The plight of the Hungarian Roma: Writings of a Catholic bishop and a Roma activist

Miklós Beer, the bishop of Vác, has been in the news quite a bit lately. He called media attention to himself on September 21 when he asked the priests of the churches in his bishopric to read a letter to his “brethren in Christ.” His circular took as its prompting text the gospel reading for the day, the parable from Matthew 20:1-16 about the householder who hired unemployed workers for his vineyard and gave the same amount of money to all without regard to how much time they spent working during the day. Beer thought it was finally time to talk about the miserable lot of the Roma minority in Hungary.

People were surprised to learn about the circular because until now the Catholic Church has remained quiet about the mass poverty that followed the change of regime in 1990. Gypsies who until then were employed, mostly in the building industry, as unskilled laborers were the first ones to find themselves out of a job, and the integration of Gypsies and non-Gypsies that had begun during the Kádár regime came to a screeching halt. Gypsies today live a segregated existence in villages far from job opportunities, and prejudice against them has grown to new heights.

Beer in this circular was battling prejudice. The Gypsy, he wrote, is also the child of God; “as Christians we cannot pass the responsibility to others.” He emphasized something that few Hungarians accept: “the Gypsies did not seek their misery and cannot raise themselves alone without our help.” What would Christ do today for the Roma in Hungary? The biblical answer is that “although he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”

Magyar Nemzet decided it was time to interview this would-be social reformer. In the interview Beer said a few things that don’t sit well with the majority of Hungarians. “Let’s not be angry with them when perhaps they take produce from someone else’s property because their children are starving since, despite their efforts, they cannot find employment.” Public works might be a first step, but it is not the answer in the long run. He also criticized some of the efforts of the Orbán government–for instance, the programs that cost billions of forints that gave Gypsy families one-day-old chicks or seed potatoes without teaching them how to take care of the chicks or what to do with the seed potatoes. Above all, he said, “we must strengthen their self-esteem.” Since Beer likes to refer to Pope Francis, some journalists started calling him “our Pope Francis.”

Bishop Beer’s latest was his midnight Christmas sermon broadcast on MTV1, which became available on YouTube two days later. He talked about the darkness that will be followed by light. Darkness is what divides people: jealousy, wickedness, party strife, suspicion, falseness, corruption, lies, political machinations. And he quoted Attila József’s famous poem “My country,” which was an indictment of the Horthy regime. József was right, says Beer, when he talked about the “wily fear that directs us.”* Thus Beer compared the present situation to the 1930s when the poem was written. As I watched the parishioners’ faces I wondered how much of the subtext of Beer’s sermon they understood.

*Unfortunately, this particular poem is not available in English but I found a translation in French. See the link given above.

* * *

Continuing today’s theme, here is a recent article by Aladár Horváth on the plight of the Hungarian Roma community. Horváth is a former member of parliament (SZDSZ) and a Roma activist.

 

PROTEST, FIGHT OR FLIGHT

Next year’s budget has pronounced the death sentence on the poor living in torturous poverty. From next March on, the governing majority will cease state assistance (regular welfare, nursing care and habitation support), waiving all duties connected to welfare to the care of municipal governments in severe lack of resources. It will be subject to restricted local budgets and the will and caprice of local potentates who can get what kind of assistance under what legal title. This will exclude tens or hundreds of thousands more from minimal assistance, while the corrupt elite of billionaires is sentencing at least one million people to death, leaving further three million behind “on the street” – as envisioned by László Bogár, a chief government ideologue.

This cannot merely be looked upon as a further station on the road of a series of bloodsucking measures; these policies already satisfying the criterion of genocide.Especially if you consider them together with the system of public works (“work makes you free”), the political practice of legalizing the segregation of Gypsy children, while depriving the Roma from civil and human rights institutions and ethnic organization, added to the segregated nature of urban Roma ghettos and village “reservations”– in other words, full segregation: you can safely say that apartheid in Hungary has been institutionalized.

As no rational economic argument exists for “saving”this barely 40 billion HUF [about 150 million USD], since “Hungary is performing better”[1]– this is barely the price of three soccer stadiums, a fraction of the cost of the Prime Minister’s planned residence in the Buda Castle, or the annual consignments of Közgép,[2] in other words, it amounts to the salaries of a few CEO’s of any Hungarian company that “performs better” –, only calculated political interest can be behind this decision. This is confirmed by the government communiqué that says the reason for such restrictions are people showing up on welfare payment days at the post office “with large SUV’s.”As much as we know the “natural history” of corrupt post-Soviet or further banana republics,we can safely suppose that this is a strategy of conscious scapegoat creation, an evil and bastardly manipulation cooked up in the witches’ kitchen of Hungarian government policies.

To wit, if there is no money for a family to pay for breakfast, blankets, or, God forgive, medicines for a small child, the parent will face a choice. Starvation, sickness, suffering and early death, or committing criminal acts.The consequence of the latter will be being caught and going to jail. Which leads on to the volunteer spiral of drugs, prostitution and violence.And as the number of criminal cases grows, society itself will demand even tougher measures against criminals, contributing to an even further restriction of civil rights, while “blue-light” [police] news will distract attention from the responsibility of the true culprits.

As no doubt the highest number of criminal acts investigated will be among those who are most oppressed and most monitored: the Roma– they’re the ones that can whip the news media into a frenzy –, you can safely say that the racial hatred stirred against Gypsies will be such a fuel in the hands of the government that riots can be provoked any time, then a state of emergency, and then nothing will matter more to people than to control those who upset the public order.

I suggest two avenues of action to those that do not derive advantages from this regime, unless they want to die in humiliation and live a life of suffering, dying 20 years earlier or spending long and tortuous years in prison: fight of flight.

My dear companions in distress, if you don’t believe in change, in demolishing this corrupt apartheid system and building a livable country in its place, and if you are able, go and find a new home country for a time or for good! A country where your values matter more than the color of your skin, where people count upon your knowledge and your work, where your children can grow up in safety with smiles, where struggling has a purpose, where you can be yourself. If you don’t have a good profession, language skills, funds or the strength to leave your country of birth which has denied you, or if you believe in yourself and in the chance of change, and if you are standing on your feet, struggle and fight for a new system change, for a new republic which can be home to every one of its citizens, and so can for you too!

Either of these decisions are tough, but those that wish to live in dignity will have to decide and take a step. Those of you that choose to stay in Hungary: get in contact with the people’s resistance movements, the new civil organizations, the parties under formation! And please participate in mass demonstrations: make the Roma visible! This promises perspectives because every power built upon evil must collapse once. We can only hope that the coming chaos and the civil war are not going to bury innocent people. A new Republic will be built upon new foundations in the place of the former one,[3] and this time, together with the Roma.

—-

Published in Népszabadság Online, December 27, 2014

[1] Recent slogan of Prime Minister Orbán – the translator

[2] The largest construction company close to the government, winning all tenders for road constructions and renovations –the translator

[3] Hungary is no longer a republic – the new Constitution in effect since April 2012 only defines the country as “Hungary” – the translator

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Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

Aladár Horváth speaks strong words, yet they are words of wisdom.

Member
Let’s face it the Roma is in the way of Orban’s perfect society. THe poor are in the way of Lazar’s perfect society. It is not only the Roma Orban and Fidesz Troopers have to put up with. The poor is getting poorer, the middle class is disappearing, and the rich is getting richer. Social programs are cut back, and the social gap is widening. Shocking number of homeless are sleeping on the streets, and in telephone boots. Christmas dinner this year was brought in record numbers by the Krishnas that Orban, Lazar and Kover are working very hard to “outlaw”. Recently an integrated kindergarten where autistic and Down syndrome children were enrolled with other children in downtown Szeged were sent to a segregated school in the border of the city as it was in the way of a new Casino….. Life under Orban is not only problematic for the Roma, but for the Jews, handicapped, sick, homosexuals, and the poor. The very sad part is that we still have commenters who run in here and try to explain to us, how fantastic life is under Orban, and how awful the life is in other countries, and everyone want to… Read more »
Member

I have known Aladar Horvath for more than 20 years and I have worked with him briefly on a few projects. The sad truth is, he is a feckless leader who has accomplished next to nothing over the past 25 years.
Fidesz’s treatment of Gypsies is clearly abhorrent. However, when Horvath lashes out at anyone who disagrees with him as “racist,” he turns potential allies into enemies. He undermines his own arguments with hyperbole, e.g. “genocide,” “apartheid.” He ignores Gypsies’ own inclination to abuse the benefits provided them, like selling firewood vouchers in return for booze and junk food.
Most Roma don’t want to have anything to do with him. In 2010, Horvath ran in a heavily Gypsy district in BAZ megye and got 1% of the vote; his Jobbik-backed opponent, former Fidesz MP Oszkar Molnar, won by a large margin.
The average Roma prefers the likes of gangsters such as Florian Farkas to Horvath. At least Farkas offers them crumbs from the Fidesz corruption feast. Horvath has proven himself to be a windbag who profits from human rights activities. No anti-Fidesz Gypsy movement can succeed so long as Horvath is in the driver’s seat.

petofi
Guest

Just a question here: “All these pontificators and do gooders–Gyurcsany among them–seem never to have heard of Bogdan Laszlo, a Roma who as mayor of Cserdi has actually accomplished something in the field of Roma rehabilitation. Now why, pray tell, has neither the good Bishop, nor Gyurcsany in his many years in power, called upon Mr. Bogdan to lead
a Roma department of government…or in any way voice support for Mr. Bogdan?

What is it about Mr. Bogdan that no one seems to like, or is afraid of?

Member

Bogdan’s closet is not skeleton-free. He was charged with something — I can’t remember what, but I believe it was corruption-related — and the court case has been dragging on for quite some time. I believe Bogdan is a good guy, but he is still a product of the system. Trust me, I would love nothing better than to see the man behind the kocsogmentesites program rise to high office in Hungary.

petofi
Guest

@Seal Driver

C’mon, you must be kidding, right? Bogdan was ‘charged with something…corruption-related’..?
Yeah, with this government the ones who are charged are guaranteed innocent…ie. the whistle-blower; the politician-woman who’s name escapes me now (Ah yes, David Ibolya)

Do you know the icon with the Scales of Justice? The woman refuses to appear in Hungary!

Webber
Guest

@Petofi – if you look a bit, you’ll find films online of Bogdan screaming at people in his village. If you look closely, you’ll find his family runs the place like their own kingdom. There are some other things about him that are a bit odd.
Seal Driver is right – he spent time in prison. And his sentence had NOTHING to do with this current government. Bogdan himself admits he committed crimes.
There are plenty of outstanding Roma from Hungary. The Mohacsi sisters, for example (one of whom left Hungary).
If you like Bogdan, fine. Others may not.

V.I.
Guest

OT:

As a top priority Fidesz is preparing a “National Defense Action Plan” to combat the “new types of foreign attacks against Hungary”.

The is straight from the Putin-Surkov script, at least one knows what to expect.

http://444.hu/2014/12/29/orszagvedelmi-akciotervet-dolgoz-ki-a-fidesz-a-hazankat-fenyegeto-kulso-kulso-tamadasok-ellen/

TeamBritanniaHu
Guest

Reblogged this on hungarywolf.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest
@Seal Driver “He ignores Gypsies’ own inclination to abuse the benefits provided them, like selling firewood vouchers in return for booze and junk food.” May I suggest you read a little social science, such as Viviana Zelizer’s ‘The Social Meaning Of Money’? You may realize you’re uselessly ethnicizing a social prejudice as old as welfare. Oh, and it’s often a very colorful book, too (imagine well-intentioned do-gooders in ‘1900 America infuriated at urban immigrants hijacking saving stamps to buy for lavish funerals). Now to the main point: obviously I won’t question your appreciation of the man’s efficiency. I may even be liable to take your educated word for it. Nevertheless, I would like to challenge the rest of your comment. As far as I know it has never been established that such a thing as a ‘Roma vote’ existed in Hungary. Analysis of electoral districts show no difference in turnout based on ethnic composition alone. Country-wide, party preferences among Roma have mostly followed the general trends, voting more for the Left in ’06, then for the Right in ’10 etc. In fact, the only significant trait distinguishing Roma voters seems to be a prominent interest in local issues (vs. national… Read more »
d'magyar
Guest

seal driver is also invited to present his/her good reform ideas.

seal driver and other distinguished hungarians, and we all should be engaged in passionate analysis of the hungarian misery, and provide ideas to solve the problems.

passive attitude is criminal in these critical times.

wake up and correct the hungarian fate.

even our excellent blog writer is a little slow to get to the core problems:

to explain why the wide layers of the nation is so intellectually corroded?

this blog should should be not ashamed to be the voice of the proud “anti-hungarian” hungarian elite.

if one is not called anti-hungarian, surely that one is without integrity.

Jan
Guest
You probably know about this Devecz Miklós, a Szegedi Tudományegyetem pár napja kinevezett kancellárja korábban PhD-ként, vagyis doktori fokozatként tüntette fel önéletrajzában azt a végzettségét, amely valójában közgazdasági felnőttképzési oklevél – írta meg az Átlátszó Oktatás blog. „Valószínűleg a sorozatunk hatására Devecz azóta eltávolította az amerikai Newport University álegyetem és a budapesti Econovum által kiadott papírokat az életrajzából, korábbi dokumentumokban azonban ez még mindig megtalálható. Devecz kérdésünkre tulajdonképpen elismerte, hogy cikksorozatunk hatására az Econovum képzését és PhD-ját már nem szerepelteti életrajzában, mivel az szerinte többé %BBnem releváns%AB” – adta hírül az internetes oldal. Az Átlátszó utánajárt: a kérdéses intézmény 2006 óta az Egyesült Államokban semmilyen formában nem működhet oktatási intézményként, azelőtt pedig csupán Wyoming államban, Laramie-ben volt bejegyezve, a szövetségi felsőoktatási akkreditációját Amerikában tehát hiába keresnénk. Devecz a blog megkeresésére így válaszolt: „a netnek megvan az az Ön által is ismert %BBjó tulajdonsága%AB, hogy olyan információkat is tartalmaznak adott személyekről, amelyek már nem relevánsak. „Engem pályámon nem a titulusok megszerzése, hanem a megszerzett tudás aprópénzre átváltása érdekelt és érdekel. Ezért vagyok többek között nagy híve Hofstede kultúra tipológiájának vagy a helyzetfüggő vezetésnek. Ezért tanultam a Demand Flow-t Nizzában, Franciaországban, vagy a japán menedzsmenteszközöket Yokohamában, és ezért mentem az Econovumhoz is.… Read more »
Istvan
Guest

Off topic relating to the Roma people of Hungary. I was sent an interesting essay about the evolution of the electoral process in Putin’s Russia that merits being digested by thoughtful Hungarians given Fidesz’s evolution towards Putin’s Russia. See http://www.gwu.edu/~ieresgwu/assets/docs/503-522_Gelman.pdf

Second the American Hungarian Federation announced it met with US State Department officials about “Russia’s policies and activities in Central Europe, including Hungary,” The short statement on this meeting can be read at http://www.americanhungarianfederation.org Clearly the AHF is becoming nervous about the pro-Russian orientation of the Orban regime and fears losing any credibility in the USA.

For older Hungarian Americans we vividly recall the Szabo-Conrad spy ring where an American Hungarian in the US Army who was secretly a colonel in the Hungarian Military Intelligence Service betrayed our nation and passed NATO information to the KGB. There is deep concern in the American Hungarian community of being associated in any way with Russia, multiply this concern 100 times for American Hungarians serving in the US military.

Member

@Eva, Would you be kindly remove comments from the blog that are written solely in other language than Hungarian and without any purpose to tie to the subject whatsoever. It is not even trolling but some other way to disrupt the site.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

[OT] Soon coming to a Parliament near you?

Under the new laws, protesters found guilty of “holding meetings, rallies, demonstrations, marches and pickets” multiple times during a six-month period will be eligible for a panoply of penalties, including fines ranging from 600,000 to 1 million rubles ($17,124 to $28,540) or two years of salary and up to five years of forced labor or prison.

Source

Webber
Guest

@Some1 – which comment do you mean? Everything here is either in Hungarian or English.

Member

@Webber. HAHAHA. I meant to write solely in other language than English. I was referring to Jan’s comment at 8:00 am. It has nothing to do with the current subject, and it is solely written in Hungarian and has nothing to do wit the current thread. There is no explanation given in English about why this comment is here, how does it relevant or what it is about. English readers will be puzzled and distracted.

Thanks for the heads up!

Istvan
Guest

Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó in today’s Magyar Nemzet is reported to have said: “In connection with the Ukrainian crisis, our position is the following. We stand up for Ukrainian territorial integrity and sovereignty and support the fastest negotiated settlement possible based on the Minsk accords.”

The problem is the Minsk accords composed of 12 points do not discuss the territorial integrity of Ukraine, they are a cease fire agreement for the areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts and all provisions relating to security zones in the border regions of Ukraine and the Russian Federation are assumed by the Russians to accept the incorporation of the entire Crimea into the Federation.

Péter Szijjártó here adopts the Russian position and he does that by referring to the Minsk accords which do not fully support the territorial integrity of Ukraine and can not be the basis for restoring the sovereignty of that nation as it existed prior to the Russian invasion.

Lajcsi
Guest

Paks 2 is proceeding as planned.

The crisis in Russia has no influence on Paks whatsoever.

http://inforadio.hu/hir/belfold/hir-692164

Member
@Petofi – I agree with you about politicized justice. I like Bogdan,I admire his accomplishments, but like I said, he is a product of his political environment. If no one is embracing him, there might be a reason, and it just might be connected to the (politicized?) charges. @Marcel Dé – Your points are well taken. Allow me to respond: “May I suggest you read a little social science, such as Viviana Zelizer’s ‘The Social Meaning Of Money’? You may realize you’re uselessly ethnicizing a social prejudice as old as welfare.” Actually, I’m referring to a specific incident in a Roma settlement near Sajoszentpeter. I spoke to some residents who said they were not getting vouchers for firewood. I asked why not. They chuckled and told me nobody used the vouchers for firewood the previous year because they spent it all on pia. The liberal elite’s response: “It didn’t happen.” Well, the local mayor, an ex-SZDSZ social worker and the perpetrators of the benefit fraud say it did happen. “As far as I know it has never been established that such a thing as a ‘Roma vote’ existed in Hungary. Analysis of electoral districts show no difference in turnout based… Read more »
Member

Eva – I’m looking forward to it! 🙂

Guest
When I was in Moscow on business in 1990, the Central Moscow subway entrances to the Metro were absolutely full of Hungarian Roma kids begging and stealing and generally making a nuisance of themselves. Am I to understand that at that time the Hungarian Roma were already well on their way to becoming integrated into mainstream Hungarian society? I see a lot of parellels between the situation of the Roma in Hungary and that of the Aborogines, the indigenous people here in Australia. Our Aborigines come from Stone Age backgrounds and many of them continue to struggle with the challenges of modern life despite every possible help given to them. It is not like in Hungary, where the resources are simply not there or are not made available to better the condition of the Roma. We have about a quarter of a million of so-called “full blood” and another quarter of a million of so-called “mixed blood” Aborogines in a total estimated population of just under twenty four million. In contrast, Hungary contends with over half a million Roma in a population just over nine million, so proportionately and in terms of available resources Hungary’s problem is of course much… Read more »
Webber
Guest

@Mike Balint – In the 1980s someone close to me was approached by some gypsies in a railway station in Moscow. When she heard them speaking Hungarian to one another, she said hello in Hungarian. She soon had a LOT of gypsies around her, and they told her that they were originally from Hungary but left during WWII, started travelling east, and didn’t stop until they got to Moscow. They were thrilled to meet another Hungarian speaker, insisted on buying her ticket, and tried to give her some money. The Soviet Union was no paradise, but given what happened to Roma in Hungary and throughout Europe in WWII, those people made the right decision when they started travelling east.

Guest

@Webber

Interesting. Good to know.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest
@Seal Driver I believe your account about Sajószentpéter entirely. However the use of welfare benefits – be they in cash, in earmarked currencies or in kind – for other goods or services than those the donors had in mind is a phenomenon as old as modern aid, and unspecific to any ethnicity. I really recommend Zelizer’s book. Btw, in order to convert firewood vouchers into pia, you need a ‘voucher laundering’ system. Was it the wood merchant? The grocer? Maybe it’s not only the poor who don’t believe in the social control strings attached to welfare. Re: elections. Thanks for the precisions. Doesn’t it corroborate the notion that there is no ‘ethnic vote’? Roma voters in Edeleny wouldn’t elect a candidate simply because he is a Roma, too. And a nation-wide ‘ethnic party’ failed miserably. Yet, in spite of such obvious failures, I believe he is right – and furthermore that his line of reasoning applies to all Hungarians voters. You wrote that “too many Roma prefer to milk the system rather than fight it” and I’m inclined to agree, but don’t you think that “too many Hungarians prefer to milk the system rather than fight it”? As long as… Read more »
Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

@Mike Balint, re: Aboriginal Australians. I don’t now where to start and its not the place, so I’ll shut up. >:(

Guest

@Marcel Dé

I happen to be very close to Aboroginal issues here in Australia, and do not have to depend for information on left wing critics on the internet. So, I suppose we shall just have to agree to disagree.

🙂

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

@Mike Balint

Again, it’s not the place so: of course. I hope you’ll agree nevertheless that asking you to use the correct spelling might not necessarily be a left wing thing.

d'magyar
Guest

The Radnot’s converted to the general racist culture. It is pretty nasty:

“1942-ben Komlós Aladár✡ kéziratot kért az általa szerkesztett Ararát évkönyv számára Radnóti Miklóstól. A „Magyar zsidó évkönyv” 1939 és 1944 között megjelent hat kötetét a Pesti Izraelita Leányárvaház adta ki, jótékony céllal, a szerkesztőnek azonban az volt a szándéka, hogy az almanachot a magyar zsidó irodalom orgánumává formálja.
Radnóti elutasította a felkérést.”

“1942 őszén meglátogatott egy kárpátaljai zsinagógát, és ezt írta Naplójában: “Nagy csalódás, új, csúf kis templom, néhány tincses gyerek és zsidó sivárság, unalom. Este újra bombázzák Pestet.”

http://www.multesjovo.hu/en/aitdownloadablefiles/download/aitfile/aitfile_id/56/

“Radnóti Miklósné erre a levélre a következôket válaszolta:
Beszélt ügyvédjével, s felkérte a szükséges intézkedések
megtételére, ha a Múlt és Jövô folyóiratban megjelennének
férje versei; ugyanis a maga részérôl a leghatározottabban
megtiltja, hogy Radnóti Miklós mûvei „zsidó lapban”
megjelenjenek.”

I am afraid Fanni Gyarmati remained the slave of her Catholic conversion. Slightly prejudiced.

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