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? 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.