Two sources about Hungarian attitudes toward Gypsies were cited recently in comments to this blog. First was the book by Barna Mezey, László Pomogyi, and István Tauber (Budapest, 1985) entitled A magyarországi cigánykérdés dokumentumokban, 1422-1985 (The Gypsy question in Hungary: Documents, 1422-1985). Second was a poll by the Progressive Institute. We are familiar with this political think tank in connection with a poll that attempted to assess the political thinking of the Hungarian population. I summarized the Institute's findings on January 9, 2009 ("Political map of the Hungarian population"). This brand new poll (http://www.publicus.hu/blog/ciganyellenesseg) is an offshoot of the earlier one; it concentrates on Hungarian attitudes toward the Roma. Because most of the readers of this blog aren't fluent in Hungarian, let me summarize the book and then move on to the poll. The book is fairly lengthy, so I will concentrate on things that were either new to me or that I found significant in explaining the sources of anti-Gypsy prejudice. Because it seems that anti-Gypsy prejudice is at least three hundred years old.
So, starting with the Mezey-Pomogyi-Tauber book. Of course, we all know that the Gypsies came from India and that the Romani language is one of the Indo-Aryan languages showing a close affinity with Hindi. As far as we can ascertain, the Gypsies originally came from northern India and parts of Pakistan. There are loan words from Greek, Persian, and Armenian that point to a prolonged stay in Anatolia. Apparently the Mongol invasion of parts of Central Asia prompted their westward migration. Already in the fourteenth century some Gypsies reached the Carpathian basin, but most of these groups (kumpanias) continued their move farther west. However, western countries didn't welcome the nomadic visitors from the east, and soon enough the authorities made their stay impossible. So they retreated back to the place where they were more tolerated, i.e. to medieval Hungary. Apparently, this first group of migrants pretty well settled and assimilated after a couple hundred years.
But after the Turkish occupation there was a new wave of immigration coming from Moldavia and Wallachia, the eastern parts of today's Romania. They were called the "oláh" Gypsies. Oláh until very recently was the acceptable name for a Romanian. Oláh is the Hungarian version of Vlach which in old Slavonic was used to describe any language related to Latin. Thus, for example, Italian is called "olasz" in Hungarian. The "oláh" Gypsies were nomadic and completely unfamiliar with the accepted norms of the Hungarian population around them. Soon enough troubles began. After the Turks left and the wars for independence (the Rákóczi rebellion, for example) failed, the bulk of the Hungarian population settled into a stolid agrarian life. The differences between the Hungarian peasantry and the still nomadic Gypsy kumpanias became increasingly stark, and the relations between the two groups deteriorated. The peasants claimed that Gypsies would camp close to a village, steal the villagers blind, and then move on. More and more complaints reached the authorities until in 1782 a large Gypsy caravan (173 people) was arrested for theft. While the Gypsies were in custody, the news came that in a nearby village a few people had disappeared. That came in handy; the Gypsies were accused of killing the missing men. And because their bodies were not found the authorities made the Gypsies admit that they had eaten the bodies! One can only imagine what kind of torture was necessary to elicit confessions to such a heinous crime. The court (in Hont County, today in Slovakia) sentenced all of them to death. Forty-one of the "guilty," including 11 women, were executed before Joseph II heard about the case and stopped the bloodshed. The lord lieutenant of the county was suspended, a new trial was ordered, and most of the others were released. Even German newspapers (Hamburg and Frankfurt) reported the case.
Hungarian Gypsies got bad press as early as the seventeenth century when foreign visitors were warned that "the Gypsies are great thieves." (Edward Brown, 1669) In 1856 Gedeon Ács wrote: "Among the oláh Gypsies there are many wanderers carrying their tents with them. … They settle at the edge of the village and although the villagers are very careful many pigs, geese, vegetables, even dogs and cats disappear…. The Hungarians consider the Gypsy cowardly, but I believe they are wrong. It is true that one Hungarian can make a whole bunch of Gypsies run … but it is also true that once they manage to escape they become very brave and enterprising rascals." However Ács adds that that there are some well dressed gentlemen among them and that in his youth in Debrecen the most elegant ball was that of the Gypsies. He even knew Gypsies who settled and cultivated the land.
The book, in its documentary section, includes many petitions to parliament in which the authorities from the countryside complain about the problem of the oláh Gypsies. In 1885 the deputy lieutenant from Veszprém County complained that the wandering Gypsies are a menace and that every village dreads their arrival. The Veszprém authorities, as so many others, asked the central government to put an end to Gypsy wandering. Easier said than done. The greatest complaint was that the oláh Gypsies steal and that when the police try to apprehend them they are prepared for an armed offensive against the police. Parliamentary members complained bitterly to the minister of the interior about the menace of these oláh Gypsies, but their complaints went unanswered. The problem continued into the twentieth century. By 1928 nomadic Gypsies were supposed to be arrested and taken to the nearest police station. Some of them were confined for awhile to houses of correction, but one couldn't keep them there indefinitely. As soon as they were released they went back to their accustomed lifestyles.
The Kádár government was the first to address the problem of the Gypsy underclass in a serious way. In a socialist economy where there was virtually no unemployment Gypsies were embraced in the work force. But these efforts didn't improve Hungarian perceptions of Gypsies. And vaulting forward to 2009: the current anti-Gypsy sentiment is pretty alarming. According to the poll taken by Publicus/Progressive, 81% of the population is anti-Gypsy, and there is no great difference between those with an eighth-grade education and those with a college degree: 81% versus 76%. It doesn't make much difference whether a person considers himself a right-winger or a left-winger: 85% versus 79%. Eighty-two percent think that the Gypsies' problems would be solved if "at last they began working."
It easy to see that a political party can make headway with anti-Gypsy propaganda. Consider the recent success of Jobbik and the Magyar Gárda. Or think of Viktor Orbán's (undocumented) claim that the number of crimes committed by Gypsies has grown considerably.
The widespread prejudice against Gypsies is undoubtedly an impediment to improving their lot by way of affirmative action. As it now stands, the population thinks that too much money is spent on Gypsies who produce children only to be eligible for child support. Gypsy families indeed are very large, but this is the norm among underclass societies. I heard in today's news that the police force is seeking out Roma applicants. I seem to remember that earlier attempts were not successful, perhaps because the applicants couldn't meet the minimum standards. Hungarians have to learn that at the beginning the requirements must be lowered if they ever want to achieve integration and peace between Gypsies and non-Gypsies.