Zoltán Balog, who is in charge of Roma integration, fights for segregation

In the last two years I wrote a couple of times about school segregation in Hungary. Of course, segregation along ethnic lines is illegal in Hungary and after 2003, when the law on equal treatment was enacted, the ministry of education managed to achieve some success in school integration. One can read more about these efforts in a blog I wrote in January 2013.

In 2010 Zoltán Balog, then only an undersecretary in charge of the so-called Roma strategy, assumed the job of integrating and “converging” Hungary’s sizable Roma population. Moreover, during Hungary’s presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first six months of 2011, the Hungarian government took upon itself the creation of a Roma program for the entire European Union.

From the beginning I noted Balog’s reluctance to follow the earlier Hungarian government’s strategy of integration. There were also signs that Balog, realizing the enormousness of the task, wanted to dump the problem on the churches. He made frequent references to his belief that religious communities are best equipped to handle the special issues of the Hungarian Roma. What happened behind the scenes I have no idea, but most churches were not willing to take over what should have been the job of the government. On the whole Hungarian churches said “no thanks.”

My other suspicion was that in his heart of hearts Balog does not believe in school integration. He is convinced that special Gypsy classes enable students to catch up with their non-Roma contemporaries–separate to become equal. Based on countless studies we know that this is a misguided notion. But it seems that Fidesz politicians cannot easily be convinced by hard data or evidence.

If someone had not noticed earlier that Balog is no fan of integration, it became absolutely clear this spring when at a meeting of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) he argued that there can be no uniform Roma strategy for all EU countries and therefore the European Commission has to be “more responsive” even as he stressed that the Roma issue “is a European responsibility.”

Zoltán Balog, the defender of quality education of Roma children

Zoltán Balog, the defender of quality education for Roma children

The clash between Balog and civil organizations dealing with Roma issues came to a head in Nyíregyháza where there was a segregated school for Roma children which was closed in 2007. However, came the 2010 municipal election and with it a new Fidesz mayor who convinced the Greek Catholic church that had taken over the school in the interim to reopen the segregated school only about 1.5 km from a new modern school that served the majority of the students. It was at this point that an NGO, Esélyt a Hátrányos Helyzetű Gyerekeknek Alapítvány (CFCF), sued both the city and the church.

After a careful consideration of the facts and listening to experts the court decided in favor of the foundation. At that time Balog went so far as to testify on behalf of the Greek Catholic church. He supported segregation which he called a “tender loving attainment process.” When the church lost the case, Balog was furious and made no secret of his feelings: “this verdict only increases my fighting spirit. We will continue to fight for a good, decent verdict which is good for the children.”

How strongly Balog felt about this particular case is demonstrated in a press release his ministry issued on November 6, the day the appellate court issued its ruling affirming the lower court’s decision. This press release is a perfect example of the double talk this government specializes in. The final verdict in the case is” highly regrettable because many children will be deprived of a superior education.” Of course, “the Government of Hungary condemns segregation which is forbidden by Hungarian law. If segregation can be proven we will do everything to ensure its discontinuance.” But this time, it seems, segregation is a good thing.

In fact, twelve days after the appellate court’s decision the government moved to change the 2003 law. The proposed amendment says that in the case of schools run by churches or in schools serving national minorities the minister–in our case Zoltán Balog–can issue a decree that will allow segregated classes. Surely, for the sake of superior education. The Orbán government is trying to integrate by segregating, a solution that is a time-tested failure.

CFCF issued a statement in which they question the legality of this amendment. They claim that the 2003 law is protected by the Fundamental Law’s Article  I(3): “A fundamental right may only be restricted to allow the application of another fundamental right or to protect a constitutional value, to the extent absolutely necessary, proportionate to the objective pursued and with full respect for the essential content of such fundamental right.” Therefore Balog’s amendment is unconstitutional. CFCF somewhat naively sent this statement to all members of parliament, asking them not to vote for the amendment “in its present form.” The voting robots will not oblige, which means that the case will most likely end up in the European Court of Human Rights.

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34 comments

  1. The sad thing is no one in Nyiregyhaza want integrated schools. The administration of Csoki do not accept Roma. When other schools do accept Roma parents immediately transfer their children to another school.

  2. Anyone remember the situation in the USA 60 years ago when local governments opposed integration of black pupils?
    In the end “bussing” had to be used:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desegregation_busing
    “In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education declared racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional. The process of integrating public schools met fierce resistance in the South where segregation laws took hold after the American Civil War and the Reconstruction era of the United States. In Northern and Western states, de facto segregation was the customary practice.”
    When I talk about politics with my wife, comparing the situation to what she now sees in Germany, Austria or the USA, we often find that Hungary is about 50 years (or more) behind …

  3. The same paper (also website) seems to agree with my interpretation yesterday of the current law:

    The regular working week of a government servant is 40 hours. It can be raised to 48 only temporarily. Here is the new thing:

    the 4-month average should not exceed 40 hours a week.

    http://mno.hu/magyar_nemzet_belfoldi_hirei/jogszerutlen-a-tizoras-munkaido-1260386

    So this pro-Fidesz site also deems Lazar’s orders in this aspect illegal.

    http://mno.hu/magyar_nemzet_belfoldi_hirei/jogszerutlen-a-tizoras-munkaido-1260386

  4. OT
    I know it is OT, but I’d like to hear Istvan’s opinon on the recent police shootings of unarmed blacks and the resulting riots in Ferguson and a few other places in the US. I think there were 4-5 high profile such shootings of unarmed civilians by police all involving unarmed black people. That there will be no trial in the Ferguson case, no charges, no nothing also increased the intensity of rioting. I don’t really have a firm opinion on it one way or another but would be interesting to know how an American sees this.

  5. When I lived in Hungary i was initially shocked by the racism of the Hungarian people toward the Gypsy minorities. Sadly experience taught me that this racism is justified. My son went to a school in Budapest. There was one gypsy boy in his class who had no interest in learning and used to disrupt the rest of the students, even threatening the teachers sometimes. He even sexually abused another male pupil.

    At another school in the village where my parents in law live, the gypsies spit at the teachers and are totally disruptive. The majority of gypsies in Hungary do not have a culture that respects learning – even if the children wish to learn, they are discouraged from doing so by their parents.

    While we can sit in our comfy armchairs and preach to Hungarians about equal rights, the situation on the ground is somewhat different. If gyspies want to be included in a society, then they have to accept the rules of that society and live by them. Currently the majority of gypsies do not wish to do that, and therefore separation at school is actually the only option.

  6. Gabor: it may be interesting, but it would be the opinion of one person. The Ferguson situation is a complex issue, so it would be misleading to conclude anything from the views of one person. You may turn to American newspapers for the varied views, they are written by locals.

    Busing and school segregation are also very complex, school segregation right now is as high if not higher in the US as it was in 1954 (with a little google search you can find articles). This issue has dozens of angles.

    Obviously the Hungarian government doesn’t deal with these angles because they are too complex and controversial. (I guess it is similar in the US). Introducing some new law is always easier.

    The entire education is neglected in Hungary. Segregation is only one, albeit terrible angle.

    Outside Budapest education is being essentially outsourced to parochial schools, where quality (except for a few places) is low, ideological indoctrination and the removal of roma kids from the white ones are the key objectives. Public schools are being closed down and are in terrible shape anyway, they are “educating” homeless, illiterate people and future prison fodder.

  7. Wolfi@ is right. There is sizable support for school segregation on the population level. Experience of the past decade suggests that Roma children and their parents were treated as Caste of “untouchables”. With the rare exception of the most obvious (criminal) cases school masters were scared to death to make any disciplinary measure against them out of fear of being sued, penalized, etc. for their “discriminatory” action in mixed environments. Smart Roma parents would have normally won such court cases (school cases included). I believe the solution is to treat children equally. No question, the integration of Roma should be supported on the basis of deeds and merits and EQUAL footing. That may work on the long run.

    Short footnotes on previous posts:
    Please don’t underestimate Szazadveeg. It looks like our good Friend also doesn’t do that (see info on his recent visit to this Institute). I believe group of fellows visited DC not once in recent years.
    Szazadveeg do regular and precise polling that are never made public. They were the one who shaped and fine-tuned the new parliamentary electoral law and they were the one to come out with the “smart” explanation why the new system is fairer than the previous one. These notes were widely circulated in US prior to the April elections. (Prof. Eva@ wrote about the subject). From their point of view, they did an excellent and accurate job to achieve a “2/3” result. They used to assess the effect of new laws on the electorate. So this organization is much-much more than a possible money-laundering operation.

    There is a lot of guesswork of what is happening in Hungary these days. Szazadveeg doesn’t do guesswork. For example, they had enough time before to evaluate the effects of the robbing (nationalization) of the private pension funds. They safely concluded that out of three million it made two million “unhappy” but eight still would not care at all or even supported such a move.
    What changed? Among others, the government did not have time to make a decent preliminary evaluation of this budgets cycle’s social impacts. Even if the Institute gave an early warning nobody would care these days because of the budgetary stress. Too much austerity on the plate? Whereas the internet tax was a huge political mistake that caused the sudden awakening I believe the gravest mistake was the handling of the FX-loan where the whole lie has surfaced. This measure (never mind how fine-tuned for division) is expected to chip away a considerable part of the devoted electorate whose only hope was OVi. (Remember, politically lifeless Bajnai promised only pain.) No surprise they wanted to do it after the elections cycle. I don’t think the government is much worried about demonstrations at this stage especially observing such a rift and unpreparedness on the side of organizers. Again a warning: like in Erdogan’s case FCbook can be turned off in any moment!

    Besides the legislation effects on its voters’ base there is a lot of tension within the ruling elite created by “dynamic adjustments”. Before my footnotes are getting too long let me just conclude that the US/ good Friend hysteria is useful from the point of view to keep the new elite together. I have an impression that when OVi speaks about “national unity” it should be translated more and more as party discipline and cohesion. After all he is the one to decide who is who in Hungary and he is the only one capable to protect this clientele from “outside” harassment. Hmmm.

  8. @Voice of reason

    “Sadly experience taught me that this racism is justified.”

    “At another school in the village where my parents in law live, the gypsies spit at the teachers and are totally disruptive. ”

    I taught at a private high school in one of the richest neighborhoods of Hungary, in Rózsadomb for a few months. The students were disruptive, did not want to learn, did not let anyone learn, shouted during class, at one time they burned candles etc.

    For the hefty tuition fees, they and their parents expected to get an “érettségi” without knowing almost anything, apart from reasonable spoken English.

    I can assure you, none of them were Gypsy. They were scions of the new, fidesznik ruling class.

    Racism is never justified.

  9. @Zorro

    Yes, it should not be underestimated.

    Századvég is at once (1) an outsourced private polling/lobbying/intelligence ministry and (2) a money laundering/crime syndicate operation.

    (Andras Giro-Szaz, within 3-4 years became a billionaire and he is but one of those people flying around Századvég.)

    This reminds me of the embattled Tesco which mandated Századvég to prepare a “study” about the importance of Tesco to the Hungarian economy. As if Tesco didn’t have the data or expertise to prepare such study and/or it really needed such study. The cost of this study paid by Tesco was never made public. Of course the thing with Fidesz is that you may try to bribe it, Fidesz will still sc**w you. The endlessly naive foreign companies never understood this. I hope they do now.

    “I have an impression that when OVi speaks about “national unity” it should be translated more and more as party discipline and cohesion.” Sorry, but I thought this was obvious to everyone.

    Neither Szazadveg, nor Orban should be underestimated. I hope it is clear by now that they will stop at literally nothing in order to hold on to power and continue to amass their fortunes to which they now feel entitled to.

  10. By the way there’s a great Angela Merkel profile in the New Yorker written by George Packer.

    It is clear that Merkel treats other spoiled, vain, clueless German politicians with the same contempt as Orban and Putin do. She cleverly uses them out, I guess she thinks it would be a unforgivable political sin not to take advantage of these naïve and weak set of politicians.

    Moreover, she is not one to act decisively in any matter (she is the complete antithesis of the great visionary politicians of the 1970-1980’s Kohl, Miterrand, Theatcher) , so Orban and other third rate dictators will be tolerated for ever, especially as there are dozens of other more important issues on her plate.

    Plus, the German voters just don’t care about other countries, they just want to enjoy their prosperity — which is known by Orban and his people.

  11. 1. Racism in the US is no excuse for racism elsewhere.

    2. Descriptions and discusions of interracial problems should not be automatically dismissed as racism. Problems cannot be solved rationally if they are not properly understood.

  12. @Voice of reason, well sadly you became or already were a racist. You describe “the gypsies” spitting on teachers and not wanting to learn. Did every roma child spit on the teachers? Did every roma child not want to learn? Of course not, but you are perfectly willing to label “the gypsies” as all deviants and worthy of scorn. You do not give those who want to learn and do not have discipline issues a chance. And why would segregation be the solution to these issues and not other proven approaches? Your attitude perpetuates the situation.

    Yes, @Wolfi Hungary is sadly 30 to 50 years behind in issues of race and gender relations. Part of this is part of why I call PCST (post-communist stress syndrome), but after 25 years it is past the time to move forward, not backward.

    @Jenn P racism persists in the US and is embedded in many institutions (E.g. criminal justice system), however the US political response is not to label all blacks as deviants but to have a conversation about the roots of persistent inequalities and a strong effort by the Justice Dept. to investigate unconstitutional behavior by law enforcement agencies (currently 35 departments).

    Contrast this with the Hungarian government’s approach to legally codify segregation.

    Yes, “Descriptions and discusions of interracial problems should not be automatically dismissed as racism. ” and addressing discipline or motivational issues irrespective of the race of a child is one thing, but labeling ALL roma as unwilling to learn and deviants is racism. Segregating based on race is racist, period – non-roma children with the same issues as SOME roma children do not end up in the segregated classrooms or schools.

    http://www.romawoman.org/?page=article&id=12

  13. @ Voice of Reason “At another school in the village where my parents in law live, the gypsies spit at the teachers and are totally disruptive.”

    I once taught two young teenage boys. One was the son of someone who is now a high-ranking Fidesz MP. The other one was the son of someone who is now an ambassador. They were both the laziest, most arrogant kids in the class, constantly turned up late, and refused to take anything seriously. The other kids were hard-working and tried their best, but these two boys were always demanding extra attention.

    I guess that life dealt them a good hand, though.

  14. @tappanch

    Pray tell me why would Ms. Vida resign?

    (1) There’s no evidence she has done anything wrong.
    (2) Orban never retreats and especially won’t give in to (what may be seen as) Western foreign pressure.

    As Zorro said above, one should not underestimate Századvég/Fidesz and its mafia state.

    Orban and his people are protected come what may, that’s one of the most fundamental rules of Fidesz. Even convicts/losers like Attila Várhegyi, Tamas Wachsler or Madi Laszlo (let alone Pal Schmitt who is being rehabilitated) are still within Fidesz’ orbit, serving their boss.

    Orban knows that the fundamental principle to any community is that nobody is left behind and nobody will be (unless such traitor dares to betray the capo tutti capi).

  15. @Voice of reason : And what did your fine relatives do to the better the situation? In my neighbourhood in Toronto there were many gipsy families, who’s children started out scared and scarred in a public school. THey received support from the teachers, encouragement from the principals, attention from other parents, and they became productive and felt equal. I guess Toronto has soma magic dust that cannot be found in Hungary.

  16. Many of you don’t like my “racsist comments”. But like I say, its easy to be idealist when you are sitting on your sofas in the west. Come to Eastern Hungary and see villages where the elderly people live in fear of the gypsies.

    Its true that not every gypsy is a criminal – but the problem is that enough of them are to give that class a bad reputation. They need to clean up their act before they gain acceptance.

  17. @ Voice of Reason: perhaps many Roma are feared by the elderly because they’re perpetually labelled as criminals, and stigmatised from the time they are born, and learn to be stigmatised in schools when they are young children (and the cycle perpetuates itself).

    Your comments remind me a little bit of the right-wing press in the UK getting upset that some companies are hiring Hungarians to come and work for low wages in sandwich factories. (Why do these poor Eastern-Europeans have to come here and take our jobs?)

    (I wrote this whilst sitting in a chair, in Hungary – doesn’t that count as ‘the west’ for you?)

  18. “Suppose Hungary is serious about corruption, and the government starts an investigation, even if the people concerned belong to the government. Then there will be a court case against such people. In this case, if the US has useful information, we can hand it over.”

    THis is a long interview

  19. THe difference between Hungary and other countries is that here this government did not do anything” [against such corrupt events]

  20. The truth is that the Gipsies are on average like their close neighbors. Hungarians or not.

    Some of the world most gifted high achievers are also some Gipsies.

    The comments should bring out this.

    People depend on local leadership. Better local leaders, better citizens.

  21. The original text instead of back and forth translations:

    ” But let’s say that Hungary took the issue of corruption seriously, that the government actually investigates it, even if it affects its own officials. That it investigates it, that it says we want to have, this information actually merits a court case. So here we are going to have a court case, and we are bringing these specific charges against these individuals and we want to have a trial in which all the information will be presented. If they then say here is this court case, we think that you, the U.S. might have information, which could be helpful in this court case, then we would like to request the information in the case we have established. Then they would go through the appropriate process to ask for that information”

    “The difference here is that this government has not taken that type of action” [against corrupt activity]

  22. Thanks a lot, tappanch and thanks, Mr Goodfriend, for those very clear and outspoken words!

    They make the Hungarian government appear as a group of kindergarten children!
    ” So there are public officials or former public officials in many countries within the EU who are not permitted in the U.S. because their own government found them to be engaged in corrupt activity.”

    He must be laughing silently when talking to those nitwits in Fidesz. I also wonder who chose him for Hungary or did he choose the country himself?

  23. This thankless situation of the Romani mostly due to the decades long neglect, there wasn’t any decent attempt to came up whit something what actually working. Now already generations growing up without even knowing what regular work really means, what difference even the most basic education would mean, and so on. They are practically chanceless, whatever they might try to do to change their life, and the situation just worsening.

    Let me tell you that in that – by many aspect deservedly – cursed ‘Kádár era’ it was positively different. (One of my close relatives worked with secondary education of the adults, hence I have just about first hand information.)
    Yes, I am aware of the ‘why’ and ‘how’ they were the first to became the victims of the capitalism in Hungary, but hey, 25 years went by, and now the situation is critical – I guess, we can agree on this.

    On what basis can anyone demand, that ‘they should adapt, if they want to live here’, when there is no way out of their fate, whatever the hypocrite ministers and the annoyed citizens would say, no!

    So, the Gypsy kids are undisciplined, distraught and disruptive? Why don’t you help them to learn a different way of living?
    Or is that so, that not you, not me, not anybody else helping them to know another way, and they just don’t know it all by themselves?
    You know, learning home is not really an option, as I outlined above.

    If we accept this kind of shameful segregation, then we have no really moral right to protest any other kind of discrimination either. Don’t be mistaken, anybody can be discriminated for a millions of reasons – it’s only question of willingness and acceptance.

    Well, at least there isn’t badges yet to wear, we must be really happy about this, mustn’t we?
    This is a clear sign, how great the government, after all…

    I searching for another great sign, still ongoing…

  24. @voice of reason, I am a woman of Roma descent from northeastern Hungary, I am educated and so are all of my family. We all finished high school and I am the only one to have a university degree, but most took some form of post secondary education. We were all educated during communism and only as an young adult came to Canada. During communist times, there was still racism towards us, but not nearly as bad as it is now. We were all integrated and went to school with non Roma. We didn’t have the best of the best, but we went to school everyday and so did all of the Roma in our community, there was no spitting on teachers as discipline back then was much more strict than now. So how is it that in the last 25 years all the integration from prior was undone? When I go home, I hear how much our community doesn’t trust our non Roma neighbors, how we are treated very unfairly and unfortunately in the young Roma minds it creates an attitude of not caring about non Roma, using any advantage they can to stick it to the non Roma, some still want to do good and have opportunities, but many do not feel they will EVER have a chance if they stay in Hungary. While I was home in the summer, my aunts neighbor accused her of stealing garden tools from her, my aunt has lived next to this lady for 45 years and has never stolen anything and now she is accusing her of stealing? She went on a half hour rant calling our family everything bad she could think of, it was disgusting and I told her so. I took enough out of my wallet for her to go buy what she needed to show her that we didn’t need to steal anything from her and threw it at her and told my aunt to stay away from her from now on. My aunt cried for several days because she felt she was losing a 40 year friendship with her neighbor over garden tools that were stolen and not from anyone in my family. I tried to explain to my aunt that this womans rage toward us was about us being Roma, not about garden tools. This woman really should have known better, but the overall racist mentality has taken hold on everyone even when they know it is wrong. Now how do you suppose in this kind of environment in Hungary that the Roma are supposed to integrate? How are they supposed to respect people when they are constantly being treated this way? The younger generations are becoming worse because they do not see a way out, so they stick together and don’t give respect because they don’t receive it. They maintain friendships only in Roma circles, because there is now a deep division and non Roma don’t want to have Roma friends or their parents wont allow it. So how did this happen? I had many non Roma friends and so did all of my brothers and all our cousins. Most of us married outside of the Roma community and now it is all changing with the next generation. So how you think this is the fault of the parents is beyond me. It is the fault of the Hungarian community, the fault of the government for instituting racism from a legal point of view and segregated schools only make the problem worse for future generations. Not that I would ever agree with communism, but there was something there with regards to the treatment of Roma that worked and we need to acknowledge that because they didn’t allow segregation or discrimination legally and gave big punishments for it, it stopped what we are seeing now and gave the Roma communities the opportunity to integrate into society. After all, that supposedly what everyone wants right?

  25. @Voice of Reason: It seems to me that it is you who decided to put your ear on the sand and there is no way you will lift it out. I am not questing that people left on their own without assistance, education and help may become rough. THe problem is that if a society does not start to do something about it and their only solution they offer is segregation, there will not be any outcome that is different from exactly what you expect. Try to follow some tried and true models, and you will be surprised of the outcome.
    http://www.thestar.com/yourtoronto/education/2013/10/06/parkdale_schools_mourn_deported_roma_students.html
    http://yfile.news.yorku.ca/2013/09/10/new-osgoode-exhibit-celebrates-roma-contributions-to-canada/
    http://www.thestar.com/news/immigration/2013/04/09/toronto_photo_exhibit_sheds_new_light_on_roma_in_canada.html

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