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Romani candidate in Czech regional elections says politicians don't have to be corrupt

27.9.2020 7:41
Emil Voráč (2020) (PHOTO: Rena Horvátová)
Emil Voráč (2020) (PHOTO: Rena Horvátová)

At least seven Romani candidates are running in the regional elections this year. News server Romea.cz will be publishing a series of interviews with them, beginning with Green Party candidate Emil Voráč.

Voráč is running in ninth place on the list in the Karlovy Vary Region. He is the director of the Khamoro public benefit corporation, a social services provider for the region.

The Green Party was the first larger majority-society party in the Czech Republic to offer room on its candidate lists to Romani people. In 2010 the leader of their candidate list in the Pardubice Region was Lucie Horváthová, and in 2013 the party ran nine Romani candidates during the early parliamentary elections.

Q: Why did you decide to run for the Green Party?

A: I would like to demonstrate to people that it is possible to be a politician and a respectable person at the same time who is not corrupt. Some politicians here are on the radical right and that is exactly the reason I decided to run. I must admit that in the past more than one party asked me to run for them, but that was at a time when I didn't want to enter politics, so I rejected their offers. Now that I have decided to go into politics, the Greens were the ones to reach out to me. However, the truth is that even before this I had said there are just two political parties I might run for, and they are the Greens and the Pirates.

Q: Many politicians claim to be in politics for the people and reject corruption. Why should people vote for you?

A: That's true, everybody claims that. However, I have managed to work in the social sphere for 25 years now, I lead the Khamoro organization, and in addition I have been active on many boards and committees all over the Czech Republic - and during all that time, I myself have not changed. I have worked for people my entire life, I've always been inclined to aid others for as long as I can remember. It was exactly the people around me who convinced me to run during the regional elections, because they believe in me. They like the idea that I would continue to assist people at the level of politics.

Q: What is the main subject of your campaign?

A: I'm going into this with the aim of revitalizing other excluded areas, and above all attempting to reduce their numbers. I would like others to see that those being excluded are full-fledged citizens of this state and have a right to a better life.

Q: You're in ninth place on the Green Party candidate list. What chance do estimate you have of holding office?

A: This time I actually believe it is possible, unlike my previous candidacy for the European Parliament, which was not a success. During my 25 years of work in social services I have grown accustomed to the fact that I can be educated, intelligent, and score many successes, but I will never score points with non-Roma. That means I am actually probably relying purely on Romani voters, but I do not rule out the possibility that members of the majority who care about the situation in the Karlovy Vary Region might also vote for me. Currently I am beginning a tour of the entire region, speaking with people, visiting voters even in the most remote villages where there is no infrastructure and where people are living as if it were 100 years ago. However, despite being aware that Romani-related subjects need to be addressed, I'm not going into politics just because of Romani people, I want to do politics for all citizens alike.

Q: Isn't it a bit late? The elections are just around the corner.

A: Thanks to my years of experience with these people I know that if I go there to see them right before the elections, they will remember me more than if I had gone to see them at the beginning of August.

Q: In the past there has been a lot of discord around vote-buying there. Aren't you concerned that a similar scenario could be repeated this year in the Karlovy Vary Region?

A: That could happen. In the past I have openly said that is common practice here, and for that reason I am anticipating that this year there will be trafficking in votes. However, I would never lower myself to that, it would be beneath me in a moral sense. I have always urged the people around me to actively change the policies they are dissatisfied with that are still in operation here. I will not be telling people to vote for me personally, but I will urge them to choose the party that will defend their interests.

Q: Are you aware of why it is that these voters are able to sell their votes even if by doing so they aid a party that will act against their interests?

A: The reason is their deprivation, including their lack of information. It is well-known that people from excluded areas are the ones most amenable to this. They are usually aroused by the fact that a non-Romani person is coming to them, behaving in a friendly manner, graciously, and promising to defend their interests. These Romani voters do not know how to calculate, they just see that at that moment somebody is offering them money or a pack of cigarettes. Unfortunately, they aren't much bothered by the aftermath of their decision. By allowing themselves to be bribed, they are building the gallows from which they will later hang.

Q: What do you consider to be the most burning problems in the Karlovy Vary Region?

A: Unemployment has improved in the bigger towns of the region where there are industrial areas. Throughout the region, however, the unemployment of Romani people remains high, there are many excluded localities here, it is possible to say they are literally cut off from the world. In addition to unemployment, we have long been bothered by problems not just in access to housing, to the schools, but also to health care. Many Romani people do not have a local dentist or doctor today. The neglecting of preventive care has led to the deaths of several younger individuals from my own neighborhood. In the schools, problems occur with the segregation of Romani pupils. In addition we have to improve our maintenance of greenery in municipalities, even in excluded localities people deserve to have the local authority cut the grass, that shouldn't be a luxury afforded only to people in the big towns.

Q: Where do you see the biggest problem in the current policy of the Karlovy Vary Region?

A: The current policy of the region has been set up to work against inhabitants who are Romani. We have many decrees and regulations here that make it impossible for citizens who are Romani to live a full-fledged life here. The region is introducing housing benefit-free zones that are forcing Romani people to leave the region, to migrate to the surrounding towns. As a region we do not have enough social apartments available because many have been sold off to private owners. Municipalities do not want to reconstruct the old buildings they do own because they do not want any Romani people moving into them. The situation here is actually quite complex. That especially applies to the housing issue.

Q: Years ago you managed to revitalize the excluded area of Železný dvůr. How long did that take?

A: I managed that in just two years. Nobody else has yet managed such a thing, not even over a much longer period of time. What is beautiful is that the people from Železný dvůr are still fond of me even though the project is long over. The people who were living there had never asked anybody for aid, they were of the opinion that they wouldn't be given any even if they were to ask for it. Compared to those days, today they know they are able to carry through anything at all, if they want to. After all these years, it actually does me good to see that while the residents are all Romani, they can brag of 90 % employment and active voters.

Q: Are you concerned the coronavirus pandemic could endanger the outcome of the elections?

A: I do not believe COVID has impacted the campaign or that it will influnece the course of the elections themselves. Personally I do not need to hold public meetings with a podium from which to distribute beer, hot dots or doughnuts. My aim is to reach out to each voter individually so I can explain to people the importance of the elections themselves, because many of them do not even know what elections are good for and why they are being held.

Rena Horvátová, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Election, Khamoro, Roma, Romani candidates



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