Karel Karika, candidate for the Czech lower house: Roma must not be exploited into selling their votes
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 the Vice-Mayor of the Ústí nad Labem - Centrum Municipal Department, Karel Karika, who is running on the Green Party candidate list in 26th place.
Q: Why, in your opinion, has no other Romani candidate managed to be seated in the Czech Chamber of Deputies since the days of Monika Horáková (today Mihaličková) and Ladislav Body?
A: Young Roma do not vote, they leave such matters up to senior citizens from the majority population. If you recall, in the past Roma votes have also been bought by some parties for a few crowns. The party gets a vote and the Roma get CZK 200 [EUR 8]. It is not possible to allow ourselves to be exploited that way. I am not saying that this has happened in all cases, but it has happened in some. Certainly, many Romani people can also be found who regularly vote, but there are still those who will not go to vote. This is caused by their lack of interest, their incomprehension of the electoral system. Previously it was compulsory to go vote, so they went, but today it is up to each of us to decide whether to vote or not, and then there is no chance of change. If Romani people do not support parties they feel close to during the elections, then politicians will receive mandates in the lower house who would most prefer to deport Romani people out of the country altogether. All Roma, therefore, should take advantage of their right to vote. The Green Party program is the most favorable of all toward Romani people.
Q: Why did the Green Party not manage to be seated in the Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament of the Czech Republic during the last elections?
A: That is true and there was a bit of a leftward shift that might explain it. However, if we look at the Green Party program now, we clearly see the matters we care about there. Actually, we are the only party that thinks about everybody. It is a comprehensive program for how society should behave not just toward minorities, but also toward senior citizens, women, single mothers, and I could go on and on.
Q: Do you as a party have an actual chance of being seated in the lower house this year, in your opinion?
A: If the two biggest populist parties, ANO and SPD, were not here, then I believe a pro-EU, pro-reform party like the Green Party would also have its place in the lower house. Unfortunately, however, populism in the Czech Republc has exceeded my expectations. More than 50 % of people are influenced by populism and are not at all aware of how their children will be impacted by it one day. People are listening to promises that absolutely cannot be fulfilled.
Q: Are Romani candidates, in your opinion, electable at all if this year, with the exception of Vojtěch Kelt from the "Order of the Nation" movement, none have made it into the top 10 places on the lists?
A: It is not necessary to be in the top 10. The elections to Parliament are not like the municipal elections - even the very last candidate for Parliament can be circled by the voters to take first place. For example, I am running in one of the places lower down the list this year at my own request. Along with Martin Bajger, who is on the list with me, we want Romani people in particular to circle our names. By doing that, it will be demonstrated whether Roma ultimately turn out to vote or not. It is crazy that Romani people are candidates for the Order of the Nation movement, or for [the Republican Party of] Sládek. It is clear those parties are exploiting Romani candidates to get Romani votes. That flows from the Romani voters' ignorance about which party has what kind of values and which party actually wants to be involved with minorities and which wants to harm minorities.
Q: The Green Party has long dedicated itself to human rights subjects - this year it is mostly aiming at gender equality and the rights of LGBT minorities.
A: Sexual minorities also need advocacy. It might seem like a controversial subject to some, but it is not. I do not at all believe this is taboo today, the subject of sexual minorities should have been opened long ago. To have a different orientation is not a disability and society should not view it as such, and for that reason, I am glad the Green Party also has LGBT rights in its program. I am for equal rights for same-sex partners. I am for adoption by LGBT parents, because it better for a child to be raised by two men or two women than to grow up in an institution. However, I can also say that I have not encountered anybody coming to me to say this point of the program is startling. Basically one of the Prague candidates is an LGBT activist and is opening up the subject of sexual minorities. Women are also an important subject, though, they frequently end up in a position of disadvantage, they are subjected to the risks of poverty to a far greater extent than men. I would welcome more women in politics also.
Q: What are you bringing up in this year's elections?
A: I greatly regret the fact that the law on social housing was not passed after its most recent reading. That legislation would have addressed conditions in the Předlice quarter as well as the problem of loan sharking.
Q: For several years you have been the Vice-Mayor of the Central Municipal Department of Ústí nad Labem. What has changed for the better during your time in office in the Předlice quarter?
A: At the moment I am acting mayor and I have been ever since the mayor was dismissed. I comprehend what life is like for the people who live in the ghetto, I am in constant contact with them because I actually visit each building there. For three years I have been attempting to raise Předlice up to a higher level, I have been drawing attention to its advantages and disadvantages. I pointed out, immediately during my second or third month in office, that there will one day be a recreation zone there, not a ghetto. I still believe that is possible because of how close the quarter is to Milada Lake. At this moment the buildings have begun to be sold that were so indebted and had no clear owners before now. Today, compared to what it was like before, it is clear who owns all of the buildings, who we can go to at any time to address issues involving them. The leftover yards are also being sold, an agreement has been concluded with their owners that they will maintain them, the squares and children's playgrounds have begun to be repaired and we are also planning to build a football pitch. From an urban planning aspect, Předlice is moving forward. The locality has also been cleared of local waste dumps. We travel once a month as part of the "Let's Clean Up Ústí" event to clear out the dumps, most recently in Křížovice, for example, and each time many local people get involved.
Q: You mentioned loan sharking as one of the basic problems, what else is Předlice grappling with?
A: Prostitution and drugs.
Q: How much are you managing to combat that?
A: Sometimes we can spot a building where marijuana is being cultivated or where methamphetamine is being produced, but because the police must have enough arguments and evidence to act on, it can take as long as half a year for something to be done about it. That is slow, but for the police that is a common procedure. However, we are seeing a shift for the better in that area. As far as the prostitution goes, that is a bit worse, I have been advocating for several years for a local ordinance banning prostitution. We are collaborating with the AMARE group on that also and planning a petition. All it might take would be more consistent monitoring by the police, because there are trucks that park nearby whose drivers visit the area for that purpose. Three years ago I also attempted to close down the gambling rooms and the slot machines in all of Ústí, but for the time being that has been without success because City Hall always sweeps it under the carpet. We are not giving up, though. With respect to loan sharking, it's different now than it was a few years ago. That is greatly associated with the housing issue. The buildings are being repaired on the outside, but inside them, nothing is shifting. They are being leased for exorbitant prices. That is a big error committed by the state and indirectly by the building works authorities and the public health departments. Before a local authority decides whether a person will receive a housing benefit, for example, the authority should ascertain what kind of apartment unit it is basically contributing to and whether the price corresponds to the reality. Unfortunately, that does not happen. A law on social housing would address all of that, though.
Q: Why, in your view, has a Romani person not yet led the Human Rights section at the Office of the Government?
A: Thank God for David Beňák (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD) as Deputy Human Rights Minister, I think he is exactly the Romani person with the potential to one day head a ministry.
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