Anti-Gypsy prejudice in Hungary

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.

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Öcsi
Guest

->”Eighty-two percent think that the Gypsies’ problems would be solved if “at last they began working.”
Or, eighty-two percent think that Hungarians’ problems with Gypsies would be solved if the Gypsies began working.
->”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.”
Absolutely! Having Roma police must be seen as a prerequisite

NWO
Guest
I don’t know, but it seems a policy based solely on affirmative action is unlikely to be successful. There needs to be some combination of carrot and stick. First, the welfare system needs to be revised. Giving birth cannot be a source of employment and income. In addition, true or not, the perception, as you note, that Roma commit a disproportionate number of petty crimes must be addressed by the leadership of the Roma community working with State organs. The community must find a way to address this issue and ameliorate the problem (to the extent it is a “real” one-and perceptions cannot be so completely false). Third, there needs to be a greater effort for some form of societal integration. The Roma and non-Roma populations in Hungary live distinct and parralel lives that only cross at times of trouble. This cannot stand and requires among other things again some cultural and other changes among the ROma community (as well as a lessening of prejudice by the non-Roma population). On the other hand, the Country (not that it has the resources nor seemingly the minds to establish the policies) needs to invest in better education, work training and health and… Read more »
Mark
Guest
No-one who has lived in Hungary can be especially surprised by the results of the Publicus poll, and there needs to be a major and long-term shift in these attitudes. This is an area where governments can provide leadership, but it requires the active support of a social movement prepared to defend the principle of a multi-cultural Hungary. It is very difficult to imagine the advances made in the United States without the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s, and the continuing influence of the example it has set. Likewise in the UK it would be difficult to conceive of the generalised acceptance of multi-culturalism without the active challenges to the far right posed by the Anti-Nazi League in the 1970s, the active championing of multi-culturalism and anti-racism by certain civic leaders like Ken Livingstone in London in the 1980s, nor the long-term impact of participation in international campaigns like that against Apartheid in South Africa on British society in the same decade. This is an area where a deepening of democratic practices is required. A political system which is paternalist and clientelistic in its practices is not best placed to lead this attitudinal change. As we’ve seen… Read more »
Op
Guest

We cannot have “pride” in Hungary any more, “prejudice” will do for now.
Liberals have such simplified view on social problems, reality would confuse them.
Stereotypes and prejudice are based on observations and can save your life.
It’s better to be called “racist” than dead. It’s better to avoid certain people than being robbed. If we want to give integration a chance, we must get tough on crime, all kinds of crime. Until respect for the law is optional, we cannot expect significant changes, no matter how much money and tolerance we throw at the problem.

Mark
Guest
I would like to thank Ėva for presenting the Mezey-Pomogyi-Tauber book to us, which is indispensable for a discussion of the history of this problem. I would like, however, to comment on some of its omissions, which are undoubtedly a product of some of the political taboos at the time it was assembled and published. The most serious omission in the book is any consideration of the attempted genocide during the Second World War – even though some of its antecedents are raised in the small section dealing with “proposals – solutions? Prejudices” at the end of the section dealing with the “bourgeois period”. As I’ve said before given some of the tactics of the far right, this process is of huge contemporary relevance. Furthermore, the story of this process has gone almost completely undiscussed in mainstream Hungarian media. There is fortunately somewhere to go for information, and I’d like to draw your attention to a useful collection of essays, interviews and documents available in both Hungarian and English on the Roma Holocaust in Hungary. So, in Hungarian: János Bársony, & Ágnes Daróczi, (eds.), Pharrajimos. Romák sorsa a nácizmus idején, (Budapest: L’Harmattan, 2004) And, if you don’t read Hungarian, you’ll… Read more »
Leeflang
Guest
Well, the requirements for a Hungarian policeman are not that high anyway: between 18 and 33, Hungarian citizenship, no prior convictions and a secondary school certificate. I know, that is more schooling than many Roma end up with, but I don’t think you do anybody a favour by lowering those requirements. Hungarian policemen are undereducated enough as it is, as far as my experience goes. I’m well aware of the difficulties and prejudices that Roma face in Hungary, but I don’t think the problem will ever be solved if you look at it too one-sided. It’s true that many Roma live in dire poverty, but what to think about the fact that according to estimations some 200,000 families have become victim of loansharks, fellow Roma who ask 50 to 100 percent interest a month (!), so that a small loan of 10,000 forints becomes a huge amount before you know it, and such families often have to live from thin air, as they loose their social security and child support as soon as it comes in. Maybe the number is overestimated, as 200,000 Roma families would mean some 800,000 to one million people, but in poorer regions, whole villages suffer… Read more »
Sophist
Guest
Mark, “We also know from the history that the tendencies towards – let us be blunt about this – de facto apartheid that exists between Roma and non-Roma are very deep rooted and require re-negotiation of the social fabric over the long-term” Without disagreeing about your analysis of the depth of the problem of prejudice against gypsies in Hungarian, I think it is unrealistic to compare it to apartheid. The reason why I don’t think the Afro-american comparision with gypsies is useful is because the no one has offered me a coherent account of gypsies as a race. Whatever their skin-tone, the Afro-americans have over phenotypic features which identify them to others as black: hair, lips and noses. Gypsies do not, so it is possible for them to assimilate in a way that African Americans can’t, by identifying themselves as “white” Hungarian. Many of them do so, declaring themselves Hungarian in census and other official records. Tunde is right when she says that a university educated Roma would experience little discrimination in Hungary. I have both colleagues and students darker than those in Eva’s recently posted photograph – but who are not identified as Roma. The situation in Hungary is… Read more »
Mark
Guest
Sophist, Oh dear! Where do I start? “I think it is unrealistic to compare it to apartheid.” You’ll note that I used the term “de-facto Apartheid”. What I mean is that societal norms and practices – jobs, settlement, education etc. – encourage a pattern of effective segregation that reproduces Roma subordination. ” ….no one has offered me a coherent account of gypsies as a race”. Beware of the concept of race. It can be useful to a point, but as I’m sure you are aware, there is a long history in Europe (and by Europeans outside Europe) of its misuse. It has often been used – as it is by the radical right today – to argue that differences between ethnic groups are due to innate biological differences and hierarchies, and that therefore those identified with a particular “race” are not entitled to the same rights as members of other “races”. Much of the “knowledge” produced through these conceptual categories rests on absolutely no scientific evidence whatsoever. Furthermore, I’m really not sure why you would need a “coherent account of gypsies as a race” (if producing a “coherent account” of any group as a race is possible at all –… Read more »
Sophist
Guest
Mark, Oh, dear. Oh, dear. Thanks for your commentary on my post. Unfortunately, I haven’t expressed my main idea very clearly because I already agree with most of your criticisms. “Beware of the concept of race”. Exactly: that’s what I thought I implied by “no one has offered me a coherent account of gypsies as a race”. But a lot of Hungarian’s do define gypsies in terms of race, how would you define them: ethnicity, class, sub-culture? What would these terms about assimilation? ” you should be careful of what that means – and indeed it may be a sign of discrimination;” I agree, in fact I’m confident it is a sign of discrimination. My point is that Roma can do it; however – for example – Barack Obama could not credibly present himself as a “white” American. “but what I hear anecdotally from those Roma who have had connections to the higher education system flatly contradicts this” This doesn’t surprise me either, because they are still identifying themselves as Roma. My argument is that Roma can assimilate most readily by disguising or rejecting their Roma identity. “White” Hungarian prejudice can – in part – be obviated by declaring oneself… Read more »
Mark
Guest
Sophist, Absolutely fine ….. “But a lot of Hungarian’s do define gypsies in terms of race, how would you define them: ethnicity, class, sub-culture? What would these terms about assimilation?” Perhaps they do, but that doesn’t mean they are right. I’m not really qualified to pass a firm opinion on the controversies between the natural scientists of various disciplines as to whether human beings are at all classifiable on grounds of “race” (though I’m aware of the controversies), but the fact that there is no clear consensus that I can see suggests we should avoid defining different peoples as “races” in this sense. I do recognize that there is a culturalist definition of “race”, as a form of understanding, or a perception held by people about the nature of differences between groups of human beings and that when thought about in this way the concept has some validity. Class seems to me to suggest a collective identity based upon socio-economic position. I suspect that many Roma may have a class identity, but I suspect that these class idenities cut across the Roma-non-Roma divides. I’m happier with ethnic group in that it denotes membership of a group that has a common… Read more »
Tünde
Guest
Sophist: While there are gypsies who could pass for a “white” and there are Hungarians who look “gypsy”, I would say that the majority are readily identifiable. My point about American blacks (in the US “black” is not the racial term it appears to be in the UK) is that there is really little to prevent their assimilation/integration, (why there are problems there is another matter, on many levels far worse than they were in the 1950s), but I do not think that is the case with the gypsies. Blacks were assimilated before they were integrated, gypsies are being integrated before assimilation. You have a point in asking is a gypsy a gypsy after assimilation. Assimilated gypsies themselves are often not considered gypsies by their own communities. And studies done amongst gypsies show many do not have a consciousness of their own gypsy culture, nor do many care. Many gypsies themselves reject the term Roma. Perhaps it is due to a lack of written and unified culture. Is this because it has been suppressed? Perhaps. Slovak nationalism and literature came about with a movement. On the other hand, unlike Slovaks in history, gypsy life and culture has been romanticised by… Read more »
Sophist
Guest
Tunde, thanks for coming back: to get what little I know about travellers in the UK out of the way first (I never really thought about them until gypsies in Hungary so confounded my ideas about gypsies). As I understand it: they come in 3 varieties all of which, – unlike Hungarian gypsies – are nomadic; Romany, Tinkers and new travellers. The Romany are the ethnic cousins of the Roma, The tinkers were the dispossessed of the Irish famine of the mid 19thC and the new age travellers have given up a settled lifestyle since the 1960s. I have only had direct experience of tinkers (I thought they were gypsies with white skin and red hair) who used a campsite close to where I lived in Kilburn, London. They parked up in large, well maintained mobile homes, made an incredible mess (mostly debris from house removals – a legitimate business) and after a few weeks disappeared as quickly as them came. Compared to these tinkers, I was shocked by Hungarian Roma: because of their appearence – predominantly south asian, the physical squalor in which they live, their welfare dependency, and their numbers. On the last issue, I wondered if forced… Read more »
Tünde
Guest

Sophist:
In saying travelers seem to be ethnically gypsy, I meant culturally, not physically. UK travelers I have seen are remarkably Irish looking, so they are, actually Irish?
Interesting that they are called tinkers. I had forgotten that. Again a traditional trade amongst gypsies. When you say house debris, do they recycle it?
When you describe the physical characteristics of gypsies, I assume you are aware that there are differences in Roma groups in Hungary. And their circumstances are similar to those of gypsies in the surrounding countries.
Re: fertility and settlement. It cannot be settlement, as the birthrate amongst Hungarian gypsies has skyrocketed only in recent years. Also mortality amongst the Roma is also high, even worse than Hungarians. The only difference is the hopeless employment situation (and fertility being almost the only thing roma women have now, which is why they need to be given other outlets, and there are such programs) combined with the relatively generous child support system in Hungary.
Re: your questions. I did address those and Mark’s objections in a rather long post. Apparently it will not be posted on this site.

Sophist
Guest
Tunde, I have been following the debate between Mark and you on the other thread with great interest, thank you both. Not clear yet how I would define my own position, as both of your own positions overlap massively with mine. “In saying travelers seem to be ethnically gypsy, I meant culturally, not physically. UK travelers I have seen are remarkably Irish looking, so they are, actually Irish?” As likely as not, we have three types of travellers on our roads, each of a different geographic/racial origin, but they all share many of the same socio-economic problems. i.e. this is a cultural not racial issue. When the population of New-Age travellers rose signicantly in the 1980’s – as, I think a result of deindustrialisation – this group came into confrontation with the UK government. I think the government changed benefit laws so that it became difficult/impossible to claim benefits without a fixed abode. This led to a steep decline in the population of New-age travellers as they were dependent on benefits. But not so the Romany or Tinkers, because their economy predates the provision of a welfare state. Both groups are highly enterprising and can provide a high standard of… Read more »
Odin's lost eye
Guest
Mr Sophist May I offer a little correction to your statement about ‘Irish Tinkers’. Many of the current crop are indeed Southern Irish. Most of them have been ‘lifted’ by the Garda Síochána for moderately serious crimes plus a past of hooliganism etc. The Magistrates release them on ‘police bail’ pending a full trial. The Garda Síochána take them to the nearest ferry shove them aboard a ferry and tell them not to come back for seven years (the Statute of Limitation). As they are Southern Irish the UK must and does accept them. For the next 7 or so years they are a pain in the neck with their habits (thieving, damage to property hooliganism etc). They are to some extent a protected species by the local authorities’ ‘travelers welfare officers’ so they can mis-behave to some extent with impunity. They usualy return to the Irish Republic to return to their old way of life and the cycle begins again. Not many of the Romanies (Those who are actual Romany speakers or their descendants) still travel to any great extent. Many still have superb vadas (caravans). There are three other itinerant groups The Showmen who work the travelling fairgrounds.… Read more »
Sophist
Guest

Odin,
thanks for the further detail, as I initially remarked I can only describe “what little I know”. I lived 26 years in the UK, 14 years in Hungary. Contact with Roma in Hungary is nearly daily, even though my home town is significantly segregated. Whereas my contact with UK travellers is three weeks.
You’ve also lived significant periods in both countries and seem to have much more familiarity with UK travellers than I do.
How would you compare the situation of the Roma in Hungary with travellers in the UK?
Would you say the lack of a “Travellers problem” in the UK is simply one of scale (not enough travellers to annoy enough people enough of the time) or that there is fundamentally less antagonism between travellers and settled communities near them in the UK?

Odin's lost eye
Guest
Mr Sophist All I know about travellers in the U.K. is what I saw and heard when I lived there. I have lived here in Hungary for only about 5 to 6 years. My father knew a Romany family for many years. The old man of the family and my father were sort of neighbours, his workshop was next door to the Romanie’s house and yard. They always called each other ‘Mister’. When the old man had a problem he would visit father and together they would sort it out. The old Romany was illiterate that is he could not read or write but his second eldest son could. This did not mean that the old man was an idiot. He ran a bank account, was given credit by garage for his fuel and ran a thriving little business. Now a-days many Romanies have done this and you cannot tell them apart from the rest of the population. They have ‘merged’ with the rest of us and they did it because they wanted to, not because they were forced. You talk about the density of the travelling population, of whom I suspect the majority are ‘Showmen’ who travel from fair… Read more »
Betonschade herstel
Guest

I really appreciate the kind of topics you post here. Thanks for sharing us a great information that is actually helpful. Good day!

e-business suite
Guest

Hey! Thanks for such an elaborate translation and then sharing and explaining the results of the poll. Really kind of you.

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