Why are there so few Roma politicians?

Czech Parliament, photo: archive of Czech Radio

Whereas in 1990 there were eight Roma MPs in the Czechoslovak Parliament, today there are none and candidates who belong to the minority have not had much success in the recent communal elections either. Although individual cases of success exist, they are extremely rare. Reasons behind the lack of Roma representation in politics include negative connotations with the minority among majority voters, a lack of popular candidates and low election participation among members of the Roma minority themselves.

Czech Parliament,  photo: archive of Czech Radio
In November 1989 Emil Ščuka, one of the foremost Roma activists delivered a speech on Prague’s Letná Plain, which was quite reminiscent of Martin Luther King, saying that he wanted ‘our children and your children to be like brothers and sisters’.

At first the hopefulness seemed to be justified, as eight Roma candidates succeeded in the Parliamentary elections a few months later, running on the list of the Civic Forum. Since then however, the number of Roma MPs has been steadily dwindling, with no member of the community currently in the state’s highest legislative body. The situation in communal politics is only slightly better.

Patrik Banga, who is a member of the Roma community and has written about the problems of Roma representation in politics before, has a diagnosis for this lack of representation.

“There is a whole range of reasons. The main reason, is that the Roma themselves just do not vote and do not support their candidates. Furthermore, candidates from the Roma community are hardly represented on the lists of large parties.

“Right now, representatives from this minority regularly only appear on the candidate lists of the Christian Democrats and the Green Party, but the large, electable parties hardly list them, because there is neither the support from the majority of the population, nor from Roma voters themselves.”

Sociologist, Ivan Gabal, is more optimistic. He says that there is an increasing number of significant Roma figures.

“I think we can slowly start to expect the appearance of a personality that will want to enter politics. What is extremely important is how the other political parties will react to this. If they will grab this opportunity and channel it into a shift forward. After twenty years, we are at a place where the Roma community is again able to generate strong figures that will flourish.”

Patrik Banga,  photo: Alžběta Švarcová / Czech Radio
Mr. Banga agrees that it is up to political parties to place more representatives from the Roma community on their candidate lists and sees the communal elections as an ideal opportunity.

However, he is much more sceptical. The word ‘Roma’, according to him, has become a tagline which people automatically associate with ‘un-conforming parasites’.

“The Roma often just do not get on the candidate lists simply because there is the threat of losing voters, because nobody wants to support the Roma. So that is one of the reasons. As soon as you have this tagline, not only are the Roma not motivated, but also political parties are scared of losing voters.