Gypsies

Joint effort of the Hungarian state and the churches to keep some schools segregated

It was about a week ago that I wrote a post about “the growing influence of the Catholic Church in Hungary.” In that post I mentioned that both the Church itself and Catholic lay organizations had acquired schools in Hungary. For example, the Kolping International has taken over at least three schools.

No one knew at that time that a school acquired several months ago by Kolping International in Szászberek (pop. 987) would soon be the focus of a huge controversy as it expanded its “campus” to take over part of the segregated public school of nearby Jászladány.

Jászladány has been in the news off and on since 2000 when the “independent” mayor of the town (pop. 6,000) decided that the single eight-grade elementary school was not big enough for both Gypsy and non-Gypsy children. I might add that according to the official statistics 11% of Jászladány’s population is Roma. So came the ingenious plan of establishing a private school, to be housed in part of the enlarged school building, where students had to pay tuition. The bulk of the expenses, however, were covered by the municipality.  For example, the newer half of the school building was given free of charge to the private foundation that ran the school. The town also allowed the new school to use all of the equipment that had earlier belonged to the public school. There was a door between the two wings of the school building, but it was locked for six solid years.

Those children whose parents could afford the tuition fees went to the good school; the rest, like the Roma, went to the inferior school. The “private school” children received all sorts of privileges. For example, a free lunch regardless of need. They were the first ones to receive free textbooks; the children in the “Gypsy” school got them only once everybody was served in the “private school.” At one point the Open Society Institute offered to pay the fees for those children who wanted to attend the private school. The Institute was told that it had missed the deadline.

Erzsébet Mohácsi, director of CFCF and lawyer for CFCF, Lilla Farkas after the Supreme Court's favorable decision

Erzsébet Mohácsi, director of CFCF, and lawyer for CFCF, Lilla Farkas, after the Supreme Court’s favorable decision

The head of the local Roma organization is an energetic man who soon enough called the attention of Esélyt a Hátrányos Helyzetű Gyermekekért Alapítvány (Foundation for Equal Opportunity of Underprivileged Children), popularly known as CFCF, to the situation in Jászladány. For ten years CFCF fought against the barely disguised segregation in Jászladány, losing one case after the other, until June 2011 when at last the Supreme Court (today the Kúria) ruled in favor of CFCF and Jászsági Roma Polgárjogi Szervezet (JRPSZ), a Roma organization in the area. The court ordered the town to work out a plan to integrate the two schools.

The new mayor, Katalin Drávucz (Fidesz), whose own child attends the “private school,” ostensibly complied with the court order. She began negotiations with the plaintiffs’ representatives to work out the details of the integration of the two schools. But behind their back she also began negotiations with the county’s “government office,” a newfangled institution that is supposed to be the arm of the central government in every county. Her real goal was to avoid the integration of the school in Jászladány.

They came up with a splendid solution: they decided to pass the private school over to Kolping International, which functions under the authority of the Archbishopric of Eger. The idea was to automatically transfer the pupils of the “private school” to the new Kolping Katolikus Általános Iskola. Although negotiations between the town and the “government office” began more than a year ago, the deal materialized only on August 30. Since Szászberek is only 10 km from Jászladány, the deal stipulated that the Szászberek Kolping school will simply “expand” and take over the former “private school” of Jászladány.

This new-old school will not charge tuition, but the Roma parents were not notified of this rather important change. By the time, practically on the day that school opened, the CFCF learned about it, it was far too late. They managed to get in touch with about twenty families, and a handful of children enrolled. The new Catholic school has no more places. As the spokesman for Kolping International said, their first obligation is to the children of the “private school.” Segregation remains intact in Jászladány. With the active participation of the Catholic Church.

And now let’s move back in time to the first months of the Orbán administration. Zoltán Balog, a Protestant minister and now the head of the mega-Ministry of Human Resources, was in charge of Roma integration in the Ministry of Administration and Justice. He often expounded on the plight of the Gypsies and promised all sorts of remedies. These remedies did not, however, include school integration. In his opinion, segregation works to the advantage of the underprivileged, most of whom are Roma. They need special attention to catch up with the other students. Of course, we know that this is a myth. Just as the U.S. Supreme Court declared when rendering its historic decision in Brown v. Board of Education, “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” And, indeed, the special classes into which Roma children were herded in the past almost guaranteed failure. Balog, however, remains unrepentant. Only recently he repeated this mistaken notion when he sided with the Greek Catholic Church in a suit brought against it by the same CFCF that handled the Jászladány case.

What happened in this instance? In Nyíregyháza there was a school in a largely Roma inhabited section of town that was closed in 2007 because of its blatant segregation. In 2011, however, the new Fidesz administration in town reopened the school and it was given to the Greek Catholic Church. CFCF pointed out that only a couple of bus stops from this segregated school there was another school that is also run by the same Greek Catholic Church. It is a newly refurbished modern school. The Roma children could certainly attend that school. Balog offered himself as a witness on behalf of the Greek Catholic Church which refused to close the segregated school and refused to integrate the Roma children into their modern facilities.

There is more and more criticism of the churches lately because they seem singularly insensitive to social issues. Criticism of the Hungarian Catholic Church has grown especially harsh since the installation of Pope Francis, who has been a spokesperson for the downtrodden. Critics complain about the extreme conservatism of the Catholic hierarchy and point out that their involvement with charity work is minimal. It is quite clear from these two cases that the churches are reluctant to deal with disadvantaged children, Roma or not. And the good minister, Zoltán Balog, advocates keeping the disadvantaged separate from “mainstream” Hungarian children. The state and the churches are working hand in hand to keep segregation alive in the Hungarian public school system.

From a fair verdict to an unfounded accusation: Fidesz and the Roma murders

Today is a landmark in the history of Hungarian jurisprudence. The court found four men guilty of various crimes, including murder motivated by racial hatred. Three  men received life imprisonment without parole, the maximum sentence that can be meted out in Hungary, and the fourth received a 13-year sentence without the possibility of early release.

I wrote many times about the murders when they happened between July 21, 2008 and August 3, 2009. A group of men injured several people and killed six. The incidents occurred in villages located in three counties: Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén, Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg, and Pest. The first two are located in the northeastern corner of the country where there is a large concentration of ethnic Roma. As it turned out, the perpetrators lived in Debrecen.

It would be too long to catalog all the mistakes the police and the medical authorities made during the investigation which resulted in a less than complete discovery of all the details. It is very possible that in addition to the four sentenced today there might have been others involved. But despite the sloppy police work there was enough evidence to find these four men guilty. Although members of the victims’ families complained that the fourth man’s sentence was too light, most people think that the judge did a good job and that the sentences are fair and deserved.

Fidesz reacted to the resolution of this case, which took three years of investigation and 186 days in court, by hinting darkly about the “true culprits.”

By now Fidesz has so many spokesmen that it is hard to keep track of them. Viktor Orbán not without reason considers communication a vital, perhaps the most important part of politics. One could be malicious and say that since governing is not Viktor Orbán’s forte he puts all his efforts into propaganda about his nonexistent accomplishments. And when the talk is not about “we are doing better,” then these spokesmen concentrate on attributing the greatest crimes to Fidesz’s political opponents. The spokesman today was Róbert Zsigó, one of the newer appointees.

I must admit that I had never heard of Róbert Zsigó before he became a Fidesz spokesman although he has been a member of parliament ever since 1998. His educational background is meager: at the age of eighteen he finished a course that qualified him to become a pastry chef and for ten years he worked as an employee in a confectionery shop. Most likely because he was planning a political career he decided to finish gymnasium at the age of 29. According to his biography, he is currently a student at the University of Pécs. A Fidesz spokesman, member of the Baja city council, member of parliament, and a student at Pécs. What a multi-tasker!

Zsigó is not very careful with his words when he viciously attacks Fidesz’s political  opponents. Only a couple of months ago he hurled all sorts of abuse studded with lies against Gordon Bajnai who promptly sued him. And I’m sure that many more law suits will follow if Zsigó keeps up his usual way of handling news.

Róbert Zsigó one of Fidesz's  spokesmen

Róbert Zsigó, one of Fidesz’s spokesmen

So, let’s see what Zsigó came up with on the occasion of the sentencing of these serial murderers. Instead of dwelling on the importance of this verdict, Zsigó talked about the unanswered questions still lingering around the case. One of these questions is “why did these murders occur in 2008 and 2009, during the Gyurcsány and Bajnai governments?” It would also be good to know, he continued, “in whose interest” these murders took place. “Who are those whose skins were saved and whose names will remain hidden forever?” It is a good thing he didn’t go any further than that. As it is, these sentences border on accusing two Hungarian prime ministers of hiring hit men.

Zsigó immediately added that Sándor Laborc, head of the National Security Office, György Szilvásy, minister in charge of national security matters in the Gyurcsány government, and Ádám Ficsor, his successor in the Bajnai government, are responsible for what happened. Zsigó called Laborc and Szilvásy “central figures of the mafia Left whom Gyurcsány, Bajnai, and Mesterházy as one man defended. ” You may recall that it was a month ago that I reported on the secret trial of Szilvásy and Laborc on espionage charges. Orbán, after being unable to put Ferenc Gyurcsány behind bars, settled on his friend and minister, György Szilvásy.

This reaction by one of the spokesmen of Fidesz was carefully prepared. It is likely that the script Zsigó delivered was written a long time ago to be delivered at the time of the announcement of the verdict.

Not surprisingly in the wake of such an official pronouncement, Magyar Hírlap came out with the following headline: “Why did the murders occur under Bajnai?” Magyar Nemzet went even farther with this headline: “Roma murders: [Fidesz] would like to investigate the responsibility of Gyurcsány.” The article tried to interpret some of the comments of opposition politicians as an attempt to divert attention from the alleged criminal involvement of high government officials in covering up the real story behind the Roma murders.

The most outrageous accusation involved Ágnes Vadai whom the reporter asked about Viktória Mohácsi, an SZDSZ member of parliament, EP MEP, and Roma activist who is currently seeking political asylum in Canada. Viktória Mohácsi claimed in an interview with CBC that the Gyurcsány government withheld documents and information in order to cover up the fact that government employees had something to do with these crimes. Vadai very politely said that she doesn’t know anything about this because by the time the matter was discussed she wasn’t a member of the parliamentary committee on national security. Interestingly enough, Magyar Nemzet and other right-wing papers normally have nothing but scorn for Mohácsi and her claim of political persecution in Hungary. But now for obvious reasons she became a handy source of information trying to implicate Gyurcsány in the serial murder of Gypsies.

The whole thing is disgusting. I understand that politics can be dirty. But that dirty? Suggesting, almost accusing, one’s political opponents of hiring hit men for unknown and unspecified reasons in some unnamed people’s interest? It boggles the mind.

Individual initiative versus centralized bureaucracy: The Hungarian case

We often talk about the incompetence of the Orbán government. Top positions go to devoted party cadres. Expertise doesn’t matter much. Party loyalty, on the other hand, is paramount. Or, even better, loyalty to Viktor Orbán.

This incompetence, however, is not confined to the upper echelons; it permeates every level of the administration. It is enough to think of the painfully inadequate response by the government agency responsible for emergency services during the March 14-15 snowstorm. I understand that in the wake of all the winter snow the rivers are now rising and some roads are already under water. We’ll see how the Hungarian version of FEMA handles the next emergency situation. I’m sure that, whatever the case, the prime minister will once again think they are doing a “heck of a job.”

Individual initiativeThis government is particularly inept, but even better organized administrations have often failed to address national problems in a meaningful way. Consider, for instance, government efforts at tackling the plight of the Roma population. Over many years a lot of money has been poured into projects with very little to show for it. Yes, there are a few hopeful signs. More Gypsy boys and girls finish high school and the number of those who don’t even finish eight grades is on the decline. Yes, a few more Roma youth end up in college but not enough. The task is enormous and certainly one cannot expect overnight miracles, but it is becoming obvious that government alone is incapable of solving the problem.

In general, a highly centralized structure is the wrong venue in which to solve local problems. The reorganization of the firefighters is a good case in point. When I heard that thousands of fire departments will be centralized I was puzzled. How can you centralize fire departments? After all, fires are local. It was only after I saw an interview with the head of the firefighters’ union that I suddenly understood how it works or rather how the new system doesn’t work. If a fire breaks out, let’s say in Hévíz, the emergency call doesn’t go to the Héviz Fire Department but to the county seat of Zala County, Zalaegerszeg, which is 27 km away. The people in Zalaegerszeg then transmit instructions to the fire station closest to the scene of the fire. This is crazy.

In the Orbán administration centralization is a key concept, and I guess those who designed this system followed what they perceived to be the desired strategy. Whether it made sense or not.

And the new system turned out to be nonfunctional. The right hand didn’t know what the left was doing. Firefighters who were helping in the snowstorm were sent to locations where allegedly they were needed, but when they arrived the locals had no idea why they had come and what they were supposed to do.

Those who were stuck on the highways saw no policemen, no firefighters, no rescue workers for as long as twenty hours. The first people who reached them were local volunteers who put together money and food and supplied the people half frozen in their cars with some nourishment and hot tea. The locals were the ones who took stranded families to their own homes and gave them shelter and food. Local initiative worked while centralized state authority failed miserably.

But back to the Roma issue. I mentioned just yesterday that about 7% of the country’s population is of Roma ethnicity. Their poverty and lack of education is a serious social, economic, and political problem. And over the past twenty years successive governments  had little success in reversing this trend. It doesn’t matter what glowing reports we hear from Zoltán Balog, the minister in charge of Roma affairs, the situation is not getting any better. On the contrary, because of the racist anti-Roma propaganda of Jobbik, a neo-Nazi party, discrimination against the Roma is growing. In the past I read about initiatives of NGOs, individuals, and some small churches in certain localities that managed to achieve measurable success in Roma villages, but there is need for many more such ventures.

The other day I read an article in Magyar Narancs by Péter Felcsuti, formerly head of the Hungarian Banking Association, about a case that shows the better side of Hungary. There is a village high school attended practically exclusively by Roma children in one of the poorest counties in northeastern Hungary. The education the children receive in this school is poor, and even if a few of the students make it to college they end up with teacher’s certificates or degrees not really useful in today’s economic climate. It is not clear from the article how it happened, but a department head of a good university–I wouldn’t be surprised if it was Corvinus University, which specializes in economics and business–found out about the plight of that village high school. And he came up with a plan.  He got in touch with the principal of a Budapest “elite”  high school and asked him whether the teachers in that school would be willing to volunteer their time to prepare promising students in the village high school for entrance examinations in subject matters necessary for admittance to the best universities in the country. A large number of the elite school’s teachers volunteered as did at least 25 students from the department where the idea of intensive mentoring was born. That means that about fifty people spend their weekends in the village mentoring promising students. The intensive weekend course will be followed by summer camp. The mentoring has already begun, and we will see whether it is more effective than the government efforts of the past.

One only wishes there were more volunteer programs: a united effort by universities, high schools, and concerned citizens to try to change things on the local level. Whatever they achieve will certainly be  more useful than distributing chicks and seeds to people who have no corn for the chicks and no expertise in growing vegetables. Teaching Roma children the skills necessary to become entrepreneurs, professionals, even prime ministers offers some promise for the future.

The 2011 Hungarian census: Some startling changes in the last ten years

It’s time to talk about the latest census. When I mentioned to an American friend that the final results of the census were just released, she looked a little puzzled: “When do they take censuses in Hungary?” In the first year of every decade, I answered. Why is it so late? Because the Orbán administration is noted for its incompetence. Why would the Central Statistical Office (Központi Statisztikai Hivatal) be any different? One reason for the delay might be Viktor Orbán’s decision in July 2011 to sequester the 2.5 billion forints set aside for the 2011 census. It was predicted that unless money was found by September, data processing would be delayed. And it was.

I don’t think it surprised too many people that Hungary’s population dropped again in the past ten years, although from media reactions it seems that the size of the decrease was not expected. In 2001 the population of the country was 10,198,000. Ten years later, 9,938,000. So, the decrease was 261,000. Zsolt Németh, not the undersecretary of the foreign ministry but the head of the Statistical Office, claimed that one third of these “missing persons” can be found in western European countries. My feeling is that the number is much higher than indicated by Németh and that some of the people who are currently abroad were actually included by parents or spouses in the census. Especially since answers to the questions from the Statistical Office could be returned online.

nepszamlalasThere were two surprises in the released short summary of the census. The number of Gypsies and other nationalities has grown tremendously while the number of people declaring religious affiliation has decreased across all denominations. The loss was especially large for the Hungarian Catholic Church.

One newspaper came out with this startling headline: “More Gypsies, fewer Hungarians.” But the fact is that not only Roma people felt freer to identify themselves as belonging to a minority, a despised minority at that, but suddenly people with German ethnic roots came forward in much greater numbers than ten years ago.

Here are a couple of figures. In 2001 only 205,720 individuals claimed to be of Gypsy origin. Ten years later the number is 315,583. According to estimates, the actual number of Roma in Hungary is around 700,000 and therefore about 50% of the Gypsies still refuse to identify themselves. Yet the increase is a hopeful sign of greater ethnic self-awareness.

In 2001 Germans numbered 120,344;  ten years later this figure swelled to 185,696. The number of Romanians more than doubled (from 14,781 to 35,541). Even the number of Russians went up from 5,512 to 13,337. In 2001 9.4 million people declared themselves to be Hungarian, today this number is only 8.4 million.

As for the statistics concerning religiosity and church affiliation, they were described by Index as “earthshaking.” In 2001 5.5 million people claimed to be Catholic. Today this number is only 3.9 million. The other churches all registered loss as well, but the Catholic statistics were the most shocking. At the same time those without any religious affiliation grew from 1.5 million to 1.8 million. One ought to add to this number those who simply refused to answer the question regarding religious affiliation. In 2001 1.1 million people; in 2011 2.7 million.

The secretariat of the Conference of Catholic Bishops tried to explain this phenomenon without losing face. They claimed, apparently with some justification, that the questions concerning religious affiliation were differently formulated in 2001 and in 2011. Ten years ago the question read: “Your religion/church?” In the last census the question was much more specific: “To which religious community do you feel you belong?” Therefore, says András Máté-Tóth, professor of theology at the University of Szeged, the two different sets of data cannot really be compared. There is something in that. If a person was confronted with the 2001 question on religious affiliation, he might have considered it an inquiry about his baptismal certificate. But a much more specific question on belonging or feeling close to a specific religious community cannot be answered automatically. And it seems that a lot of people were not ready to commit themselves to a religious community about which they might know nothing. A baptismal certificate is simply not enough when confronted with this question.

As for those who refused to answer. The specificity of the question might be a factor, but there is something else that leads me to believe that the 2011 data more accurately describe the real situation. In 2001 there was no possibility of returning one’s answers electronically. The census taker visited all the households and hovered over members of the family while they were answering the questions. They were empowered to answer queries from members of the household. This assistance might have influenced the answers. This time the Central Statistical Office encouraged online replies and therefore outside influence was more limited. The combination of these two factors most likely resulted in more realistic results.

To repeat, ten years ago about 1.5 million Hungarians claimed no religious affiliation; today it is 1.8 million. While in 2001 1,104,330 refused to answer the question, today it is 2,699,025. Altogether there are 4.5 million people in Hungary who either profess no religious affiliation or refuse to answer. Half a million more than declared Catholics.

These statistics are especially interesting in view of the aggressive Catholic pressure via the Christian Democratic Peoples Party (KDNP) and to some extent the majority government party, Fidesz.  Rózsa Hoffmann, who suddenly discovered her religiosity, clearly favors the policy of handing over more and more schools to the churches. Most of these schools naturally ended up in Catholic hands. Because of pressure by Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén, parochial schools receive all sorts of extra benefits from the state , so local communities felt that perhaps their schools would be better off if they were ceded to the churches. Naive parents believe that their children will receive a better education in the local parochial school, which is a doubtful proposition in the first place without taking into consideration that the kind of education their children will receive there might not prepare them well for the modern, secular world. Just the other day I mentioned Iván Sándor’s critique of the education of the 1920s and 1930s that the Orbán government is emulating. It produced non-thinking, obedient robots.

I simply can’t believe that the Orbán government’s efforts to make a religious country out of Hungary can succeed. This is not the trend anywhere in Europe, and it seems that Hungary is no exception.

Testimony on the situation of Roma in Hungary by the European Roma Rights Centre

For consideration by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, U.S. Helsinki Commission

The situation of Roma in Hungary

Human rights NGOs have consistently reported that Roma in Hungary are discriminated against in almost all fields of life, particularly in employment, education, housing, health care, and access to public places. Yet government representatives maintain that the problems faced by Roma relate to their economic and social difficulties, rather than racism and prejudice against Roma in Hungary. A similar view of the Hungarian authorities has been noted by the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in its report following a mission to Hungary.

In January 2013, following a complaint initiated in 2005 by two Romani people represented by the Chance for Children Foundation and the ERRC, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Hungary violated the European Convention on Human Rights in a case challenging the segregated education of Romani children in a special school. The Court underlined that there was a long history of wrongful placement of Romani children in special schools in Hungary and that the State must change this practice. The Court concluded that ‘positive obligations incumbent on the State in a situation where there is a history of discrimination against ethnic minority children’ would have required Hungary to provide necessary safeguards to avoid the perpetuation of past discrimination or discrimination practices.

State response to violence against Roma

In Hungary the European Roma Rights Centre examined the progress in 22 known cases of violence against Roma. In these incidents seven people died, including a five-year old boy, and a number of individuals were seriously injured. Ten Romani homes were set on fire with various levels of destruction. Guns were involved in 10 of the examined cases and in two cases hand- grenades were used. Out of the 22 attacks, nine, resulting in six deaths, are believed by police to have been committed by the same four suspects who are currently on trial.

Police misconduct and procedural errors were documented during the investigation of one of the violent crimes against Roma, as raised by NGOs and later confirmed by the Independent Police  Complaints Committee and by the Head of Police. Misconduct by the National Security Service was also found.

In the majority of the cases examined, the information provided by State authorities was inadequate. Where information was provided, limited results of investigation and prosecution were revealed. In several cases information was not provided by the authorities, who cited data protection and criminal procedure laws.

The Hungarian government does not systematically monitor racist violence. Police, prosecutors and court officials are reluctant to consider racial bias motivation as an aggravating circumstance to crimes: it is not explicitly included in the Criminal Code (only “base” motivation is included). Hate crimes are dealt with as a separate legal provision but are not linked to other crimes.

In Hungary, there are no specific protocols or guidelines developed for police and prosecutors on how to investigate and prosecute hate crimes. In addition, there is no systematic monitoring of racist violence, or the collection of data disaggregated by ethnicity about the victims of crimes. There are no reliable statistics on the real number of racially-motivated crimes in Hungary: according to available statistics the number of cases investigated under the hate crime provision of Hungary’s Criminal Code is extremely low.

Law enforcement abuse against Roma

Following an incident in 2010, the ERRC and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union represented a Romani woman in domestic procedures and before the European Court of Human Rights. In June 2012 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Hungary had violated the European Convention of Human Rights in a case of police violence against a Romani woman.

In its judgment, the European Court found that there had been a substantive and a procedural violation of Article 3 of the Convention (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment). The Court concluded that the police used excessive force during the incident, and that such use of force resulted in injuries and suffering of the applicant, amounting to degrading treatment. The Court also noted that no internal investigation or disciplinary procedure appeared to have been carried out within the police force concerning the appropriateness of the police action. The Court also found that no adequate investigation had been carried out into Ms Kiss’ allegations. However it rejected the claim of discrimination (under article 14), finding there was no evidence of discriminatory conduct by the police. Anti-Roma demonstrations and statements Romani individuals and communities continued to be victims of intimidation, hate speech and various violent physical attacks throughout the last two years. The ERRC’s non-exhaustive list on Hungary includes eight attacks in 2012.

Paramilitary groups have been marching and organising demonstrations in Hungarian villages since 2006. In spring 2011, paramilitary groups marched and patrolled, particularly in the Hungarian village of Gyöngyöspata, harassing and intimidating Romani communities. Members of the organisation patrolled the town, where they prevented the Romani residents from sleeping by shouting during the night, threatened Roma with weapons and dogs and followed them every  time they left their houses, unimpeded by local police. Human rights NGOs raised concerns and called on State authorities to take immediate action. During these unlawful actions Romani women and children were relocated due to the threat of violence. As a result of racial harassment, and due to stress, a Romani woman in her eighth month of pregnancy delivered her baby early and needed to be hospitalised. The incidents have been reported by the US State Department in its Hungary Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2011 alongside other incidents.

Similar far-right movement activities continued in 2012, when several demonstrations were organised in Devecser, Cegléd and Miskolc. In Devecser pieces of concrete and other missiles were thrown at Roma houses, and one female activist was injured. In an open letter to the Hungarian Minister of Interior and the National Chief of Police, three Hungarian NGOs expressed their concern about the violence in Devecser, stating that by not dispersing the demonstration, the police failed to ensure the rights to freedom, equality and security of the local inhabitants. The Ministry and the police responded by saying they considered the police intervention in Devecser had been adequate.

Incitement to hatred is a common occurrence in Hungary. One of the latest examples was the publication of an op-ed in the Hungarian daily newspaper Magyar Hírlap on 5 January 2013 by a leading journalist and co-founder of the ruling FIDESZ party, calling Roma “animals” that “need to be eliminated” “right now by any means”.   This kind of inflammatory language is especially dangerous in Hungary. Bayer was initially criticised by the Deputy Prime Minister, Tibor Navracsics; Navracsics later defended Bayer, saying that he could not imagine that Bayer seriously thought what he said in his article. Key senior figures in the government, e.g. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, and the Minister with responsibility for Roma issues, Zoltán Balog, did not officially condemn the racist article by Bayer on behalf of the Hungarian Government.

In response to the incident, the ERRC joined with a coalition of Hungarian NGOs in asking domestic companies and Hungarian divisions of multinationals to take a stand against racist commentary in Hungary. The NGOs have asked, among others, Vodafone, T-Com, FedEx, IKEA and Procter and Gamble to reconsider advertising in Magyar Hírlap.

To date seven companies have said they will no longer place advertising in the Hungarian newspaper that published the extreme anti-Roma statements. Erste Bank blacklisted Magyar Hírlap after the NGOs’ call, and expressly brought it to their media agency’s attention to “act more prudently next time” when dealing with the publication of their advertisements. They also emphasised that the bank will not advertise in any media whose content “hurts the dignity of others, or uses an inflammatory tone regarding any minority, ethnicity, or religious group”. The leaders of CIB Bank said that the CIB Group will refrain from advertising in Magyar Hírlap and its portal “until the editorial staff categorically condemns Zsolt Bayer’s writing and ensures that both publications are free from writings that include hate speech”. IKEA, FedEx, and GDF Suez also distanced themselves from the article, and stated they do not plan to advertise in the online version of the newspaper in the future.

On March 15, 2013, a national holiday in Hungary which is also the “Day of Hungarian Freedom  of Press” the Hungarian Government awarded the journalist Ferenc Szaniszló the “Táncsics Mihály” award and honoured him as the “journalist of the year in Hungary”.  Mr Szaniszló is infamous for spreading Jewish conspiracy theories and describing the country’s Roma minority as “human monkeys.”

The award was given for “extraordinary journalistic achievements” and was presented by the Minister of Human Resources, Zoltán Balog, who is also in charge of integration of Roma. Balog claimed that he did not know who had received the award, but still handed it over to Szaniszló. Balog later distanced himself from the views of Szaniszló.

Recently, Canadian authorities launched a billboard campaign in Miskolc, Hungary, to deter Romani asylum seekers. The majority of Hungarian Romani asylum-seekers to Canada originate from this town. The billboards around the city stated that “Canada’s refugee system has changed” and that “Asylum claims are evaluated within weeks instead of years”. The billboards further cautioned the public that “Applicants with unjustified immigration claims are sent home faster”.

A side effect of the billboard campaign in Miskolc has been the aggravation of the hostile atmosphere that Romani people have to face every day. The Mayor of Miskolc Ákos Kriza (member of the governing party FIDESZ) stated that, “Miskolc will not welcome back repatriated Roma refugee claimants arriving from Canada”.  A couple of days after his appearance on national television, Mr Kriza announced that he will “keep the criminal elements out of Miskolc by checking whether any of the people who left for Canada also took advantage of social assistance from the city or the central government.” He claimed that he had already found five people who were ineligible and who thereby committed a crime. He got in touch with the police. He will do everything to prevent “these criminals from settling in the city. Moreover, criminals currently residing in Miskolc will be driven out by the authorities.” He even threatened returning Romani parents that the authorities would take their children away and place them under state supervision.

After the campaign in Forró (near Miskolc) anonymous anti-Roma graffiti appeared on houses calling on the Roma to “go to Canada”.

Suggested questions to the Hungarian Government:

Does the Hungarian Government keep detailed data on the number and type of racially motivated crimes committed against Roma, and in particular Romani women, as well as information on prosecutions? Please supply detailed information.

  • What measures have been adopted to bring the Hungarian criminal legislation in line with international standards on investigating and prosecuting hate crimes?
  • What professional training and capacity-building activities have been implemented for law-enforcement, prosecution and judicial officials dealing with hate crimes?
  • What measures have been adopted to ensure that access to counselling, legal assistance and justice for victims of hate crimes is explored, in co-operation with relevant actors?