The Hungarian government supports school segregation for Roma

A  couple of days ago I noticed a short news item in entitled “Hungary criticizes EU Commission’s ‘lack of flexibility’ on Roma policies.” Zoltán Balog, minister of human resources, who represented Hungary at the meeting of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC),  wants flexibility in implementing the integration of schools. In fact, as we will see later, Zoltán Balog doesn’t believe in integration. This fact is well-known in Hungary, but it seems that the news hasn’t reached Brussels yet, as so many things don’t.

Balog emphasized at the meeting that there can be no uniform Roma strategy for all EU countries and therefore the European Commission has to be “more responsive” to the changes demanded by member states. However, he added, the Roma issue “is a European responsibility.” How typical. The EU is responsible financially and otherwise for dealing with the very serious unemployment and poverty of the Roma minority but Hungary will do whatever the Orbán government, specifically Zoltán Balog, thinks ought to be done. And since  Zoltán Balog doesn’t believe in integration, what he would like is to have a free hand in the matter.

Naturally, Zoltán Balog was wise enough to keep his conviction to himself, and instead he listed the government’s accomplishments in the last four years. It is true that they named an undersecretary, Zoltán Kovács, to be in charge of Roma issues. Kovács, it should be noted, failed as undersecretary in charge of government propaganda directed toward the outside world and also failed as government spokesman. It is also true that the Orbán government changed the constitution to allow separate parliamentary representation for ethnic groups and nationalities, but we know from Professor Kim Scheppele’s essay on the electoral law that it only provides for the election of one Fidesz-picked MP to represent the Roma community while it deprives Gypsies of the right to cast a vote for the party of their choice. That’s why Aladár Horváth, a Roma activist, urged Gypsies not to register as Gypsies and organized a separate Gypsy Party which will have 60 candidates running in the next election. Balog also talked about “training schemes in sectors such as masonry, forestry, and construction aimed at giving Roma the necessary skills to find a job on the market.” I must say this is new to me.  The only thing I have read about, in article after article, are the absolutely useless classes that prepare the chronically unemployed for nothing.

It was at least three years ago that I gained the distinct feeling that Balog, then still undersecretary in charge of Roma issues, wanted to “outsource” the problems associated with the Gypsy minority’s economic and social difficulties to the churches. He kept talking with church leaders, emphasizing their unique talents for such tasks. Although he tried to dump the whole thing onto the churches, he didn’t quite succeed. However, as the churches took over more and more schools, some poor segregated schools ended up in their hands.

Erzsébet Mohácsi / Source: Népszabadság, Photo by János M. Schmidt

Erzsébet Mohácsi / Source: Népszabadság, Photo by János M. Schmidt

Enter a foundation that has been fighting for a number of years for the rights of children coming from disadvantaged backgrounds (Esélyt a Hátrányos Helyzetű Gyerekeknek Alapítvány). The Foundation has been trying to mediate between parents and schools to achieve integration. But since it is becoming obvious that the government itself doesn’t stand behind integration efforts, the Foundation has only one recourse: to go to court.

Lately, the Foundation had an important win against the Greek Catholic Church, which has two schools in Nyíregyháza: one elite school and one segregated school. The school that is currently segregated had been closed earlier and the children were bused to the school downtown, but after the Church took over, the segregated school was reopened.

For one reason or another Balog is enamored with the plans of the Greek Catholic Church in Nyíregyháza. He sees this particular school as the “citadel of convergence” for Roma students. He imagines integration as a two-step effort: first you put the disadvantaged, mostly Roma, children into segregated schools where “they will catch up.” Once they achieve the knowledge and skills in these segregated schools equal to that of students in the “white” schools, the Roma children can be integrated into the mainstream population. We know that this is nonsense. American segregated schools were also supposed to be “separate but equal,” which of course they were not. According to Erzsébet Mohácsi, president of the Foundation, Balog believes that there is good and bad segregation. His segregation will be excellent, of course.

The Foundation won the case against the Greek Catholic Church where Balog went so far as to be a witness for the defense where he argued for segregation before the judge. Although the Foundation won the case and therefore the Greek Catholic Church is supposed to close its segregated school, it became quite clear during the proceedings that the good Christians have no intention of integrating. The judge apparently asked whether they could find places in the Church’s downtown school for 12 children who just started first grade in the segregated school. The representative of the Church, after some hesitation, announced that perhaps they could create a new classroom directly under the roof. The judge was taken aback and tried to explain to him what the suit was all about. The answer was that the students couldn’t be integrated into the existing classes because it would be “harmful to the other children.” Balog after the trial announced that the verdict “is a sad commentary on the judiciary, which denies parents’ right to a free choice of schools.”

I might add that Balog found an ally on the European Economic and Social Committee in Brussels– the president of EESC, French politician Henri Malosse. He praised Hungary’s efforts. He visited Hungary and was very impressed because “pupils have knowledge about the Roma culture” there. He also called the critical coverage of events in Hungary “disinformation.” Although Malosse has a degree in Russian and East European Studies and speaks Polish and Russian, he seems to know little about Hungary. It is hard to believe that he would approve of segregated schools for Roma students as the norm in Hungary and elsewhere. Members of the Orbán government are very good at hiding their true intentions. Let’s hope that the hidden agenda will not remain hidden for long.


  1. HiBoM :

    @Eva, my problem with the videos is this (and perhaps Jano will say whether he agrees or objects for different reasons): finding people who have been mugged by the Fidesz juggernaut and telling their stories as a preamble to why they will vote for change is a perfectly workable idea. But rather than find real people, they’ve found actors to read what I presume are scripted texts. Surely, surely, this approach can only work if the participants are real and they sound real. I can just about imagine that perhaps these are real people (although 444 says that the shepherd isn’t!) and that they have been given texts to say but again, the end result is wooden and inauthentic. And what is the point of presenting true stories that are palpably fictional or will be assumed to be by anyone who it is trying to win over?

    But there is the fear factor. Look at what happened in the case of the woman who originally agreed to a video interview with Ferenc Gyurcsány. Since then she has been pressured to say that she didn’t really allow the video to be made public.

  2. Jano wrote:
    “While we ridicule the overthrown regime’s ludicrous creature comforts, we should also ask a few questions. Does the fact that right-wing radicals did the lion’s share of the fighting diminish the value of the end result? How do we feel about the fact that foreign powers surely had a hand in the developments given the country’s key geopolitical aspect? Do we have a firm grasp of what the various factions among the protestors are looking for, seeing that the political opposition had seemingly little control when the violence escalated?”

    – And about those “foreign powers” you may have a point, Russia is another country, isn’t it?
    After all, so far everything goes to Putin’s liking, could hardly go much better from Russian point of view.
    No, I am not a conspiration-theorist by design, just pay attention to details and usually count in all the angles, an this one is a very strong contender among those “powers”.
    Everything is there, reason, (grab Crimea and take a step toward the West) means, (money, military power and the paw on the tap of the pipelines) proximity, (you can hardly get any closer), and the intricate knowledge of the society and its players, all in a nice round package.

    But just as well I can be dead wrong, and Putin is an innocent boy-scout, only I have a nasty mind and all that.

  3. Jano, I apologize!
    Getting senile hardly an excuse, even if it may explain a few things.

    The correct reference “István”, of course.
    Sorry again!
    The rest still stands, though.

  4. @HiBoM

    Tell me, sir, are you an invitee at the dog-eating parties in the Felcsut environs…?

  5. petofi :

    Eva S. Balogh :
    Re Roma in Canada. Here is a new article. This time from the Montreal Gazette.

    What I’d like to read sometime is of successful Roma who have made their way in Canada.
    I’d like to read interviews with them about why they think other Roma are not successful.
    Moreover, I’d like to know if they were still accepted by the Roma community in Canada, or Hungary, as one of theirs…

    Unfortunately there is no such thing as Hungarian Roma community no more, as most of them were shipped back to Hungary as per my comment #35, and the thread back from Fenruary 2013,
    There are a few Hungarian Roma families that were able to receive landed status on humanitarian grounds. I see some Roma working at the Hungarian butcher shop, and I know some man who does paint houses. You see the Romas do not stand out here as there are a large community of East Indian, and Spanish neighbourhoods next to many other ethnic neighbourhoods, so noon really knows who is a Roma or other ethnicity.
    There was great blog about he Roma Community before and in their October 8, 2013 article actually they referred to Eva’s Blog as a good resource

  6. Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10) :

    Otto :
    The overseas emigration to Canada however must be differentiated from the still essentially itinerant moving to France or Italy by Romanian, Kosovarian etc. Roma.

    I don’t know about Italy, but in France a majority can certainly not be qualified as ‘itinerant’. The performance of the public education system has seriously improved over the last four years, with the help of very committed teachers, parents and NGOs. Thanks to a mix of solutions (including tools like ‘welcome classes’ that were already being used for supposedly long-term migrant’s children), the school enrollment ratio has grown from around 10% to around 30%.
    Naturally, this is still unbearably low, but the main issue now lies with the authorities (from prefects to mayors) and not with the education community. Every time a mayor refuses to enroll a child because his parent’s don’t have an address, every time the police dismantles a settlement and families are scattered or expelled, things have to be re-done from scratch… and alas, a few mayors even attempted to set up segregated classrooms. What a shame.
    The Hungarian situation is different from that of France, and from that of Canada, however there is a rule that applies every time: if the State doesn’t strongly support integration, and if there is little room for organized civil society initiatives, the worst happens. Which is by the way the main reason why only a small percentage of the available EU co-funding is actually spent…

    Marcel, I am not very good at English, but what I wanted to say was that the CEE roma who go to Canada are different from the CEE roma who move to France or Italy.

    The first group (more or less) exhibits classic immigrant behavior, the latter group just moves to France, Italy like they were wondering around in Transsylvania (that is, wandering without settling down and beginning to integrate and deciding to have an identification with a country/region/town).

    I just wanted to make that distinction because they look similar from a distance, as both groups ‘moved’ abroad.

    But these groups were already very different to begin with.

    There are actually many roma who are willing to integrate in Hungary (it goes easier for women, though) and they are similar to the Canadian emigrant roma in that both groups are slightly better off financially, with sightly better home conditions, less disfunctional families, better cultural attitudes towards the external world, and they already became a poor quasi-working class (there is no good term for the Hungarian polgárosult, although they are that minimally, but that is already significant).

    It is thus apples and oranges to compare (a) for all practical purposes illiterate rural roma unwilling or unable to integrate with (b) the roma in Canada who were already starting from a better situation (and it is clear from some of the comments that even they are more resistant than say Chinese or Nigerian immigrants, but at least they are open to change).

  7. Some1 :

    Otto :

    enuff :
    @Some1 put a link to an article on Roma students in Canada; whereby, due to the dedication of the teachers and the Roma students, they managed to integrate well.
    Hence, it is very disturbing that in their home country they don’t get the same opportunities.
    Re : Elevator / Campaign ads
    Quite a number of Jobbik campaign posters could be seen around my city centre. Then something happened last Sunday. The word “Nazi” had been sprayed on all of them!!
    While in our elevator, it is good to see that Unity, LMP, Jobbik and Fidesz all managed to advertise on it. But still no newsletter from Unity in the mailbox. Mesterházy will be speaking in one of the hotels here though.

    Enuff: There is a huge fallacy in the Canadian Roma success stories.
    The emigrants are always a completely different (self-selected) group of any nation and thus of the Roma in this case.
    The Roma who moved to Canada in most, though not all, cases wanted to stay and integrate, and accept the majority rules, even if those rules liberally allow a quasi-separate private, parallel world which conservatives criticize.

    I somehow disagree. THe original article referred to the Roma children. I think the point is that you must start somewhere. It is very hard to “reform” the adults, but if you start with the children, you can end up in ten years a brand new generation with brand new motivation. THe Roma children in Canada were reformed regardless of what the parents’ attitude were. Yes, you are right, why Roma could afford the airplane ticket for the whole family to get to Canada at the first place? STill, there were suspicious, and resentful at the education system to begin with until they experienced that their children were cared for. They started to love their new country that reached out to them, a country where their opinion did matter. THey were on advisory committees and on the school council. THat is a huge step!

    Some1, please see my reply to Marcel. The comparisons or examples must be proper. The Canadian Roma are a selected sub-group which is not representative of the whole for a bunch of reasons.

    Don’t get me wrong, the Hungarian roma can and must be integrated, but it is much harder than it looks from such success stories. Of course, the Hungarian government does not even try, and they have no clue.

    But as the roma do not vote or often just sell their votes though their local chieftan (who often exploits them via loansharking rackets so in many cases the ‘selling’ roma do not even get anything in return, there is just so much oppression even within the roma society), it will not help them either. Meanwhile discontent whites do go and cheerfully vote for Jobbik and Fidesz, and unfortunately this is how democracy works. Or this is how capitalism work: people should grow up and care about themselves and try to think like an adult. (I am of course provoking here).

  8. Do not forget: There are a lot of Schools (religious ethnic minorities) which are based on segregation.

  9. Wuldozer :
    Do not forget: There are a lot of Schools (religious ethnic minorities) which are based on segregation.

    Your comment is half the truth and takes the issue out of context.

Comments are closed.