A lot of people have been saying for a very long time that something must be done about the "Gypsy question." I put the word "question" into quotation marks because in Hungary the word "question" when preceded by the adjectival form of the name of an ethnic or religious group has a very bad ring. It all started in the late nineteenth century when antisemitic circles started talking about the "Jewish question" in Hungary. For some the "Gypsy question" is analogous to the "Jewish question." But thoughtful people realize that Gypsies not only should have the educational and employment opportunities afforded the rest of the Hungarian population but that a special effort has to be made to make these opportunities both attractive and attainable.
But first, a digression into history, demographic and linguistic. The first time an attempt was made to gather information on Hungary's Gypsy population was in 1850 when demographers claimed that there were 140,000 Gypsies living in the Kingdom of Hungary. By 1893 their number doubled to 280,000. During the same period the country's population as a whole grew by only 30%. After Trianon many of the Gypsies ended up in Romania or Czechoslovakia, so Hungary's Gypsy population in absolute numbers decreased. However, by 1944 their estimated number was fairly high again: 200,000.
It was in 1971 that István Kemény began serious research on Hungary's Gypsies. In that year there were 320,000 people of Gypsy origin living in Hungary. Among these Gypsies 71% spoke only Hungarian; the rest were bilingual. In addition to Hungarian the bilingual Gypsies spoke Hungarian Romani (21%) or Romanian (8%). The bilingual Gypsies can be divided into three major groups: the Karpat, the Vlach (oláh), and the "beás" Gypsies. The Karpat Gypsies were the earliest immigrants in Hungary. They arrived in the fifteenth century and their language is the closest to various existing Indian languages or dialects. The Vlach (oláh) Gypsies came from Wallachia (today Romania), and during their wanderings they must have come in contact with Slavic people because they picked up a lot of Slavic words. Ninety percent of the Vlach Gypsies spoke the Lovari dialect; as far as I know this is the language they teach today to those who choose Romani as a foreign language. The third group within the bilingual Romas are the "beás" Gypsies. They spoke (and most continue to speak) the Romanian of the Bánát region (Voivodina, Serbia today) and they live in Transdanubia, especially in the county of Baranya. Originally they were woodworkers specializing in making wooden washtubs and wooden spoons that they sold at the weekly farmers' markets. The strictly Hungarian-speaking Gypsies are the descendants of the Karpat and Vlach Gypsies (though a small minority remain bilingual). By today 86.9% of the Gypsies speak only Hungarian.
In Europe there are 8.5-10 million Gypsies. In Hungary today their estimated number is between 600,000 and 700,000. In 1971 there were 320,000 Gypsies and by 1993 their numbers grew to 500,000. In 2006 they constituted 6% of the population; if the current demographic trends continue by 2030 Gypsies will constitute 10% and by 2050 15% of the population. In certain counties today, especially in the northeastern corner of the country (Szabolcs-Szatmár, Hajdú-Bihar, Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén, Heves, Nógrád and Békés) the Gypsy population is already close to 10%.
End of linguistic and demographic digressions, though you're not yet spared historical comparisons. For the rest of this post I want to focus on education. In 1893 95% of the Gypsy population couldn't read or write. The MSZMP Central Committee in 1961 decided to tackle the Roma problem and introduced some measures that bore fruit (though it couldn't exactly be described as a bumper crop). To give some idea of the situation they faced, in a study done ten years later but reflecting the status quo in 1961 39% of Gypsies over the age of fourteen couldn't read or write and only 26% of Gypsies between the ages of 20 and 24 had finished eight grades. Moreover, 10% of this group had never gone to school. By contrast, by the 1970s and 1980s almost all Gypsy children were attending elementary school. In the 1970-71 school year 30.6% finished "general" school (that is, eight grades) and by 1985 43.7%. As a benchmark, in 1985 89% of non-Gypsies finished the compulsory eight grades. By the 1990s 45-50% of Gypsy children finished eight grades but by then 100% of non-Gypsies met this standard. In 1993 only 0.22% of Gypsies over the age of eighteen attended university. Today that number is about 2%. Two graphs will illustrate the disparity. The graph on the left shows the percentage of Gypsies attending high school from 1930 to 1980; the graph on the right shows the percentage of the population as a whole attending high school during the same period. A rather sad commentary. By today 80% of Gypsies finish eight grades, though not always by the age of fourteen. Twenty percent start high school but only 10% of them actually matriculate.
While increasing numbers of Gypsy children go to school, segregation within the school system has intensified. The main reason for this is that parents can choose the school their children attend. Basically non-Gypsy parents can pull their children from schools where the number of Gypsy students is growing. In 1991 only 32% of the schools were segregated; today that number is 61.5%. The schools often invoke a variety of tricks to segregate Roma students from their non-Roma counterparts. A favorite is to put Gypsies into special classes for the retarded. The percentage of "retarded" children among the Gypsies is a staggering 23.2%. The number for the population as a whole is 3.6%.
Tomorrow I will continue this thread, expanding into the work world.