A brief survey: Hungarian Gypsies in the Kádár regime and since

It wasn't too many years ago that Gypsies still led a nomadic life. I was a very small child, perhaps four years old and not very brave, when my father stopped the car in the Mecsek Mountains above Pécs in order to meet a large Gypsy family living in tents in the woods right off the highway. I remember that I wasn't too thrilled: it was a very strange world only a few kilometers from the city. But even in the summer of 1956 when three of my classmates and I were walking through the mountains on a marked path, out of the blue on both sides of the path a very large Gypsy family was camping. Or perhaps several.

Today these people are settled, three quarters of them in very small villages mostly in Northern Hungary and in Southern Transdanubia, especially in Baranya country, south of Pécs, close to the Croatian-Hungarian border. Some of these villages were utterly transformed in the last fifty years or so. They are now inhabited almost entirely by Gypsies. Here is one example. I'm somewhat familiar with the village of Old. According to the 1910 census Old had a population of 502 out of which most likely the number of Gypsies was 59. In the 1910 census Gypsies were not specifically designated as such but were put under the rubric of "Others."  Today the village has a population of 370 or so and according to the latest reports (an article in Dunántúli Napló) the whole population of the village is Roma. How did this happen? I remember visiting the village as a twelve year old and by then, during the Rákosi regime, the Gypsies who lived outside of the village were forcibly settled in the houses of better off villagers. To this day I remember a rather odd conversation with a middle aged man who wanted to know whether my family would perhaps be interested in hiring his daughter. He explained to me how useful she would be for us: among other things she could bring water from the well! I'm relating this so that you would understand that sixty years ago some Gypsies were that unfamiliar with the modern world. Sure, there were the elegant Gypsies who played music in practically every restaurant. But today even that opportunity is pretty well closed. There are very few restaurants with live music, and especially not Gypsy music.

So starting with the Rákosi regime and continuing under the Kádár regime the nomadic Gypsies were settled, mostly in villages. As Mark mentioned in his comments, they got unskilled jobs in heavy industry and in mining which were the first ones to go bankrupt after 1990. Most of the families still lived in the villages; the men left for town early Monday morning by train and returned Friday night. During the week they lived in workers' hostels. That solved the problem of Roma employment. According to a 1971 survey their rate of employment was almost as high as that of the non-Gypsy population. But by 1993 50% of the Gypsy population was unemployed compared to the national average of 13%. Ten years later, in 2003, the situation was even worse: only 28.6% of Roma men between 15 and 74 were employed as opposed to 56.5% nationwide. The Gypsy women's situation was even worse: only 16.1% were employed as opposed to 43.7% of all Hungarian women.

While I admit that the Kádár regime managed to provide work for the Roma population I blame them for not putting more energy into long-time solutions: the education of the young. It is relatively easy, especially in planned economy, to find jobs for everybody. But that will not solve the problem of an undereducated ethnic minority. A few of them–very few of them–managed to finish high school or even get to college, but most of these people simply wanted to forget that they were Gypsies. Everybody suspects that X or Y is actually Gypsy, but they refuse to identify themselves as such.

In the last twenty years most of the Gypsies, estimated to be 700-800,000 strong, live in incredible poverty. Someone doubted my claim that fifty years ago American blacks lived a great deal better than Hungarian (or Slovak or Romanian) Gypsies live today. I stand by my contention. When was the unemployment of American blacks over 70%? When was their educational attainment less then eight grades? Even fifty years ago there was a black middle class. Although much smaller than today,  there were doctors, professors, reputable black colleges, and black students in integrated colleges. And how many blacks lived in the kinds of huts one can see on this picture?Romatelep Not too many. I blame the Kádár regime for offering only short-term solutions and paying no attention to education. Unfortunately, even today the situation is not much better. Although there are more high school graduates and there's a modest increase in university graduates (1.5%), unemployment remains high even among these Gypsies, presumably because of discrimination. I just heard about a young man who finished university and can't find a job. These hard-working, college-educated Roma youngsters should be fast tracked. But it seems that the Hungarian population doesn't want to recognize that they are sitting on a time bomb.

Despite government efforts (in the last 20 years about 120 billion forints were spent directly and indirectly on the Gypsy communities) the results are meager. More and more people say that Gypsies under the age of thirty-five should be compelled to finish at least eight grades and learn a trade. Otherwise there is no hope for improvement in the future. But what is their incentive?

My preliminary, admittedly feeble thoughts go along the following lines. Find some things that Gypsies love to do and start competitions. And promote them. Basically, make Gypsies people the rest of the Hungarian population can root for. And as the top prize award not only money but an advertising spot. Create a Magic Johnson or a Tiger Woods. However primitive this suggestion, the idea behind it is to have Hungarians start to accept their Roma brethren, even occasionally cheer for them. If one can get to this level, then the government can start to impose some anti-discrimination legislation without a crippling pushback from the population. You may jeer, but it wouldn't cost a boatload of money to try.

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Headless
Guest

Interesting article.
I’m sure that most peeps would be rooting for the individuals’ possible achievements regardless of cultural background. But only for that particular individual…his/her achievements will not elevate their own culture, but rather serve to highlight and amplify the shortcomings of the rest. In other words, whenever one does well, we take them on board as one of us, and then use this contrast to put down the rest.
Now if only the Olympics had such sports as “Fastest Car Stereo Appropriation” or “Speed Procreation”, then we all would have something to cheer.

Mark
Guest
“While I admit that the Kádár regime managed to provide work for the Roma population I blame them for not putting more energy into long-time solutions: the education of the young.” 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, and while you’ll have seen my rant on the previous’ days page about those who blame the legacy of the Kádár regime for everything, the long-term legacy of state socialist labour policies is one that casts a very long shadow over the Hungarian present. One I think can – if crudely – characterize Kádárist social policy as centering on the proivision of largely semi-skilled employment, mainly (though not exclusively) in the industrial sector, as being the basis of its offer of social advancement. While everyone talks about the early 1950s (1948-1953) as the great period of expansion of the industrial labor force, few note the major expansion of industrial employment during the early and mid 1960s, after the completion of the collectivization of agriculture in 1961, when large numbers of rural workers were “freed” (in the terminology of… Read more »
Mark
Guest

“the social roots of structural employment”
Whoops! I meant structural unemployment.

Tünde
Guest
Ms. Balogh I don’t know what your tent gypsies did in the 1950s, but by that time, the vast majority of gypsies had been settled for some time in Hungary. They lived in settlements (cigány telepek), often apart from the villages. After WWII they were moved into village homes of deported Slovaks, ethnic Germans and later Hungarians as the village was abandoned. Re: “unemployment remains high even among these Gypsies, presumably because of discrimination. I just heard about a young man who finished university and can’t find a job.” While I agree that there is discrimination against Gypsies (but more amongst unskilled workers) a university graduate gypsy not finding work in Hungary’s present disastrous economic situation „presumably because of discrimination” is very misleading, to put it mildly. Re: ” Yes, you’re right. I’m no expert but my feeling is that in comparison to Western Europe the educational level of the population was low. That is quite interesting considering how proud Hungarians are of their school system.” Well the gypsies were segregated up until recently, family backgrounds were not the best for learning, and the schools and classes were probably not “separate but equal”. Re: the criminality question. While I agree… Read more »
Mark
Guest
Tünde: “An MSZP report on the Roma from 1993 warned against creating a Roma identity separate from Hungarian culture and I have to say that this is exactly what, primarily SZDSZ has actively supported” And the SZDSZ do so with good reason. Roma have lived in settlements on the territory of Hungary, and have called them “home” for five centuries. Roma have as much right to argue for the expression of their cultural identity as any other ethnic group living in Hungary under the law – yes, as much as the majority community, for it is morally and legally as much their country. Most recent research in history recognizes the multi-cultural nature of most of contemporary Central and Eastern Europe right up until this century, including the Kingdom of Hungary, and its post-Trianon successor. Governments across Europe during the twentieth century, including in Hungary, sought to consolidate their state around a dominant ethnic group. Forced assimilation very quickly led to deportation and to genocide. Hungary was far from immune from this process. It never ceases to amaze me how boneheaded some people continue to be when the lessons of the past are so clear – if you seek to create… Read more »
Sophist
Guest

Tunde
Thank-you for offering the first reasoned account of “Gypsy Crime” that I have seen, and for moving the argument on from a discussion of race to a discussion of culture.
I agree with you that;
” a university graduate gypsy not finding work in Hungary’s present disastrous economic situation „presumably because of discrimination” is very misleading”
and that:
” I do not think that the situation of African Americans is comparable. They do not have traditions which make their assimilation and integration to majority societies difficult”
and if we have exchanged points of view on Pesticide, you probably remember why.
But I have a question;
“there are phenomena which occur amongst the gypsies which simply do not occur with levels of people on the same poverty level, such as crowd behavior or stealing from gardens, physically attacking teachers, doctors and ambulance drivers”
In this research, how are gypsies distinguished from other groups at the same level of poverty?

Sophist
Guest

Tunde,
“and there are phenomena which occur amongst the gypsies which simply do not occur with levels of people on the same poverty level, such as crowd behavior or stealing from gardens, physically attacking teachers, doctors and ambulance drivers”
In this research, how are gypsies distinquished from other groups on the same poverty level?

Sophist
Guest

Oops, thought I’d lost the previous post!

Mark
Guest

Ėva: “But even in the summer of 1956 when three of my classmates and I were walking through the mountains on a marked path, out of the blue on both sides of the path a very large Gypsy family was camping.”
There is a really interesting sociography based on investigation at the beginning of the 1960s, which is now a little hard to come by, which is really revealing on conditions among Roma at the time of the 1961 change of policy (even if in many ways it is very definitely a product of its time!). If anyone can get to a good library, it is really worth a read:
András Faludi, Cigányok, (Budapest: Kossuth, 1964)

Andras
Guest

Of course, it is impossible to compare two different societies. African americans and Us have their own problems. Probably, as crisis gets bigger, problems are getting bigger. But this fact, or plight of any minority anywhere in the world, does not liquidate our responsability to do our best to solve our problems. We could learn something studying others’ successes and failures, but still: we have to solve the problems of our society. And we have a problem. A gigantic problem.
Blaming political correctness for the problem might be a good tool for further deligitimating the current coalition, but won’t solve the problem. Increasing discrimination and tougher police measures may provide a very temporary solution, but creates even bigger trouble for the long term. We should know this from the pre-1918 Hungary. What is needed is to review what went wrong until now, and what is needed to do to develop a new strategy. Maybe,we need a special committee set up by the President of Hungary and the Government jointly to review these issues and develop a white paper with a strategy proposal within half year or so.
Actually, it is the time for President of Hungary to say something.

Tünde
Guest
Mark: “And the SZDSZ do so with good reason. Roma have lived in settlements on the territory of Hungary, and have called them “home” for five centuries…” Thank you for including me in your group of boneheads, but I thought that it was obvious from the rest of my comment that I believe that the Roma are an integral part of Hungarian history. And although Hungarians tend to believe that “no one asked them to come here”, this is untrue King Mátyás did invite them here (basically to help in fighting the Turks, gypsies were blacksmiths and weaponmakers, and extended right of settlement and protection to gypsies (also King Zsigmond, to traveling caravans) when that was unheard of elsewhere in Europe. It was the Habsburgs who first enacted a series of extremely harsh laws of assimilation. MSZP’s and my point was that SZDSZ was creating an exclusive identity, one that rejects any commonality and one that views (all and only) Hungarians as the oppressors (that last part my view). This relates to the view that Kemény supported early one, that only gypsies, and not all of the poor, deserve additional support from the state. “You may have detected a scepticism… Read more »
Mark
Guest
Tünde: “MSZP’s and my point was that SZDSZ was creating an exclusive identity, one that rejects any commonality and one that views (all and only) Hungarians as the oppressors (that last part my view)” Though I’m not a supporter of the SZDSZ I think you may be misrepresenting their view. They would argue that the Hungarian Republic is what they call a “political nation” above all ethnicities, and would argue that the right and obligations of citizenship are what should bind people together. They would then regard “ethnic nations” are worthy of separate constitutional rights. This is a position that has a long history in Central Europe, going back to the Social Democrats in the Austrian parts of the monarchy at the end of the nineteenth century. “If so, then there really is no need for nations, and I do not see anywhere where evidence that a multicultural nation with no one dominant culture as be functional, unless it is totally technocratic.” If I were being flippant I might ask you about Switzerland – however that I think might be avoiding your point. I approach the question of nations, and nation states from my disciplinary background as an historian. You… Read more »
Tünde
Guest

Mark, after I posted I realised that you are indeed for the abolishment of the nation state, (I not convinced that your view is shared equally amongst Scots, the Irish and the Welsh) and while I could get into a discussion of that, I won’t. I do think that the role of the nation-state in conflict has been exaggerated. The point was a dominant culture, which you did not address. And in referring to the UK, I was not referring to it as a nation state (or even necessarily) European but thinking specifically of the controversy with Sharia law. Switzerland, as we all know, is an exception.
I am not misrepresenting SZDSZ, nor was MSZP in their report. I have worked with them enough on this specific issue to know.

Mark
Guest

Tünde: “I realised that you are indeed for the abolishment of the nation state”
You’re misrepresenting me. I don’t really have any view as to whether nation states should or shouldn’t exist. My point about them is an empirical one – they have not always existed, and are not eternal, and they very imperfectly conform to actual patterns of ethnic identification. And my other empirical point is that the reality gap between what nation-builders believe should exist (that all the inhabitants of their territory should assimilate to a supposed “dominant culture”), and what actually existed, is the short route to fascism. It is that lesson that lies behind international guarantees of minority rights, the creation of supranational units like the EU and the Council of Europe, and the re-discovery and recognition of sub-state national and regional identities. You can insist on a state/dominant culture model if you like – but if you do you have to be mindful of the historical lessons as to where this insistence leads; in the Hungarian case the nationality conflicts at the end of the First World War; Trianon; the Second World War; the Holocaust.

Tünde
Guest

Mark,
Yes the nation-state=fascism=Trianon=Holocaust seems to be pretty much entrenched in the UK canon, not surprisingly. Re: the EU, I am sure that you realise that that it did not begin as the supranational entity it has become, and you are also aware of de Gaulle’s objections to the admission of the UK, precisely for the ideological reasons it represents.
I am not against federalism, and particularly not against greater autonomy (particularly as it would benefit Hungarians in the surrounding countries) but I do not think that excludes certain certain basics of the nation-state. Support for a more sovereign nation-state is growing in Europe and even in the UK the Scots seem to bring it up regularly, and we are familiar with the Irish view, so I would not agree that the nation-state model is withering.
So there is no limit to dominant culture, or legal systems (sharia law).
Please read my post to Sophist.

Mark
Guest
“Yes the nation-state=fascism=Trianon=Holocaust seems to be pretty much entrenche” This is an historical interpretation, and I don’t think it has much to do with the UK (as I’m sure you are aware even those who are relatively generally well informed in the UK have a pretty sketchy idea of even the basics of Hungarian history). It can be contested, but if you want to do so, you should say why it is wrong and present a viable alternative explanation founded in fact. I’m very willing (in fact I’d find it helpful) to have that discussion. “The EU, I am sure that you realise that that it did not begin as the supranational entity it has become.” This is untrue, the intention from the outset was to create a supranational union – just read the preamble of the Treaty of Rome (that bit about “ever closer union”), if you don’t believe me, read what the original signatories signed back in 1957: http://www.hri.org/docs/Rome57/Preamble.html “de Gaulle’s objections to the admission of the UK, precisely for the ideological reasons it represents” This is a distortion of fact. De Gaulle vetoed UK membership because he believed two things (in a way correctly, as it turned… Read more »
Tünde
Guest
Mark, Yes I am aware of the Treaty of Rome, (as I said, not the entity it has become) and I was thinking further back when the first steps were essentially to neutralise munitions production and not an immediate supranational state. There was also the less supranational EEC. Although Schuman himself was a supranationalist, naturally he had no choice but to add the necessity of ratification and appeal by national parliaments, of course (the mode of passage of key treaties, the latest being the Lisbon Treaty, raises certain questions on this) and I do not think even he envisioned an EU with states with so little sovereignty. Indeed he was somewhat protectionist about the federalisation of Europe. De Gaulle’s fears (in addition to his correct assumption about the 5th column) also addressed (not unrelated) loss of sovereignty, hence the Fouchet proposal. The present EU is far more global than federalist. I really didn’t want to get into a nation-state debate here, although this does seems to be related to a supranational-national debate, my point on Sharia law, is that where does the accommodation to all cultures end? Gypsies have a system which could be considered a rule of law, but… Read more »
Mark
Guest

“I do not think even he envisioned an EU with states with so little sovereignty”
The EU is a weird hybrid. Because its law has precedence over those of its member states it has a quasi-federal dimension. But it remains a union of states, rather than a state in its own right. I suspect though – as a number of countries are going to find out – that Brussels will need much greater powers to force economic policy co-ordination if Central and Eastern Europe, plus Spain, Italy, and Ireland are to avoid economic meltdown!
“Where does the accommodation to all cultures end?”
My answer is a very simple one – the common rules, the laws and content of citizenship of any territory within Europe needs to be informed by the principle of the equal worth of every human being, and the respect of everyone by everybody else. One thing that means is that people are free to the point at which their freedom would harm others. Integration to my mind has no ethnic dimension at all – it is about expecting all citizens behave in ways consistent with those principles, and punishing them where they refuse to do so.

stephen szeles
Guest

After reading this article,this is the conclusion of the matter as I see it; first of all, we are all Gypsies: but on a different level!
I agree with the author’ solution with the Hungarian Gypsies, but also I disagree with that solution in part!
If you ask me what part? This is the answer > whatever they do, do not create Tiger Woods Hungarian Gypsies because the Gypsies problem is going to be much larger if you do that!
Anyway, what suggestions do you have for people like me to help the Hungarian Gypsies!
Stephen szeles

NAme
Guest

Éva Balogh always forget the basic facts about Hungarian education system. Hungary had higher ratio of Nobel-awards than G8 countries. And we also have better results in Student’s (or pupils’S) olypics than the Western European countries and her Canada or USA. Dear Éva, how can you explain that?

John T
Guest

And the point is?

Sutyi
Guest
Andrea
Guest
Hello all! I live in Canada, was born in Canada to a Hungarian mother. My mother was born in Hungary and moved to Canada shortly after ’56. I wish to bring a new perspective on this “issue”. I had the wonderful opportunity of visiting Budapest in 2005. My mother had moved back home 1 year earlier, and it was my first time in Hungary since I was an infant. I have to say, I was surprised by the modernity and similarity to much of “Montreal” and North America as a whole.I was forced to re-think my ideologies of Budapest, Central Europe, and Europe as a whole. I say this because I felt that coming from the “New Country” I would find no similarity no commonality or any enjoyment in what I know to be “Entertainment” or “Culture” (Please keep in mind I was 25 at the time). However, I had found the complete extreme opposite! I went to many social gatherings, including a GREAT University party! I also experienced all the touristic attractions and cherished Hungarian landmarks and locations. I enjoyed the food (fresh and cooked to excellence), and I loved the Joy Of Life “Joie de Vivre!” One thing… Read more »
sade
Guest
to whoever wrote this article/page…. i am a hungarian Gypsy! i just wanna ask you, are you a gypsy? no! the way you explained your childhood experience with us was as if we are aliens… so dont judge us! you havent & will never walk in are shoes or see the world from are point of view; everyones life & reality is different… we do go to school, some of us had to quite school togo to work to help support are families; so we can live,eat & survive daily.. & in europe they made the gypsies live like that, it wasnt are own choice.. everywhere we tried to settle and make a life they would kick us out, single us out by cutting off are ears,hand ect.. if we were even that luck.. most of the time they just killed us & sent the children into foster care; that is why every nationality has a gypsy.. so we blame you for always bringing us down, never letting us work or even buy settle on land,, imagine your life being like that.. oh and millions of my people were also killed in the holocaust but no one talks about that….… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Andrea: “I was surprised by the modernity and similarity to much of “Montreal” and North America as a whole.”
Quite. The problem is that Hungarians who live there don’t seem to notice the incredible development that has taken place since 1989-90.

Melinda
Guest

Sounds, for all our ‘civilization’ and education, like the gypsies are still getting the raw end of the deal because of entrenched systemic discrimination. Has anyone tried to implement social reform where Roma leaders are actually consulted as to what their people want? It is entirely possible that nomadic life existed in the 1950’s. It still exists in other cultures today.

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