Flórián Farkas

Register as Roma, vote by default for Fidesz

It can easily happen that, amid the frenzy of Fidesz legislative action over the last three and a half years, even the more observant among us misses a troubling piece of legislative action. Here is one that I at least missed. It was included in the new electoral law of 2011, officially called the Law on the Election of Members of Parliament. For the most part Law CCIII provides a description of the newly created electoral districts, and it was on these gerrymandering efforts of the framers of the bill that I initially concentrated. Yesterday a friend called my attention to an interview with Aladár Horváth, a Roma political activist, on ATV’s program ATV Start.

At the time of her telephone call I still hadn’t had a chance to see the program, but I was told that Aladár Horváth is urging his fellow Roma not to register as such because so identifying themselves will deprive them of their right to vote for party lists. The Electoral Law on the Election of Members of Parliament, ¶7§(2), reads as follows: “A citizen who belongs to a minority can vote a) for a candidate of his electoral district and b) for the list of his own nationality.” In brief, as opposed to a non-minority citizen who can vote for both a candidate and a party list, a citizen who registers as a member of a minority can vote for a local candidate and the minority list.

This is the first time that minorities in Hungary can, at least theoretically, have representation in the Hungarian Parliament. The lack of such a possibility was a major embarrassment for earlier Hungarian governments that often stood up for the rights of Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries where in fact Hungarian parties do have parliamentary representation. Of course, it is also true that ethnic minorities in Hungary, with the exception of the Roma and perhaps the Germans, are too small to reach the threshold necessary to be represented in parliament.

The Venice Commission’s draft opinion on The Act on the Elections of Member of Parliament of Hungary welcomed this particular aspect of Law XXIII. “For the first time, special provisions aimed at favouring the participation of national minorities in parliament in the electoral legislation. . . therefore the Venice Commission welcomes the introduction of such provisions.” However, the Venice Commission seemed to have some concerns regarding the new situation faced by the minority voters. It recommended that “as voters have the right to choose between registering to vote for normal party lists or national minority lists, the law should allow such registration in a reasonably short time frame before election day. This would ensure that all voters have sufficient information to make an informed choice. However, it would be preferable to give to the voters from national minorities the possibility of choice on election day between nationality lists and party lists.”

I guess I don’t have to tell you that no such opportunity will be given to minority voters either at the time of registration or on election day. Moreover, it is very unlikely that the Roma population, undereducated and living in backward villages, will realize the pros and cons of opting for the party list versus the minority list. After all, even Viktor Szigetváry, Együtt 2014’s electoral expert, when he wrote about the new electoral system didn’t pay much attention to this particular provision of the new law. He did admit that voting for the minority list “in small measure will strengthen the majoritarian character of the whole system” but he obviously didn’t consider it a potentially serious problem.

I checked the number of people who registered in 2010 to be able to vote for minority lists in local elections. Their number is over 200,000. Under the 2011 law they will now be deprived of their right to vote for a party. Or to be more precise, by voting for the minority list they will de facto be voting for Fidesz.

The leading members of Lungo Drom,  the  representative body of Hungarian Gypsies, including the head of the organization, Flórian Farkas, are Fidesz puppets. So any Gypsy who votes for the current ethnic leadership will only help Flórián Farkas be reelected to parliament. It would be one more vote for Fidesz.

Flórán Farkas at the COÖ meeting in January 2011 / Népszabadág / Simon Móricz

Flórián Farkas at the COÖ meeting in January 2011 / Népszabadág / Simon Móricz

Farkas is an old ally of Viktor Orbán who has worked closely with Fidesz ever since 2001 when he was already the president of Lungo Drom. He signed an agreement with Fidesz-MDF at that time in which he pledged Lungo Drom’s support of these parties. After the split of MDF and Fidesz, Farkas stood by Fidesz and renewed the electoral agreement between the Roma organization and Fidesz. He has been a member of the party’s parliamentary caucus ever since 2002. He is known as someone who does nothing whatsoever for the Roma community even though he is also head of the Országos Cigány Önkormányzat (OCÖ or Nationwide Gypsy Self-government).

So, this is the situation to which Aladár Horváth called attention. The problem is that his message is pretty much lost in a sea of total indifference. For example, he gave a press conference which not even the reporters of the liberal-socialist press bothered to attend. Although he himself is making an effort to get to the Roma communities, it is unlikely that he and his friends will be able to enlighten the Roma minority about their choices and the consequences of their decision.

We can be sure of one thing. Fidesz doesn’t do anything that doesn’t serve its own interests. Just as they don’t really care about the Hungarian minority in the neighboring countries so they don’t care about ethnic minorities inside of Hungary. Their primary concern is to get extra votes from the mostly Fidesz sympathizers in Romania and Serbia and to ensure that by default the Roma end up supporting them. The rest is just talk.

Fidesz Roma strategy, from Balog to Bayer

The country is again full of stories about “gypsy terror,” spread with gusto by Jobbik. The cause this time is a New Year’s Eve party in a bar in Szigethalom, today part of Budapest, situated on the northern end of Csepel Island. A group of boys, members of the MTK (Magyar Testgyakorlók Köre [Circle of Hungarian Fitness Activists]) was having a party when two of them, a  under-age boxer and a wrestler, were severely wounded in the men’s room of the establishment. There were two assailants, one a Gypsy. The other assailant is still on the loose.

Whatever the cause of the brawl, it was unlikely a hate crime. One of the victims, we know, had many Roma friends. In fact, a large number of the youngsters training to become boxers or wrestlers are Gypsies. At the same time it also became clear that this particular victim wasn’t exactly an innocent lamb. Last July he was arrested after attacking a young man in the men’s room of a Budapest bar, hitting him in the face and taking his money. Because the recent incident also happened in a men’s room, the police are rightfully investigating the possible role of this victim himself.

Jobbik is organizing a demonstration in Szigethalom, Magyar Nemzet wrote an article that practically accused the Roma community of collective guilt, and Zsolt Bayer wrote an opinion piece in Magyar Hírlap that can be construed as an “incitement against a community.” I wrote about Bayer a couple of times and I tried to translate his practically untranslatable prose. Then he was venting against Jews, now against the Roma.

This latest upheaval gave Attila Ara-Kovács, a member of the democratic opposition of the 1980s and an astute commentator on the pages of Magyar Narancs, the opportunity to write a very important article about the government’s so-called “Roma strategy,” entitled “From Balog to Bayer.”

A bold Roma strategy was supposed to be a key contribution of the Hungarian presidency of the European Union (January-July 2011). It was supposed to be a strategy aimed at eventually solving the terrible situation of the Roma in Europe, especially at its eastern fringes. By the end of 2011 all European countries were expected to develop their own strategies, taking their cue from the great Hungarian model.

Zoltán Balog, today minister of the mega-ministry in charge of health, education, and culture, was put in charge. His only responsibility was to work out a Roma strategy and head the effort toward Roma integration. Once he moved to a higher position, he took his old staff with him to the Ministry of Human Resources. He proudly announced only a few months ago that the Orbán government was the first in Hungary to pay attention to the Roma question.

The problem is, says Ara-Kovács, that this is simply not true. Are we surprised? It was in 2002, after the formation of an MSZP-SZDSZ coalition, that Bálint Magyar, the liberal minister of education between 1996 and 1998 and again between 2002 and 2006, began serious work in this field.

Here are few of his achievements. In 2002 an article forbidding discrimination was incorporated into the law on education. Magyar appointed a ministerial commissioner in charge of disadvantaged and Roma children whose function was to check every proposed bill and to make sure that they in no way infringed upon the rights of the disadvantaged and the poor.

In 2003 a law on equal treatment was enacted, and subsequently an Office of Equal Treatment was established.

In 2004 the government established a National Integration Network whose task was to promote integrated classrooms to assist disadvantaged children and their teachers. This same year they set up a system by which for each disadvantaged and Roma child the schools received extra financial assistance (50,000 ft more than the norm). That was a sizable amount; it constituted one-fifth of the total that the government paid out for schools.

In the same year they began a new program called “From the last row” that was supposed to move Roma children from classes designed for the “moderately retarded” back to the mainstream educational system. I should mention here that teachers liked to declare Gypsy children retarded and thus get rid of them since they needed more care and work. Magyar’s ministry also in 2004 introduced another program called “Útravaló” (Provisions for the journey) that provided scholarships for 18,000 disadvantaged children and 3,000 mentors per year.

In 2005 another law made it compulsory for schools to give preference to disadvantaged children who live outside the school districts when deciding on acceptance.

Thus by 2006 there was a noticeable decrease in the degree of segregation.

So, let’s see what the present government has done in the last two and a half years. The Orbán government’s Roma strategy was based on an agreement between Viktor Orbán and Flórián Farkas, the leader of the Roma community at the moment, who is a Fidesz puppet. In this agreement, the Hungarian government accepted responsibility for training 1,000 Roma women. It’s going very slowly. Up until last fall about 300 had received training. Viktor Orbán also promised medical screening for 5,000 women. The program hasn’t started yet. The most important part of the agreement was the promise of 20,000 new jobs for the Roma community. That promise was to be fulfilled by establishing an extensive public works program for about half of the minimum wage. The numbers currently employed are nowhere close to 20,000.

The Útravaló (Provisions for the Journey) program has continued, but while in the 2004-2005 school year the government spent 2 billion forints on it, now that amount is 1 billion.  That means 5-8,000 forints a month, but something went wrong here too and the sums that should have been distributed last year never were. One of the more important programs of Balog’s ministry is the Roma Special College (szakkollégium). This program seems to have been given over to the churches.

Finally, Ara-Kovács summarizes other Fidesz “achievements” that run counter to any grand Roma strategy. (1) Compulsory education is no longer 18 years but only 16. (2) In the first four grades grading was reintroduced. (3) If a child doesn’t finish eight grades by the age of  15 he must be discharged. (4) Secondary technical schools are no longer obliged to admit students who didn’t get into a gymnasium. (5) The government practically eliminated the extra year for foreign language competence. (6) In technical schools the number of courses in languages, literature, and history was reduced so dramatically that students will come out of these schools practically illiterate.  (7) In general, the number of students reaching matriculation will be greatly reduced, thus also the numbers who can enter college or university.

Marabu / Népszabadság

Marabu / Népszabadság

While Balog in Berlin only a few months ago proudly outlined the accomplishments of the Orbán government as far as its Roma strategy is concerned, one of the organizers of the Peace March and a man who holds the #5 membership card in Fidesz, Zsolt Bayer, announced that “a significant portion of the Gypsies are unfit for coexistence. Not fit to live among human beings. These people are animals and behave like animals. Like a bitch in heat she wants to copulate with whomever and wherever. If he finds resistance, he kills. He voids where and when it occurs to him.  … He wants what he sees. If he doesn’t get it, he takes it and he kills…. From his animal skull only inarticulate sounds come out and the only thing he understands is brute force… There shouldn’t be animals. No way. This must be solved, immediately and in any way.” In Hungarian: “Ezt meg kell oldani–de azonnal és bárhogyan.” It sounds ominous. What can he have in mind?

“This is the real Roma strategy of Fidesz. It would be worth making that clear to Europe,” adds Ara-Kovács at the end of his article.