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Questions arise over chances of new Roma political party in Slovakia

Prague, 9.1.2011 15:43, (ROMEA)

A new political party, the Roma Union Party in Slovakia (Strana Romské unie na Slovensku - SRUS), will enter the political scene next week. This information from party commissioner and Roma Union chair František Tanko raises the issue once again of the political viability of parties based solely on ethnicity.

Tomáš Hrustič of the National Democratic Institute says Roma parties could play a significant role in local and regional politics. "However, they must have functional, high-quality structures at local and regional level and a high-quality member base," Hrustič told the SITA agency. In his view, Roma political parties' potential might lie in the fact that newly-elected Roma mayors and MPs, who often have only meager experience or information about how municipalities work, will have to network to exchange the necessary assistance and information. "If this new party goes in that direction and works mainly on building its local and regional structures, it will definitely be a benefit for Roma political participation," Hrustič said. For the time being it is not known whether the new party will be active locally, regionally or statewide.

In an article written last year for the biweekly Romano hangos, Míša Appeltová of the Fórum 50 % association assessed the benefits and the risks of political parties based on specific identities. In her view, such a party could become a "supplier" of politically competent people and could introduce new topics or bring new perspectives to existing issues. Eventually it could also play a motivational role for its future members and break down the stereotypical media image of Roma as "inadaptable" people uninterested in participating in society. On the other hand, Appeltová sees the disadvantage of such parties as being precisely that "the program of such parties is understood as being related precisely to a specific identity, in the sense that it concerns 'them', not 'us'. Should a Roma party be successful, established parties might then decide to leave Roma issues out of their own programs."

Laco Oravec, director of the Milan Šimečka Foundation, a nonprofit organization devoted to minority rights, expressed concerns over the potential impact of such a party's failure. "I am a big fan of all Roma who want to enter politics, but I am concerned that this approach is a blind alley that will not succeed," Oravec said. In his view, the more viable alternative is for Roma to infiltrate established political parties that can speak to Roma statewide and more generally than an ethnically-based party can. Tomáš Hrustič agrees with this perspective and says research from 2005 showed most Roma vote for established political parties.

Several parties supporting Roma have been created in Slovakia, such as the Roma Initiative of Slovakia (Romská iniciativa Slovenska -RIS) and the Roma Coalition Party (Strana romské koalice - SRK). Their performance at the national level is weak. However, in the autumn 2010 elections 102 of their candidates were elected to municipal councils.

Gwendolyn Albert, Radka Steklá, ras, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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