David Beňák: Romani legislators would decidedly not get lost in the lower house
News server Romea.cz is publishing interviews with each Romani candidate competing for a seat this year in the Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament of the Czech Republic. This interview is with Czech Deputy Human Rights Minister David Beňák, who is running on the Prague candidate list of the Czech Social Democratic Party in 14th place.
Q: Why, in your opinion, have no other Romani people made it into the lower house since the days of Monika Horáková (today Mihaličková) and Ladislav Body. What do you think that is about?
A: Romani people make it onto candidate lists, but to a far lesser degree than would be necessary. That is a pity, because the Romani legislators we have had to date in the Chamber of Deputies decidedly did not get lost there. In my opinion this is because Romani candidates do not have much a of a profile in the public life of society as a whole, and the opportunites that the public space affords are not being fully taken advantage of by them. For the young generation of Romani people I feel doubly regretful that this is the case. They are educated, they have broader horizons, they know languages, they know how to communicate and use social networks, in short, they have all of the prerequisites for successfully contributing to influencing public affairs. Parties that are normal - not fascist and not racist - must reach out to such people. In terms of personnel, politics is a terrible desert, from the left to the right, including the nationalist and xenophobc parties. Another aspect associated with this is Romani participation in elections. If we want something to change for the better, then we must begin by making things less difficult for outselves, less cursing our conditions, and more diligently going to elections to choose candidates who are able to change something. Basically we do not know to what extent we are exercising our right to vote - and if we are not doing so, that is really a shame.
Q: We are a Romani news server, and we are interested in whether Romani people are at all electable on these candidate lists - this year, paradoxically, besides Vojtěch Kelt, who is from the problematic movement of the "Order of the Nation", no Romani candidates are in the top 10 of any party's list.
A: All candidates are electable. Why else do we have the opportunity to circle as many as four of them? I believe any voter can manage to choose the person whom he or she wants from that list, maybe even somebody in 14th place, and on the contrary, some candidates in the top 10 could experience an unpleasant surprise. It is certainly a success for Kelt to be in ninth place on the candidate list for the Central Bohemian Region, but it is a question whether his movement will achieve at least 5 % statewide... It depends on the reputation of the party whose banner you are carrying as a candidate, on your own reputation, on the program you are pushing and the vision you have. Sometimes what is necessary is just a little bit of luck... An MP who is elected thanks to people circling his name must feel much more of an obligation to his voters. He must not disappoint them, he has to listen to them. That's the principle I will follow as number 14 from Prague 14 in this year's elections.
Q: You yourself have been a member of the Czech Social Democratic Party for approximately 20 years, don't you regret that other members who only recently joined the party are getting better places on the list?
A: To tell you the truth I would regret it more if I were to achieve a better place just because I have been a party member for 20 years already. I am accustomed to working honestly for my success, so the gradual growth of a professional career is of far greater value to me than a fast rise in an explosive style with nothing to show for it and then spending the rest of my life in shame. Unfortunately, I know many more such cases than are healthy. A quick career for nothing, that costs nothing, makes no sense. It's useless. Isn't it better and much more honest to be able to sometimes look around and actually see the consequences of one's work? Work that is meaningful? I did not become Deputy Human Rights Minister immediately in 2014 just because "my" Social Democrats had won the elections. My motto is that you cannot have anything you have not honestly worked for.
Q: What are you contributing to this year's elections? What do you consider the most important part of the Social Democrats' program? What is a priority for you in this electoral period?
A: That subject is unequivocally higher wages. It is not possible that this state's economy has grown several years in a row, that its financial management has succeeded, but that on the other hand, people in our country customarily work for a gross salary of CZK 11 000 [EUR 430] a month. I believe that once wages rise to the appropriate level, it will no longer be interesting for people to work under the table or to draw welfare. I am also going into the elections with the idea of affordable housing. That is one of the basic matters necessary to life. In that respect, the state owes its citizens an enormous debt. I am not speaking just about impoverished inhabitants now, where this is a priority, but about all of us. The third main theme, for me, is a social economy. I advocated for that topic during the previous elections also. Support for social enterprises is certainly one of the ways to aid people who have long been unemployed or who grapple with discrimination on the labor market. I could continue for a long time here - there are many other matters that bother me and that I would like to improve. However, I am a realist. Unfortunately not all of it is possible.
Q: How, then, do you want as a party to address social exclusion, social housing, and services, including for the most impoverished citizens?
A: The best solution is prevention, as our program says. In prevention, those who play irreplaceable roles are field workers and social workers. Their roles are also some of the most difficult, and we must give them not just the appropriate powers to do their jobs, but also appropriate salaries. Also, the absence of a law on social housing in this country is quite palpable. We already designed such a law during this electoral period, but ultimately and unfortunately it remains in the lower house. The statement of purpose for a law on social enterprises has been approved by the Government and its text is now being drafted. It will, therefore, be up to the next Government and the next MPs what stance they will take on addressing social difficulties. I will reiterate this once more: In this case it can be seen how important it is to choose the MPs who will create the laws. A right-wing Government will approve of social housing for us only with great difficulty, and the same goes for preserving affordable health care or equal schools...
Q: What makes the Social Democrats' program different from other political parties? Are they offering something other parties do not?
A: Certainly we differ from the other parties by actually appealing for low wages to be combated. I am also a Social Democrat because the party has always taken up the cause of the rights of impoverished people who do not steal and who think honestly. As Social Democrats we value the experience and wisdom of older people, we want to care for them, we do not forget about their needs - isn't that a bit of a guiding principle that we Romani people are proud of as well? Our party program also has a lot to say about the importance of health care. We want quality care for all people without fees. We reject the division of health care into "above-standard" and "standard", i.e., some health care for the rich and some health care for the rest of us. The party says all of us are entitled to quality care and to the equipment we need, and we are entitled to it without paying extra charges and fees.
Q: If a potential voter for the Social Democrats wants to familiarize himself with the entire electoral program, he has to provide his email address and then it is sent to that address. Isn't that procedure unnecessarily complex?
A: The program is customarily available for download on the party website in the section on the 2017 election, you do not have to provide an email address. In the case of the Prague candidates it is also posted to www.ferovapraha.cz, where it is possible to familiarize yourself with the priorities of the Prague candidates.
Q: Czech Deputy Industry and Trade Mnister Karel Novotný, who is a candidate for the Social Democrats in the Ústecký Region, has compared Romani people to "jellyfish" in a Facebook discussion. In his opinion, Romani people are "poisonous and good for nothing". The head of that ministry, Jiří Havlíček, then called that remark absolutely unacceptable. Why did nobody from the Human Rights section express an opinion about that scandal? The Human Rights Minister is a Social Democrat, after all. Why didn't you yourself express a view about that remark, as Deputy Human Rights Minister?
A: It is unacceptable to me too. Why, though, should we pay even more attention to such a stupid remark?
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