romani people

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?