LADISLAV Fízik says Roma won't be fooled.
The fragmented and often changing Roma political scene has lead analysts as well as some Roma politicians to believe that a more effective way of helping the Roma population through national politics is by means of alliances with popular start-up or previously established political parties.
Unlike the Hungarian minority, Slovakia's slightly smaller Roma population, estimated at 400,000, lives mostly in poorer regions of the country and has had little voice in influencing Slovak political life.
Blame has been put on the political immaturity of Roma leaders, who for 12 years since the fall of communism have failed to unite Roma behind their movements.
However, mainstream parties have also been criticised for traditional pre-election efforts to lure Roma politicians into supporting their party colours, promising increased attention to Roma issues. These vows, however, remain unfulfilled in the eyes of the Roma community and even forgotten shortly after polls close on Election Day.
"We won't be fooled by big parties again. We don't believe them anymore," said Ladislav Fízik, head of the Political Movement of Roma in Slovakia (Roma), which is running in September's parliamentary elections as one of two ethnic Roma parties. The second party is Roma Civil Initiative (ROI), established in 1990 and the oldest Roma party in Slovakia.
But while both Fízik and ROI leaders believe that they can attract a five per cent election return in September, the quorum required to enter parliament, political analysts and experts on Roma issues say the belief is an illusion.
"They have zero chance," said Michal Vašečka, analyst on Roma issues with the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO). "Zero."
He explained that even if all of Slovakia's Roma voted for one ethnic Roma party, the votes would not be enough to gain a place in parliament. Of the large Roma minority in Slovakia, only about half are eligible to vote, accounting for around 4 per cent of all eligible voters, Vašečka said.
Added to that is the variety of living standard within Slovakia's Roma communities, with around 130,000 living in the poorest areas mainly in central and eastern parts of the country, and the rest living more or less integrated in villages, towns and cities. Addressing the needs of all would be a job impossible for a single party, Vašečka thought.
A more realistic strategy would be joining influential mainstream parties, a move several Roma politicians and activists have made in the past, as well as in preparation for upcoming general elections.
That, however, leaves Roma politicians vulnerable to the decisions of the larger parties on where to place Roma candidates on their parliamentary lists, as well the extent to which the parties will keep pre-election promises after getting into parliament.
Alexander Patkoló, head of the Slovak Roma Initiative (RIS) has thrown his hat in the ring with the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), which features him at 75th place on its 150-member candidate list, despite originally promising Patkoló a spot among the first 20 candidates.
"I was assured by [head of HZDS Vladimír] Mečiar that whatever the result of the elections, I will sit in parliament," Patkoló said insisting that HZDS respected his opinions and that the biggest opposition party had an honest interest in solving Roma issues.
Patkoló also said that he and other Roma politicians had supported the now-defunct Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) of Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda in 1998 parliamentary elections, but have been disappointed in the current cabinet's policies towards Roma.
The start-up New Citizen's Alliance (Ano) party lead by private TV Markíza founder and owner Pavol Rusko, on the other hand, has established a Roma council within the party to convince Roma of the party's interest in addressing the community's problems.
František Guľáš who leads the council said he decided to join the body out of disappointment with the Roma leaders who, "for 12 years did absolutely nothing for the Roma. They just attacked each other and by unnecessarily stressing specific Roma issues in their programs, they have separated the Roma from the majority society even more."
For Vašečka, Ano's Roma council is indeed a suitable example of involving Roma activists and politicians in advisory and decision-making roles, helping the party to address the Roma issues.
But while some Roma politicians trust such line-ups, others remain sceptical of Ano's commitment to Roma issues.
ROI's vice-chair Milan Ščuka said that his party would believe Rusko when, "his party's vice-chair is Roma and when Roma work at his TV Markíza."
As much as ethnic parties may believe that their chances in the elections are realistic - because of what Vašečka calls their "naive conviction" that all Roma voters will vote Roma parties - Tibor Loran, vice-chair with the Council of Roma NGOs, thinks that their expectations are exaggerated.
"These [Roma] parties are not standard political parties, they lack transparent election programs. This isn't enough. Not even for Roma from the poorest settlements. Chances are that those [mainstream parties] will prove that they'll try for greater participation of Roma in civil life," Loran said.
12. Aug 2002 at 0:00 | Martina Pisárová