Czech regional elections: Romani ODS candidate Milan Horvát says small-town schools need good educators
On Friday, 7 October and Saturday, 8 October, citizens of the Czech Republic will vote for regional councilors and in some regions also for the one-third of the Czech Senate whose electoral terms are expiring. Political parties have also sent several candidates to the regional elections who are of Romani nationality.
This year, political movements and parties have nominated a total of 11 880 candidates for the post of regional councilor, 576 more than in the 2012 elections. News server Romea.cz estimates that as many as 40 Romani people are running for the regional councils this year, and we have reached out to some of them with a request for an interview.
Civic Democratic candidate Milan Horvát
Businessman Milan Horvát (age 63) is another Romani candidate running for regional councilor, this time in the Central Bohemian Region and for the Civic Democratic Party (ODS). Through his civic activities he has long contributed to addressing the labor and social problems of Romani people in the town of Lysá nad Labem.
In 2006, then-Czech President Václav Klaus awarded Mr Horvát a Third Grade Medal of Merit on the occasion of the state holiday of the creation of an independent Czechoslovakia (28 October). In the past he has served as an ODS member on the local assembly of Lysá nad Labem, to which he was most recently elected in 2006 for a third term.
Q: What, in your view, is the reason many citizens still don't vote?
A: The public is not responsible when it comes to elections. I'm not saying everybody has to vote ODS, they should vote for the party whose program is close to them. However, not voting at all is an error, for all of us. Romani people are barely involved in regional and statewide politics, even though among us there are people who could even run for the Senate, but they either don't believe in themselves enough to run or don't want to. I think the time when the Romani Civic Initiative (ROI) was fielding candidates, or when Monika Horáková ran for the Freedom Union, was still favorable to us Roma. We were represented in Parliament then, but now? It seems to me that Romani people have lost their awareness of being rightful citizens of this state. They have stopped fighting for a better future for our children, for better lives. They are not exercising their rights - the right to vote, the right to expression, the right to lead a full-fledged life. Romani people are frequently just addressing their own problems of survival. We were accustomed, previously, to everybody working, being housed, but what does the situation look like today? Romani people are living with their young children in residential hotels. There is no work in the towns, and that is a basic error, the standard of living has no chance of rising. However, these people are not aware that unless we have representation in high-level politics, it will be difficult for us to advocate for any of our interests.
Q: Why have you decided to run as an ODS candidate for the assembly of the Central Bohemian Region?
A: I've been in the party 12 years, all of my political successes are connected with ODS, so I won't be a turncoat. The party is momentarily not succeeding as it once did, but it's improving. We are one of the parties with the biggest electoral bases in the country, and that is why I have supported the party for years. When the leadership of the Central Bohemian Region reached out to me and proposed that I run in the regional elections this year, I agreed after some brief consideration.
Q: What, in your opinion, has succeeded in your region since the last elections to the regional assemblies?
A: Overall, not enough money is being given to the regions, but what has succeeded, for example, is that in Milovice they have opened a new Juventa Primary School with capacity for more than 1 600 children. The municipality of Lysá nad Labem has leadership that meets its citizens halfway. Those who are unemployed have been hired for many years there now to do community service. Romani people can make some extra money that way, and many of them then leave those jobs to work in the nearby automobile factory in Mladá Boleslav. That is essential, to do our best for Romani people to work they way they once did during the previous regime.
Q: You are mentioning the problem of unemployment in your region - if unemployment in particular is to be reduced, what is the first thing you would do if you were to become a councilor?
A: Certainly. This requires creating new jobs. It's not true that Romani people don't know how to work. They know how. Who dug the trenches for all the electrical lines in Prague? Romani people. Who dug the trenches for Telecom? Romani people. Who dug the trenches for gas and water lines? Romani people. I could go on. I meet working Romani people every single day on the highways of our cities. The fact that they know how to work is something they have already demonstrated, now it's necessary to give them work to do. At the very least it should be the way our town does it, with Romani people working here in community service. It's actually about communication with the mayor. However, if Romani people won't at least be involved in local politics, they cannot advocate for any of their interests.
Q: The Civic Democratic Party has presented the main points of its campaign. Under the slogan "Let's Simplify It!", the party wants to focus on lowering taxes, supporting businesses, and cancelling the EET, the electronic sales records that [Czech Finance] Minister Babiš is introducing. What else are you offering people who vote for your party?
A: ODS has a good electoral program. It wants to focus on education, teachers are leaving smaller towns for the bigger ones where the schools are offering them higher starting pay. That must change. Schools in smaller towns need good educators too, who also deserve to be well-remunerated financially. We are proposing, therefore, a system of allowances for teacher remuneration.
Q: How, in your opinion, will the regional elections turn out this year? How do you assess your chance of success?
A: My estimate is that either ANO or the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) will win. I don't see my own chances as very big, because I am pretty far down on the candidate list. ODS will be in the opposition, and I think we are even counting on that. However, perhaps we will succeed in being on the audit or finance committees.
Q: As an ODS member you were elected to the local assembly of the town of Lysá nad Labem in 2006, and after the local elections you were even a local councilor. Even though you resigned that post soon afterward for health reasons, what did the experience bring you?
A: Only good experiences. You know what is going on in your town, you know what is happening in the schools, and you can contribute to all of it. For example, more than 15 years ago I pushed for Romani people who were unemployed to work for the municipality. That persists in our town to this day. Naturally it was necessary for my proposal to be supported by the other assembly members who voted for it.
Q: Why do you believe it is necessary to have Romani people on the regional assembly?
A: They would be able to better advocate for the interests of the Romani communities in the region. Anybody who visits Romani people sees their poverty. It's necessary to do something for these people. I have worked my entire life, and I want that for everybody else.
Q: What is your opinion of the refugee crisis?
A: Refugees are a Europe-wide matter. Germany made an error, Chancellor Merkel let just anybody in to Europe, that was a mistake. They should have allowed in just those who come from war zones. The situation should be more controlled, but with such an amount of people, that's a struggle, as is being demonstrated. People are afraid. The media has reported daily about how groups of emigrants are traveling into Europe, or where a terrorist attack has happened, who has been raping whom where, etc. People get it that migrants are leaving their homes in search of a better life and safety, but at the same time they are concerned that the number of terrorist attacks in Europe will increase. I personally am not against us receiving refugees, I very well remember the time when Romani people were moving to Canada and England from here for a better life. However, it is necessary to learn the language of the country where you live, to respect the laws of that country, and to adapt, it's all the same whether you are a Muslim emigrant in Germany or a Romani emigrant in England. As long as that happens, there's nothing to worry about.
Q: Isn't that precisely what the majority society here says about Romani people? That they must adapt?
A: You're right, it's the same thing the majority here asserts about us Roma. The situation is difficult, but it must be dealt with nevertheless.
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