because I am convinced it is the only left-wing party that can create a welfare state that will be sustainable in the long run. Unfortunately, the party has never received a strong enough mandate to fully govern in all areas. Prior to this I had never been a member of any other party.
Q: How much has the ČSSD and its representatives expressed themselves and focused on topics of inter-ethnic coexistence, anti-Romani demonstrations, social housing, etc.? Can you influence this inside the party, and if so, how? What about the statements made by previous candidates of theirs that used basically anti-Romani rhetoric?
A: It may not look like it in the media, but ČSSD politicians have been speaking out on these areas. Their statements are not always direct, but nothing says they have to be. When we discuss security it means for everyone. When the topic is that of more jobs, that also means for everyone. I think the ČSSD has the advantage of having a high level of professional backing available to it, and it is possible to influence the national discussion because of this. In many respects, therefore, a dispassionate discussion of these topics has been ongoing, and all of the current main topics are covered by the electoral program of the ČSSD, in particular the creation of jobs, support for families, a law on social housing, security, etc. As far as the statements made by some ČSSD members that have been anti-Romani, this is not the position of the party itself, but of specific individuals.
Q: You have run for the ČSSD previously. When and where exactly? What was the experience like for you of meeting with people, appearing on television, debating with your opponents? What was surprising, new, different, what did it give you and what did it take out of you?
A: I ran once for the town council of Bílina when I was still living there, but I didn't really aspire to being elected. Then I ran in 2010 in Prague for the lower house in 22nd place. I didn't make many media appearance and I didn't debate anyone, but it was a big life experience for me personally. When you become part of public life, you must reflect differently on many things and take many other factors into consideration. It is naturally possible to do this differently, but that's called populism. I am not a populist. Public life does deprive you of a certain degree of privacy.
Q: You are running in 9th place, so you probably believe more that running will strengthen your position inside the party. should you win enough preferential votes, and less that you will actually be seated in the lower house. How are you conducting your campaign, how much can you build it on your persona, and how much do you have to toe the party line?
A: I hope my candidacy is a hint of bigger things to come and that other Romani people will break into the party in the future. I am conducting the campaign by reaching out to voters with the support of the Prague campaign manager, Petr Dolínek. I am concentrating on contacting them through rallies in Prague. Personally, I see myself as part of a team whose members support one another. I have not based the campaign on my individual person. I contribute a great deal of experience to this team, for example, in the realm of social policy, so I am also participating in formulating the policy of the party organization in Prague.
Q: What do you say to the "alliance" between the Greens and the Equal Opportunities Party (SRP) making it possible for SRP members or nominees to run on the Green Party's candidate lists? What might this alliance mean to the voters? Could the behavior of the Greens inspire other parties in the future? Why or why not?
A: That's up to the chair of the SRP to answer to his voters for that decision. If the SRP wants to be a unique political party, then it should seek a different strategy in the next elections. In such an alliance it is necessary to compromise and to give up some of the demands of one's program. Historically such models have arisen here in the past and evidently will continue to arise and naturally there is nothing wrong with it. If the SRP sees potential in collaboration with the Greens and wants to enhance it, then the SRP is probably doing the right thing.
Q: What are your strengths and weaknesses? Some say you are not penetrating enough when it comes to the Romani topic in general. Is that the case? How is this addressed inside the party, for example?
A: My professional strengths are described by my education and experience. I have degrees in pedagogy and social work and I have been working for more than 10 years in the public administration. Specifically, my strengths include my experience in the areas of social security, social services, and social work at municipal level. Other areas where I personally feel I am an expert are those of education, housing, and public administrations. I don't feel very sure when it comes to purely economic questions. I did not study economics, and there are other highly expert topics like that for me, such as defense or some environmental and health topics. However, there are other members of the party who are experts on those topics. As for speaking up about Romani topics, I believe that I do make an impact during the sessions of the Czech Government Inter-ministerial Council on Roma Community Affairs. When it comes to media statements, I personally do not consider myself to be a "knockout". My style of personal expression isn't like that. I consider negative campaigning to be proof of a lack of a clear notion as to what politics is supposed to bring the citizens. That is why my preferences unequivocally are for positive politics, for the formulation of a vision and problem-solving, not for attacking my political competitors.
Q: This year rather a lot of Romani people are running for various parties. What do you make of this? You already have experience - do you believe all of the candidates are aware of what awaits them in politics? If elected, should the Romani candidates collaborate even though they are representing various points along the political spectrum?
A: Personally, I welcome this. It's a definite shift forward. As far as I know, none of the current Romani candidates have experience with high-level politics. However, that doesn't necessarily disqualify them. In my view, the candidate must be connected to the clear political program on which the party is built. That's the only way to defend the program to the voters that I have decided to promote through my candidacy. That coherence is, for me personally, important. Collaboration between Romani candidates on some topics is possible across party lines, as long as those are things on which everyone agrees. I can imagine that we could jointly seek common solutions to some of the key topics concerning Romani people irrespective of our political affiliations. I base this opinion on the fact that I am convinced that the ČSSD is a strong platform for defending Romani interests.
Q: What does Romanipen mean to you?
A: Romanipen, for me, means something very personal. Something interior to my soul. It's my personal convictions. For me, it means my family. It's part of my identity.
Q: What do politics and your participation in them symbolize to you?
A: Politics is an opportunity to influence decisions that concern every citizen. Personally, I want to contribute toward the citizens in this country having a better life. I want the state to make correct decisions that will respect the needs of the voters.
These interviews will be published in the print edition of Romano voďi magazine, the October edition of which will feature edited versions of all of these interviews (in Czech only). You can order a copy of the October edition at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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