Czech town sees 6 000 people attend Romfest in runup to elections, Romani figures explained the importance of voting and warned against ultranationalists
About 6 000 men and women, most of them Romani, gathered on Sunday, 19 September for a Romani festival in the Czech town of Ústí nad Labem. In addition to musical performances on the stage of an outdoor movie theater, Romani figures took turns reminding those present of the importance of next month's elections to the Chamber of Deputies, and attendees could also get vaccinated against COVID-19 with the Janssen vaccine from Johnson & Johnson.
The enormous interest in the festival surprised one of the main organizers of the event, Jaroslav Miko. "We were optimistic, but such a big turnout of more than 6 000 people we never anticipated," he said, adding that he hopes people mainly came away from the event with information about the elections that they will spread further within their own families.
"We want Romani people to take their destiny into their own hands and to think about their future and go vote," Karel Karika, the chair of the Czechoslovak Romani Union, which organized the event, told ROMEA TV. "We are not telling Romani people whom they should vote for, but we did tell them whom they decidedly should not cast a ballot for, and that is the SPD-Tomio Okamura," he added, saying the main aim of the festival was to inform Romani men and women about the upcoming elections to the Chamber of Deputies and to thereby increase their participation.
"Whether the Romani people turn out for the elections or not influences the behavior of politicians toward Romani people, the stance politicians take toward us. If politicians know that Romani people do not vote, then they don't have to try to win us over, and that means they don't have to advocate for our interests. If Romani people begin voting in large numbers, then politicians will have to begin to take us seriously," Miko told ROMEA TV.
"Voting is quite important, above all for the future of our children," the popular Romani musician Bertík Girga, who also performed at the festival, told those assembled. According to Cyril Koky, a Romani community member who unsuccessfully ran as a candidate for the Pirate Party during the most recent elections to the Czech Senate, it is important that Romani men and women get involved in elections and also do their best to run for office.
"The more Romani people will run, the better, because we have to address matters together with the majority society, not separately, that doesn't work," Koky told ROMEA TV. During this year's elections to the Chamber of Deputies, which will be held on 8 and 9 October, there are 22 electoral groups running total.
That is one-third fewer parties to choose from than during the previous elections to the lower house four years ago. The only registered political party with a Romani profile, the Romani Democratic Party (RDS), is not fielding candidates this year.
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