Tag Archives: Gypsy self-government

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

Electoral fraud in Baja: More details emerge

The by-election in Baja is still not over, at least if it depends on the opposition. The public is learning more and more about the characters involved in the alleged electoral fraud. It looks as if the orchestrators of the highly suspicious results in one of the polling stations came from the ranks of Fidesz party activists who are responsible for campaign strategies. Moreover, these party workers have a track record of manipulating the voting process if they think that Fidesz needs it in order to win.

Let me start the story with two men who can be seen on a video rudely interrupting Gordon Bajnai, the former prime minister and co-chairman of Együtt-PM, as he is listening to the complaints of an elderly woman. They badger him with accusations of wrongdoings that he allegedly committed when the company for which he was working was involved with a business that ended up in bankruptcy. Since the business had something to do with raising geese, these “civic” demonstrators recruited by Fidesz usually arrive with either live or rubber geese and drown Bajnai out with loud cackling.

This encounter was no different except for the fact that the “demonstrators” were Fidesz employees. One of them was Máté Kindlovits, the personal secretary of Gábor Kubatov, who is the brains behind Fidesz’s campaign strategy. Kindlovits is no stranger to Hungarians who follow political events. He could be seen on a Fidesz video leaked to the public about the party’s preparation for the 2009 mayoral by-election in Pécs.

The other man was Tibor Csörsz Elszaszer, who can be seen on the same video. Elszaszer was caught by the police as he was taking mostly Gypsy voters to their polling station in Pécs. The police found a long list of names and addresses in the car. Elszaszer’s explanation was simple minded: the men in his car were on their way to go fishing but they stopped off to vote. I might mention that Elszaszer was originally active in Jobbik, and in 2006 he tried his luck as a MIÉP-Jobbik candidate in the Érd municipal election. Magyar Narancs found photos of Elszaszer with Jobbik’s Előd Novák of kuruc.info fame.

These two men, however, could not alone ensure a Fidesz victory in Baja. They solicited the help of some local Roma leaders. One of them, Tibor Ajtai, the chairman of the county’s Roma self-governing body, is an “expert” on chain-voting. In January of this year a tape recording surfaced in which Ajtai admits that he was the one who helped Fidesz’s candidate, Krisztián Kapus, become mayor of Kiskunfélegyháza. He managed to devise a “beautifully executed chain-voting scheme,” but he was greatly disappointed because, although Kapus initially gave him and another Roma leader jobs in city hall that were to last until 2014, they were terminated in September 2011. One can only wonder what kind of promises were made to Ajtai for services rendered in Baja. Ajtai also seems to be engaged in usury. According to some of his victims, instead of giving monetary assistance from funds available to the Roma organization, Lungo Drom, he lent the strapped men money from his own resources and then demanded that they repay him two or three times the amount he lent them.

The second Roma leader who was most likely involved is Szilveszter Horváth, who actually lives in the district. His wife was strategically placed inside the polling station where apparently with the help of sms messages back and forth she could report on the progress being made inside.

Tenytar1

And finally, here are a couple of charts from TénytárThe first one shows the results in this particular electoral district between 2006 and 2013. The red bars represent MSZP and its partners and the orange Fidesz. The chart shows the results of the national and local 2006 and 2010 elections and the 2013 by-election. As you can see, even with the likely voting irregularities, the opposition doubled its support compared to 2010 in this pro-Fidesz district.

Tenytar2

The second graph compares the results of the 2006 and 2013 municipal elections, broken down by the five polling stations in the district. Ténytár opted to compare this year’s results with the results of 2006, when the left fared much better than it did in 2010. You may notice that a third party (brown) ran in the 2006 elections. That was the MFC Roma Unity Party.  Even if you take the total of the Fidesz and Roma votes in 2006 (and it does not make a lot of political sense to do so), it still falls short of the 97 votes cast for Fidesz this year.

The National Election Committee is unlikely to accept the complaints and decide that balloting should be repeated in this particular polling station. At least this is the widely held view in Hungary. But the opposition parties could still go to the courts and see whether the “independent” justices might be convinced by the available evidence that a repeat is warranted. If this case is swept under the rug, Fidesz might pay dearly for a small win in a by-election when it comes to determining the validity of the results of the next national election. In fact, there are some people who doubt the existence of electoral fraud in Baja because they simply can’t believe that Fidesz would risk that much.

On the other hand, Zsolt Bayer, the far-right Fidesz journalist, is not shy. In his weekly column he “humbly thanks the upright Gypsies who with their votes assisted in this victory,” adding that “Lungo Drom did a fantastic job.” It sure did, but if I were Bayer I wouldn’t be proud of it.