Peter Pollak was the first Roma citizen to be elected to the Slovak Parliament earlier this year. His electoral victory was a result of years of Perseverance and Resilience and coalition building. It was a result of a joint effort of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and other like minded organizations and volunteers. It all started in 2001 when Mr. Pollak participated in NDI’s youth leadership programme, which then launched a regional Roma political participation programme in 2004. This experience equipped Pollak with the necessary skills to forge his political career. His mission was to conquer fate and change his path of dependency acquired by the fact that he was born a Roma. He realized that
the best means of positive change dwells in political participation and Roma must reach elected offices.
Historically, Roma citizens have always been marginalised and the stark majority of them live in poverty with an extreme lack of opportunities for social, economic and political inclusion. Even Pollak admits that trying to have a political voice as a part of a Roma or ethnic political party is extremely difficult, as in order to receive a critical mass of votes, candidates must reach non-Romas. Therefore, his focus was to become a member of a mainstream political party which he achieved with great success. The beauty of this paradox lies in the fact that Pollak accomplished Acceptance and Inclusion into main stream politics which can be viewed as an important step for a more successful Integration and Inclusion of Roma into Slovak political and social life. Who better speak for the Roma than a Roma.
Roma, similar to other ethnic minorities, have their own way of life, follow a traditional means of leadership and have a rich cultural heritage that needs to be celebrated rather then pin pointed as an excuse for discrimination, disintegration and even segregation. Perhaps Roma do not fit neatly into the box of a western consumer society but that is beside the point. The point is that societies need to find a way of accepting the differences and share each other’s achievements in an effective way in order to create real impetus for development of Shared Societies and a better future for us all.
Since taking his seat in the Slovak Parliament, Pollack initiated the first ever Roma Holocaust Remembrance Day in Slovakia, which is observed internationally on the 2nd of August to commemorate approximately 3000 Roma victims who were murdered on the night of 2 -3 August 1944 in Auschwitz-Birkenau ‘Gypsy’ concentration camp. During his address to the Slovak Parliament, Pollak stressed that
The Roma Holocaust Memorial day should remind people [of] the absurdity of the exclusion of people based on race, ethnicity or nationality that our current generation face.
To read more about Peter Pollack’s fascinating journey from a Roma village to the Slovak Parliament, please visit NDI’s website. http://www.ndi.org/node/18747