I heard in today’s news that an eighteen-year-old high school student died yesterday in the hospital. He was a student in a "technical school," which is perhaps the best translation of "szakközépiskola." This particular school specializes in training kids in retail. (Don’t ask me why one has to spend four years to prepare for a career in retail. But that is another question.) In any case, this particular school is located in the eighth district, not the best part of the Hungarian capital. The classmates argued inside of the school building but the actual beating occurred on the street. The victim managed to get home where he complained that he wasn’t feeling well. He was taken to the hospital but it was too late. The cause of death: a cranial fracture. Since then the police found the perpetrator, who confessed.
A few minutes later came another piece of news about a twelve-year-old boy who attacked another boy over an MP3 player.The fifteen-year old victim was taken to the hospital where he died a few hours later. The twelve-year-old is a Romanian citizen and from his picture he seems to be Gypsy. This is not the first time he has had a run-in with the police, but according to Hungarian law a boy of his age cannot be held in custody. A few hours after the crime he was back on the streets. Perhaps not surprisingly the place of the crime was again the eighth district, this time at the busy corner of Nagykőrút and Rákóczi út.
If one relied only on impressions one would think that the number of murders is increasing, but interestingly that is not the case. In 1998 there were 287 murders while in 2005 only 164. On an international scale Hungary’s murder rate is kind of middling. At about 17 per million it falls far short of Sweden’s 1.8 per million inhabitants, but it is significantly better than the USA’s 50.7 per million.
If you listen to people who lived the larger part of their lives in the Kádár regime, you will hear that democracy brought lawlessness and greed. So, out of curiosity I checked the data. The fact is that the numbers have been increasing since the mid-1960s although admittedly after 1990 the trend accelerated. The most obvious difference is that in the 1960s and 1970s a very high percentage of crimes were solved (over 80%) while after 1990 this number was often under 50%.
Offenders seem to be getting younger. For some time there has been talk about changing the law so that even a twelve-year-old could at least be placed in juvenile detention instead of letting a murderer (however young) out on the streets a few hours after he committed the crime. It is also a mystery to me why a repeated offender like the twelve-year-old boy from Romania who is apparently a fixture around Lujza Blaha tér is not shipped back to Romania and placed in the hands of the Romanian police. If for no other reason, illegal immigration should be a good enough reason to act. Even before the murder took place.