Tag Archives: Flórián Farkas

The Grand Alliance: Viktor Orbán and Flórián Farkas, partners in crime

No matter which newspaper or internet site I turned to in the last couple of months, I always seemed to find an article about new twists and turns in the infamous corruption case connected to the EU-financed project “Road to Employment.” The story goes back to 2015 when Ákos Hadházy, today co-chair of LMP and a steadfast sleuth of corruption, discovered a massive corruption case that led to the Országos Roma Önkormányzat (ORÖ/National Roma Self-government) and its former chairman, Flórián Farkas. Farkas is today a member of parliament, government commissioner in charge of Roma affairs, and, most important, a close political ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Farkas is the man who delivers the Gypsy vote for Fidesz.

Signing of the grand alliance

Thanks to Hadházy’s insistence, the prosecutor’s office reluctantly began an investigation of the case on February 24, 2015 and has allegedly been investigating ever since. To date the office hasn’t questioned a single suspect in the embezzlement of about 1.6 billion forints ($5.5 million). Nonetheless, let’s be cockeyed optimists. The office still has about three more months–until June 24–before the investigation will probably be terminated.

Meanwhile, the ministry of human resources (EMMI), which is responsible for Roma affairs, began an investigation of its own. It came to the conclusion that, indeed, almost all the money ORÖ received had been “diverted.” The Gypsy organization was told that it will have to reimburse the ministry for the enormous amount of money it spent leasing expensive cars, buying a luxury villa on Gellérthegy Road in Buda, giving high salaries to officials of the organization, purchasing unnecessary software, and hundreds and hundreds of other useless items. The money which was intended to assist unemployed Roma achieve skills necessary for employment ended up in the pockets of Flórián Farkas and friends.

In May ORÖ and the ministry agreed on the terms for repayment of the embezzled money. In the first eleven months ORÖ was to pay only five million forints per month, totaling 55 million forints or 3% of the total obligation. In the twelfth month, however, the balance of the money owed (that is, the other 97%) was to be transferred to the ministry. It was a rather odd arrangement.

By early December it came to light that ORÖ actually owes more than 1.6 billion forints to the ministry. It had accumulated a debt of approximately 500 million forints to sundry firms, lawyers’ offices, the tax office, and ministries other than EMMI. The new chairman of ORÖ, János Balogh, just like his predecessors, enjoys an affluent lifestyle. Despite the financial difficulties the organization faces, he bought himself a fairly expensive new car without the approval of the board.

In the last few months, for reasons unknown, Flórián Farkas has become invisible. He has a nice family house in Szolnok, but his wife and his neighbors claim that he doesn’t live there at the moment. He cannot be seen in parliament either, although there is nothing new in that. Farkas is among those members of parliament who show up in the House on only the rarest of occasions.

Going back to the strange balloon payment due this spring, how in the world is ORÖ going to find that much money? For an answer we have to look no further than the handouts of the third Orbán government on December 21, 2016. It disbursed about 300 billion forints among its favorite organizations and projects: for instance, the Gáspár Károli Hungarian Reformed University, the Ludovika Military Academy, and the study of Viktor Orbán in the new building housing the prime minister’s office. Among these disbursements was a 1.3 billion forint item for ORÖ called “special assistance.” According to MTI, this money is meant to cover the establishment of the new Roma Oktatási és Kulturális Központ (Roma Educational and Cultural Center). In fact, this “special assistance” is a thinly veiled way to make ORÖ’s debt of billions disappear.

And what will happen to the “Road to Employment” program? The decision was made in February 2017 to dismantle it. The best thing is to forget about the whole thing, as if it never existed. As far as the fate of Flórián Farkas is concerned, he doesn’t have to worry. He has the full protection of Viktor Orbán. The prime minister’s office came to the conclusion that even though 1.6 billion forints disappeared, Flórián Farkas is innocent. He made a few small mistakes, that’s all. He will remain government commissioner in addition to his job as a member of parliament.

At this point one would have thought that at last we had finished with government handouts to the thoroughly corrupt ORÖ. But no. There was undoubtedly still a shortfall that had to be covered. A few days ago Magyar Nemzet reported that EMMI will buy ORÖ’s luxury villa on Gellérthegy Road for 270 million forints, which apparently is way above the current market value of the property. At the time that ORÖ bought it for 200 million, the price was already considered to be too steep. It is very possible that the government is buying a white elephant just to let the Gypsy leaders of this corrupt organization and its real boss, Flórián Farkas, off the hook. Or, viewed another way, to buy thousands and thousands of critical Gypsy votes.

March 13, 2017

The corrupt Roma organization and its former chairman have Viktor Orbán’s support

I have written at least two posts on the scandals surrounding the Országos Roma Önkormányzat (ORÖ/Nationwide Roma Self-Government) and its former chairman, Flórián Farkas. I devoted one post to the checkered career of Farkas, which I then followed up with Ákos Hadházy’s investigation of certain Roma programs that were being generously funded by the European Union. It turned out that instead of the money being used for the benefit of the Roma, most of the money ended up in the pockets of corrupt Roma leaders, including Flórián Farkas. However, no amount of investigation and no amount of evidence made the slightest difference. Flórián Farkas seemed untouchable.

The new chairman  of ORÖ claimed that “the chief obstacle to Roma integration is Flórián Farkas. If he cares at all about the well-being of Gypsies, he should submit his resignation” as chairman of Lungo Drum, a Roma political organization in whose name Farkas formed an alliance with Fidesz. Farkas, however, has no intention of resigning. In fact, he threatened the new leadership of ORÖ, saying that he would abolish the whole organization with the help of his highly-placed friends. I assume that among them one can find Viktor Orbán himself. Therefore it was naive of István Hegedüs, the new beleaguered chairman of ORÖ, to accept Viktor Orbán’s support in his attempt to oust Farkas.

The Fidesz-Roma alliance: New Roma politics--Together for our future

The Fidesz-Roma alliance: New Roma politics–Together for our future

Flórián Farkas still has his devoted supporters, who claim that it is Hegedüs who has ruined ORÖ, which was a well run organization in fine financial shape under Farkas’s stewardship. In fact, the four deputy chairmen of ORÖ have demanded Hegedüs’s resignation. Meanwhile the National Tax and Customs Office is investigating, and ORÖ is close to bankruptcy.

From what we can learn from documents acquired by RomNet.hu, an internet site serving the Roma community, the mismanagement of the organization can be traced to Flórián Farkas’s tenure as the head of ORÖ. Leaders of the organization were grossly overpaid and received benefits to which they were not entitled. It’s no wonder that Aladár Horváth, one of the few Roma politicians of integrity, suggested abolishing ORÖ since it is not the best vehicle for handling the affairs of the Hungarian Roma. And he was not alone. Péter Niedermüller, DK member of the European Parliament, joined Horváth. He described ORÖ as “an organization which is unfit and unworthy to represent the largest minority in Hungary. Fist fights at meetings of the organization, mutual accusations of corruption, secret meetings with government politicians” undermine any confidence in ORÖ. He argued that the money earmarked for Roma convergence, instead of being used to fund this corrupt group of Roma politicians, should be given to authentic civic organizations involved with the betterment of the Roma’s situation.

A few months ago the ministry of human resources reluctantly began to investigate some of the corruption cases connected to Flórián Farkas’s ORÖ. They found at least 270 million forints that were spent on enriching Roma politicians instead of for the intended purposes. ORÖ coughed up 18 million forints toward the amount the organization must pay back to the ministry.

At that point it looked as if Flórián Farkas, who in the past had already had some close calls, would have to give up his cushy jobs as government commissioner on Roma affairs, Fidesz MP, and adviser to the prime minister. On November 26, in a parliamentary commission meeting open to the public, the ORÖ corruption cases came up. János Lázár severely criticized Flórián Farkas and ORÖ’s handling of the generous financial resources supplied by the European Union. At one point Farkas, who attended the meeting, had to listen to Lázár proclaim that the career of a politician who makes such a “mistake” will come to a screeching halt (megy a lecsóba). Well, everybody thought that this was the end of Flórián Farkas.

They were wrong, although in the following days more outrageous stories continued to surface. For instance, ORÖ received seven or eight valuable pieces of real estate, most of which have been left to deteriorate, although one luxury apartment, which ORÖ got two years ago as “a Christmas present” from the Hungarian government, was occupied by friends of Farkas. The organization received a “castle” from the County of Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén, where Farkas promised to establish a school for Roma boys interested in sports. The agreement stipulated that if ORÖ was unable to open the school within five years, the property would be taken back by the county. Nothing has come of the project, but millions were spent guarding it. And other valuable pieces of property, for instance one in Balatonboglár, have had the same fate.

Lázár might have talked tough at that parliamentary commission meeting, but today he backpedaled when had to admit that “Viktor Orbán has no reason to take away Farkas’s job as government commissioner and he has no intention of severing relations with ORÖ.” Farkas is a very important man for Viktor Orbán. He is the one who delivers the Roma vote for Fidesz. And that’s the only thing that matters.

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.

Corruption in Roma organizations: The case of Flórián Farkas

If you were to ask László Bogdán, the maverick, controversial Roma mayor of Cserdi in Baranya County, he would tell you that the Roma organizations that allegedly represent Hungary’s Roma minority should all be abolished. In his opinion, these people are the worst enemies of the Hungarian Roma because they are politically and fiscally corrupt. A large chunk of the billions the European Union and the Hungarian government spent in the last twenty-five years on convergence programs for the Gypsy minority ended up in their pockets.

It’s all too easy to agree with Bogdán. There are just too many stories about local Gypsy leaders pressuring their fellow Roma to cast votes for the mayor they support or to vote for the party that bought their allegiance.

The current scandal is about the disappearance of well over a billion forints from EU funds for a program called “Bridge to Employment.” Implicated in the alleged corruption case is Flórián Farkas, who has been a faithful ally of Viktor Orbán ever since 1998.

It was Ákos Hadházy, the veterinarian from Szekszárd who uncovered the illegal grants of tobacco concessions by local Fidesz officials to friends and Fidesz supporters, who once again unearthed possible fraud. Hadházy nowadays is a member of LMP and spends his spare time digging into possible corruption cases in connection with EU subsidies. He found that the Országos Roma Önkormányzat (ORÖ/National Roma Self-Government), instead of creating jobs through the “Bridge to Employment” program, spent 31 million forints for office furniture, 26 million for improvements of its headquarters, 28 million to lease ten cars for six months, 19 million for a study about what kind of software the organization should buy, 21 million for seven computers, 31 million for another study on recruitment to the program, and nothing on job creation. The top members of ORÖ are outraged at Farkas’s alleged spending spree.

Farkas’s position in ORÖ is murky. Officially, he is no longer the president of the organization because, according to the new parliamentary rules, a member of parliament cannot have any other job. In December 2014, however, Viktor Orbán named Farkas government commissioner in charge of Roma affairs, and in that capacity he appointed himself head of the “Bridge to Employment” program. Moreover, he seems to have a stranglehold on ORÖ. His successor, István Hegedűs, indicated that he is in his position as long as Farkas wants him there.

As for those indignant ORÖ leaders who accuse Farkas of depriving the Hungarian Roma of millions if not billions of forints, they might be upset for their own selfish reasons. Hadházy discovered that one of the organizers of the project, Tamás Monostori, told the Roma leaders at a meeting last summer that “nobody has to be afraid of being left out. It’s no secret that there is an enormous amount of money that we haven’t been able to use.” Index found even more direct evidence that Farkas promised part of the money to the members of ORÖ. In 2013, at a general meeting of the organization, he told the members who were present that “we will try to secure this money or a little more for you.” A substantial portion of the EU subsidies would be used to give full-time jobs to the elected Roma politicians of ORÖ.

As time went by, it was discovered that the transactions Hadházy unearthed in early January represented only a fraction of the money spent by Farkas and his friends. They also purchased a building (initially, the purchase price was unknown) in the elegant Gellérthegy section of Buda, on which they spent an additional 21 million. Later Farkas and Co. unintentionally revealed in an answer to Hadházy’s letter that they paid around 300 million forints for the building itself. The anti-Farkas forces insisted on calling a meeting of the representatives of ORÖ. But apparently Farkas made sure that his friends boycotted the gathering, leaving the rebels without a quorum.

At this point the government and the prosecutors decided that perhaps they ought to move. What will follow remains unclear. János Lázár, who is responsible for the disbursement of EU subsidies, announced that he would launch an inquiry only when the whole project was completed. For me this means: let’s investigate only when all the money is stolen.

Hadházy pressed charges against the leadership of the “Bridge to Employment,” but the prosecutor’s office refused to follow up. The office might, however, investigate the charge of “budgetary fraud.”  NAV, the national tax and custom’s office, is also interested in the case. And Zoltán Balog called for an internal investigation. So, we will see what happens.

It was in 2011 that Flórián Farkas took over the chairmanship ORÖ, which previously was called Országos Cigány Önkormányzat (OCÖ/National Gypsy Self-Government). His predecessor was Orbán Kolompár, who had several encounters with the law and is now serving a sentence for embezzlement.

Flórián Farkas was born in 1957 and, unlike Kolompár, finished high school. For a while he worked in the building industry. Between 1975 and 1982 he ran into trouble with the law on three occasions and spent time in jail. He has been involved with Roma affairs since 1987 and in 1991 became secretary general of Lungo Drom (Long Road in the Romani language). In 2003 he was named president of OCÖ.

Flórián Farkas surrounded by Fidesz top brass

Flórián Farkas surrounded by Fidesz top brass

His fourth encounter with the law was in 1996 when the prosecutor’s office investigated him in connection with the foundations around Lungo Drom. As a result of this investigation, he was charged in 1998 with breach of fiduciary responsibilities. The Hungarian public never found out, however, whether Farkas was guilty of the charge or not. President Árpád Göncz gave him “procedural clemency,” and the documents pertaining to the case were sealed for thirty years. Apparently the reason for the clemency was the close relationship that existed between OCÖ and the socialist-liberal government of Gyula Horn.

In 1998, when Fidesz won the election, Farkas moved over to Viktor Orbán’s camp. Just before the 2002 elections the Farkas-led Lungo Drom signed an “electoral alliance” with Fidesz. Obviously, Farkas, like everybody else, was certain of a Fidesz victory. The Roma leader was given a high enough position on the Fidesz list that he became a member of parliament. He then had eight rather lean years in opposition until, in 2010, the billions from the EU fell into his lap.

We’ll see whether he has a fifth encounter with the law. And whether he will be protected once again.

Register as Roma, vote by default for Fidesz

It can easily happen that, amid the frenzy of Fidesz legislative action over the last three and a half years, even the more observant among us misses a troubling piece of legislative action. Here is one that I at least missed. It was included in the new electoral law of 2011, officially called the Law on the Election of Members of Parliament. For the most part Law CCIII provides a description of the newly created electoral districts, and it was on these gerrymandering efforts of the framers of the bill that I initially concentrated. Yesterday a friend called my attention to an interview with Aladár Horváth, a Roma political activist, on ATV’s program ATV Start.

At the time of her telephone call I still hadn’t had a chance to see the program, but I was told that Aladár Horváth is urging his fellow Roma not to register as such because so identifying themselves will deprive them of their right to vote for party lists. The Electoral Law on the Election of Members of Parliament, ¶7§(2), reads as follows: “A citizen who belongs to a minority can vote a) for a candidate of his electoral district and b) for the list of his own nationality.” In brief, as opposed to a non-minority citizen who can vote for both a candidate and a party list, a citizen who registers as a member of a minority can vote for a local candidate and the minority list.

This is the first time that minorities in Hungary can, at least theoretically, have representation in the Hungarian Parliament. The lack of such a possibility was a major embarrassment for earlier Hungarian governments that often stood up for the rights of Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries where in fact Hungarian parties do have parliamentary representation. Of course, it is also true that ethnic minorities in Hungary, with the exception of the Roma and perhaps the Germans, are too small to reach the threshold necessary to be represented in parliament.

The Venice Commission’s draft opinion on The Act on the Elections of Member of Parliament of Hungary welcomed this particular aspect of Law XXIII. “For the first time, special provisions aimed at favouring the participation of national minorities in parliament in the electoral legislation. . . therefore the Venice Commission welcomes the introduction of such provisions.” However, the Venice Commission seemed to have some concerns regarding the new situation faced by the minority voters. It recommended that “as voters have the right to choose between registering to vote for normal party lists or national minority lists, the law should allow such registration in a reasonably short time frame before election day. This would ensure that all voters have sufficient information to make an informed choice. However, it would be preferable to give to the voters from national minorities the possibility of choice on election day between nationality lists and party lists.”

I guess I don’t have to tell you that no such opportunity will be given to minority voters either at the time of registration or on election day. Moreover, it is very unlikely that the Roma population, undereducated and living in backward villages, will realize the pros and cons of opting for the party list versus the minority list. After all, even Viktor Szigetváry, Együtt 2014’s electoral expert, when he wrote about the new electoral system didn’t pay much attention to this particular provision of the new law. He did admit that voting for the minority list “in small measure will strengthen the majoritarian character of the whole system” but he obviously didn’t consider it a potentially serious problem.

I checked the number of people who registered in 2010 to be able to vote for minority lists in local elections. Their number is over 200,000. Under the 2011 law they will now be deprived of their right to vote for a party. Or to be more precise, by voting for the minority list they will de facto be voting for Fidesz.

The leading members of Lungo Drom,  the  representative body of Hungarian Gypsies, including the head of the organization, Flórian Farkas, are Fidesz puppets. So any Gypsy who votes for the current ethnic leadership will only help Flórián Farkas be reelected to parliament. It would be one more vote for Fidesz.

Flórán Farkas at the COÖ meeting in January 2011 / Népszabadág / Simon Móricz

Flórián Farkas at the COÖ meeting in January 2011 / Népszabadág / Simon Móricz

Farkas is an old ally of Viktor Orbán who has worked closely with Fidesz ever since 2001 when he was already the president of Lungo Drom. He signed an agreement with Fidesz-MDF at that time in which he pledged Lungo Drom’s support of these parties. After the split of MDF and Fidesz, Farkas stood by Fidesz and renewed the electoral agreement between the Roma organization and Fidesz. He has been a member of the party’s parliamentary caucus ever since 2002. He is known as someone who does nothing whatsoever for the Roma community even though he is also head of the Országos Cigány Önkormányzat (OCÖ or Nationwide Gypsy Self-government).

So, this is the situation to which Aladár Horváth called attention. The problem is that his message is pretty much lost in a sea of total indifference. For example, he gave a press conference which not even the reporters of the liberal-socialist press bothered to attend. Although he himself is making an effort to get to the Roma communities, it is unlikely that he and his friends will be able to enlighten the Roma minority about their choices and the consequences of their decision.

We can be sure of one thing. Fidesz doesn’t do anything that doesn’t serve its own interests. Just as they don’t really care about the Hungarian minority in the neighboring countries so they don’t care about ethnic minorities inside of Hungary. Their primary concern is to get extra votes from the mostly Fidesz sympathizers in Romania and Serbia and to ensure that by default the Roma end up supporting them. The rest is just talk.

Fidesz Roma strategy, from Balog to Bayer

The country is again full of stories about “gypsy terror,” spread with gusto by Jobbik. The cause this time is a New Year’s Eve party in a bar in Szigethalom, today part of Budapest, situated on the northern end of Csepel Island. A group of boys, members of the MTK (Magyar Testgyakorlók Köre [Circle of Hungarian Fitness Activists]) was having a party when two of them, a  under-age boxer and a wrestler, were severely wounded in the men’s room of the establishment. There were two assailants, one a Gypsy. The other assailant is still on the loose.

Whatever the cause of the brawl, it was unlikely a hate crime. One of the victims, we know, had many Roma friends. In fact, a large number of the youngsters training to become boxers or wrestlers are Gypsies. At the same time it also became clear that this particular victim wasn’t exactly an innocent lamb. Last July he was arrested after attacking a young man in the men’s room of a Budapest bar, hitting him in the face and taking his money. Because the recent incident also happened in a men’s room, the police are rightfully investigating the possible role of this victim himself.

Jobbik is organizing a demonstration in Szigethalom, Magyar Nemzet wrote an article that practically accused the Roma community of collective guilt, and Zsolt Bayer wrote an opinion piece in Magyar Hírlap that can be construed as an “incitement against a community.” I wrote about Bayer a couple of times and I tried to translate his practically untranslatable prose. Then he was venting against Jews, now against the Roma.

This latest upheaval gave Attila Ara-Kovács, a member of the democratic opposition of the 1980s and an astute commentator on the pages of Magyar Narancs, the opportunity to write a very important article about the government’s so-called “Roma strategy,” entitled “From Balog to Bayer.”

A bold Roma strategy was supposed to be a key contribution of the Hungarian presidency of the European Union (January-July 2011). It was supposed to be a strategy aimed at eventually solving the terrible situation of the Roma in Europe, especially at its eastern fringes. By the end of 2011 all European countries were expected to develop their own strategies, taking their cue from the great Hungarian model.

Zoltán Balog, today minister of the mega-ministry in charge of health, education, and culture, was put in charge. His only responsibility was to work out a Roma strategy and head the effort toward Roma integration. Once he moved to a higher position, he took his old staff with him to the Ministry of Human Resources. He proudly announced only a few months ago that the Orbán government was the first in Hungary to pay attention to the Roma question.

The problem is, says Ara-Kovács, that this is simply not true. Are we surprised? It was in 2002, after the formation of an MSZP-SZDSZ coalition, that Bálint Magyar, the liberal minister of education between 1996 and 1998 and again between 2002 and 2006, began serious work in this field.

Here are few of his achievements. In 2002 an article forbidding discrimination was incorporated into the law on education. Magyar appointed a ministerial commissioner in charge of disadvantaged and Roma children whose function was to check every proposed bill and to make sure that they in no way infringed upon the rights of the disadvantaged and the poor.

In 2003 a law on equal treatment was enacted, and subsequently an Office of Equal Treatment was established.

In 2004 the government established a National Integration Network whose task was to promote integrated classrooms to assist disadvantaged children and their teachers. This same year they set up a system by which for each disadvantaged and Roma child the schools received extra financial assistance (50,000 ft more than the norm). That was a sizable amount; it constituted one-fifth of the total that the government paid out for schools.

In the same year they began a new program called “From the last row” that was supposed to move Roma children from classes designed for the “moderately retarded” back to the mainstream educational system. I should mention here that teachers liked to declare Gypsy children retarded and thus get rid of them since they needed more care and work. Magyar’s ministry also in 2004 introduced another program called “Útravaló” (Provisions for the journey) that provided scholarships for 18,000 disadvantaged children and 3,000 mentors per year.

In 2005 another law made it compulsory for schools to give preference to disadvantaged children who live outside the school districts when deciding on acceptance.

Thus by 2006 there was a noticeable decrease in the degree of segregation.

So, let’s see what the present government has done in the last two and a half years. The Orbán government’s Roma strategy was based on an agreement between Viktor Orbán and Flórián Farkas, the leader of the Roma community at the moment, who is a Fidesz puppet. In this agreement, the Hungarian government accepted responsibility for training 1,000 Roma women. It’s going very slowly. Up until last fall about 300 had received training. Viktor Orbán also promised medical screening for 5,000 women. The program hasn’t started yet. The most important part of the agreement was the promise of 20,000 new jobs for the Roma community. That promise was to be fulfilled by establishing an extensive public works program for about half of the minimum wage. The numbers currently employed are nowhere close to 20,000.

The Útravaló (Provisions for the Journey) program has continued, but while in the 2004-2005 school year the government spent 2 billion forints on it, now that amount is 1 billion.  That means 5-8,000 forints a month, but something went wrong here too and the sums that should have been distributed last year never were. One of the more important programs of Balog’s ministry is the Roma Special College (szakkollégium). This program seems to have been given over to the churches.

Finally, Ara-Kovács summarizes other Fidesz “achievements” that run counter to any grand Roma strategy. (1) Compulsory education is no longer 18 years but only 16. (2) In the first four grades grading was reintroduced. (3) If a child doesn’t finish eight grades by the age of  15 he must be discharged. (4) Secondary technical schools are no longer obliged to admit students who didn’t get into a gymnasium. (5) The government practically eliminated the extra year for foreign language competence. (6) In technical schools the number of courses in languages, literature, and history was reduced so dramatically that students will come out of these schools practically illiterate.  (7) In general, the number of students reaching matriculation will be greatly reduced, thus also the numbers who can enter college or university.

Marabu / Népszabadság

Marabu / Népszabadság

While Balog in Berlin only a few months ago proudly outlined the accomplishments of the Orbán government as far as its Roma strategy is concerned, one of the organizers of the Peace March and a man who holds the #5 membership card in Fidesz, Zsolt Bayer, announced that “a significant portion of the Gypsies are unfit for coexistence. Not fit to live among human beings. These people are animals and behave like animals. Like a bitch in heat she wants to copulate with whomever and wherever. If he finds resistance, he kills. He voids where and when it occurs to him.  … He wants what he sees. If he doesn’t get it, he takes it and he kills…. From his animal skull only inarticulate sounds come out and the only thing he understands is brute force… There shouldn’t be animals. No way. This must be solved, immediately and in any way.” In Hungarian: “Ezt meg kell oldani–de azonnal és bárhogyan.” It sounds ominous. What can he have in mind?

“This is the real Roma strategy of Fidesz. It would be worth making that clear to Europe,” adds Ara-Kovács at the end of his article.