In January 2011 a police sergeant assaulted a Roma man. He was proud of his "accomplishment" and bragged about it on Facebook: "I kicked the Gypsy's head while he was on the ground." The Legal Aid Office of National and Ethnic Minorities (NEKI) launched a complaint with the investigating prosecutor's office in Szeged.
The victim of the police sergeant was a young man who had been attacked by three others who were unknown to him. In the middle of the scuffle the policeman arrived, and he inquired from the three attackers why they couldn't handle "one rotten little Gypsy." Instead of stopping the attack on the victim who by then was lying on the ground, he came to the aid of the attackers. While he was making derogatory remarks about the young man's ethnic origin, he began beating and kicking him. The next day he was bragging about his "heroic accomplishments" on Facebook.
It took five months for the Szeged prosecutor's office to "investigate" this affair, and at the end of July they decided to discontinue the investigation. The reasons given sound very strange. First, the perpetrator denied the charge of racism, and therefore investigators couldn't establish any racist motives behind his action. It is true that he admitted that he wrote the description of the events on Facebook, but such an announcement on a social networking site is not enough to support the existence of the crime. "Although in [the announcement] the alleged perpetrator mentioned the ethnic origin of the injured party, there was no reference to the motivation behind the act." In plain English, the police sergeant's action would have warranted further investigation only if on Facebook he said something like "I kicked the head of the guy because he was a Gypsy."
The lawyers at NEKI who are attached to the Másság Alapítvány, a foundation established for the defense of minorities, ethnic as well as sexual and religious, expressed their outrage over the affair. They called attention to other cases where Gypsies were accused of racism. In Miskolc, it was enough to find a baseball bat nearby with the words "death to the Hungarians" written on it to have the accused Roma sent to jail for years. Or, in Budapest there was a case that came to be known as the Tavaszmező Street affair. The prosecutor in her summation said, "There are words that mustn't be uttered." It is unfortunate, says the communiqué, that in this case when a Roma was being attacked there are no consequences of using anti-Gypsy words. Although in the Criminal Code there is a fairly specific description of what is considered to be an ethnically motivated racist crime (§174/B), it seems that in Hungary it is almost impossible to prove a hostile act toward the Roma. Just lately TASZ (Hungarian Civil Liberties Union) launched a complaint in the name of a pregnant Roma woman in Gyöngyöspata who was followed by masked men in uniform, whips in hand cracked menacingly. For good measure they kept spitting on her. The police didn't see any reason to investigate the case as a hate crime, only as slander.
Here, by the way, is some additional information on the Miskolc case. According to reports, eleven Roma men were jailed in May 2011 for attacking a car with shovels, machetes, baseball bats, and a cane bearing the slogan "Death to Hungarians" that was lying nearby. Before the attack text messages had been sent around the Roma community warning of an impending attack by fascist skinheads, which proved to be false. The men spotted a car that was circling around in their neighborhood which they believed to contain the skinheads. Thus the attack. The prison terms ranged from four and a half years to six years for crime against the community–i.e. the basis of the decision was that it was a hate crime against Hungarians. There were three passengers in the car, two of whom received slight injuries, and the subsequent repairs to the cars cost Ft 100,000 ($530.00).
The Criminal Code's §174/B is supposed to defend minorities, but it seems that in several cases members of the minorities received heavy jail sentences for hate crimes against the majority. This was also the case in the Mezőtavasz Street case where seven Roma youngsters attacked a non-Roma boy saying, "How do you dare to come into our street?" The seven received heavy jail sentences. They will spend 21 years in jail altogether.
As for the number of racially motivated crimes in Hungary, the numbers are very low but not because such cases are so rare in Hungary. The reason is that the police and the prosecutors simply cover up racist or anti-gay attacks. And even if such a crime gets reported, the prosecutors refuse to acknowledge that it has anything to do with anti-Roma or anti-gay motives. For example, during one of the gay pride festivals a woman who wore a T-shirt of the organizers was beaten up by three guys. The police originally chalked the incident up as breach of the peace. It was only after the lawyers of TASZ insisted on a more serious investigation that the prosecution changed the charge to assault against a member of a specific community.
Amnesty International, TASZ, and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee are studying the matter and have demanded answers from the Chief Prosecutor. They complained about the Hungarian prosecutors' use of §174/B, which was enacted in defense of minorities and not of the majority. Knowing the Hungarian prosecutors' attitude toward the law, I doubt that anything will happen to remedy the present situation.