Another chance. Slovakia's Romany minority fielded hundreds of candidates for municipal elections.
"My motivation to run in the municipal election campaign was the fact that if Romanies sit in the local government, they can push things forward concerning the Roma community," said Helena Jonášová, a Romany candidate in the central Slovak town of Banská Bystrica. "You can't solve the problems of Romanies without the Romanies," she added.
Another local candidate, Ondrej Radič, said that "I ran for election because I know the problems of Romanies from the inside. I know what their everyday problems are."
Slovak minority issues experts agreed that the political renaissance was a turning point for the nation's Romany minority, which numbers around 300,000. Miroslav Kusý, a political scientist with Comenius University in Bratislava, said that Romanies "have realised that their problems can't be solved without their presence in local governments."
1998 has been a particularly tense year for Slovak Romanies, with hundreds of Romany asylum seekers travelling to Great Britian in late summer, prompting the British government to slap a visa requirement on Slovak citizens on October 8.
But following the September national vote, in which only two Roma stood for election to parliament, politicians with the two largest national Roma parties got together and ironed out their differences.
The Roma Civil Initiative (ROI) and the Roma Intelligentsia for Coexistence (RIS) agreed at a November 30 meeting in central Slovakia's Zvolen that they would jointly support all Romany candidates running in local elections without considering their party affiliation. They agreed that in villages where both parties fielded a candidate, the one less likely to succeed would withdraw his/her candidacy.
"I must say it was a good step towards uniting the Roma community, " said Tibor Loran, vice chairman of the RIS, adding that the two parties would continue to work together in the future.
The RIS in the past was alligned with the parties of the current ruling coalition, while the ROI has long been aligned with the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS). Former ROI chairman Ján Kompuš, who was killed in a car accident in August, occupied the 61st position on the HZDS list of candidates for September parliamentary elections.
Loran said that such divisions were a thing of the past, and said that ROI and RIS could merge into one party named "the Party of the Roma Coalition" and representing the entire Roma community.
The unification project will not all be plain sailing, of course. Gejza Adam, the newly-appointed ROI chairman, said that his party was willing to cooperate, but only if the new party had a clear and precise programme. "How can we have a precise programme when the conditions and needs of Romanies differ from village to village," shot back Loran.
But a chance to wield municipal power has gone a long way towards unifying Romanies, as have the racist pronouncements of national political parties such as the Slovak National Party (SNS). As candidate Radič said, referring to an infamous 1995 statement by SNS leader Ján Slota, "I wanted to show some politicians that it's not true that Romanies need 'a long whip and a small courtyard'."
SNS vice chairman Anna Malíková said that her party is not against Romanies, and that the SNS even had some Romany candidates running on the SNS ticket in local elections.
However, Malíková said, "we still insist on the 'long whip and small courtyard'." Romanies, she said, "have realised that they can't hide their negative sides, they have to try to get rid of them. What's more, Romanies themselves understand that since there are lots of 'bad apples' in their community, they should do something about it. And one of the ways is to become a part of local government and decide on their own issues."
21. Dec 1998 at 0:00 | Slavomír Danko