Tag Archives: Roma minority

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

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.

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.

Roma petition to the European Commission and the European Parliament

By way of background to the petition on behalf of the Roma of Miskolc published here, I would like to add a few words about the setting in which it was born. Hungarian Spectrum had at least two earlier posts devoted to the plight of the Roma inhabitants of Miskolc.

The first was published in January 2013 when it became known that the mayor of the city, Ákos Kriza, who does not hide his racism, objected to “Canada sending its refugees to Miskolc.” Kriza was talking about those Hungarian citizens who, in the hope of a better life, left for Canada and who subsequently were sent back home by the Canadian government. Kriza wanted to make sure that no returning Gypsy would ever settle in the city of Miskolc. Once the mayor realized that he had no legal means to achieve his goal, he began looking for “criminal elements” among the returnees.

Obviously, Kriza wants to have a Roma-free Miskolc because a year and a half later he came up with another plan. The city council, on which Fidesz has the majority, voted for the “liquidation of ghettos and slums.” The elimination of ghettos and slums could be a noble gesture, but it turned out that the city was not going to provide better housing for those whose houses will be razed to build a new football stadium and a large parking lot. The to-be evicted families had the following choices. If they decided to remain within the city limits they would not be compensated for the loss of their homes. If they opted to leave town, however, they would receive between 1.5 and 2 million forints. About 400 families are affected by this ordinance. 

* * *

Raise your voice against ethnic cleansing in Miskolc, Hungary

To The Institutions of the European Union

Esteemed European Commission!
Esteemed European Parliament!

We raise our voices against the expulsion from their homes of the Roma of the city of Miskolc, against ethnic cleansing in Miskolc!

The Roma of Miskolc had to leave their homes so that another expensive and unneeded sport stadium could be built there. This development is supported by millions of euros by the EU, so the EU cannot ignore that its implementation includes ethnic cleansing.

Therefore we request the European Union to initiate an official investigation into the case of institutionalized exclusion of the Roma of Miskolc, to act against the expulsion from their homes of the Roma of Miskolc, and to take immediate steps to avoid mass homelessness so as to stop the imminent humanitarian catastrophe!

We expect European institutions not to finance with even one cent our isolation, exclusion from housing, from employment, from the basic right to form a business!

Hungary is our homeland but Europe is our home. Hungary treats us like a bad step-parent would, thus we are looking for Europe’s help!

And if a country that introduced tyranny and institutionalized racism can belong to the European Union, then Europe should protect those who are persecuted!

Europe and its democratic countries should recognize as political refugees those individuals and families from Miskolc who were excluded and persecuted based on racial-social justification, and were subjected to ethnic cleansing. Europe and its democratic countries should review their contradictory relationship to the Geneva Convention and should take determined steps to ensure that everything in that Convention is also applied to Europe’s Roma, who are being deprived of their rights!

Gábor Váradi, Aladár Horváth, Béla Rácz
Budapest, March 13, 2015.

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.

József Debreczeni on the Roma question

After describing Bishop Miklós Beer’s efforts on behalf of the Roma minority and publishing the English translation of an article by Aladár Horváth, a Roma activist, I think I should mention a book by József Debreczeni entitled Ne bántsd a cigányt!: political vitairat (Don’t hurt the Gypsies: A polemic). A rather odd title that needs some explanation. It echoes the name of a book by Miklós Zrínyi/Nikola Zrinski, a Croatian-Hungarian politician and writer (1620-1664), Ne bántsd a magyart – Az török áfium ellen való orvosság (Don’t hurt the Hungarians – An antidote to the Turkish poison). In his book Zrínyi wrote: “How it is that you, Hungarians, can see the danger with your own eyes and yet are not awakened from your deep sleep.” Zrínyi was referring to the Turkish danger, but Debreczeni finds the quotation equally applicable to the danger that exists in Hungary today as a result of an uneducated, unassimilated, poverty-stricken underclass with a very high birthrate.

Debreczeni is neither a sociologist nor a historian of the Hungarian Roma. After getting an M.A. in history, he taught high school for a while but then became politically active in the late 1980s. After a short stint as a member of parliament (MDF), he became a freelance writer. He is best known for his biographies of József Antall, Viktor Orbán, and Ferenc Gyurcsány. In fact, he wrote two books on Orbán. The first appeared in 2002 a few months after Orbán lost the election and the second in 2009. The title of the second, Arcmás, means “portrait” but the word has two parts: “arc,” “countenance” and “más,” “other.” The message was that the Orbán of 2009 was very different from his earlier self.

Debreczeni considers the “Gypsy question” to be the greatest problem threatening “the existence of Hungarian society,” in which he includes the Roma minority. He highlights three aspects of the problem. First, the increasingly hopeless socioeconomic situation of the Gypsy minority. Second, the growing geographical isolation of Gypsies from non-Gypsies. Third, the demographic problem. The average Hungarian woman bears 1.3 children, a statistic that includes Roma women. Without them, that number is only around 1.0. Gypsy women have on average more than three children, and among the least educated and the poorest that number goes up to more than four. Given the low employment figures among the Roma, if these demographic trends continue Hungary will become “a third world” country. That is, if Hungarian society does not do something to answer the Gypsy question in the next decades.

After the regime change the new political elite was unable to handle the growing problems of the undereducated, unemployed Roma men and women. Just to give an idea of how little attention the new democratic parties paid to the Gypsy question, it was only SZDSZ that mentioned the problem at all in their first party program. But, in Debreczeni’s opinion, they went astray when they looked at it as simply a human rights issue. To “left-liberals” the fault lay only in prejudice and racism. This view became a “dogma,” which in turn became an obstacle to facing facts.

Meanwhile came Jobbik, a far-right party whose popularity was based in large measure on its anti-Gypsy rhetoric. At the EP election in 2009 it got 400,00 votes or 15% of the total. In the same election SZDSZ got a mere 2.16%.

“The democratic, left-liberal, anti-racist Roma politics has failed,” Debreczeni contends. He believes that the continuation of “the intolerant, confrontative, and by now unproductive liberal human rights approach” will lead nowhere and that Hungarians should find a new avenue to offer “a decent, democratic discourse and politics that would assist the integration of the Roma.” “If we can’t find it, we are lost.”

Ne bantsd a ciganytDebreczeni’s book, published two months ago, caused an upheaval in those “left-liberal” circles he criticized. A Roma activist, Jenő Setét, a close collaborator of Aladár Horváth, was the first to speak out against Debreczeni’s book. He complained about the very notion that Gypsies “are different.”

Indeed, Debreczeni, relying on research done by others, does claim that ethnic groups carry cultural baggage that may make them different from other folks. For example, he thinks that Hungarian-Germans are harder working than Hungarians. Gypsies, who until quite recently were self-employed, have a rather lackadaisical attitude toward time since they could work at their leisure. But critics charge that Debreczeni didn’t stop with a description of cultural differences. What upset people most is that he seems to make a value judgment: certain cultures are superior to others.

The second critic was István Hell, who belongs to the group of left-liberals Debreczeni criticizes. He wrote on Galamus that “we have created the current socio-cultural state of the Roma,” and he cites “segregation, limited educational opportunities, and not doing anything about these problems in the last twenty-five years.” The last and most outraged critic, Magdolna Marsovszky, expressed her surprise that such a book, which she considers racist, can be published at all.

Debreczeni answered all three. See his answer to Jenő Sötét in HVG and his article on Hell’s criticism in Galamus. István Hell wanted to continue the debate, but Zsófia Mihancsik, editor-in-chief of Galamus, put an end to it, claiming that it is not fair to criticize an author for the opinions of others that he quotes.

Most likely not independently from the appearance of this book, Sándor Friderikusz decided to have a three-part series on the Roma question on his excellent program, Friderikusz, on ATV. The series aired on October 7, November 4, and November 18. I highly recommend these programs, which point out the complexities of the issues.

József Debreczeni is one of the vice-presidents of Demokratikus Koalíció, and therefore some people might consider the opinions expressed in the book to be DK’s position on the issue. However, I’ve seen no sign of either an endorsement or a criticism of Debreczeni’s suggestions on how to handle the Roma question.

The city of Miskolc is ready to pay its Roma inhabitants to leave town

Today we are moving to Miskolc just as one of the ministries may do sometime in 2015 if the Orbán government disperses its ministries all over the country, as currently planned.

This is Hungarian Spectrum‘s second trip to Miskolc, a city that has fallen on hard times in the last twenty-five years. Miskolc and environs was one of the most important centers of Hungarian heavy industry in the socialist period. In the 1970s almost 80% of the workforce of the county of Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén worked in that sector. After the change of regime, with the disappearance of heavy industry, the area became one of the most impoverished in the country. Miskolc, the county seat, had a population of almost 200,000 in the 1970s; today it is around 160,000.

Understandably, given this economic background, the population of Miskolc and other smaller towns in the county heavily favored the socialists, at least until 2010 when Miskolc for the first time elected a Fidesz mayor, a Transylvanian import, Ákos Kriza. Before he moved to Hungary Kriza completed medical school in Târgu Mureş/Marosvásárhely. Readers of Hungarian Spectrum already encountered Kriza in connection with a scandal involving the Canadian government and the Roma refugees whom Ottawa sent back to Hungary because the Canadian immigration did not consider them to be bona fide political refugees. Since most of the Gypsies who tried to emigrate to Canada came from Miskolc and its surrounding area, it was clear that once they returned to Hungary they would most likely go back to Miskolc. It was at that point that Kriza declared that ” Canada will not send its refugees to Miskolc.” As you can see, Dr. Kriza is no friend of the Roma.

Kriza, Miskolc, and the Roma minority have been in the news again since May 8 when the city council voted for the “liquidation of ghettos and slums” in Miskolc. A large area will be razed. If one didn’t know Kriza’s attitude toward Gypsies one could actually praise him and the city council for providing decent housing for these poor people elsewhere. But, of course, we would be wrong in assuming such a benevolent move from a city council with a very large Fidesz majority. Out of twenty-eight city fathers there are only 6 MSZP, 2 DK, and 3 Jobbik members.

The deal presented to the affected Roma inhabitants is that if they just move out of their dwellings and move to another house or apartment in town they will not get any compensation. Anyone who decides to leave town will receive 1.5-2 million forints, though only if he spends this money on the purchase of another dwelling. In some other town or village, of course. All the Fidesz members of the city council voted for the proposal, MSZP representatives abstained. Only DK and Jobbik voted against it, the latter because they objected to giving any compensation to Roma forced out of their homes.

Miskolc street scene in the district to be raised soon to give place to a stadium/minap.hu

Miskolc street scene in the district to be razed soon to provide room for a stadium/minap.hu

It didn’t take long before one could read in Népszabadság that the mayor of Sátoraljaújhely (Fidesz) feels sorry for the Gypsies of Miskolc but “they shouldn’t come here.” Therefore the city fathers contemplated passing an ordinance to the effect that anyone who has purchased a dwelling from money received from another municipality for the express purpose of buying real estate will not be able to get public work or welfare for five years. Sátoraljaújhely was not the only town to complain. Kazincbarcika’s mayor labelled Miskolc’s move a “poverty export.”

Those affected by the ordinance, at least 400 families, were outraged. Most of them want to stay in Miskolc and, instead of compensation, would like to receive another piece of property in exchange. These people consider the Miskolc city council’s decision “deportation” pure and simple.

By mid-June Fidesz began collecting signatures in support of the city council’s decision and at the same time Jobbik organized a demonstration with the usual skinheads in black T-shirts and frightened Gypsies. The Fidesz initiative was a great success. “Within a few hours … several thousand signatures were collected. The people of Miskolc overwhelmingly support the decision reached by the city council.” At this point, Jobbik also decided to collect signatures to deny monetary compensation for the properties currently used by Roma families.

The lack of any interest in the affair on the part of Zoltán Kovács, undersecretary in charge of Roma affairs, is glaring. In parliament Sándor Pintér, minister of the interior, already informed a member of parliament who inquired about the scandal in Miskolc that he and his ministry have nothing to do with this strictly local affair. That is, the Orbán government has no intention of putting an end to such discriminatory initiatives. The only active political forces in defense of the Miskolc Roma are the Hungarian Solidarity Movement and the Demokratikus Koalíció. Solidarity organized a demonstration in which a rather large crowd of Roma and non-Roma marched together today.

The irony of this whole affair is that the razing of the Roma ghetto and slum serves only one purpose:  building the new stadium Miskolc received as a gift from Viktor Orbán. He has his priorities.

Four years ago when Hungary took over the presidency of the European Union one of their most important contributions was supposed to be working out something called the “Roma strategy.” Apparently, it was a great success, at least on paper. But what I just described is reality.

And here is the most recent piece of news on Hungary’s contribution to the Roma strategy. There is a European program called Roma Matrix that aims to combat racism, intolerance, and xenophobia towards Roma and to increase integration through a program of action across Europe. Today Roma Matrix held a conference in Budapest at which one of the vice-mayors of the city extolled all the effort the city has made for the Roma community of Budapest. Magyar Nemzet‘s headlined the article describing the conference: “One must decrease the level of discrimination.” Not eliminate it, just decrease it. Well, we can start in Miskolc and Sátoraljaújhely.