Regular readers of Hungarian Spectrum are well acquainted with the name of László Bogdán, “the miracle worker of Cserdi.” I have mentioned him innumerable times, and at least twice I devoted full posts to him. Bogdán is the Roma mayor of Cserdi, a small village in Baranya County where the majority of the inhabitants are Gypsy. He is an impressive man who, although he had little schooling, is exceedingly articulate with a large vocabulary and surprising eloquence. His story is anything but typical. He started off sweeping the floors of a multinational company in Pécs, but his superiors discovered him and kept promoting him until he was heading one of the departments of the factory. In my first post on Bogdán I wrote: “Why he left his cushy job I have no idea, but he decided to run for parliament. When he lost, he settled for being the mayor of Cserdi, his birthplace.” In the last few days we have learned that Bogdán’s sudden departure from Elcoteq was not exactly voluntary.
Bogdán was already a media star in Hungary and had many admirers abroad as early as 2014, when I first wrote about him. His fame since then has only grown. I devoted another post to him, saying that he is “still the Roma miracle worker of Cserdi.” He is in the news constantly. After the inhabitants of Őcsény rebelled at the idea of having a Syrian family spend a few days in their village, Bogdán offered Cserdi as a place where the residents would welcome them. Again, the Hungarian media was full of praise for the enlightened and generous Gypsy leader who is ready to stand by another despised minority. It was in the midst of this new media tsunami that something happened that may have tarnished the sterling reputation of the mayor of Cserdi for good.
Judit Péterfi, who has a program on HírTV called “Privátszféra” (Private Sphere), was filming a 40-minute program about the everyday life of László Bogdán. As part of the program, the staff of HírTV accompanied him to a forum where he was to give a lecture. The forum was organized by the Roma Parliament, a group that doesn’t approve of Bogdán’s views on the issues confronting the Roma minority. Judit Péterfi made a notation on Privátszféra’s Facebook page to the effect that Bogdán, accompanied by the camera crew, arrived all smiles but soon “felt uneasy” as the debate heated up and that “at the time of his departure he was kicked and spat on by someone or someones from behind.” The claim was that Bogdán’s pro-refugee position prompted the assault.
Judit Péterfi, as it turned out, heard about the incident from Bogdán himself because the reporter and her crew had left before the end of the meeting. Those 20-22 people who were present reported to Index, the news site that became interested in the story, that the gathering was peaceful; they did have some arguments, but the atmosphere was in no way strained. Aladár Horváth, president of Roma Parliament, reported that he and a couple of others accompanied Bogdán to the taxi that waited for him because he was on his way to give an interview for Olga Kálmán’s program “Egyenesen” (Straight). During the interview Bogdán didn’t say anything about an assault.
A few days later the rumor circulated that, in addition to the incident in Budapest, someone wanted to run Bogdán down by car in Pécs. After the alleged incidents Bogdán disappeared for almost a whole month. Both Index and Szabad Pécs tried to get in touch with him, to no avail. Eventually, on October 25, exactly a month after the meeting, RomNet, a Roma news site, tracked him down. The explanation for his silence was a bit of a stretch. Why would these incidents be a trigger for Jobbik or other anti-Roma groups to raise anti-Gypsy feelings in the country? However, he didn’t change his story about the assaults, both in Budapest and in Pécs. Moreover, a day later, he accused Aladár Horváth of “mild racist thoughts” based on an angry Facebook entry by the president of the Roma Parliament in which he said that Bogdán was “still a Romanian slave in his soul.” (On Gypsy slavery in Romania, see this blog post.)
The next day Pécs Ma (Pécs Today), a right-wing internet site, reported that Bogdán hadn’t left Elcoteq of his own volition. In 2010 the firm accused him of embezzlement. The charge was that he, together with an accomplice, had moved cell phones and other electronic parts off the premises. In 2014 he received a suspended jail sentence of two years and had to pay a fine of 200,000 forints.
All of this has shaken the trust of those who have admired and promoted László Bogdán. I assume that the story was especially painful for the staff of HírTV, specifically for Judit Péterfi and Olga Kálmán. At last, on November 2, after a long hiatus, Bogdán appeared as the guest of Olga Kálmán at his own request. During the interview he admitted that he had been sentenced for embezzlement but claimed to be innocent of the charges. A subcontractor of Elcoteq stole the goods and stored them in a warehouse that he rented from Bogdán. Bogdán had no idea that the goods stored there had been stolen. Otherwise, he repeated the charge that his fellow Gypsy leaders were in some way responsible for the physical attacks on him. But, he added, he doesn’t know who the culprit was. The interview can be seen here.