Water and politics: The case of the Roma in Ózd

There are times, though not too often, when Fidesz and the Orbán government retreat and give up positions earlier thought to be sacrosanct. This usually happens when there is a big stink. Not just nationally but internationally. This is what happened with the public faucets in Ózd.

Ózd, a town with a population of 34,000, fell on hard economic times when the heavy metallurgical industry collapsed in the 1990s. Ózdi Kohászatai Üzemek had employed more than 10,000 workers. In 1975 67.3% of the men between the ages of 18 and 65 were gainfully employed. Now the unemployment in Ózd is extremely high. Ózd also has a large Roma population. Officially only 7% of the population declared themselves to be of Roma ethnicity, but according to some estimates one-third of Ózd’s population might be of Gypsy origin.

The Gypsies live in several ghetto-like sections of the town. Most of their houses don’t have running water, so these people must carry  water in buckets from public faucets. Apparently there are 123 faucets that serve about 8,000 people. Some of these people live in areas where city water was never hooked up; others don’t have service because they couldn’t pay their water bill. A family of four or five needs at least 100 liters of water a day and, especially in the areas where a lot of people live without city water, there might be as many as 100 people who use one faucet.

Since the city must provide water to the inhabitants, these people receive their water free of charge. The Fidesz-led town hall found the 13 million forints the city had to pay for the water used on roadsides too high. They claimed that the families living in those parts waste water. They use it for washing cars, watering their gardens, and for the children to splash around in. The city fathers, including the sole MSZP member, voted to restrict access to water at public faucets. They completely closed 28 of the 123 faucets and set the water pressure in another 61 very low to discourage the use of too much water.

There are conflicting claims about how slow these faucets became after the town hired a company to lower the pressure from 100% to 60%. The mayor and other Fidesz officials in town claim that lowering the pressure made little difference. (Then why do it?) One of the city fathers declared that the difference between full pressure and reduced pressure is negligible, but others figured that it now takes at least ten minutes to fill a ten-liter bucket with water. A family of five that needs 100 liters of water a day would have to stand for an hour and a half to fill the requisite number of buckets. The men are not around at this time of the year because they managed to get some seasonal work in agriculture, so it’s mostly women and children who carry these buckets. Ten liters of water is terribly heavy, especially for a skinny eight-year-old whom I saw on one of the photos. And he must make at least ten trips. Sometimes quite far. There are cases where they have to walk at least half a kilometer each way.

The water is barely trickling / Népszabadság Photo by István Konyhás

The water is barely trickling / Népszabadság photo by István Konyhás

It’s easy to blame everything on the Gypsies, but one of the city fathers admitted that it’s not the inhabitants of the “segregatums,” as one journalist called these Gypsy ghettos, who steal the city’s water but owners of weekend places outside of Ózd. They come by car and take away 200-300 liters of water. In fact, 444.hu received an e-mail from someone who called attention to a 2011 Google Earth video of a hose that led from a city faucet to a well appointed house in one of the wealthiest sections in town. You can see it on YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P1msthmIB3o

It was inevitable that the decision of the Ózd City Council would become a national issue. Although the city fathers never mentioned the word “Roma” or “Gypsy,” it became a Roma issue. It couldn’t have been otherwise when it is the Roma population’s neighborhood that is without running water and when it is mostly the dirt poor Roma who can’t pay their water bills.

Opposition politicians were on hand, led by István Nyakó (MSZP) who is from these parts. László Varju (DK) arrived as did Aladár Horváth, a Roma activist. There were all sorts of useless negotiations between Nyakó and Pál Fürjes, the Fidesz mayor of Ózd. I don’t know in what language they tried to converse, but the two gave entirely different reports of their conversation. Nyakó understood that Fürjes promised to restore the standard pressure in the faucets while Fürjes claimed that there was no such agreement. Moreover, he made it crystal clear that the city will not move an inch. It is not fair that the majority of the city’s population has to pay for water while others don’t. As he put it, “perhaps the majority of people feel good when they steal, but someone has to pay for the water.” He neglected to mention that these people have no choice because they have no water hook-up.

Fürjes’s claim is especially distasteful in light of the fact that Ózd received 1.75 billion forints from the Swiss-Hungarian Cooperation Program for the express purpose of providing running water to the Roma ghettos. Opposition politician Péter Juhász of Milla and Együtt 2014-PM demanded to know the fate of this money. According to the website of the town of Ózd, work on the modernization of the whole system will be done between 2013 and 2017. Well, more than half of 2013 is gone and there is no sign of any work on the pipes. Fürjes immediately rebuked Juhász, saying that the Ózd Fidesz government is not like the Gyurcsány-Bajnai government which stole the country blind and was corrupt to the core. The money is there and work will begin in November. I must say November’s not the best time of the year to start such a project.

Negotiations between Nyakó and Fürjes led nowhere;  the city was ready to open only one faucet. Nyakó then said that he was going to call on Sándor Pintér, minister of the interior, to force the town of Ózd to restore all the faucets that had served the town’s Roma population.

I must say that yesterday I wasn’t very optimistic that Pintér would intervene, especially after the  Fidesz spokesman Róbert Zsigó threw the party’s weight behind Pál Fürjes. Since yesterday, however, a few things happened that changed the situation.  Zoltán Balog, whose ministry is responsible for Roma integration, announced that he considered limiting water to the Roma ghettos inhumane. Then came the bad publicity from BBC, Deutsche Welle, Der Spiegel, and a very long and detailed article in the Swiss Tages Anzeiger. After all, a lot of Swiss money was given to Ózd specifically for the purpose of making running water available in the Roma ghettos and now the mayor of the town limits water for them even at the roadside faucets!

In any case, Pintér gave a friendly or perhaps not so friendly telephone call to Pál Fürjes, who suddenly saw the light. In order to save face he repeated that the town’s action was entirely legal. But the extended heat wave that hit Hungary after the town council made its decision led him to revoke it. Tages Anzeiger immediately reported the good news. It would be interesting to know whether the Swiss, directly or indirectly, put pressure on the Hungarian government to change its mind on the issue of water supply in Ózd.

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Varese
Guest

your link doesn’t work – the youtube link showing the hose leading to the wealthy persons’ property…

Pete H.
Guest

Varese :
your link doesn’t work – the youtube link showing the hose leading to the wealthy persons’ property…

Member

And it even gives the address… Matyas Kiraly utca 41 in Ozd.

Szegmens
Guest

It has been a sad tendency all over Hungary that these blue public wells got closed.

I remember the wells when we went on hiking trips around Balaton (no PET bottled water then); now the wells are all gone.

The municipalities stopped paying for the wells all over Hungary.

As with anything ‘free’, these wells were used the most by the well-off, who had the best means and biggest incentive to do so (biggest garden to water).

Although mostly – an this is a huge problem – people rather use illegally drilled wells sucking dry then acquifer and also mistakenly believing that water is abundant in drying Hungary (it is a terrible myth, the acquifers are getting depleted almost all over Hungary).

People are tricky and because of those who abuse these opportunities (Pete’s video is just one, I know similar houses in Western-Hungary), the poor people suffer.

LwiiH
Guest
We have a number of these faucets in our neighbourhood and our neighbourhood has a significant Roma populations. I can say that it’s not only the Roma that use these facilities. Just about all of the households that don’t have wells also make use of them. That said, the stand mostly idle. You pretty much only see the old (non-Roma) ladies in the neighbourhood standing around them gossiping. I can’t say that I’ve seen people *abusing* the free water, at least not in our area. My second observation is that a significant number (but certainly not all) of the Roma owned homes in the neighbourhood not only don’t have a water hookup, they’ve been built without the possibility of ever having running water. We visited one such new home that certainly could have been hooked up but the house had absolutely no plumbing in it what so ever. The way the house was built you’d almost have to rebuild the whole thing to retrofit plumbing. I could understand older homes being built that way but certainly not new ones. But, it seems to be a traditional way of building and so…. Right, heating, with no running water there is no… Read more »
tappanch
Guest

Let me add that today and possibly tomorrow are the hottest days of the year, 40 Celsius= 104 Fahrenheit.

tappanch
Guest

Hungarian Roma queue for water in heatwave after pumps shut down.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/08/07/hungary-roma-water-heat-idUSL6N0G82VH20130807

Guest

Stealing water seems to be a Hungarian national sport ahead of football. I forget who told me that a popular method is to mount a magnet on the water meter which slows its rotation. I don’t know how well it works. If it works it does so to the benefit of those who have water meters.

Guest

That the “Tagi” (That’s how Zürich’s inhabitants call their paper) report on this scandal is a very good sign!

To think that there’s no running water – and of course no WCs, no sewer in the 21st century …

A bit OT:

Those private wells are also a problem, not only because they diminish the ground water. They aren’t checked for chemicals and really bad things can happen. I’ve written about this before:

In the village of Zalaszánto so many people got cancer of the intestines that the doctors got alarmed and it was found out that the Aluminum plant nearby had contaminated the water that they got from those wells – now they have water pipes and the plant has been closed, but the soil is stillfull of toxic chemicals and of course some people still use those wells to water their vegetables …

Laszlo Szabo
Guest

The bad news is the 40 C (104 Farenheit) degree heat for weeks (really zero rain from Mid June until early October, with minimal rains around mid/20th of August) are the new normal.

In the last thirty years the annual precipitation decreased by 30% in Western Hungary (Eastern Hungary fared better), and the number of sunny days increased significantly (and of course it means more evaporation).

The increase in daily temperature has no cap. It’s not like the 100 meter run where a human being cannot run faster than say 6 seconds so there is a physical limit. There is no such limit with temperatures.

Just because it is 41 degrees celsius and this is the new record ever, does not mean in that in two years the new record in Hungary cannot be 46, like it was in Sydney this January.

Hungary will be baked. It is a plainland and the hot air from Africa cannot flow further north because of the Carpathians.

We are now a fully fledged Mediterranian country without the Mediterrian Sea.

tappanch
Guest

Fidesznik President Ader apppointed Fidesznik Laszlo Szekely to occupy the last independent position, that of “ombudsman of basic rights” from September 25.

The ombudsman has the right to appeal to the Constitutional Court in case of a suspected unconstitutional law. This, last valve will also be blocked from now on.

googly
Guest

I hope this is an own-goal that shows those Fidesz voters who are unaware of it how hypocritical, racist, and cruel the current government is.

Guest

Now we’re waiting for some Fidesz troll to explain that this heatwave must be the MSZP’s (Jews’, evil multinational companies’, banks’, you name it …) fault!

Totally OT:

We’re so happy that we’ve installed A/C in two rooms a few years ago when there was a similar heat wave …

spectator
Guest
“…Pál Fürjes, who suddenly saw the light. In order to save face he repeated that the town’s action was entirely legal. But the extended heat wave that hit Hungary after the town council made its decision led him to revoke it.” Something being “entirely legal” in Fideszland – only question, wether or not he boys have had time yet to change the law accordingly, so, who do you kidding with, please? Something being “entirely legal” could be entirely anti-human – as the above senseless act shows. When this “entirely legal” action has ben implemented – 29.July – the temperature was already up around the hundreds all over in the country, but, Pál Fürjes did not notice this for an entire week. Otherwise you can not steal something what openly and freely available to the public, however you try, you know. You can overuse, you can take more than your fair share – could be, since according to my best knowledge there is no water rations per person in effect (yet?) there – so, it questionable statement anyhow, that this is the reason. Not to mention, that in such case the public must have been informed properly, way in advance. And… Read more »
Oilman
Guest
Székely Laci is a trusted Fidesznik. He is not trusted too much, therefore usually his name comes up only in the third round. Instead of being a constitutional court judge for example he only coordinated the drafting of the new the Civil Code and the last time I checked he was still a junior associate prof at age 50. But he will be a jolly good ombudsman, as he dutifully hates foreign examples and he does not speak any foreign language so he is not into following European developments. The other question is will Tompika finally get the media head position? Funny though that they just could not come up with a name in months for that position. Seems Fidesz don’t trust anybody enough, although I guess not everybody wants the public position he/she will be in. I think Orbán also does not trust Tompi enough, as he cannot be controlled at times and he might just do some stupidities, especially as with Tompi, it’s the other way round. He knows about a lot of dirty things (even if much of the info is way past the statute of limitations) and that is the only reason he is kept at… Read more »
tappanch
Guest

@Oilman

It is not encouraging that Mr Szekely wants to protect the politicians from public scrutiny.

“We shall make clear that the person of a public figure is not free prey” [of journalists]

http://www.nepszava.hu/articles/article.php?id=668170

As an ombudsman his job should be to protect common folks form the tyranny of politicians.
It seems he will protect the politicians instead.

JGrant
Guest

LwiiH :
I could understand older homes being built that way but certainly not new ones.

They are built like that for two reasons mostly:
1) The Roma usually self build with little knowhow and/or very little money. They can’t always afford to put plumbing in. This is, of course, illegal, as building regulations demand plumbing, but in places like Ozd I suspect they don’t care.
2) Another likely reason of no plumbing could be that they know for sure that they will never be able to afford water bills, so what is the point?

Tyrker
Guest

“Pál Fürjes, the Fidesz mayor”

Ah, the Wizard of Ozd.

Paul
Guest
I wonder how many of the people commenting on this have ever lived without running water? As Wolfi says, it’s not just having to fetch water every day, and not being able to shower (or even bathe easily). But you also can’t use a washing machine, and, of course, there’s no flush toilet (or sewer system). Lack of running water isn’t just an inconvenience, it drastically affects the quality of life that’s possible, and it creates a huge burden of unnecessary labour that mostly falls on the women’s shoulders. Also, if you’re dependent on a well, the water starts to disappear in the summer, and sometimes the well even runs dry. The village my wife grew up in had no running water (or gas, originally), so I have had direct (but thankfully brief) experience of what it’s like to not only not have running water, but often simply not to have enough water. It isn’t fun and a bit of an adventure, like a week’s camping, it’s hard and it dominates your whole life. That people still have to live like this in a modern, Western, country in the 21st century is damming enough, but that who gets running water… Read more »
tappanch
Guest

@Paul

“That people still have to live like this in a modern, Western, country in the 21st century ”

Orban has declared that Hungarians are half Asian. Hungary is not modern and not Western.

Traianus romanus
Guest

http://romanianjournalist.wordpress.com/2012/08/29/romanian-media-digest-ceausescus-palace-makes-half-a-milion-euros-per-year/

http://www.hotnews.ro/stiri-esential-13113420-harta-civilizatiei-judetele-codase-clasamentul-privind-locuintele-baie-interior-alimentate-apa-curenta.htm

21th century Romania: Only 61 % of the Romanian houses have bathrooms with flush toilets and water inside; 39% of the toilets are located outside, in the yards. EU average: only 5% of the houses don’t have toilets.

Paul
Guest

The other thing that really got me from those visits was that the well was only a few metres from the toilet pit (literally a deep hole right under the toilet – and boy did it stink!). I don’t know a lot about how wells and ‘pits’ work, or how water travels through the ground, but this struck me as far too close for comfort.

Guest

Does anybody know the “toilet statistics” for Hungary – compared to what our Romanian friend posted ?

Not totally OT:

We know people (with enough money …) somewhere in Eastern Hungary who have a nice bathroom with a WC – but the plumbing is faulty so they can only use it for a pee …

For the “real work” they walk 30 m to their old outhouse which is behind the chicken coop. They just don’t want the work and dirt -doing all the sewage plumbing in an old house would probably make it inhabitable for more than a month …

There’s an old joke on this:

What’s a gravity-controlled disposal implementation with acoustic feedback ?

Even more OT (or not):

My friends who live in a suburb of London in one of those Victorian houses still use the old outhouse as a spare – of course one of the many children’s rooms has been turned into a bathroom a long time ago.

statisticer
Guest

wolfi :
Does anybody know the “toilet statistics” for Hungary – compared to what our Romanian friend posted ?
Not totally OT:
We know people (with enough money …) somewhere in Eastern Hungary who have a nice bathroom with a WC – but the plumbing is faulty so they can only use it for a pee …
For the “real work” they walk 30 m to their old outhouse which is behind the chicken coop. They just don’t want the work and dirt -doing all the sewage plumbing in an old house would probably make it inhabitable for more than a month …
There’s an old joke on this:
What’s a gravity-controlled disposal implementation with acoustic feedback ?
Even more OT (or not):
My friends who live in a suburb of London in one of those Victorian houses still use the old outhouse as a spare – of course one of the many children’s rooms has been turned into a bathroom a long time ago.

http://www.ksh.hu/docs/hun/xftp/idoszaki/mo/mo2012.pdf

hungarian central statistical office, Page: 67

94%

I spent many years in various German big cities, despite the fact that Germans earn much more money, their average infrastructure were not much better than Hungarian.

statisticer
Guest

Moreover Germany lagged in high speed cable net and mobile internet infrastructure. Even the numbers of internet users / population ratio until the end of 2000s.

Ron
Guest

Statisticer: It seems that the previous governments spent their money in upgrading the infrastructure. I wonder how much was paid for by the EU.

As to high speed cables and mobile internet structure was in the entire EU lagging behind. But since Hungary had nothing is was easier to install new infrastructure, than to replace the old infrastructure.

Btw the way I was regular travelling in early 2000 between Hungary and Germany regarding IT servers. The lay out of the cables was neat and tidy in Germany and a big mess in Hungary.

Guest

@statisticer:

It gets us more OT even – but do you claim that the proportion of internet users in Hungary is higher than in Germany ?

Of course I know that many older people in Germany have problems adjusting to the internet age – and also the German Telekom has problems fitting high speed cables in the country. There’s a village near Tübingen (the university town that we live near in Germany) where companies were really angry because until early this year they only had ISDN with 384 kbit/sec …

Guest

Totally OT but very interesting:

The German tv channel 3sat is right now showing a film about Austria/Hungary in WW1 and the destruction of the battle ship St Istvan …

Very good film, ionteresting pictures

Paul
Guest
One of the things that surprised me on first visiting Hungary 12 years ago was how advanced the internet and mobile phone services were. But of course, it’s relatively easy to put up transmission masts and microwave relays, and to lay cables – and it’s worth it because it’s like planting a money tree. Things like water supplies and, especially, sewage systems, however, are very difficult and horribly expensive to install, and don’t make anyone any profit. Which is why it’s down to governments and local authorities to put in such infrastructure (and pay for it). This is one of their fundamental duties and responsibilities. and should come way ahead of renaming streets, putting up statues to anti-Semites, and building football stadia. It should even come before building motorways. My first wife’s grandmother lived, and died, in a house in the East End with no bathroom and an outside toilet. That was over 30 years ago, but still a huge shock to me, I was deeply ashamed that an old woman should have to live like that in one of the richest countries in the world, and just a few miles from the enormous wealth of the City of London.… Read more »
Guest

Here’s the story of the ship:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SMS_Szent_Istv%C3%A1n

There’s a funny scene in the documentation: Admiral Horthy showing off his breast tattoo of a dragon to the German reporter Kirsch – is that for real ?