Tag Archives: Gypsies

Karl Pfeifer: An interview with Zsuzsa Ferge on poverty in Hungary

Zsuzsa Ferge is the foremost Hungarian expert on poverty. By training she is an economist who has been working in the field of social statistics, sociology, and social policy. She became a full professor of sociology at ELTE in 1988 and a year later  established the first department of social policy.  Her main fields of interest have been social structure, social inequalities, education, and social policy. She is a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the European Academy, and the European Academy of Yuste Foundation. She is the recipient of an honorary degree from the University of Edinburgh. Although she retired in 2001, she is still the director of the Poverty Research Center at ELTE and head of research at the unit working on the National Program against Child Poverty at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

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Karl Pfeifer’s short report on the conference

On my way to the conference on poverty organized by Stádium 28, I saw the car of Érpatak mayor Mihály Zoltán Orosz, who is worried about “the efforts of Freemason Jews to rule the world.” On his car I discovered a sticker praising his own “Érpatak model” of “law and order.”

The hall of the Jesuit Center “The House of Dialogue” was filled with mostly young students who wanted to hear about the real situation in their country. One hopes that eventually they will participate in efforts to change the disastrous situation that exists in parts of the country.

As for the program, Ivan Szelényi, professor emeritus of sociology at Yale, spoke about inequality in the U.S.

Éva Havasi, a sociologist who specializes in social statistics and is senior adviser in the Hungarian Central Statistical Office, gave a lecture on the different ways of measuring poverty. She pointed out that a few years ago the Hungarian Central Statistical Office abolished the category of subsistence level, and therefore people interested in the depth of poverty in Hungary have to rely on their own calculations. According to her computation, 37.3% of Hungarians live under the subsistence level.

Zsuzsa Ferge finished her short and poignant lecture with the question: When will the government formulate a policy to reduce poverty and increase happiness in Hungary?

During the panel discussion Júlia Szalai, visiting professor at CEU, pointed out that most people are totally unaware of the depth of poverty in the country because it is concentrated in about 100 ghetto villages. Since there is no serious effort on the part of the government to ease poverty in Hungary, one wonders whether there are groups who are actually interested in the permanence of poverty. It is hard to imagine that being the case, but the government’s indifference to the problem is unfortunately real.

Especially impressive was the contribution of the Roma civil rights activist Jenő Setét, who told the audience that not one of his uncles reached the age of 50. He spoke about the successful government propaganda that claims that “we live in a world where everyone who wants to work can work.” This assertion is a brazen lie when there are regions where “in a 60 km radius there are no jobs.”

The plight of the public workers was also a topic of discussion. At first glance, the idea of a work-based society sounds attractive. Providing work instead of doling out meager financial assistance might be a better way to deal with the problem. But because the local mayors decide who can get work and who cannot, the whole public works program has become a weapon in the hands of the local authorities. Favors are distributed according to political loyalty. The program functions as a deterrent to protest and revolt against the government.

The interview

Karl Pfeifer: When I began to write about Hungary in 1979, I read the Kemény survey on Roma1 in Hungary. Yesterday I heard Jenő Setét, the Roma activist, speaking about the Roma not having any water nearby during the summer and that many have to walk 100-200 m to the closest fountain. It seems that not much has changed for the Roma since.

Zsuzsa Ferge: On the contrary. A lot has changed for the Roma. Their situation has gotten much worse. When Kemény published his survey, 90% of Roma men and 70% of Roma women had a job and earned a living. Most of them left the so-called cigánytelep (ghetto); they had more or less decent housing; they had quite good relations with their co-workers; and their children received good treatment in schools. Everything Kemény wrote was true. They were poorer than the rest of society and their educational attainment was curtailed. Their situation was not good, but it was relatively better than it had been 30 years earlier and much, much better than 30 years later.

What happened in 1990? The Hungarian government, without any preparation, privatized all big firms and, as a result, 1.5 million jobs were lost. Seventy percent of the Roma became unemployed. They were the first ones to be fired. Since then very few jobs have been created for those who have no special skills. The governments between 1990 and 2010 paid little attention to the poor, and in the last eight years the Orbán government’s economic policies have been outright antagonistic toward the poorest strata of Hungarian society.

Since 2010 discrimination against the Roma has been increasing. What Setét said yesterday is true. Discrimination is reinforced through the efforts of the government in order to cover up all the real problems that exist in the country. It manipulates people through hate campaigns to fear and/or loathe others. It has created a “culture of hate” in which an overwhelming majority of Hungarians by now hate migrants, hate foreigners in general, and hate George Soros. An organic part of this hate campaign is “consultation with the people,” which consists of a questionnaire posing questions about the population’s attitude toward the “migrants” and about the “Soros Plan.” Concentrating hatred on the migrants and Soros is also an implicit way of concentrating hatred against the Gypsies and the Jews. So, the migrants, a minority, can be replaced by the Gypsies and Soros by the Jewish “world conspiracy.”

KP: The association organizing the conference on poverty in Hungary had difficulties finding a site, and in the end the event took place in a hall belonging to the Jesuits. At least in Austria the Catholic Church is, as far as social issues are concerned, to the left of the left-wing parties. It seems paradoxical.

ZsF: I am not surprised by your question. There are many different strands within the Hungarian Catholic Church. On one hand, the government is handing as many schools, old age homes, and hospitals as possible to the Catholic Church. It also favors the churches by allocating two to three times more money per student to parochial schools than to public schools. On the other hand, the Jesuits offered a place for this group of scholars, who are not exactly revolutionaries. It is a group composed of members and doctors of the academy who just want to conduct an academic debate about important questions. Such an academic discussion poses no danger to politics. Still, social scientists have something to say about social reality. They have the necessary scientific instruments; they have the know-how; they have the research facilities to diagnose the ills of society. That is what the “Stadium 28” group stands for. Actually, we went first to the university, where the rector offered a room, but then a new rector was appointed who immediately withdrew the permission. It was at that point that the Jesuits offered this place, which is fantastic, and yes, it means that they are more open to autonomous thinking than many other institutions.

KP: I have the impression that now, unlike in the Kádár period, poverty is not hidden. Even in Budapest, one can see homeless people everywhere. Is Hungary still a country with three million beggars?2

ZsF: There are statistics, there is reality, and there is government information. The three are at odds with one another. The government wants to cover up the problem. Statistics try to measure poverty, but yesterday in this academic conference statisticians told us that it was extremely difficult to measure poverty for many, many reasons. So, it happens that the statistical measures of various aspects of poverty are sometimes very similar to European averages, but in some cases, especially where exclusion is concerned, which means lack of goods, lack of ability to cover basic necessities, then Hungary is at the bottom of the European ranking, usually together with Romania and Bulgaria. In brief, poverty in Hungary is a very serious problem.

The sad reality is that the majority of the poor are those Gypsies and non-Gypsies who have no qualifications, who have no possibility of getting jobs except what is called government public work, which is a poor substitute for real, productive employment. Those village dwellers who subsist on a pittance are becoming invisible. In the villages many of the Roma are recreating their former ghettos, which were defined 20 years ago by the excellent British sociologist John Rex, who said that the Gypsy settlement starts where the collection of garbage stops. The local authorities do not collect garbage from the Gypsy ghettos and therefore it is infested with…. A very depressing place. Theoretically, all houses and flats should have water. But if you do not pay for it, sooner or later you will be cut off, and many of those people who live on a cigánytelep have to go 200 meters or more for water because water is scarce and often cut off. Water is the first need. However, water is not considered a basic necessity by this government.

The same is true for the life chances of children. For five years my group of researchers used to visit villages in one particular region in order to offer the inhabitants help. We tried to ease their situation somewhat. Well, in 2011 the government ended the program altogether. People in poverty face extreme difficulties. Both parents and children encounter hunger. Many of these villages have no medical facilities, and the poor people have no means of transportation to reach a doctor. There is no money for medication. Malnutrition is common, healthcare is inadequate, and what is most upsetting is that the schools serving these people are thoroughly deficient. Instead of trying to provide adequate education for the children of these disadvantaged families, the quality of these mostly segregated schools is extremely low. One of the last decisions of the government was to allow people to teach in schools without proper qualifications. Up to now, you had to have a teacher’s diploma to teach in school. Now, you do not. So, these children have no chance to ever get out of these villages and receive an education that would prepare them for the job market. The school reform has lowered compulsory education from age 18 to 16 and abolished the rule that in order to leave school students must have a certificate attesting to the fact that they finished at least the equivalent of eight years of primary school. Now when they are 16 they can leave school and become a wage earner as a member of the large public work force.

1. http://kisebbsegkutato.tk.mta.hu/uploads/files/archive/311.pdf
2. Hungary was characterized in 1928 by György Oláh as the “country of 3 million beggars.”

October 21, 2017

László Bogdán is still the Roma miracle worker of Cserdi

It was just a little over four years ago that I wrote a post on László Bogdán, “the Roma miracle worker of Cserdi,” a small village in Baranya County where about 75% of the inhabitants are Roma. Bogdán is a man of exceptional intelligence, although he has only an eighth-grade education. As a result of his talents and hard work he became the head of a department in a multinational company in Pécs, which was shuttered shortly after Bogdán left the firm. At this point he moved back to the village of his ancestors to become its mayor. Since then, Cserdi has become a showcase of what a small, mostly Gypsy village can achieve with proper leadership. Cserdi by now owns fair sized forests, which the residents themselves established; they have several greenhouses; and they sell their products in Pécs and elsewhere. They even had extra to give away to poor people in Budapest. Cserdi was riddled with petty crime before Bogdán became mayor. On average 200 cases a year. Today, Cserdi is practically crime-free. Unemployment used to be extraordinarily high, but nowadays anyone who wants to work can.

Not surprisingly, opposition politicians have been intrigued by Bogdán and Cserdi. In November 2013 Ferenc Gyurcsány, chairman of the Demokratikus Koalíció, went to see Bogdán and, if I recall properly, was ambivalent about Bogdán’s draconian methods of achieving discipline among the Gypsy workers. Bogdán behaves the way an old-fashioned, harsh father would within his own family. He has no compunctions about intruding into the private lives of the Cserdi folks. For example, when some families complained about insufficient wages, he collected their garbage cans to show all the beer cans and empty boxes of cigarettes for everyone to see.

Although some human rights activists have criticized Bogdán, people are still intrigued by his success. A few days ago László Botka, MSZP candidate for the premiership, accompanied by István Ujhelyi, paid a visit to Cserdi. Botka urged Bogdán “to work together for a fairer Hungary which we can all call home.” But Bogdán is a fiercely independent man. As he said in an interview in 2015, he doesn’t want to be “the harlot” of any party.

Bogdán has a very low opinion of the network of Roma self-governments that was set up after 1990. He calls the leaders practically illiterate crooks who pocket billions of euros given for Roma projects. If it depended on him, he would scrap the whole program. He considers Flórián Farkas, Orbán’s favorite Gypsy politician, the greatest enemy of the Hungarian Roma because not only has he embezzled millions but he exhibits all of the traits non-Gypsies associate with Roma culture.

Otherwise, many ideas of the Orbán regime appeal to him. First and foremost, the idea of a “work-based society.” In his opinion, his fellow Gypsies have gotten accustomed to sitting at home and receiving their monthly assistance. Gypsies have to relearn to work. He was apparently horrified listening to a speech by a liberal politician who advocated the notion of basic income. He got so upset that his “legs were shaking,” he was “all nerves.” He approves of the public works program, but not the way it works now. Communities spend the money they receive picking up cigarette butts from the streets instead of directing it to “productive work” and “commercial activities.”

Bogdán is extraordinarily articulate and has plenty of opportunity to express his ideas. Therefore it is relatively easy to piece together his ideas about the ideal way of solving the “Gypsy problem.” Since most Gypsies live in small villages, far away from larger towns and cities which they have difficulty reaching, work must be created locally. And given that these villages are in rural areas, their business activities should be centered on agriculture. The money the communities receive from the central budget should be used to pay decent wages for productive work on public properties, which should be repurposed as agricultural land. This is how he started his Cserdi project. Without any machinery the local Gypsies created a large tract of agricultural land where they planted potatoes. And today, he continues, they are in the process of establishing a small factory that would use their produce to manufacture their own brand of canned goods. He envisages the Cserdi company as one day becoming a large concern that would buy up produce from nearby villages and supply large supermarkets with their “Lasipe” product. Lasipe means “goodness” in Lovari, a Gypsy language spoken in Hungary, Austria, and Slovakia.

This all sounds wonderful, but for that, each Gypsy community would need a sizable amount of initial and continuing capital and, what is even more important, one would need hundreds and hundreds of László Bogdáns. Unfortunately, even if Bogdán were ready to work with the Orbán government, which I highly doubt, Viktor Orbán has no intention of investing much money into a large-scale restructuring of the Roma communities. He is only interested in Gypsy votes, which apparently are guaranteed by Flórián Farkas and his friends, who are running the show at the moment.

I should add that Bogdán’s local fame spread over the years, and he became well known outside of Hungary. He is very enterprising and has received a great deal of assistance from abroad. For example, he made contacts with German companies, which helped with certain projects in Cserdi. As a result, he has traveled extensively abroad. His latest trip was to the United States, apparently arranged by former Hungarian Ambassador Réka Szemerkényi and Consul-General of New York Ferenc Kumin. The highlight of his three-week visit was the speech he delivered to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, “a body dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.” The topic of his speech was the serious problem of early marriage among the Roma, with girls becoming pregnant at the age of 12 and by the age of 30 being grandmothers. By 40 they are considered to be old women. He blamed Gypsy men for this state of affairs. He talked about his own insistence that the girls of Cserdi go to school and become educated. The trip to the United States obviously made an impression on him. “I could talk about Hungary as a Hungarian.” He was not distinguished as a Gypsy and therefore inferior.

Lately Bogdán has given a number of interviews that have made quite an impression on his audience. One especially remarkable interview was with Olga Kálmán on HírTV, in which he expressed his mixed feelings about the hate campaign conducted by the Orbán government. As a result, “My status, as a Gypsy, has been elevated somewhat. Now I belong to the third most hated group in this country. Ahead of me are George Soros and the migrants.” He also told Kálmán that as of now all young Gypsies in Cserdi attend high school. That announcement prompted an associate professor at the Budapest Technical University to write to Bogdán. Since her own daughter is studying abroad, she offered her empty room to the first Gypsy girl from Cserdi who is admitted to a college or university in Budapest. Yes, Bogdán can move people to do the right thing.

August 16, 2017

Hatemongers in their own words

With three weeks to go until the Hungarian referendum on refugees, the government campaign has intensified. A host of politicians and government officials, from ordinary backbenchers to the president of the country, the president of the parliament, and all the cabinet ministers, have been mobilized to spread fear of the “migrants” at town meetings. Members of the pro-government media have also been enlisted to support the government’s efforts to achieve a valid, successful referendum, which allegedly would thwart the plans of the European Commission to foist masses of unwanted people of an alien culture on Hungary. And Viktor Orbán is ready to employ the basest instruments of coercion, including blackmail.

Let’s start with his speech at the opening session of parliament on September 12. After accusing the European Union of planning to relocate “migrants” to cities under socialist leadership, he warned local politicians that “it will be decided [by this referendum] whether there will be and, if yes, where the migrant settlements will be, so [local leaders] should watch out and make sure that large numbers of people go and vote.” He added that if the local politicians don’t like this message, they shouldn’t blame him because he is only relating the words of Martin Schulz. Of course, this is not at all what Schulz said when he visited Szeged in March, one of the few socialist strongholds in Hungary. He simply said in an interview with Stern after his return from Hungary that there are places in the country which, unlike the Hungarian government, do not reject migrants. He brought up Szeged as an example of a city where “any migrant would be safe to go.” But then came an op-ed piece in the right-wing Magyar Hírlap by Ottó Nagy, who charged that László Botka, the socialist mayor of Szeged, had made a secret pact with Jean-Claude Juncker and Martin Schulz, promising them that if and when he becomes prime minister he will accommodate migrants in Szeged.

Orbán emphasized that this nationwide referendum is also thousands of local referendums, meaning that the government will judge each city, town, and village according to the outcome of the referendum. If they don’t manage to turn out the (correct) vote, they will see what will happen to them. In plain English, he is blackmailing local leaders, who in turn will most likely blackmail the inhabitants, who already fear the migrants more than the devil himself. The word is spreading: if you don’t go and vote “no” or if there are too many spoiled ballots, your city, town, or village will have thousands of migrants who will rape your girls and blow up your churches.

Not surprisingly, local governments with left or liberal leaderships were outraged, especially because the story was immediately picked up by the pro-government media. Even Fidesz mayors found it too bizarre for words. Others, often Fidesz-supported independents, objected to the pressure coming from Fidesz to add their names to the government’s locally distributed campaign literature.

I’ve already written about the pressure being applied to the Roma population, who are told that if Hungary has to admit refugees they will be deprived of government assistance. In the first place, by now there is hardly any government assistance given to anyone. Most unemployed Roma do public work for a meager salary. So, that is an idle threat. But what is a serious matter is that their eligibility for public work is determined by the mayors, who can easily pressure the local Roma to make sure they vote the right way. Otherwise, no public work. As usual, the Orbán government found its man, Attila Lakatos, the Gypsy “vajda,” a kind of leader-judge within the community, who was willing to put out the call to his fellow Gypsies “to defend our children, families, work, and the country in which we live.” He is convinced that if the “immigrants come here we will have to worry about our daughters, wives, and children because they will be unsafe.” Soon enough a number of anti-government Roma mayors got together to reject the government’s hate campaign, but I’m afraid their voices will be drowned out in the din of government propaganda reaching the majority of the Roma population.

Among the journalists of the pro-government media Zsolt Bayer is the most popular. Every locality wants him to deliver one of his inspirational lectures. His first stop was in Kecskemét, the city where Mercedes-Benz has its plant. Ironically, he delivered his hate-filled speech in the auditorium of the Piarist high school. The place was filled to the brim with people who greeted him with extended applause. After delivering the government’s favorite conspiracy theories about the forces behind the recent migration, his parting words were: “Those who don’t go and vote or who vote “yes” are traitors who cannot be called Hungarian.”

hate

Bayer’s fellow extreme right-wing journalist, András Bencsik, editor-in-chief of Demokrata, a far-right weekly, is another important spokesman for the government. Bencsik’s paper is not a Jobbik publication, though you would never know it by reading the articles published there. Bencsik and his staff are steadfast supporters of the Orbán government and Fidesz. He, alongside Bayer, was one the chief organizers of the Peace Marches staged in defense of Viktor Orbán, whom foreign governments allegedly wanted to remove from power. The marches, which were supposed to be spontaneous affairs, turned out to be government-sponsored, government-organized demonstrations to which thousands of people were bused from all over the country. Viktor Orbán was extremely grateful. He later claimed that without the organizers he would have been unceremoniously ousted. Bayer, Bencsik, and a few others saved him. So, we are talking here about an important Fidesz and Viktor Orbán supporter.

Bencsik wrote an op-ed piece titled “Where shall we put them?” He begins by explaining that if the referendum is valid and successful, there is a good likelihood that regardless of how much the Brussels bureaucrats “resort to subterfuges, they cannot disregard the highest expression of popular sovereignty.” So then the migrants will not be coming to Hungary.

But what if there is not a sufficient number of votes and the referendum is not valid? We will find ourselves in an interesting situation. According to the plans of the Union’s bureaucrats, in the first round Hungary will have to settle 13,000 people, but they have already put forward another proposal which doesn’t specify an upper limit. So, if the referendum is not valid and the judges in Strasbourg [where Hungary attacked the decision of the settlement of the 1,294 migrants] decide against us, then whether we like it or not, the migrants will be coming. Yearly at least 13,000.

How will they be divided among 3,000 Hungarian localities? These people cannot be locked up in camps because they are citizens of the Union. Clearly, they will be dispersed according to how the people in each locality voted. The towns where many people went to vote and the ratio of “nays” was high may not receive one single migrant or perhaps only a few. But where this question was not important enough for the inhabitants and they didn’t bother to answer the referendum question, in those places surely the people will not mind the arrival of happy Muslim families. There will be plenty of them.

In those towns the girls will not go out after dark. Or, if they do, they will have to be followed by three male members of the family with pitchforks in hand. Girls will not go to discos; they will not bicycle in shorts; they will not leave the house on New Year’s Eve. They will celebrate the new year in the cellar; they will not dare go to the swimming pool, but if they do, they will not wear a bathing suit. Young boys will not walk alone on the street because, after all, it is a different cultural milieu and one never knows.

All this is no joke but is taken from daily occurrences in Western Europe. There will be parts of towns where first at night, but later even during daytime it will not be advisable for a Hungarian to enter. And in time there will be explosions, assassinations, constant tension, jitteriness, and so on.

This is what’s at stake in the referendum that will take place in three weeks. Either Europe will be the victim of forcible change of epic proportions and a thousand-year-old civilization will irretrievably fade away or Europe will resist the pressure and defend itself.

This is a typical anti-refugee message of the Orbán government. It is one thing to read in general about the intensity of Hungarian government propaganda and an entirely different thing to be confronted with an example of the message the Orbán propagandists have been delivering for well over a year. Whipping up hatred day in and day out on state television and radio, even during the Olympic Games, the government has succeeded in gripping the population in a state of mass hysteria. And the effects of this indoctrination will not disappear after the referendum. They will linger for many years to come, reinforcing and amplifying an already lamentable Hungarian xenophobia.

September 18, 2016

Hungarian fantasies about a radical Roma community allied to Islamic extremists

A friend sent me dictionary.com’s “Word of the Day,” which she found amusing. It is “kakistocracy,” meaning “government by the worst persons; a form of government in which the worst persons are in power.” The first two syllables don’t have anything to do with the Hungarian word with which we are familiar but with the Greek word “kakistos,” which means “worst.” This word couldn’t have arrived on a better day since I had just decided to write about the Orbán government’s illustrious minister of justice, László Trócsányi, and his faux pas at a conference on the dangers of extremism and their possible remedies.

And while I am on the subject of words, C. György Kálmán, a literary historian and lover of language, also wrote today about another “misunderstood” statement by a government official. The official happened to be the same Trócsányi, who said the wrong thing at the wrong time. Linguistic carelessness has been plaguing Hungarian political life ever since 1990, Kálmán suggested. It would be time to learn to speak more precisely.

So, what was Trócsányi’s faux pas? On October 19 Nikolaj Nielsen of euobserver.com reported on a conference in Brussels at which “Hungary’s minister of justice Laszlo Trocsanyi … said there is a risk Roma could end up in Syria as foreign fighters alongside jihadist or other radical groups.” It turned out that Trócsányi didn’t say what Nielsen attributed to him but, given the context in which his two-minute contribution was uttered, one could infer such a meaning from his words.

Let’s see what Trócsányi actually said. He emphasized that, unlike in Western European countries, in Hungary there are no would-be terrorists who are ready to go to Syria and fight on the side of ISIS. However, Hungary is a “transit country” through which radical Muslims would travel to catch a plane to Istanbul on their way to Syria. And he continued:

I would like to call attention to another aspect of the problem which we haven’t talked about up to now. Radicalism can reach other groups as well. In Europe there are 10-12 million Roma. During Hungary’s presidency we paid a lot of attention to Roma strategy. We believe that this is a very important task. [We are dealing with] a community of 12 million in Europe who lag behind [leszakadt] and whose integration is very important because they can be the victims of radicalization. I would really hope that the European Commission would pay special attention to the Roma integration program.

Trócsányi didn’t conjure up the image of Roma going to Syria to fight, but he made the mistake of indicating that they may join extremist groups. And because the whole conference was about Islamic radicalism, it was easy to draw the conclusion that Trócsányi envisages a time when European Roma might join jihadists to fight against the infidel.

László Trócsányi / Photo Zoltán Gergely Kelemen, MTI

László Trócsányi / Photo Zoltán Gergely Kelemen, MTI

Trócsányi also spoke to MTI, the Hungarian news agency, right after the meeting. What did he consider to be the most important topics of the conference? “There was a discussion about foreign nationals who fight alongside the Islamic State. We touched on online recruiting activities on behalf of the Islamic State.” It was right after these discussions that Trócsányi rose and talked about the radicalization of the Roma. It’s no wonder that Nielsen drew the conclusion that, in Trócsányi’s mind, there was a danger that European Roma would join the jihad fighters in Syria.

The reporter’s impression was further reinforced when he talked to the spokesman for the office of Hungary’s permanent representative in Brussels. The reporter was obviously so struck by what he heard that he wanted confirmation of Trócsányi’s message. When Nielsen asked the spokesman why Roman Catholic Roma would choose to fight alongside radical jihadist groups in Syria, the spokesman said “it is because they are a deprived people and they are usually more exposed to radical views.” The spokesman added that the minister’s position “was just a hypothesis” that “had not been fully explored.” So, the spokesman reinforced the reporter’s initial inkling of a connection between the two topics.

Realizing the adverse reaction abroad as well as at home to Trócsányi’s linking the Roma community to Islamic extremism, both the government and the party have been trying to minimize the effects of Trócsányi’s ad hoc, unnecessary introduction of the topic. They called Nielsen’s description of his remarks an outright lie. A reporter for the pro-government Válasz offered perhaps the most imaginative interpretation of Trócsányi’s statement. “Trócsányi might have been thinking that one day a Malcolm X type of character will be born in the Roma community who could take them along the road of radicalization. However, luckily there is no sign of such a development, and such a supposition is not at all timely. Let’s not talk of the devil, especially when government officials should know that, whatever they say, our foreign adversaries will misinterpret them.”

The explanation of the spokesman at the Hungarian permanent representative’s office in Brussels, however, indicates to me that the topic is not new in government circles. The idea didn’t just pop into Trócsányi’s head. The linkage of Hungary’s Roma population to the current refugee crisis began in May when Trócsányi in an interview with Inforádió explained that the reason for Hungary’s refusal to accept any “economic migrants” is that the country is burdened by the integration of 800,000 Gypsies. The Roma theme also emerged in early September in Viktor Orbán’s speech to the ambassadors, where out of the blue he came up with a reference to Hungary’s Roma population. Hungary’s historical lot is to live together with hundreds of thousands of Gypsies. “Someone sometime decided that it would be that way … but Hungary doesn’t ask other countries in Europe to take Hungarian Gypsies.”

As for Hungarian Gypsies sympathizing with Muslim extremists, let me tell a funny story. Somewhere near Nagymágocs, not terribly far from the Serbian border, a group of public workers, mostly Roma, noticed that a few people were hiding in a cornfield. They got scared: these people must be migrants. One of the public workers reported their presence to the police, who told them to get on their bicycles and pedal as fast as they can. Halfway home they encountered a policeman who wanted to arrest one of the Roma in the group, thinking he was a migrant. Meanwhile it turned out that the other “suspicious” group, whose members were bopping in and out of the cornfield, were not migrants either: they were surveyors. So much for the burgeoning friendship between the Roma and Muslim extremists.

Indeed, “kakistocracy” is at work. C. György Kálmán’s suggestion to government officials to improve their language skills is not enough. One needs some brainpower as well, and that seems to be lacking in most of Viktor Orbán’s underlings.

Viktor Orbán on his western critics

What a coincidence. Smack in the middle of perhaps the biggest crisis of the Orbán era, Hungarian ambassadors met in Budapest this morning. It was their regularly scheduled get together at which it is almost obligatory for the prime minister to speak.

It has been the custom for many years that during the month of August, when most people are enjoying their summer holidays, Hungarian ambassadors travel home to get some direction and personal guidance from their ministry. This year, however, it was decided that one such gathering is not enough. From here on the heads of Hungarian missions will travel back to Hungary twice a year. Once in early spring and once sometime in late August.

These occasions give Viktor Orbán an opportunity to deliver a lengthy speech in which he outlines his thoughts on Hungarian foreign policy. These speeches are regularly criticized by foreign policy experts as a string of inarticulate, ad hoc ideas that often cannot be reconciled with one another. In addition, he usually manages to make some provocative statements. At least one commentator labelled today’s speech “the most incoherent one” Orbán has managed to put together.

Péter Szijjártó finds the jokes of Viktor Orbán very amusing

Péter Szijjártó finds the jokes of Viktor Orbán very amusing

Some themes in these speeches are constant, such as the stress on an “independent Hungarian foreign policy” which takes only one thing into consideration: “Hungarian interests.” Fidesz is the party that represents the true interests of the country. A rival foreign policy tradition caters “to the interests of others.” Of course, we know whom he has in mind: the socialists and the liberals who refrained from waging a war against the European Union but chose cooperation and compromise instead. He indicated today that there might be an inclination to exhibit this kind of opportunistic behavior given the immense “international attacks against us.” But it would be a mistake to take the easy road and avoid conflict with fellow diplomats on account of personal relations. The reaction should be exactly the opposite. Hungarian diplomats should be even more combative when international pressure is on the rise.

It is hard to know whether Viktor Orbán really believes it or not, but in this speech he had the temerity to accuse the western media of being in league with their governments. The Hungarian media is much freer and more independent, he said, than the media in western countries. Opinions in Hungarian newspapers and on internet news sites are much more varied because in Hungary the government in no way tries to influence journalists and reporters. The uniformly bad press his government has been receiving is therefore an orchestrated affair. Governments joined by journalists purposefully spread lies about the Hungarian government. A journalist friend of mine couldn’t help but be reminded of the Kádár regime when high party officials held very similar views about the role of journalists as lackeys of antagonistic, imperialist powers. I guess such attitudes derive from the very nature of dictatorship.

In addition, Orbán accused western governments of being ignorant of the true feelings of their citizens. They are not democratic enough, unlike the Hungarian government which made certain it would have a dialogue with the Hungarian people. He expressed his satisfaction with his earlier decision to launch a national consultation on the question of terrorism and immigration. “The reason we can steadfastly follow our refugee policies is because the voters clearly told us what we should do.” I hope you all remember those twelve leading questions the Hungarian government came up with back in April. Anyone who would like to refresh his or her memory should reread my post on the subject. They were leading, manipulative questionnaires sent out to more than 8 million voters, out of which only 1 million were returned. To bring up this “national consultation” as a mandate is one of the most cynical statements Orbán has ever uttered.

What else is wrong with the west? They are a hypocritical lot. Hungary “has been centuries behind in two-facedness.” Here is, for example, the French foreign minister who criticizes the Hungarian fence while the French government is building one. “And they are not ashamed.” Hungary is not alone in refusing to take in any refugees. The United States, he said, has categorically refused to take any refugees in order to lighten the European Union’s burden, which is not the case. His other example, Israel, cannot be taken seriously as an excuse for Hungary’s refusal to offer a new home for a few thousand refugees.

Otherwise there doesn’t seem to be any change in the stated aims of Hungarian immigration policy. Nobody should be let in, all the refugees should remain in Turkey, and Greece should not allow the refugees in. Hungary doesn’t want to have any immigrants because no nation should be forced by others to let in people it doesn’t want. These are the great man’s ideas.

And then came a seemingly unconnected reference to Hungary’s Roma population. Hungary’s historical lot is to live together with hundreds of thousands of Gypsies. “Someone sometime decided that it would be that way … but Hungary doesn’t ask other countries in Europe to take Hungarian Gypsies.” On the contrary, when they want to emigrate to Canada “we ask them to stay.” The truth of the matter is that Hungary wouldn’t mind at all if every Gypsy picked up and left, if only Canada would let them in. When the Canadian government put up posters in Miskolc, the city from which most of the Roma went to Canada, to tell them that they will be deported back, the Fidesz mayor of Miskolc created an international incident by telling Canada that it cannot “send its refugees to Miskolc,” i.e. cannot send the Hungarian Roma migrants back to where they came from. Some opposition parties found Orbán’s remarks concerning the Roma disrespectful.

The last topic I consider noteworthy in Orbán’s performance today was his answer to a question about “what differentiates the government’s policies from those of Jobbik.” He began by saying that “the government is not interested in the extreme right.” Hungary is a country where Jewish holidays can be celebrated on the streets without anyone having to go through electronic gates and being asked “whether you are a fascist animal.” What distinguishes Fidesz from Jobbik is “the general security,” whatever that means. So, he didn’t answer the question, for which he should be applauded. It would have been really painful to listen to his lies about the substantial ideological differences between Fidesz and Jobbik.

Hungarian Supreme Court decided: Segregation is lawful in parochial schools

Last Friday Hungary’s highest court, the Kúria, rendered a judgment that legal scholars in Hungary consider historic. To put it in the simplest terms, the panel of judges declared that segregation of the Roma in parochial schools is legal.

This is not the first time that I’ve written about an elementary school in Nyíregyháza maintained by the Greek Catholic ChurchA foundation called Chance for Children Foundation (CFCF) sued the Greek Catholic Church because, in 2011, they reopened a segregated school that served Roma children from the nearby Gypsy settlement Huszár telep.

The history of this case goes all the way back to 2007 when Nyíregyháza had a socialist mayor and town council. At this time, in order to avoid a court case, the town decided to close the school for Roma children. Instead, they provided a school bus to take children from Huszár telep to a school 2.3 km. away that had been newly refurbished on EU money. But in 2010 Nyíregyháza elected a new Fidesz administration, and it was clear from the very beginning that this educational arrangement was doomed. First, the city refused to provide a school bus for the children of Huszár telep. Then it was decided that the Greek Catholic Church would reopen the Roma school. (In 2012 the Greek Catholic Church was also given control of the modern “white” school.)

CFCF sued in 2011, but it took three years for the lower court in Nyíregyháza to hand down its decision in March 2014. It was at that time that I published a post titled “The Hungarian government supports school segregation for Roma.” On what grounds did I come to this conclusion? The reason was simple enough. Zoltán Balog over the years had made no secret of his belief that segregated schools in the hands of churches are “the citadels of convergence” for Roma students. He imagined integration as a two-step process. First you put the disadvantaged, mostly Roma, children into segregated schools where “they will catch up.” Once they achieve the requisite level of knowledge and skills in these segregated schools, the Roma children can be integrated into the mainstream population.

Balog was so convinced that his theory was sound and had such trust in the Greek Catholics’ special abilities that he himself testified during the trial which, by the way, CFCF won. Naturally, the Greek Catholic Church appealed, but CFCF won again in a judgment by the Debrecen Appellate Court. After another appeal, the case ended up in the Kúria where to everybody’s surprise the judgment was overturned. The Greek Catholic Church won. Segregation was legalized. There is no further recourse.

The reason the Kúria gave for its judgment is that the free choice of religion and school supersedes the prohibition of segregation. This judgment presupposed that all Roma parents chose the nearby elementary school for their children because they wanted to provide them with an education administered by the Greek Catholic Church. In the whole of Hungary there are only 268,935 individuals who, when asked about their religious affiliation, considered themselves Greek Catholic. This is a very small number, especially when you compare it to the 5.5 million Catholics and the 1.6 million Hungarian Reformed. The church leaders themselves admitted that practically no children were Greek Catholic.

The Greek Catholics’ interest in teaching and assisting the Roma stems from the pastoral work among the Roma of a priest called Miklós Sója (1912-1996). He spent years working with the Roma in Hodász, a village about 50 km from Nyíregyháza. Actually, the segregated Gypsy school is named after him. The church wanted to continue the Greek Catholic tradition of pastoral work among the Gypsies. They found the school close to the miserable settlement of Huszár telep in Nyíregyháza a perfect place to pursue their educational and charitable work.

From what I have been reading on the subject, the Greek Catholic Church never wanted to have an integrated school because their focus is on Gypsy pastoral work. During the first trial, the judge asked the representative of the church whether perhaps it would be possible to allow the 12 Roma first-graders to attend the “white school” that the church also ran. The priest, after some hesitation, said that perhaps they could create a separate class for the Roma children. The judge had to remind him “what this suit is all about.”

Students in the Greek Catholic segregated school in Nyíregyháza

Students in the Greek Catholic segregated school in Nyíregyháza

Magyar Nemzet a few days ago, before the Kúria’s decision, published a report on conditions in the Roma school and the parents’ and students’ satisfaction with the present arrangement. The picture couldn’t be rosier. Happy children, happy parents who consider CFCF mere troublemakers. They are very satisfied with the education their children receive. One boy’s parents decided to transfer him from an integrated school to the segregated one because he was unhappy in school. In the Miklós Sója school he made many friends, and his grades have improved dramatically. (For that latter development I could offer a simple explanation: lower expectations at the Miklós Sója school.)

CFCF and those who believe in integrated schools see the situation differently. They point out that the parents chose this particular school not because it was run by the Greek Catholics but because it was close. Even the Magyar Nemzet report admits that since there is no longer a school bus to take the children to school, they would have to use the city bus, which they could hardly afford. Gábor Daróczi, a board member of CFCF, called the judgment “apartheid under the aegis of religious freedom.” He argued that the Kúria’s judgment “practically put a how-to handbook into the hands of those churches that would like to run segregated schools.” According to CFCF, it is likely that political pressure was applied because Zoltán Balog, minister of human resources, has been a strong supporter of the church all along. CFCF is planning to appeal to the European Commission which, they hope, will begin an infringement procedure against Hungary just as they did earlier when similar infringements of European law were found in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia.

But CFCF’s strongest argument is that “there is no road to university from segregated schools.” There is a foundation called Romaveritas, apparently financed in part by the Norwegian Fund, that provides monthly stipends to about 15 Roma students a year for university studies.  Apparently, all students currently enrolled in the program came from integrated schools. They demonstrated in front of the Kúria building, emphasizing the need for integration, but to no avail. Roma leaders and civil rights activists are shocked.

Jobbik’s program: A tragic future would await Hungary

The growth of Jobbik, considered by many to be a neo-Nazi party, has been quite successful at attracting disappointed Fidesz voters, a fact that at last frightened the government party to the point that it reconsidered its attitude toward Jobbik. Initially, Jobbik became a political factor for two reasons: its fierce anti-Roma attitude and its anti-Semitism. But the party leaders would now like to shed Jobbik’s well-deserved anti-Semitic label. The success of the party over the last six or seven years has emboldened the party leaders into thinking of a large party appealing to all segments of society. And such an ambition cannot be achieved as long as it spews racist messages against Gypsies and Jews.

Although Jobbik did well at the 2010 national election, receiving 16.67% of the votes, Fidesz didn’t seem to be concerned. The reason for the government party’s benevolent attitude toward the party to its right was that Fidesz and Jobbik shared several key ideological tenets and goals. Jobbik politicians proudly announce to this day that they, unlike the leaders of Fidesz, dare to say out loud what others only whisper. However, as time went by, especially once Jobbik started to shed its radical garb and began attracting former Fidesz voters, party strategists began to think about the most effective weapon to use against their rival on the right.

According to information received by Index, Fidesz is somewhat reluctant to turn against Jobbik with full force because its strategists worry about such a plan backfiring. Let’s say that both the democratic opposition and Fidesz attack Jobbik at the same time. It could easily happen that the party’s followers, especially the younger ones, might feel like soldiers trapped in a besieged fort, resulting in a strengthened Jobbik. Apparently, there is another consideration that makes the government party reluctant to criticize Jobbik with too much fervor. A media blitz against the neo-Nazis could prompt a comparison of the two right-wing parties, and this is something Fidesz wants to avoid. After all, they have many features in common. If the information coming from Fidesz strategists is correct, we will not see a Jobbik-Fidesz struggle anytime soon.

Given the widespread anti-Roma prejudice and anti-Semitism in Hungary, concentrating on these issues, however justified, might not be the most effective weapon against Jobbik. Foreign newspaper articles dealing with Jobbik normally concentrate on the party’s racism but domestically, I believe, another strategy should be employed. Critics should go back to the party’s official program and begin a serious discussion of its possible repercussions if it were implemented. Jobbik’s party program is 82 pages long. So it would deserve a more serious analysis than vs.hu provided a few days ago, but their article was certainly a good beginning.

Jobbik’s program is very detailed, though it omits two key ingredients: “how and more importantly from what” it can be accomplished. Let’s start with the latter. The Költségvetési Felelősség Intézet and Transparency International took a look at all of the 2014 party programs and estimated the cost of their proposals. Jobbik’s “dreams” would cost, just in 2015, 2,432 billion forints more than the current budget figures. By 2017 the projected deficit would be 11-12%. Ranked by cost of party promises Jobbik was followed–in descending order–by MSZP, LMP, Együtt-PM, and DK. Fidesz had no program.

The cost of the different programs presented by the opposition parties in 2014

The cost of the programs presented by the opposition parties in 2014

Let’s assume that Jobbik actually wins the election in 2018. What kind of a country would they create?

By the time a Jobbik government finished with its plans to make the country safer, Hungary would be a “police state.” They would introduce a gendarmerie in addition to the present police force; there would be a separate force of border guards; a guard for the government; a civic patrolling force; and the National Guard, now banned, would be resurrected. Ethnic identification of offenders would be reintroduced, and sex offenders would undergo “chemical castration.”

Social policy and healthcare don’t receive much attention, but as far as state support of families is concerned, there would be a distinction between “deserving” and “undeserving” citizens. Under the healthcare heading we read the following strange sentence: “The Hungarian nation is not sick, it was just made sick.” Otherwise, Jobbik demands that a lot more money be spent on healthcare, a desire many people share.

Then comes education. The party would completely rewrite history so “every child would learn the true history of our homeland.” They would expunge the teaching of the Finno-Ugric origins of the Hungarian language, a theory that, according to them, was “forced on the nation by the House of Habsburgs.” Instead, Hungarian children would learn about “the heritage of Hunor and Magor,” i.e. the bogus ethnic relationship between the Huns and the Hungarians. Roma children would attend “special classes” and would be forced into boarding schools where they could learn the meaning of work.

As for foreign policy, Jobbik doesn’t want to leave the European Union right now, but Vona doesn’t rule out the possibility in the long run. When it comes to NATO, however, they would lead Hungary out of the alliance immediately and would seek neutrality. A Jobbik government would take the “Eastern opening” more seriously. They would build especially close relationships with Arab countries, Iran, and Africa and would try to create a Polish-Hungarian-Croatian axis to counterbalance western political influence. These foreign policy plans are not very different from those of Fidesz. Viktor Orbán in 2009 and 2010 also imagined such an axis until it became clear that the countries he counted on were simply not interested. Since then, the formation of such an axis has become even more remote than it was five years ago. Naturally, Jobbik would spend more money on defense, but the party program wisely avoids talking about compulsory military service.

I can’t go into the details of Jobbik’s plans for the economy, which are described in the party program as the “seven fundamental principles.” The seven principles (hét vezérelv) are intended to call to mind the seven chieftains who led the Hungarians into the Carpathian basin. After reading these plans, Tamás Mellár, a conservative economist and head of the Central Statistical Office during the first Orbán government, described their most likely effect as “a tragic future.” Jobbik’s plans include refusing to repay Hungary’s national debt, which according to Mellár would mean that “we would have to lock up the country and Hungarians could visit Vienna only once every three years to buy smart phones and smart watches.”

In addition to making people understand that the Jobbik program leads nowhere except “even further to south and east than we are now,” as  Péter Ákos Bod, another conservative economist who was the head of the Hungarian National Bank under the administration of József Antall, said, those who would like to loosen Jobbik’s grip on certain segments of the population should also emphasize that beneath the new  “moderate” veneer the same racist, neo-Nazi party is alive and well. As one of the most radical Jobbik members of parliament, Előd Novák, said, “the content is still radical but the style is considerably more moderate.”