Martin Bajger, candidate for the Czech lower house: If just one Romani MP is seated, that would be success
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 entrepreneur Martin Bajger, who is running on the Green Party candidate list in 25th place in Ústí nad Labem.
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: That has failed because Romani people are afraid to enter into high politiics. Local politics still attracts them more than becoming an MP and advocating for people's interests does. However, there are still too few of us educated Roma who would actually want to dedicate ourselves to politics. Those ambitions do not exist here. Romani people are primarily addressing existential questions, not politics. The problem is also that it is necessary to get enough preferential votes to get into politics at all. Even if somebody capable can be found who wants to enter politics, then somebody must also support that candidate. We know young Roma do not vote much, even though we have, for example, David Beňák, who has a real chance of making it into the lower house. The Roma in Prague should unite and give him their vote, because otherwise the situation will remain the same, Monika and Ladislav Body will still be the only Romani people to have ever been seated in the lower house.
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: Unfortunately, my concern is that this year the SPD ["Freedom and Direct Democracy" party] will win something around 8 % and the Green Party, which is open to all, ultimately will have less than the 5 % it needs to be seated. However, I still hope I am wrong about that. The Czech nation is so spoiled that they scream against any and all minorities. From the Green Party program it is clear that they support minorities.
Q: Why exactly did you decide to run for the Green Party?
A: I am a symbolic candidate, I am in 25th place on the list, but I have to say that I didn't even want to be at a higher spot because I am currently terribly busy with my work and I knew I would not have so much time for the campaign as I would like. This is my first time running for the lower house, but I ran for the "Together for Trimce" party in the local elections and I am planning to do so again next year. I guess I see myself more right at the local level than in high politics, at least for now.
Q: What are you bringing up in this year's elections?
A: I am primarily interested in employment. Everybody is shouting now about how necessary it is to increase the minimum wage, I don't have anything against that, the Green Party is also advocating for exactly that in its program. However, if I look at it from the other perspective, because I am a business person myself, price competition is constantly growing, everybody wants to pay the lowest possible price while raising wages at the same time. I do not agree with the ANO movement, that party does not appeal to me, but they are the only ones whose political program advocates abolishing the use of the "super-gross wage" here [the employee's wage plus the employer's contributions to health insurance and social insurance]. They want to provide employees with their entire gross wage, and that is probably the only possible option for raising the minimum wage. All those who are shouting about raising it need to say how they want to do it otherwise. In order for me to pay higher wages, I also need higher incomes. It is necessary, therefore, for the state to support employers to have enough money for their employees' salaries. If, however, the state will just increase the taxes and withholdings, raise the minimum wage, and reduce employers' incomes, then I do not know whether people will ultimately be satisfied by that.
Q: What, in your opinion, is the cause of citizens' low faith in politics?
A: I am of a different opinion - here in Trmice we managed, without coercion, to get 90 % of the Romani residents to vote because they themselves wanted to change something. Romani people in other regions do not vote because they do not have anybody to vote for, they do not know any specific candidates and they do not actively follow politics. If, in each region, we would have one Romani candidate or party that would be half-Roma and half-majority society people, and if those candidates would intensively collaborate on a campaign, then I believe Romani people would go vote, even in regions where electability is low. All of this is about PR, though.
Q: Are Romani candidates electable at all if this year, with the exception of the controversial "Order of the Nation" movement, none of them have made it into the top 10 places on the lists?
A: I still hope that the breakthrough will happen, but I am not at all certain how it will turn out. I think David Beňák actually has a chance to make it into high politics. I myself am curious about how this will ultimately turn out. As far as the "Order of the Nation" and the Republicans, their Romani candidates should first and foremost go listen to a lecture about Romani identity, because if they want to be turncoats like that, there is no way it will end well for them.
Q: The Green Party is demanding a law that would institute identical salary conditions for men and women working in the same positions. What do you think of that?
A: I welcome it. It's high time that those particular differences disappear altogtether. They are returning us, as a society, back to the past unnecessarily. A woman should be paid the same money if she is performing in the same position as a man. No employers should allow it to be otherwise in their firms.
Q: As a party, you have also long dedicated yourselves to human rights subjects - this year you are mostly aiming at gender equality and at the rights of the LGBT minorities.
A: The Greens are open to all minorities, which might turn some voters off. A different orientation is no a problem these days, there are many people who openly espouse their homosexuality.
Q: The Green Party wants equality for same-sex couples so they could have the opportunity to adopt children and raise them.
A: Why not? It's all the same whether a child is cared for by two men or two women - it is more important how they will approach the child-rearing as parents. They should have the right to raise children too, though.
Q: Another point of the program is collections agencies - how do you want to address that issue?
A: Collections proceedings enforcement is unequivocally a problem that many people are unfortunately grappling with. Because I am an employer, I encounter this in practice among my employees, like it or not. I welcome the fact that we have advice bureaux here for those who are in financial need, and I also closely collaborate with those. According to estimates, something like around half a million citizens have ended up in the debt trap, from which there is practically no way out. Their debts are growing faster than they can repay them. Frequently these people have been indebted since the 1990s and in practice this debt still follows them around today. One of the instruments that has been working in practice for some time is bankruptcy, but that should not be the only possible tool for addressing what have become really big debts. The Green program proposes a robust simplification of the performance of collections. The current practice is that the claim is enforced by a collections agent who is from an absolutely different region, significantly increasing the costs associated with the collections. If one person is being subjected to more than one collections process, then it should all be enforced by just one collections agent, which would significantly reduce the costs.
Q: Social housing is also a part of your program - how do you explain that we are still not managing to significantly improve conditions in the areas where socially vulnerable citizens live?
A: First and foremost, no socially excluded localities should exist at all. Those people should live dispersed among everybody else so that they could all motivate each other to achieve a better life. Unfortunately, reality is different, Romani people frequently live in one heap in the excluded localities, in ghettos far away from the majority society. The only way to address that would be the law on social housing that has failed to pass here. In the past, for example, there were plans to divide social housing into three levels and one of them was a "holobyt" [an apartment with absolutely no amenities such as proper flooring, for example], but various conditions had to be fulfilled to be awarded that housing, etc.
Q: What would you consider to be a success in these upcoming elections?
A: It would be a success if after all these years at least one Romani person made it into the Chamber of Deputies.
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