Roma

The Hungarian government on immigration and emigration

Anyone who bothers to look for figures on immigration into European countries is not going to find much data on Hungary for the simple reason that the number of foreigners living in the country is minuscule. Of course, we all know about large immigrant populations in France, the United Kingdom, and Germany, but there is significant immigration even to countries like Finland or Slovenia. In Sweden, to give but a single example, 32,000 people applied for asylum in 2010.

Until very recently both Hungarian immigration and emigration were of low intensity. Foreign-born inhabitants constitute only 4% of the labor force and about 1% of the population as a whole. These foreign-born individuals are almost exclusively of Hungarian ethnicity. They immigrated from the neighboring countries in the last twenty years or so. Lately, however, the number of emigrants to Western Europe from Hungary has grown enormously. Great Britain, Germany, Austria, Sweden, and the Netherlands are the favorite destinations. At the same time, especially since Croatia became part of the European Union, the immigration routes from the Balkans and the Middle East have changed, and Hungary has become one of the favorite “transit countries” for immigrants wanting to reach countries where economic opportunities are greater. As Péter Mihályi, a well-known Hungarian economist, said the other day, only rich countries have “immigration problems.” Very few immigrants from outside the European Union ever receive permission to settle in Hungary, and the few lucky ones who do immediately pack up and move westward.

According to Hetekthe weekly of the Assembly of Faith (Hitgyülekezet), between 2000 and 2012 only 2,000 to 3,000 people arrived a year, legally or illegally, in Hungary, and as soon as they could, they moved on. But in the last two years these numbers have grown exponentially. Apparently there are days when along the border with Serbia the police arrest 800-1,000 illegals. As for those legally seeking to move to Hungary, in 2013 19,000 immigration applications were received; a year later that number was 43,000. Of these 43,000 potential immigrants only 500 received refugee status.

If it depended on Viktor Orbán, no so-called “economic immigrant” could ever receive permission to settle in Hungary. In fact, if it were up to him, he would stop immigration to Europe altogether. József Szájer, a Fidesz member of the European Parliament for the last ten years, summarized Fidesz’s position in a recent interview on ATV. The argument goes something like this. Western Europeans in the past fifty years or so became too pampered. They didn’t want to do all the dirty work and therefore either imported guest workers like the Germans or relied on immigration from their former colonies like France and the United Kingdom. And look at the result: terrorism in Europe. This must be stopped.

butterflies

Orbán and his colleagues in Fidesz grossly oversimplify the issue of immigration into the EU. Most economists are convinced that without the Turkish and later Yugoslav guest workers the German economic miracle couldn’t have happened. It is a generally accepted theory that without immigration there can be no economic growth in the western world. This is especially true of Europe where the low birthrate practically mandates a relatively generous immigration policy. Otherwise, soon enough there will be only two wage earners for every retiree. Most European leaders and academics, with the notable exception of Viktor Orbán, maintain that without young immigrants European demographic trends cannot be reversed.

Therefore, the European Union’s current position is that immigration from third-world countries, even if it causes social friction, has great benefits in the long run. According to Péter Mihályi, whom I quoted earlier, “Europe has no future without immigration.” So, if Fidesz were to succeed in stopping all immigration to the country, Hungary’s future would be sealed. The few immigrants accepted into Hungary leave while almost half a million people born in Hungary are currently working abroad, almost exclusively in Western Europe. It is a vicious circle. Hungary is not an attractive country for immigrants, but without immigrants an aging society that cannot reproduce itself is doomed. The problem is only made worse by the large emigration to the West.

A few years back Viktor Orbán himself seemed to have realized this dilemma and went so far as to suggest that ethnic Hungarians should be encouraged to leave Romania, Slovakia, Serbia, and Ukraine and move over to Hungary en masse. Since then, he gave up the idea. It is hard to tell why. Most likely for nationalistic reasons.

There is one more aspect of Viktor Orbán’s ideas on immigration which he himself did not elaborate on but which József Szájer talked about more explicitly. Orbán mentioned briefly that there are unemployed Gypsies who need jobs. As long as they don’t have employment, Europe should not import people from abroad. Some commentators interpreted this fleeting mention of the Roma as suggesting a possible export of Gypsies from Hungary and other Eastern European countries to the West. Judging from what Szájer said, this is exactly what Orbán has in mind. Szájer pointed out that there are 10 million Gypsies in Europe who could do some of the menial jobs that Western Europeans no longer want to do. If the Roma population of Hungary could be exported to Western Europe, the major socioeconomic problem the Orbán government can’t solve, the integration of the Roma, would disappear. Poof! When the reporter noted that the Roma lack skills necessary for some of the available jobs, Szájer made light of the problem by saying that “they will take care of that.” I guess the “they” are the governments of the countries where these migrants would move.

Finally, I would like to call attention to an interview with Viktor Orbán on Magyar Rádió today in which he explained that those Hungarians who could not find jobs in Hungary and moved to the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, and other countries in Western Europe are “not economic immigrants.” They are proud Europeans who have free movement within the boundaries of the European Union. There is no such thing as immigration or emigration within the borders of the European Union. Oh, the duplicity of the man! He has been fiercely defending the sovereignty of nation states for years, but now he is a champion of a single Europe. Of course, strictly speaking he is right: a citizen of an EU country has the right to settle in any of the twenty-eight member states. But when David Cameron complains about too many immigrants, he also has in mind immigrants from the East European countries, including the great number of Hungarians in Great Britain.

The Orbán formula seems to be: we will send our economic migrants to Western Europe while we will not allow anyone into our country because we want to keep Hungary Hungarian.  As for the Hungarian Roma, Western Europe can take care of them. A perfect solution all around.

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József Debreczeni on the Roma question

After describing Bishop Miklós Beer’s efforts on behalf of the Roma minority and publishing the English translation of an article by Aladár Horváth, a Roma activist, I think I should mention a book by József Debreczeni entitled Ne bántsd a cigányt!: political vitairat (Don’t hurt the Gypsies: A polemic). A rather odd title that needs some explanation. It echoes the name of a book by Miklós Zrínyi/Nikola Zrinski, a Croatian-Hungarian politician and writer (1620-1664), Ne bántsd a magyart – Az török áfium ellen való orvosság (Don’t hurt the Hungarians – An antidote to the Turkish poison). In his book Zrínyi wrote: “How it is that you, Hungarians, can see the danger with your own eyes and yet are not awakened from your deep sleep.” Zrínyi was referring to the Turkish danger, but Debreczeni finds the quotation equally applicable to the danger that exists in Hungary today as a result of an uneducated, unassimilated, poverty-stricken underclass with a very high birthrate.

Debreczeni is neither a sociologist nor a historian of the Hungarian Roma. After getting an M.A. in history, he taught high school for a while but then became politically active in the late 1980s. After a short stint as a member of parliament (MDF), he became a freelance writer. He is best known for his biographies of József Antall, Viktor Orbán, and Ferenc Gyurcsány. In fact, he wrote two books on Orbán. The first appeared in 2002 a few months after Orbán lost the election and the second in 2009. The title of the second, Arcmás, means “portrait” but the word has two parts: “arc,” “countenance” and “más,” “other.” The message was that the Orbán of 2009 was very different from his earlier self.

Debreczeni considers the “Gypsy question” to be the greatest problem threatening “the existence of Hungarian society,” in which he includes the Roma minority. He highlights three aspects of the problem. First, the increasingly hopeless socioeconomic situation of the Gypsy minority. Second, the growing geographical isolation of Gypsies from non-Gypsies. Third, the demographic problem. The average Hungarian woman bears 1.3 children, a statistic that includes Roma women. Without them, that number is only around 1.0. Gypsy women have on average more than three children, and among the least educated and the poorest that number goes up to more than four. Given the low employment figures among the Roma, if these demographic trends continue Hungary will become “a third world” country. That is, if Hungarian society does not do something to answer the Gypsy question in the next decades.

After the regime change the new political elite was unable to handle the growing problems of the undereducated, unemployed Roma men and women. Just to give an idea of how little attention the new democratic parties paid to the Gypsy question, it was only SZDSZ that mentioned the problem at all in their first party program. But, in Debreczeni’s opinion, they went astray when they looked at it as simply a human rights issue. To “left-liberals” the fault lay only in prejudice and racism. This view became a “dogma,” which in turn became an obstacle to facing facts.

Meanwhile came Jobbik, a far-right party whose popularity was based in large measure on its anti-Gypsy rhetoric. At the EP election in 2009 it got 400,00 votes or 15% of the total. In the same election SZDSZ got a mere 2.16%.

“The democratic, left-liberal, anti-racist Roma politics has failed,” Debreczeni contends. He believes that the continuation of “the intolerant, confrontative, and by now unproductive liberal human rights approach” will lead nowhere and that Hungarians should find a new avenue to offer “a decent, democratic discourse and politics that would assist the integration of the Roma.” “If we can’t find it, we are lost.”

Ne bantsd a ciganytDebreczeni’s book, published two months ago, caused an upheaval in those “left-liberal” circles he criticized. A Roma activist, Jenő Setét, a close collaborator of Aladár Horváth, was the first to speak out against Debreczeni’s book. He complained about the very notion that Gypsies “are different.”

Indeed, Debreczeni, relying on research done by others, does claim that ethnic groups carry cultural baggage that may make them different from other folks. For example, he thinks that Hungarian-Germans are harder working than Hungarians. Gypsies, who until quite recently were self-employed, have a rather lackadaisical attitude toward time since they could work at their leisure. But critics charge that Debreczeni didn’t stop with a description of cultural differences. What upset people most is that he seems to make a value judgment: certain cultures are superior to others.

The second critic was István Hell, who belongs to the group of left-liberals Debreczeni criticizes. He wrote on Galamus that “we have created the current socio-cultural state of the Roma,” and he cites “segregation, limited educational opportunities, and not doing anything about these problems in the last twenty-five years.” The last and most outraged critic, Magdolna Marsovszky, expressed her surprise that such a book, which she considers racist, can be published at all.

Debreczeni answered all three. See his answer to Jenő Sötét in HVG and his article on Hell’s criticism in Galamus. István Hell wanted to continue the debate, but Zsófia Mihancsik, editor-in-chief of Galamus, put an end to it, claiming that it is not fair to criticize an author for the opinions of others that he quotes.

Most likely not independently from the appearance of this book, Sándor Friderikusz decided to have a three-part series on the Roma question on his excellent program, Friderikusz, on ATV. The series aired on October 7, November 4, and November 18. I highly recommend these programs, which point out the complexities of the issues.

József Debreczeni is one of the vice-presidents of Demokratikus Koalíció, and therefore some people might consider the opinions expressed in the book to be DK’s position on the issue. However, I’ve seen no sign of either an endorsement or a criticism of Debreczeni’s suggestions on how to handle the Roma question.

The plight of the Hungarian Roma: Writings of a Catholic bishop and a Roma activist

Miklós Beer, the bishop of Vác, has been in the news quite a bit lately. He called media attention to himself on September 21 when he asked the priests of the churches in his bishopric to read a letter to his “brethren in Christ.” His circular took as its prompting text the gospel reading for the day, the parable from Matthew 20:1-16 about the householder who hired unemployed workers for his vineyard and gave the same amount of money to all without regard to how much time they spent working during the day. Beer thought it was finally time to talk about the miserable lot of the Roma minority in Hungary.

People were surprised to learn about the circular because until now the Catholic Church has remained quiet about the mass poverty that followed the change of regime in 1990. Gypsies who until then were employed, mostly in the building industry, as unskilled laborers were the first ones to find themselves out of a job, and the integration of Gypsies and non-Gypsies that had begun during the Kádár regime came to a screeching halt. Gypsies today live a segregated existence in villages far from job opportunities, and prejudice against them has grown to new heights.

Beer in this circular was battling prejudice. The Gypsy, he wrote, is also the child of God; “as Christians we cannot pass the responsibility to others.” He emphasized something that few Hungarians accept: “the Gypsies did not seek their misery and cannot raise themselves alone without our help.” What would Christ do today for the Roma in Hungary? The biblical answer is that “although he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”

Magyar Nemzet decided it was time to interview this would-be social reformer. In the interview Beer said a few things that don’t sit well with the majority of Hungarians. “Let’s not be angry with them when perhaps they take produce from someone else’s property because their children are starving since, despite their efforts, they cannot find employment.” Public works might be a first step, but it is not the answer in the long run. He also criticized some of the efforts of the Orbán government–for instance, the programs that cost billions of forints that gave Gypsy families one-day-old chicks or seed potatoes without teaching them how to take care of the chicks or what to do with the seed potatoes. Above all, he said, “we must strengthen their self-esteem.” Since Beer likes to refer to Pope Francis, some journalists started calling him “our Pope Francis.”

Bishop Beer’s latest was his midnight Christmas sermon broadcast on MTV1, which became available on YouTube two days later. He talked about the darkness that will be followed by light. Darkness is what divides people: jealousy, wickedness, party strife, suspicion, falseness, corruption, lies, political machinations. And he quoted Attila József’s famous poem “My country,” which was an indictment of the Horthy regime. József was right, says Beer, when he talked about the “wily fear that directs us.”* Thus Beer compared the present situation to the 1930s when the poem was written. As I watched the parishioners’ faces I wondered how much of the subtext of Beer’s sermon they understood.

*Unfortunately, this particular poem is not available in English but I found a translation in French. See the link given above.

* * *

Continuing today’s theme, here is a recent article by Aladár Horváth on the plight of the Hungarian Roma community. Horváth is a former member of parliament (SZDSZ) and a Roma activist.

 

PROTEST, FIGHT OR FLIGHT

Next year’s budget has pronounced the death sentence on the poor living in torturous poverty. From next March on, the governing majority will cease state assistance (regular welfare, nursing care and habitation support), waiving all duties connected to welfare to the care of municipal governments in severe lack of resources. It will be subject to restricted local budgets and the will and caprice of local potentates who can get what kind of assistance under what legal title. This will exclude tens or hundreds of thousands more from minimal assistance, while the corrupt elite of billionaires is sentencing at least one million people to death, leaving further three million behind “on the street” – as envisioned by László Bogár, a chief government ideologue.

This cannot merely be looked upon as a further station on the road of a series of bloodsucking measures; these policies already satisfying the criterion of genocide.Especially if you consider them together with the system of public works (“work makes you free”), the political practice of legalizing the segregation of Gypsy children, while depriving the Roma from civil and human rights institutions and ethnic organization, added to the segregated nature of urban Roma ghettos and village “reservations”– in other words, full segregation: you can safely say that apartheid in Hungary has been institutionalized.

As no rational economic argument exists for “saving”this barely 40 billion HUF [about 150 million USD], since “Hungary is performing better”[1]– this is barely the price of three soccer stadiums, a fraction of the cost of the Prime Minister’s planned residence in the Buda Castle, or the annual consignments of Közgép,[2] in other words, it amounts to the salaries of a few CEO’s of any Hungarian company that “performs better” –, only calculated political interest can be behind this decision. This is confirmed by the government communiqué that says the reason for such restrictions are people showing up on welfare payment days at the post office “with large SUV’s.”As much as we know the “natural history” of corrupt post-Soviet or further banana republics,we can safely suppose that this is a strategy of conscious scapegoat creation, an evil and bastardly manipulation cooked up in the witches’ kitchen of Hungarian government policies.

To wit, if there is no money for a family to pay for breakfast, blankets, or, God forgive, medicines for a small child, the parent will face a choice. Starvation, sickness, suffering and early death, or committing criminal acts.The consequence of the latter will be being caught and going to jail. Which leads on to the volunteer spiral of drugs, prostitution and violence.And as the number of criminal cases grows, society itself will demand even tougher measures against criminals, contributing to an even further restriction of civil rights, while “blue-light” [police] news will distract attention from the responsibility of the true culprits.

As no doubt the highest number of criminal acts investigated will be among those who are most oppressed and most monitored: the Roma– they’re the ones that can whip the news media into a frenzy –, you can safely say that the racial hatred stirred against Gypsies will be such a fuel in the hands of the government that riots can be provoked any time, then a state of emergency, and then nothing will matter more to people than to control those who upset the public order.

I suggest two avenues of action to those that do not derive advantages from this regime, unless they want to die in humiliation and live a life of suffering, dying 20 years earlier or spending long and tortuous years in prison: fight of flight.

My dear companions in distress, if you don’t believe in change, in demolishing this corrupt apartheid system and building a livable country in its place, and if you are able, go and find a new home country for a time or for good! A country where your values matter more than the color of your skin, where people count upon your knowledge and your work, where your children can grow up in safety with smiles, where struggling has a purpose, where you can be yourself. If you don’t have a good profession, language skills, funds or the strength to leave your country of birth which has denied you, or if you believe in yourself and in the chance of change, and if you are standing on your feet, struggle and fight for a new system change, for a new republic which can be home to every one of its citizens, and so can for you too!

Either of these decisions are tough, but those that wish to live in dignity will have to decide and take a step. Those of you that choose to stay in Hungary: get in contact with the people’s resistance movements, the new civil organizations, the parties under formation! And please participate in mass demonstrations: make the Roma visible! This promises perspectives because every power built upon evil must collapse once. We can only hope that the coming chaos and the civil war are not going to bury innocent people. A new Republic will be built upon new foundations in the place of the former one,[3] and this time, together with the Roma.

—-

Published in Népszabadság Online, December 27, 2014

[1] Recent slogan of Prime Minister Orbán – the translator

[2] The largest construction company close to the government, winning all tenders for road constructions and renovations –the translator

[3] Hungary is no longer a republic – the new Constitution in effect since April 2012 only defines the country as “Hungary” – the translator

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.

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.

Openly racist opinion of a Hungarian judge

Every time there is a verdict indicating that the independence of Hungarian judges is still more or less intact (as opposed to, for example, that of prosecutors) we are inclined to praise the high quality of Hungarian judges. Critics of the Hungarian judiciary, however, argue that it was not the best and the brightest of law school graduates who ended up as judges and prosecutors. The smartest, especially in the last two decades of the Kádár regime, opted for a more lucrative path: joining burgeoning law firms. They also point to the declining prestige of the profession–one sign, unfortunately, being the number of women on the bench. In the county courts women often make up 70% of the judges. The situation is a little better in the newly created appellate courts and in the Kúria, but even there only 47-48% of the judges are men.

Here is a case that lends some credence to the critics’ argument. It unequivocally demonstrates that among the 2,800 sitting judges at least one doesn’t belong there. The outcry is not over this particular judge’s incompetence but rather over her overt racism. I will certainly address the racist aspect of the story, but I would also like to emphasize something others failed to do: her incompetence and obtuseness.

Let’s start with her professional incompetence. Way back in 2011 the Prosecutor’s Office of Békés County asked the court to dissolve a paramilitary organization called the Association for a Better Future (SZJE). The same organization also bears the name Better Future Hungarian Self-Defense. It was in April 2010 that the group was established by former members of the already dissolved Hungarian Guard, whose activities threatened the rights and freedom of others. So, on the face of it, the case seemed simple enough. If the Hungarian Guard was deemed to be an illegal organization, then this new organization, born out of it and having the same goals, should have been illegal too.

Nothing much happened between 2011 and now. At least not in the Hungarian justice system. But if you take a look at the Better Future website, you will see that the members of this paramilitary organization have been busy all over the country. They target the Roma exclusively. Their members patrol the streets of heavily Roma villages and small towns. They march in military formation and wear uniforms, intimidating the Roma population of these villages and towns. Surely, this is their goal. Among other places, the members of the group were present in Gyöngyöspata in 2011, an event that attracted worldwide attention. I wrote about it in May 2011.

So, let’s see what Erika Mucsi, the judge in the case, had to say about this paramilitary organization and its possible effect on the Roma population in Gyöngyöspata. According to this intellectual giant, “the frightening activities of SZJE cannot be proven because at the time other organizations were also present: Véderő, Betyársereg, and Csendőrség.” Although the official civil patrols who work hand in hand with the police themselves pressed charges against the SZJE because of its illegal and threatening activities, Mucsi didn’t find anything wrong with SZJE members marching in military columns and following military commands, both of which are against the law. Mucsi admitted that “such activities may cause distress in the local community, but public marching itself is guaranteed by the right of assembly.” And “walking around with the purpose of preempting crime is the right of every citizen (állampolgári jog).” It should be noted that the Court of Human Rights confirmed the judgment of the Hungarian court that dissolved the Hungarian Guard on precisely the charges Erika Mucsi found lawful. So much for the woman’s professional expertise.

Mucsi Erika

And then there is her open, unabashed racism. According to her, “the Roma as a category should not be characterized primarily on the basis of race, but rather as a group separated from the majority by its disregard of the traditional values cherished by the majority. They follow a work-shy existence, they don’t respect private property and accepted morality.” This kind of generalization would be unacceptable in general, but that it was written in an opinion of a judge is truly outlandish. Especially since Erika Mucsi must have visited the website of SZJE and therefore had to know that this paramilitary organization has only one aim: the harassment of the Roma. And not just in villages but everywhere. For example, they seem to be active, without any interference by the authorities, in Pécs. SZJE is elated by its successful defense. And it is not alone. The websites of the best-known extremist groups praise Erika Mucsi to the skies.

The prosecutors are obviously stunned, and they are appealing the case. Even the spokesman of the Békés County Court (Gyula Törvényszék), expressed the court’s total disapproval of Mucsi’s unacceptable racist opinions. The spokesman indicated that there might be consequences of Erika Mucsi’s injudicious handling of the case.

While the extreme right is rejoicing, the legal defense groups are up in arms: the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, TASZ, the Károly Eötvös Intézet, just to mention a few. The spokesman of the Kúria diplomatically called attention to the fact that the verdict is not final and therefore the case is not closed. The extremists’  joy might be short-lived. It is very unlikely that the Szeged Appellate Court will give its blessing to such an absurd verdict.

The Hungarian government supports school segregation for Roma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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