The leader of the Hungarian Roma community under scrutiny

In the last few days several investigative articles have appeared about the growing scandal at the Országos Roma Önkormányzat (ORÖ), the representative of the Hungarian Roma minority. Although Ákos Hadházy of LMP called attention to corruption in one of the programs under the supervision of ORÖ in early February, the prosecutors didn’t find sufficient cause to investigate. After a while, however, it was impossible to ignore the case because the evidence of wrongdoing was overwhelming. At last an investigation began in early May. NAV, the tax authority, appeared at the headquarters of ORÖ and began collecting documents and computers.

Back in February I wrote about the case and wondered whether the former head of ORÖ, Flórián Farkas, would be investigated this time and whether, if found guilty, he would finally be punished. Until now he has always managed to avoid prosecution. In that post I very briefly outlined Farkas’s run-ins with the law. Here I would like to concentrate on his shady political career.

Flórián Farkas has had assistance from both the left and the right. Currently, he is one of the signatories of the Fidesz-Lungo Drom Alliance; the other signatory is Viktor Orbán. But he also had excellent relations with MSZP during the 1994-1998 period when an MSZP-SZDSZ coalition was in power. It seems that both Gyula Horn of MSZP and Viktor Orbán of Fidesz overlooked Farkas’s misdeeds since, for some strange reason, both thought that he could deliver the Roma vote. Whether he did or not nobody knows.

In every regime, under all governments, Farkas managed not only to survive but to ascend the political hierarchy. According to an article that appeared recently in Népszabadság, he was already active in Roma organizations during the Kádár period, but it was only in the early 1990s that he established Lungo Drom, which eventually became the favorite Roma organization of the Antall government as opposed to the Roma Parliament, which József Antall considered to be too radical. By 1993, among the various Roma organizations, Lungo Drom received the most financial assistance from the government.

Although there had been questions even at that stage about the finances of Lungo Drom, it received the support of the Horn government after 1994. Over the next four years Farkas got into all sorts of scrapes, which an ambitious investigative journalist, Attila B. Hidvégi, tried to learn more about. When Hidvégi was working on a 1995 case involving Farkas, two associates of the Hungarian secret service visited him and told him to stop digging around. He gave up. Farkas obviously had important friends in high places. Another time, when it looked as if his case would end up in the courts, President Árpád Göncz got a phone call from the ministry of justice more or less instructing him to grant Farkas clemency, which meant that the case never went to trial. Moreover, documents pertaining to the affair were declared to be top secret for 30 years.

Before the 1998 election Farkas managed to convince Gyula Horn that he would be able to deliver the Gypsy vote at the forthcoming election. Horn was certainly courting Lungo Drom. He attended its congress in January 1998 where he delivered a speech, which he included in his book Azok a kilencvenes évek… (Those 1990s). In it Horn told his audience that the Roma community has to shape up and do its share in changing the situation of the Gypsy community. Some other Roma communities criticized the prime minister but, as Horn put it in 1999 when the book was written, “Flórián Farkas and I continued to work to realize the programs that had been started.” (p. 472)

Great was the surprise within MSZP when at the end of 2001 Fidesz and Lungo Drom signed an agreement to cooperate politically. This time Farkas misjudged the situation, which was not at all surprising because almost all the opinion polls predicted an overwhelming Fidesz victory. Fidesz lost but Viktor Orbán made sure that Farkas’s name was placed high enough on the party list that he would easily become a member of parliament, where he served for two terms as a member of the Fidesz caucus.

Since 2010 Farkas’s influence has grown considerably, especially after he signed a formal alliance with the government to craft the country’s Roma strategy.

Signing the alliance between the government and Lungo Drom, May 2011

Signing the alliance between the government and Lungo Drom, May 2011

A few days ago, Magyar Nemzet suggested that perhaps the greatest task Hungary has to undertake in the coming years is to find a solution to the problems of the Hungarian Roma community. The author of the article estimated that 20% of all Hungarian children under the age of five are Roma. If this new generation cannot be rescued from the kind of poverty and low educational attainment the Roma community currently experiences, the future of the Hungarian economy will be in serious jeopardy. The article accused the so-called Roma elite of betraying their own people. But in the final analysis, I believe, Hungarian politicians, past and present, are perhaps even more responsible for the prevailing situation. They were the ones who handed over billions and billions of forints coming from the European Union to corrupt Roma leaders.

The Roma politicians around Fidesz have their own enablers in the Orbán government. Index learned that Tamás Köpeczi-Bócz, an assistant undersecretary in the ministry of human resources, is a suspect in the case involving the financial manipulations of ORÖ. He is in charge of the coordination of EU funds, including a sizable amount of money for Roma affairs. Apparently, it is thanks to him that no investigation of the affairs of ORÖ took place until now because he informed the prosecutors that all expenses were absolutely legitimate. In brief, it seems he is part and parcel of the fraud that has been perpetrated for years.

Magyar Nemzet learned that Farkas has the exclusive right to choose Roma politicians to fill certain government positions. That’s why, claims the paper, Lívia Járóka, a former member of the EU Parliament, was dropped by Viktor Orbán. Indeed, take a look at her biography in Wikipedia. One has to wonder why she was shipped off to Brussels in the first place. And why, after two terms, did she disappear into nothingness? The Wikipedia article ends with this sentence: “As of September 2014 she is no longer listed on the European Parliament site as an MEP.” Can Hungary afford to dispense with a Roma politician of this caliber? Viktor Orbán obviously believes that it can.

Commentators think that Flórián Farkas has never been closer to being indicted, especially since there are signs that the Orbán government might stop shielding him. János Lázár announced that if Farkas cannot clear his name, the prime minister will withdraw confidence in him. Népszabadság noted that Lungo Drom is no longer mentioned as an ally on Fidesz’s website. But who will come after  him? Offhand, I don’t see any serious, reliable candidate for the job.

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Alex Kuli
Guest

“Who will come after him? Offhand, I don’t see any serious, reliable candidate for the job.”

Eva – You hit upon an excellent point here. Every four years or so, Hungarian political leaders cynically manipulate the Gypsy community for their votes. Once the election is over, they treat them like little children. Back in the day, the SZDSZ played the role of “friend to the underclass” by running ethnic-Roma candidates, but did not bother training these people to be effective leaders (possibly because the SZDSZ leadership itself was so pathetically ineffective). Aladar Horvath has been trying to launch a Civil Rights movement for decades, but lacks the political skills to bring it to fruition. When Blanka Kozma ran for Parliament on the SZDSZ ticket, she kicked off her campaign by declaring “I’m probably going to lose.”

No Roma leader has the education or the financial wherewithal to launch any kind of meaningful grassroots movement. To paraphrase Ross Perot, “Anyone smart enough to do this job wouldn’t want it.” That leaves people who have ingratiated themselves in Hungary’s corrupt political elite, such as Florian Farkas.

petofi
Guest

A number of retorts:

There are no ‘serious, reliable candidates’ in the Hungarian political firmament.

If you think the Roma leadership haven’t got it the way they exactly like it….well think again. For one thing, the beloved leader is one of their own. For another, he’s manipulating the ‘white’ Hungarians a helluva lot more than, ahem, Roma. But the ‘whites’, blinded by the twinkle dust of Nationalism and Anti-Semitism care not as long as Vivy feeds them what they yearn for.

HAJRA MAGYAROK!
You have nothing to lose but some amplitude of your idiocy.

Alex Kuli
Guest

Orban is a Gypsy? Could be. I’ve also heard that he’s a closet bisexual. And that if you dump a bucket of water on him, he melts. I don’t believe it, though.

petofi
Guest

@Alex Kuli

Gypsy

If you don’t believe it, hunt up a picture of Orban at 20. Perhaps Eva can post one…
But it’s not only looks: it’s what he does and how he does it.

MusicLover
Guest

I’m sorry but this is the most blatant racism! Given this blog’s hyper-sensitivity to anti-semitism, it shocks me that a regular contributor is allowed to equate an ethnicity with a negative nature in this way. If Orbán is a despicable politician, it is not because of some alleged Gypsy ethnic inheritance…

Eva, why do you permit this? I dip in and out of this blog and well recall Petofi referring with relative impunity to Orbán as “the thieving little gypsy”…

exTor
Guest

http://hungarianspectrum.org/2015/01/16/property-swindle-in-budapests-district-v/#comment-91965

MusicLover makes a good point about poster petofi’s seemingly antiRoma bias, of which I was unaware (being a relative newbie to this site). I found a link to one of his comments. That particular HS theme contains many petofi posts WRT people who had taken exception to his viewpoints.

For now, I will state that petofi may have his heart in the right place, however there is a lot that he doesn’t get. His Jane/Finch comment smacks of racism. I lived in Toronto for 6 decades plus. I am more than a little aware of the Jane/Finch corridor, how it is a codeterm for certain people.

If you put words [“the thieving little gypsy”] inside quotation marks, MusicLover, they had better be accurate, especially when you charge “blatant racism”. Exactly where is that quote to be found?

MAGYARKOZÓ

petofi
Guest

You won’t find that quote because I never wrote it. I would never refer to that fat thief as ‘little’.

Kavé
Guest

Florian is openly mocked by followers of FIDESZ and is used by the party officials in embarassing ways like sending teams of Roma men to support pro-government rallies.

Livia Jaroka was a FIDESZ creation and acted as FIDESZ’ token “Roma.” (Jaroka stayed quiet when Fidesz was actively protecting the radical right against prosecution for racist actions at home (Gyongyospata) and abroad. When Italy began to destroy Roma camps outside Milan Roma EU MPs from Hungary were on the scene within hours. Jaroka stayed away and said not a word.) She is, however, an accomplished anthroplogist with a strong academic background, and most importantly, is based in London. She is now far too western oriented for the present FIDESZ management style.

The great majority of Hungary’s Gypsies are monolingual speakers of Hungarian, and get their information from the broadcast media in Hungarian. Manipulating that is the one thing that FIDESZ does very, very well.

exTor
Guest

Well, that was a good cup of kávé, Kavé. (Forgive the lame pun.) Thanx for the headsup re Flórián Farkas & Lívia Járóka.

The term ‘token’ here is highly appropriate. Járóka’s ethnicity is irrelevant. She is indeed windowdressing for Fidesz’s house. Her EU presence was an attempt to put a lie to the idea that Fidesz does not deal with its Roma population equitably. Járóka is seen as Roma. That is what counted.

MAGYARKOZÓ

MusicLover
Guest

I remember when Farkas was MSZP politician Csaba Tabajdi’s boyfriend. So he does have a track record of getting up tight and intimate with the leading politicians of the day, both physically and metaphorically

Member

Cebimde dışarı — Zsebemböl kifelé

Time to start Erdogetting Orban Erdogone too…

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/08/world/europe/turkey-election-recep-tayyip-erdogan-kurds-hdp.html

wpDiscuz