Czech Republic: Interview with local Romani candidate Ladislav Sivak
Ladislav Sivak, the leading local candidate in Prague for the Romani Democratic Party (Romská demokratická strana - RDS) grew up in the Žižkov quarter of the capital. He apprenticed as a chef/waiter and worked in hospitality for 30 years.
"I had the opportunity to serve some important figures, such as President Václav Havel,“ Sivak told news server Romea.cz. He has been working for the last seven years for a janitorial company as a manager of its cleaning crews.
Sivak lives in Prague 7. We discussed what life is like for Roma in Prague and what he wants to do for voters if he makes it onto the Prague City Council.
The situation of Roma in Prague
Q: Why are you running for the Prague City Council, what specifically do you want to get involved with there?
A: I decided to run because I am not indifferent to what it is like for both non-Roma and Roma to live in Prague. If I win, I will do my best to primarily help socially vulnerable families. My mission is to be involved in solving the burning problems related to housing and social issues. I also want to focus on the environment, mass transit and parking zones, and unemployment.
Q: What do you make of the situation of Romani people in Prague?
A: It's very bad. I visit many Romani families and I see they are living very miserably, on the edge of poverty. They are just so-so. They have no work and often, unfortunately, they live on welfare. Their biggest problem is a lack of work. In Prague, too, there are residential hotels charging high rents, which is another problem because families often cannot afford other basic life necessities because their housing is so expensive.
Q: How do you view the intolerance of Romani people in Prague?
A: There is great aversion to Romani people in the capital as well, not just in northern Bohemia or Moravia. Personally I have never experienced discrimination because I worked in the hospitality industry for 30 years, so I have many friends who are non-Romani. However, I understandably spend a lot of time among Romani people, I commute by public transit daily, and I see how the non-Roma are behaving toward the Roma. The situation is also not good at the local authorities, where Romani people are often discriminated.
Q: Can you give us an example?
A: Some bureaucrats keep the Roma down, they don't want to acknowledge what the Roma are entitled to by law. These Romani people don't have work even though have been honestly looking for it, and they are unfortunately dependent on welfare. The bureaucrats misunderstood [Labor] Minister Marksová's remark that she is going to fight welfare abuse. She meant the abuse of the housing subsidies by the traffickers in poverty, but the bureaucrats understood her to mean that in practice they will restrict the disbursal of aid to those in material distress, even to families or to single mothers with children still at home.
Q: What do you think about these attempts to bribe voters and the fact that some Roma are letting themselves be bribed?
A: I absolutely condemn such behavior. It is undemocratic, unfair, and unsound. A solid candidate will not pay bribes and a solid voter will not take them.
Priorities: Jobs and social housing
Q: Let's look at your electoral program a little more closely. Its main point is about housing and social policy. What do you want to improve in that area, and how?
A: Both Prague city hall and each individual municipal department owns entire abandoned buildings or single apartment units that could be reconstructed for use as social housing for the most impoverished residents of Prague. Understandably, the rents would be lower in such apartments, CZK 7 000 per month maximum. The city would have a guarantee that the rent would be paid because the local authority would be able to draw it directly from the welfare disbursed to the tenants. The people would have the security of having a roof over their heads. This system has proved successful in Belgium, Germany and Sweden. The reconstruction would offer work opportunities for those future tenants who are currently unemployed. Those people could participate in the work according to their capabilities and skills.
Q: Unemployment is another important point in your program. Can that issue really even be addressed by the city to such a degree that it will help radically reduce unemployment?
A: Unemployment is a big problem, even in the capital. Among Romani people it definitely is. Because people don't have work, they get into difficult social problems that become compounded by others, like indebtedness or petty crime. The city can address this by making sure its municipal contracts are awarded to entrepreneurs who pledge to hire as much as 70 % of their workforce from the ranks of the long-term unemployed, including Romani workers.
Q: There is a lot of talk about the environment in Prague in the runup to the elections, but once they are over not much happens in that area. Politicians talk big about improving the environment, but only small steps follow. What would you begin with on that issue if elected?
A: I would start with a step that might seem small, but I consider it basic and essential: I would push for much more greenery in Prague, much more than there is today. I would push for making the city less permeable to tractor-trailers and trucks going across the city and driving in the city.
Q: Mass transit is another problem that is mostly talked about in connection with various scandals at the Mass Transit Authority. Mass transit itself is getting worse year by year even as it becomes more expensive. What would you do about that?
A: I would lower ticket prices by 50 %.
Q: Where would you get the money to run the mass transit system after doing that?
A: We could cover it through EU subsidies.
Q: You also mentioned parking zones?
A: There is primarily a need to expand parking zones in the city center. Many people commute to the center for work and don't have anywhere to park. In that context I would push for an exception - whoever owns a parking card should be able to legally park between 7 AM and 6 PM in the blue zones. In addition, we should expand the existing parking lots on the outskirts of Prague, the "Park and Ride" lots. People who leave their vehicles in those lots are entitled to lower fares on mass transit.
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