As racial tensions simmer, new Romany party to contest elections

Miroslav Tancoš, photo: CTK

A plethora of new political parties have formed in recent weeks ahead of early elections at the end of October. They include a new attempt at forming a party to defend the interests of the country’s Roma minority, woefully unrepresented at a political level. The initiative comes at a time when relations between Roma and majority society have perhaps never been worse, so what chance does it have of success?

Miroslav Tancoš,  photo: CTK
There hasn’t been a Romany party in parliament since 1992, when the Romany Civic Initiative held a handful of seats in the Czech national assembly. But since then there’s been almost no political representation at any level for the Roma; apart from the tiny number of Romany MPs who’ve been chosen to represent major parties in the last two decades; the number can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

A new party with ambitions to change that was founded this summer. It’s called the Romany Democratic Party, a leftist organisation which held its first central committee meeting at the beginning of September, in the town of Kutná Hora. It says it has over a thousand members, and will field candidates in four of the country’s regions in the upcoming early elections. Miroslav Tancoš, elected as the party’s chairman, says he’s a political realist as far as the party’s ambitions are concerned.

Anti-Roma march in Plzeň,  August 24,  2013,  photo: CTK
“I’m under no illusions. We’re not going to reach the 5% threshold necessary to enter parliament. There’s no way, we haven’t got the support, and I doubt many non-Roma people will vote for us. But even if we just get 2%, 3% - they’ll know about us. They’ll hear us, and they’ll have to listen to what we’re trying to achieve. And that will be a step towards our goal of contesting the Senate and Regional elections in 2014.”

The party was founded days after neo-Nazi skinheads marched through a series of Czechs towns and cities, targeting areas inhabited by members of the Roma minority in demonstrations that have often been joined by local people. Observers describe the atmosphere in some locations as an ethnic tinderbox, and say it’s a miracle no-one’s been killed. The atmosphere in Czech society is hardly, you’d think, very conducive to inter-communal dialogue. But Miroslav Tancoš says he’s convinced that given the chance, the Roma – who number some 250,000 – can find a voice.

Photo: Filip Jandourek
“I am convinced that there are decent, intelligent people in this country who understand that we want to be a fully-fledged nation. That we want to work. That we don’t want to sit around doing nothing. That we want to help create the values of this country. Over the next twelve months we’re going to go to our fellow citizens with the following message: we want to help find solutions to the political and economic problems facing this country. And I firmly believe that within a year and a day they’ll understand that we’re serious. That our approach will bear fruit.”

Observers will be pessimistic – previous efforts have fallen flat, and even some Roma civic initiatives are regarded by the Roma community as ineffectual wastes of money. The Romany Democratic Party has a lot to prove, and a lot of scepticism to overcome.