A few crime statistics in Hungary

Luckily I've collected some Hungarian statistical yearbooks over the years and therefore have access to official historical crime statistics. When Tibor Navracsics, in the wake of the Veszprém murder, announced that this government is utterly incapable of keeping order, that people live in fear, that crime statistics are climbing dramatically, I was able to check his statistical claim. As usual, not a word of Navracsics's dire picture of the Hungarian situation is true.

Let's start with the happy 1960s and 1970s. During these decades the number of reported attacks against life and property was low. In 1965 there were only 121,161 cases, and a large percentage of these (80.4%) were solved by the police. Ten years later the situation didn't change much: about the same number of cases though only 78.9% of them were solved. In 1985 there was a noticeable jump: 165,816 reported cases and the police were able to solve only 68.2%. Three years later, in 1988, the number went up again to 185,344 and the percentage of crimes solved dropped again. From here on there was a steep rise in the crime rate while the percentage solved dropped to as low as 42.6% in 1994. In 1995 the number of cases was up to 502,0366. That was pretty much the situation in 1998 when the Orbán government was formed (1998: 600,621; 1999: 505,716). Nowadays the number is around 400,000, considerably lower than ten years earlier but still twice as much as in 1988. The big improvement is in the number of murders or attempted murders. While in 1994 there were 439 deaths and 514 in both 1997 and 1999, by 2003 the number was down to 228, in 2004 209, in 2005 164, and in 2007 154. By the way, the Hungarian trend in the total number of offenses follows the all-European Union trend. See graph:  EU crimes

I found a publication of the Központi Statisztikai Hivatal (Central Statistical Office) published in November 2008 (interestingly in Miskolc) that gives some details about known crimes and their perpetrators. In Hungary there are no available statistics on national origin. Therefore we don't know, for instance, how many of the criminals were Gypsies. There are, however, statistics on the number of crimes broken down by region, by the age of the perpetrators, and by their educational attainment.

When it comes to regions, the lowest crime rate can be found in Central Hungary, closely followed by Southern and Western Transdanubia. The worst parts are the poorest regions: Northern Hungary and the North Great Plains. Miskolc, by the way, is situated in the Northern Hungarian region. Juveniles' share in criminal activities is much higher than their share in the population as whole and again juvenile crime is highest in the north-east parts of the country. The percentage of perpetrators with eight grades or under is very high among juveniles (it's of course possible that some of them are young enough to still be in school). Juveniles Again, one doesn't know the ethnic composition of this group but one suspects that the number of Gypsies is high because they are the ones who are grossly undereducated.

When it comes to adult perpetrators the educational attainment is also very low. Again, the worst region is the Northern Great Plains where 1.3% cannot read or write and 68.4% finished only eight grades. Nationally, one in four crimes is committed under the influence of alcohol.

In 2007 24,669 persons were sentenced but only 30% of these actually served any time. The rest received suspended sentences. Here is the breakdown. As one can see, these sentences are mild, especially by American standards. Buntetes Some people argue that these sentences are too lenient and that the punishments should be more severe. Then, they argue, the criminals would think twice before attempting armed robbery and the like. Others claim that severe punishment is no deterrent and they bring up the example of countries, including the United States, where severe sentences are meted out for crimes that just aren't that serious. I am unable to take sides simply because I don't know enough about the subject.

One thing is becoming clear as far as the Veszprém murder is concerned. The perpetrators were no poor Gypsies living in some God-forsaken village in a hut but well off people living the lives of criminals. It is very possible that they committed more crimes against their fellow Gypsies than against anybody else. A few hours after I wrote my last blog I learned that actually there were three suspects. Two of them were caught by the evening close to Graz, Austria. One of them, Sándor Raffael, is suspected of the actual murder of Marian Cuzma. Iván Sztojka whose picture could be found on www.iwiw.hu is still at large. The police are offering one million forints to anyone who can provide reliable information on his whereabouts.

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Mark
Guest
Just a few comments on the statistics …. There is a lively debate in criminology and criminal justice history about what crime statistics actually measure. They tell us something about patterns of crime, but they also are affected by trends in reporting that can be socially determined (for example, the reporting of crimes of domestic violence and its relationship to patterns of taboo surrounding the subject is a good example of this). If one traces things historically, I would guess that trends in reported crime reflect trust/confidence in the police (especially for petty crime, and crime against property). They also reflect police reporting practices. While I don’t question the trends that the statistics reveal I do wonder whether some of the dramatic rises at the beginning of the 1990s reflect a growing willingness to report crime, as well as an actual incidence. Another point of some relevance to Navracsics comment is that we know the popular perceptions of the level of crime, and its actually reported level can be highly divergent. We know from a number of contexts that the fear of crime is affected by the reporting of particular crimes in the media, for example. It is influenced by… Read more »
dumneazu
Guest

I have lived among Roma, learned to speak some Romani, and worked with Roma/Gypsies for over two decades. I also have my family roots in Veszprem and know many of the local Roma family groups. When Gypsies are together the topic is often about the behavior of “other Roma”… some families/tribes are hardworking, some others have learned to beat the system and live on the perimeters of society in crime. I can tell from the names Sztojka and Rafael that these guys probably belong to a “natsia” (‘nation’ or clan) who have a long criminal heritage. Unfortunately, I also know people named Sztojka who were unjustly persectuted based on belonging to this particular group. It’s a tough situation, and one that Roma are constantly talking about among themseves. But this is definately a situation in which a criminal act occured, not an “ethnic” act. These guys were hardened jail birds out for a fight. They could have been any ethnicity and the sad result would have been the same. It’s a tragedy, not a melodrama. And it does not reflect on Roma as a whole.

Öcsi
Guest

“It’s a tough situation, and one that Roma are constantly talking about among themseves. But this is definately a situation in which a criminal act occured, not an “ethnic” act.”
Exactly! Thank you. And that’s why I get offended by headings such as: “The latest trouble on the Gypsy front”
A more appropriate heading would have been: “The latest trouble on the criminal front”
But no! Not in the Hungarian media or blogesphere. I can’t understand this boneheadedness about magyar-roma relations. And it’s not just Hungary.

Mark
Guest
Öcsi: “Not in the Hungarian media or blogosphere” One of the things that upsets me about this discussion (not as it is conducted on this blog – but in the Hungarian media), aside of the racism, is the way in which is dominated by politically motivated myth, with scant regard to the facts – and not just by those seeking to stir up tensions, but by others who really should know better. One really does have to wonder about how much some “experts” who are consulted in the media actually know about the history of the problem they are commenting on. This one especially offended me: http://inforadio.hu/hir/belfold/hir-256591 It’s not the stereotypical assumptions about all those Roma living on welfare, but the absolute disregard for the facts. First of all the notion that prior to 1948 the situation of most Roma was great because they all had skills to practices and business is such a gross distorion of historical fact that it is simply amazing that anyone would dare utter it in public. Secondly, this is another example of another thing I find irritating about media commentary – the tendency to blame every phenomena a commentator dislikes on the apparent pathologies… Read more »
Sophist
Guest

Mark,
intrigued by your post – it does indeed run contrary to what I have heard anecdotally. I’m a little sceptical over ” that 35% unemployment figure was reduced to virtually nothing” because – again anecdotally – under Communism everybody had a place of work” but a place of work didn’t equal employment. As the economy was privatised in the 1990’s, the unskilled were made redeundant. So my guess would be that Roma unemployment was simply disguised under Kadar. What sources support your argument?

Andras
Guest

Reintegration into the world of work would be very important. A number of companies in pre-crisis period had employed roma workers. Mostly in low-skill assembly plants, like Philips, Flextronics etc. At very low wage level. Unfortunately one of the conditions of creation of such low-skill jobs is low minimum wage. The second condition is reduction of tax-burden on employment. This may help job creation even for the low skilled. At low wage level.But that could not be achieved without cuts in state expenditures. More or less this is the real hot issue since the late nineties in Hungary. Which route to follow. In this sense, the plight of roma and low skilled poors, in general, linked to the decision to raise minimum wage drastically and maintain high tax level in order to afford high level of state expenditure. There are policy choices here, and Hungary clearly preferred the latter one.

Mark
Guest
Sophist, Unless you are able to go through the formerly classified reports on these employment issues that you’ll find catalogued as “kutatói anyag” in the Central Statistical Office library in Budapest, your best bet is to consult a selection of published documents, which contain a number of reports prepared for the central organs of the MSZMP if you want to check what I say (I would like to see someone do proper research with the archival documents that the party and the unions collected in connection with “gypsy policy”, but no-one has done to date). You’ll find these in: Barna Mezey, (ed.), A magyarországi cigánykérdes dokumentumokban 1422-1985, (Budapest: Kossuth, 1986), pp. 237-318 Your real question, however, is about something for which we don’t have any reliable evidence, which is the extent of what was called “unemployment behind the factory gate”, caused by the padding of workforces encouraged by the average wage system. No-one has any real idea of the breakdown of this by ethnicity, and it would require someone to find a good set of company records, which contained wage lists with names to even attempt to reconstruct it at a factory level – let alone at national level. I… Read more »
Mark
Guest

András is right to say that the key issue is the cost of employing unskilled labour, and he is right to focus on the level of payroll taxes/social security contributions. It is really very important for boosting employment that these revenues are collected in other ways.
We need to very careful, however, about public expenditure, as many of the regional economies with the biggest employment problems are highly dependent on it. It would be a mistake I think to take away from job-creating enterprises business by cutting the incomes of pensioners and public sector workers who buy their products and services, just as we give them a more favourable tax regime. Yes, we do have wean such regions off over-dependence on state expenditure, but this is much more difficult than it seems at first sight.
Perhaps the major issue is ensuring that macro-economic policy places the maintenance of full employment as a central objective. I’ve said before in response to earlier posts on this blog what this means – I think it needs a lower Forint/Euro exchange rate; a looser monetary policy; and more targeted use of state expenditure to kick-start job creation in depressed regions.

Sophist
Guest
Andras, thanks for the reference. I agree from the perspective of the unemployed: “employment even on these terms was substantially better than the circumstances that faced laid off unskilled and semi-skilled workers in the 1990s.” But fairly or otherwise, the first justification (before “gypsy crime” became the fashion) Hungarians would offer for their prejudice against the Roma was that they are seen as free riders on the benefit system. Presumably that was also true if their co-workers saw them as free riders in the guaranteed employment system under Kadar. I also agree with Mark, “It would be a mistake I think to take away from job-creating enterprises business by cutting the incomes of pensioners and public sector workers who buy their products and services”. The lack of a social security system was one of the significant factors that turned recession into depression in the 1930’s. But in the long term, assimilation has to imply skills and productive labour; unemployability cannot cannot be sheltered in quota jobs or benefit payments, as they add to the resentment of the majority that pay the costs of these schemes. There have to be policies which both incentivise participation in training and education by the… Read more »
Mark
Guest
Sophist: “The benefit system should be targeted on skills” You’re absolutely right – and I think one of the long-term reforms that Hungary needs once it is over this crisis is to create room in the budget for serious investment in adult education, and vocational training, and one that is targetted on the poor villages in areas like the northern Great Plain, or in northern Hungary. This needs not just to be linked to the benefit system, but will need to be integrated with job creation programmes in these regions, so that workers can re-enter the labour market in low skilled jobs initially but can upgrade their skills. This will require a series of imaginative compacts between state agencies, local governments and businesses. This isn’t an issue of ethnicity, but one of social exclusion which crosses ethnic divides. It is also one of the productivity of labour. Hungary did increase its labour productivity in the 1990s through massive downsizing – it now needs to (a) get more of the population of working age into work, and (b) then increase their productivity. Given population ageing pressures, this is pretty urgent. “Presumably that was also true if their co-workers saw them as… Read more »
Innocent_Bystander
Guest

Just want to point out that Mark’s reference is available on the Sulinet website (in Hungarian) at: http://www.sulinet.hu/oroksegtar/data/Magyarorszagi_nemzetisegek_kotetei/A_magyarorszagi_ciganykerdes_dokumentumokban/pages/main_magyarorszagi.htm
And to add to the blatant disregard for data over opinion, Orbán yesterday noted “proportion of crimes committed by ‘gypsies’ grows daily” (“a cigány származású bűnelkövetők aránya napról napra növekszik”)

Mark
Guest

Innocent Bystander,
Absolutely fantastic. I never cease to be amazed at how much is becoming available in digital form.

Tünde
Guest
Mark criticized those who romanticise pre war Hungary for saying that the situation of the gypsies was „great” due to them having skills which were utilized. I don’t know where anyone, even so-called extreme rightwing sites who make such a statement but gypsies did have skills which played a role in pre war economy and several of which could be used now as well in more localised, non global manufacturing. Also, I did not understand his comment “This isn’t just a Roma issue – indeed if you are looking for the social roots of structural employment among all ethnic groups in Hungary, you’ll see it in this policy,” what other ethnic groups would that be? Sophist you are wrong in presuming that Hungarians blame gypsies for freeloading on the system visavis the former policy of total employment (and I just cannot believe that that is what Hungarians are telling you), or with subsidised employment now. Hungarians blame gypsies for certain types of crime, and behavior, for abusing the child support system (and yes, there are entire regions where that is the sole source of income, and where up to 10 children is not uncommon amongst Roma) but not for being… Read more »
Mark
Guest
Tünde: “I don’t know where anyone, even so-called extreme rightwing sites who make such a statement” I did give a concrete example in the link above my comment. The person who made them in my example is an eminent sociologist/social commentator of fairly mainstream views. “What other ethnic groups would that be?” All of them – or aren’t the Hungarians an ethnic group? “Mark said to look at wage records, but that would show little. The wage was not an accurate reflection of the work.” I don’t agree that they would show little. I have used socialist company wage lists (mostly from the 1950s rather than the 1960s and 1970s) to reconstruct relations of bargaining by gender, rural-urban residence, age and skill. You are right that they need careful interpretation (but historians know that all written sources need careful interpretation). Furthermore when examining these relations the “wage was not an accurate reflection of the work” is in part the point. What we are looking at are relations of differential power between workers in employment, and what we are also looking for is the week-by-week, month-by-month fluctuations in earnings’ levels. Let us supposed I am employed as an unskilled worker within… Read more »
English Liz
Guest

Hi, I’m one of those Brits/English you spoke of in your discussion of nation states which I found very interesting. And I work in the UK with Hungarian Roma/Gypsies alongside other Gypsies and Travellers. So your discussions are of interest but I’m curious – are you, especially Mark and Tunde who write so much, Hungarians living in Hungary or somewhere else? If so, how come your English is so good?

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

English Liz: “are you, especially Mark and Tunde who write so much, Hungarians living in Hungary or somewhere else? If so, how come your English is so good?”
I live in the United States and earlier in Canada. I was quite young when I left Hungary. Mark is English and I don’t know where Tunde lives.

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