An exceptional Roma village and the situation elsewhere

A rather lengthy article appeared in Népszabadság about a public works success story in Gyulaj, a village of 1,000 inhabitants in Tolna County. The population of Gyulaj is 65-70% Roma, up from ten to fifteen years ago when Roma made up only 40% of the village’s population. Unemployment in villages with a majority Roma population is very high. In the past the unemployed lived on state assistance. There was limited opportunity to move from welfare to work, even publicly funded work. Although these villages received government grant money aimed at easing Roma unemployment even before the public works program of 2010, the funds were not always put to good use by the local authorities. Gyulaj is lucky because its mayor, Mrs. Károly Dobos, has vision and uses the funds to promote self-sustenance, not just for activities like street cleaning. But, as the article also notes, “it is a heroic struggle to keep the village alive.”

Source: Népszabadság

Source: Népszabadság

The village can employ between 80 and 100 men and women on the village’s small, twelve hectare farm. They grow vegetables for use in the kitchen owned by the village, with some left over for sale. They raise animals as well. The mayor claims that they are self-sufficient as far as food is concerned.

The village got not only public works money but also grant money to buy agricultural equipment and a separate freezer unit. New furnaces that use wood chips heat the municipal buildings; apparently three men are kept busy by chopping and and making wood chips.

The village also received a grant to train people to perform small repairs in municipal buildings. The Knights of Malta are also active in the village. The Hungarian section of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta sent social workers to Gyulaj. These social workers live with the Roma families, helping them with their myriad problems.

But what will happen when there are no more public works projects? The mayor claims that they are planning for the day when they will no longer receive 70-80 million forints a year. The municipality, together with the Knights of Malta, is planning a cooperative to grow mushrooms. They already raise rabbits for sale. So, everything seems to be well under conrol.

Before we praise the public works program, however, we must keep in mind that the story of Gyulaj was published because it is the exception rather than the rule. The Orbán government claims that the public works program will lead to employment in the private sector. But shoveling snow or cleaning ditches is no path to private sector employment. Unfortunately, in most villages public works programs are dead ends. And dead ends with very low wages.

One of the public workers interviewed in the article seems satisfied. He and his wife have eight children and, with the additional child support from the state, he earns 77,300 forints a month. That is 250 euros for a family of ten. They can survive on that amount of money because the children receive their meals in school, meals that are supplied from the 7 hectares the public workers cultivate. Also, the municipality’s rabbits can be bought cheaply: 700 forints a kilogram–and we know about rabbits. There will be no shortage of them, so the price should drop further.

Gyulaj is a rare exception. Soon there will be no more money for the public workers, whose numbers swelled to boost the government’s popularity before the election. Mayors report that in some cases the number of workers will be cut  in half. Keep in mind that no dole will be forthcoming because the Orbán government abolished it. Gyulaj’s budget, however, will not be cut. Either the mayor is a very lucky woman or the government thinks it needs a few success stories.

Poverty remains a serious problem in Hungary. According to estimates, half a million children live in poverty and over 40,000 go to bed hungry. These children receive some meals in nurseries, pre-school institutions and schools on weekdays. But during the weekends there is often nothing to eat at home.

A charitable organization, the Children’s Nutrition Fund of Hungary, is working to alleviate this problem. (For more about the American branch of this non-profit see the post below.) The organization has been active since 1993. In 2012 80,000 families benefited from donations collected by CNFH, and last year 4,000,000 kilograms of food were distributed to children in need. And there is need because poverty is growing in Hungary.

Of course, not all those under the poverty line are Roma, but many of them are. They are also discriminated against. Gyulaj’s school is almost completely segregated and therefore, as the principal of the school told the Népszabadság reporter, students are not prepared for the kind of discrimination and hatred that is awaiting them once they step outside their village. In a way, they live in a bubble, unprepared for Hungarian reality.

CNFH believes that easing poverty can reduce racism as well. It is certainly a step in the right direction.


  1. The Children’s Nutrition Fund of Hungary?
    An NGO independent of the Mafia Regime, its gangsters and oligarchs?
    Lazar’s next target.

  2. Although my income as a pensioner is moderate and considering that I live in expensive Switzerland, I still wanted to arrange for a small sum to be transferred monthly to support a Roma family in Hungary.

    But it seems that the American organisation in charge has never heard of globalisation, at any rate, it only offered the typical parochial American ways of payment: check or credit card. No PayPal, no prepayment via bank transfer, not even Western Union (although the fees there can be prohinitive).

    I never had or wanted to have a credit card. All my banking is done via a formerly postal service (Swiss PostFinance) and their debit card that works all across Europe.

    Isn’t it strange: With my financial instruments I can buy everything in the world from any mail-order house, but because the managers of a charitable organisation to be considered for some regular donation isn’t quite with it, I can’t donate, not even a cent. That’s a real shame in my mind.

  3. OT:

    did you see how many women (none with any influence) stood close to Orban at the inauguration?

    (Which one is Orbán’s mistress, though? I heard that he may have one.)

    Obviously Orban’s popularity among women is a bit lacking so this is how he compensates.

    Not that it matters, the men will keep him in power.

  4. All religious founders (who were also law givers) had a lot of women around them and at their feet. That goes for pseudo-religions, too, even today.

  5. This was the first US style inauguration.

    Remember that Orban introduced the évértékelő beszéd (the local version of the state of the union speech) too.

    Whoever will come after Orban, he/she will do the same, it’s great show.

    The left – of course – cannot even start any tradition, it cannot even copy something from abroad.

    But, as always, it will follow the right-wing and when given the chance will try immediately to conform, all in the name of – what they in their delusion think as – generous bipartizanship. Translate: they desperately want to be liked, as they think doing the same as the successful right-wing will make them likeable too, like the loser kid in the high-school who wants desperately to copy and imitate the popular cool guys.

    (Not that the lefties will come to power in Hungary anytime soon).

  6. On Orbán’s inauguration:

    It was all over the “North Korean State TV” of course – when my wife changed channels for the umpteenth time she cried in desperation:

    Oh no, not that village Napoleon again!

    And also rather OT re cooking in a village:

    One of our neighbours is a cook in the village’s kitchen, where they cook more than 300 meals each working day for school children, kindergarden, the office workers and also those “meals on wheels” that are distributed by the village.

    They don’t have a dish washing machine, have to clean all those dishes and pots by hand every afternoon …

  7. brumi mackóvárosban
    May 11, 2014 at 12:23 am
    This was the first US style inauguration.
    Remember that Orban introduced the évértékelő beszéd (the local version of the state of the union speech) too.
    Whoever will come after Orban, he/she will do the same, it’s great show.

    Sorry, thought that the USA is the big bad wolf for all the followers of Orban. You dnot say that he copies from the USA, do you? So, he copies from the USA but others should not go and copy him? I am lost.
    As long as copying goes, you should refresh your memory about the ideas Gyurcsany had, Orban made sure it will be voted, then when Orban “returned” fully put his weight behind like his own. THe only difference is that while Gyurcsany wanted to do it for the country, Orban did it for vengeance or to enrich his friends and family.
    Metro 4, casinos, small fee for doctor visits, and the list goes on.
    B the way even being conservative was not Orban’s idea, even the “love of God” was not his idea. In essence there is no idea of his own comes Orban, so “brume”, you have to smarten up, just like your leader.

  8. Some1:

    Fidesz is the best pupil of the Republicans.

    By far.

    Not in ideology, of course, but in tactics, discipline, relentlessness, grass-roots activism, take no prisoner style, no compromise approach, long-term strategy and vision.

    (Of course demography is against the Republicans at least in the presidential elections. In Hungary demography plays for Fidesz, the younger the voter, the more conservative and anti-liberal.)

    The Hungarian Left is more like Dukakis or Kerry was. Not exactly winners.

    If the lefties started right now they would still be 15-20 years behind Fidesz, but they will not start anything, as they are just fine with the scraps they get from the top dog.

  9. Konrad
    May 11, 2014 at 8:46 am
    Fidesz is the best pupil of the Republicans.

    I think the Republicans would be highly offended by reading this. orban and his band was as much despised by Bush as by Orban. If you talking about the worst policies lifted from the Republicans you would not be right either as Orban lifts its policies from the Democratic party. (Fidesz even claims that.) Fidesz hodgepodge governing only makes sense to the politically and economically totally illiterate.

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