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Iveta Bílková: Romani people must vote - it is a citizen's most basic right

6.10.2017 9:05
Romani people cast their ballots in the Mojžíř quarter of Ústí nad Labem, Czech Republic (2016). (PHOTO: Czech News Agency)
Romani people cast their ballots in the Mojžíř quarter of Ústí nad Labem, Czech Republic (2016). (PHOTO: Czech News Agency)

The elections for the Czech lower house are coming up. The Chamber of Deputies is where decisions are made about how the republic should run, the direction the state should head in, and mainly, where the citizens of this state are headed, including minorities.

I following the online social networks daily, especially the ones where Romani people debate issues. Many react negatively to the calls by both apolitical and political Roma to vote.

True, Romani people are not the only ones here to say they do not vote. People allege that that there is nobody to vote for and the populist politicians will do everything their own way just the same.

That is not true. Romani people above all should think about this, because many of the populist politicians aim their messages against the Roma.

The populists require the impossible with their so-called "adaptation" and "integration". Unfortunately, what many populist politicians really want is assimilation, not the integration of ethnic Roma.

They want Romani people to deny their own existence, to lose their identity. That is not integration, but the assimilation we experienced in 1950s Czechoslovakia.

For that reason, Roma people should vote in the upcoming elections. That is the most basic right of a citizen of the Czech Republic, to freely decide to whom to give a vote, who will represent us at local level, at regional level, and in both chambers of Parliament.

Romani people must comprehend one thing:  They are citizens of the Czech lands and through their laxity toward the elections they are de facto denying themselves their own right to participate. I believe these non-voters have no faith in the system.

We have had and we still have Romani political parties here. We also have Romani candidates running with different political parties across the political spectrum.

For that reason, Romani people should give those candidates a chance to defend their rights on the floor of the Chamber of Deputies. Certainly, the problem here is a lack of confidence in them.

Many Romani people know these candidates very well, though. That is exactly why Romani voters should support Romani candidates and vice versa.

Why should we vote? As I have described, it is one of the most basic rights of any citizen to choose representatives to, for example, the lower house.

If citizens believe that because they do not cast a ballot it means they did not vote for anybody, that is a big error. It may happen that a party will win that does not want to defend the rights of minorities, that wants to absolutely get rid of the Romani minority - and they win because you did not vote.

We can paraphrase Czech President Zeman here: Say we have a Mr Novák. He is the only voter because nobody else wants to vote.

Mr. Novák casts his ballot. Because he was the only voter, the party he voted for received 100 % of the vote.

That means the party voted for by Mr Novák gets all 200 seats in the lower house and the opportunity to form the Government. The citizens who did not vote also decided their fates - by leaving it all up to Mr Novák.

This is why Romani people must vote. If you do not know for whom you should vote, then it is necessary to listen to the candidates - who out there, which political party, is attempting to defend the rights of the Roma?

As I said, we have Romani candidates running for the lower house in some regions. Why not support them?

Today it's no problem to find out who is actually interested in supporting Romani people, in considering them equal citizens and partners. We live in the Internet age, this information is much easier to find than it was during the last century, when we just followed the media or met with politicians in person.

This information is also easy to check. It's possible to communicate with politicians through online social networks, to ask them direct questions.

Romani people must get involved in public affairs, they should support Romani candidates and get politically active. That is the only way tfor us to be included and to defend our rights.

It is possible to vote for non-Romani candidates also who share our views and who want Romani people to be full-fledged citizens of the Czech state. Even "dropouts" are able to vote - and the important thing is to CAST YOUR BALLOT.

If we do not vote, then we cannot complain afterward if the populists get the opportunity to decide on our behalf the direction we Roma will head in. Romani people, let's get out the vote, let's not let the political parties based on ethnic intolerance and xenophobia win because we did not participate.

On behalf of the Association of Romani Representatives of the Liberec Region, z.s., Iveta Bílková, chair, and its members

Iveta Bílková, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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