Tag Archives: Roma

Orbán’s trust in Flórián Farkas is unwavering: The price is 2.5 billion forints

I’m somewhat late in reporting on the latest developments surrounding the infamous Flórián Farkas, Viktor Orbán’s “strategic Roma ally.” Farkas is a Fidesz member of parliament, commissioner in charge of Roma affairs, and chairman of Lungo Drom. He is the man who delivers the Gypsy vote for Fidesz.

Over the years it became evident that, under Farkas’s watch, billions of EU money designed for a project called “Road to Employment” had disappeared. This left the Országos Roma Önkormányzat (ORÖ/National Roma Self-government) bankrupt.

In February 2015 Ákos Hadházy, then a new member of LMP who specialized in tracking down corruption cases, discovered a massive embezzlement of about 1.6 billion forints ($5.5 million), which the organization was supposed to spend on a work program for the unemployed Roma. The prosecutor’s office began investigating the case. Two years later they were still investigating. In the meantime Flórián Farkas disappeared from sight, I assume in order not to call attention to himself. He may also have also been working behind the scenes to save his skin. The prosecutors either had to abandon the case or bring charges against Farkas by June 24, 2017. Farkas, by the way, has the reputation of being a real survivor. He’s had some very close brushes with the law but has always managed to escape prosecution.

While the prosecutors were allegedly investigating the case, the ministry of human resources, which is responsible for Roma affairs, began an investigation of its own. It came to the conclusion that almost all the money ORÖ received had been “diverted.” The Gypsy organization was told that it would have to reimburse the ministry for the more than 1.6 billion forints it received. In the first eleven months ORÖ was to pay only five million forints per month, or 3% of the total obligation. Over the next 12 months, however, the balance of the diverted funds was to be paid back to the ministry. But where was ORÖ going to find that much money?

The Orbán government solved ORÖ’s “financial difficulties.” You may recall that at the end of 2016 the Orbán government found itself flush with cash. In a great hurry it disbursed about 300 billion forints among its favorite organizations and projects, including 1.3 billion forints to ORÖ in the form of “special assistance.” So, that problem was solved. The Orbán government on taxpayer money covered the funds Flórián Farkas and his accomplices had embezzled. In fact, the government had no choice. OLAF, EU’s anti-corruption office, had begun an investigation, and it was becoming obvious that this money would have to be paid back one way or the other. Since the original money was gone, the government had to dish out the missing funds.

The prosecutor’s office faced a deadline of June 24 of this year to determine what to do with Farkas. That dilemma was solved on May 29 when László Kövér and Flórián Farkas signed another “strategic alliance” between Fidesz and Lungo Drom. This time the signing ceremony was nothing like four years ago when the whole media reported on the official ceremony at which Viktor Orbán and Flórián Farkas signed the agreement. This time the ceremony was held not in the parliament building but in the modest Fidesz headquarters on Lendvay utca, and the organizers made sure that only the state television station’s journalist and cameraman were present. In the last minute the Fidesz organizers brought the event forward by two hours but neglected to inform all the other members of the media.

László Kövér and Flórián Farkas / Source: MTI

While the short ceremony was taking place, the prime minister, who happened to be in Hódmezővásárhely at the time, said that his trust in Farkas was unbroken and that Farkas would remain the number one leader of the Hungarian Roma as far as the Hungarian government is concerned. Indeed, ever since 2002 Lungo Drom has been a strong supporter of Fidesz. I’m sure that Orbán also appreciates that Farkas didn’t abandon him when in that year Fidesz lost the election. Farkas remained faithful to him through eight hard years in opposition.

After the signing Ildikó Lendvai, the former leader of the MSZP parliamentary delegation, wrote an amusing piece titled “The wolf is inside.” It was a take on a children’s game called “the lamb is in, the wolf is out” (Benn a bárány, kinn a farkas). “Farkas” in Hungarian means wolf. In the game children form a circle. One child, the lamb, is inside and another, the wolf, is outside. The goal is for the wolf to catch the lamb. Clearly, Farkas is safe now, inside the circle. No one will catch him for at least five more years.

Although there were rumors to the effect that Farkas’s position inside of Lungo Drom had been considerably weakened, he managed to continue in his position as chairman of the organization. In the middle of June it was reported that Farkas had resorted to trickery in order to remain in power. Instead of holding a formal meeting of the leaders, he organized a dinner party where his friends and supporters unanimously voted for his reelection. At the same time he set up a new Roma organization called “Roma Integrációért Országos Szövetség” (National Association for Roma Integration) which will be eligible to apply for EU funding. That really boggles the mind.

As for the debt of ORÖ, one would think that by now ORÖ had paid back everything it owed the ministry of human resources thanks to the government’s generosity. But in the last few months it came to light that the total amount of embezzled money was not 1.6 billion forints but 2.5 billion and therefore the “special assistance” of the Orbán government was insufficient to cover all the debts.

Although Ákos Hadházy still believes that Farkas is criminally liable and that the possibility exists of filing charges against him, I don’t think too many people would wager much money on such an eventuality.

July 10, 2017

The eviction of Roma organizations

Budapest Beacon reported on November 1, 2016 on the eviction of two Roma organizations from their headquarters:

Hungarian NGOs Roma Parliament and Phralipe Independent Gypsy Organization were forcibly evicted from their Budapest District 8 headquarters last Sunday, reports mno.hu. Several police cars arrived along with removal trucks to evict the organizations from the building at Tavaszmező street 6, citing the dilapidated and “life-threatening” state of the property as well as arrears as the reason for the eviction.

The district claims that the organizations have unpaid debts to the district government, something both organizations deny. Phralipe has regularly paid its bills, has no outstanding debts and has a valid lease agreement with the district, Phralipe president Béla Babos told Népszava. He dismissed the district’s claims that the building is life-threatening as an “alibi”, claiming that his organization received no warning prior to the eviction.

The district claims that the Roma Parliament owes “several hundred-thousand forints,” and had refused earlier offers to move into a different property. However, the organization’s president Aladár Horváth denies this, citing a 2011 court decision that found they had no debts to the district or to utility providers.

The district has been pressuring the organizations to relocate for some time, reportedly offering them the choice of five properties which, according to Horváth, were “small and moldy.” Although willing to relocate in principle, the organization ultimately insisted on remaining in the Tavaszmező street property until the district offered them “a property of similar size and quality,” Horváth said, adding that the NGO had repeatedly requested that its current lease be extended. 

“I don’t know what’s going to happen to us,” said Babos, who claims that the organizations were current with their rent and utility bills.

The eviction comes after several years of attempts by local authorities to “drive away the sole surviving, system-critical, independent umbrella organization” for Roma, according to a statement issued by the Roma Parliament.  Withdrawing a lawsuit brought against the NGO for alleged arrears dating to 2011, the district refused to conclude a new lease contract, classifying the organization as occupying the building without title.  According to the statement, the lack of a valid lease precluded the organization from applying for grants, and forced it to substantially reduce its operating costs.

Source: Magyar Nemzet / Photo: Dávid Balogh

Source: Magyar Nemzet / Photo: Dávid Balogh

The day after the eviction, the Ministry of Human Resources announced  that the former offices of Roma Parliament and Phralipe, which police claimed were “life-threatening”, were to house the Cziffra György Roma Education and Cultural Center, an organization founded and funded by the government. 

According to its statement, the Roma local government first heard of the government’s intention to install a new Roma organization in their headquarters last year, and initial negotiations took place with the “expert” input of House of Terror director Mária Schmidt (“To this day, it is not clear what she has to do with Roma culture,” reads the statement) and Budapest District 8 mayor Máté Kocsis (Fidesz).

According to the statement, Kocsis reneged on his promise to invite the Roma Parliament to subsequent negotiations, which allegedly took place without its involvement.  

The groups suspect the government of creating a “token gypsy” organization to “colonize the cultural and spiritual heritage” of the 25-year-old organization. “The corporatist system itself is building (on a small site for a lot of money) a pro-government cultural and public center where the servile Roma intellectuals, created in their own image, can take a place on the Board of Patrons,” Roma Parliament said in the statement.

According to its website, the Roma Parliament was founded in 1990 as “the first non-governmental umbrella organization for Roma” which works “for mass-scale changes to the situations of Hungarian Roma” through legal advocacy, cultural identity foundations, art and public life programs, among others. The group had been in its Tavaszmező street location since 1990.

Below is the statement of two of the leaders of the Roma Parliament, Aladár Horváth and Jenő Zsigó.

 

Farewell to Hungarys Roma Parliament

Hungary’s Roma Parliament will bid farewell in a ceremony on Wednesday afternoon, November 2, to its headquarters, which the State has ransacked, and intends to knock down. The Roma Parliament has worked here for 25 years. The break-up is the next stage in a spate of state terror that two weeks ago closed the main left-wing daily paper, Népszabadság. Its trumped-up reasons (a hazardous building) coincide with a government order saying it needs it for other purposes.

We look forward to seeing at the ceremony all who view as vital Hungarian democracy that embraces the Gypsy community and the Roma Parliament’s work over a quarter-century. We especially count on the “family” of the Roma Parliament and its forebear, Amaro Drom

  •  our scholarship and summer-camp students,
  • bands, musicians and performers who played on our stages,
  •  journalists, poets, writers, critics and analysts papers that Amaro Drom published,
  • artists who did the murals on the historic walls of our building,
  • those to whom we gave legal and welfare aid and representation over the decades,
  • those active in our social, public and political training events, notably the Roma Academy,
  • all past and present members, heads and staff members; all who inspired the Roma Parliament, in whose communities they grew up.

In recent years, the Józsefváros LGO has tried several times to oust the one independent umbrella organization critical of the system and working for Roma togetherness. Most recently in 2011‒12, the courts ruled an LGO application to dispossess us was unfounded: the Roma Parliament was not in debt to the owner or any utility company. The LGO withdrew its case, but despite a promise, did not reinstate the tenancy unilaterally and suspended on false claims of indebtedness. So it could claim the Roma Parliament held the building without a legal basis. This excluded us also from fund applications. So heads and members of the organization had to cover their shrunken maintenance costs from its own sources of income, the art gallery, meetings, conferences and concerts.

Government Order No. 1785/2014 (December 18) provided for founding a new Capital City Roma Cultural and Methodological Education Centre. (This body under the Capital City LGO performs no meaningful activity. It came into being by annexing the internationally known Gypsy House headed earlier by Jenő Zsigó. Its premises were in Szentkirályi utca, in Józsefváros’s fashionable Palotanegyed, where “regular voters” live. The Fidesz-led LGO refused to renovate it and the money to do so returned to LGO funds. Now that nearly one-billion forints is to be the “starting capital” for implementing the government order.)

We first heard a year and a half ago that the new institution was to rise from the ruins of the Roma Parliament. The specialists brought in to negotiated said so: Mária Schmidt, Director-General of the Terror House (what she has to do with Roma culture is still unclear), and Máté Kocsis, Mayor of Józsefváros, told us the new building was planned for the site of the Roma Parliament at Tavaszmező utca 6. In July last year we approached the Mayor requesting we be drawn into the talks, which he promised, but our organization was never invited. In December we ran a conference on the matter and invited the Mayor and Assistant State Secretary, but they did not come. We showed a photograph series, “Misplaced Dreams”, of 19 civil Roma initiatives in the last four decades for institutions of Roma cultural autonomy (Roma theater, museum, national cultural and arts center, Capital City Gypsy House etc.), all defeated. We also showed a 20th, the fine architectural proposal devised by the Roma Parliament and its professionals in 2009, whereby the Tavaszmező utca premises would convert into our own cultural and community center. (The technical side was done by the Technical University’s architecture professor with four of his students and landscape architecture students of Corvinus University ‒ could this now be the official plan, shed of us?)

The response to our initiative was a single official letter calling on us to vacate the premises.

Then on the initiative of the Fidesz-member head of Józsefváros Roma local government we were offered five premises ‒ outside the district, mainly small and musty or distant and unmaintainable ‒ which we rejected. On April 14, 2016 we wrote to the Minister of Human Resources, Capital City Mayor and heads of the district, requesting they either leave the Roma Parliament where it is and conclude a new contract with us, or provide us with convenient premises similar in size and quality, for our events and storing and displaying our collection of over 200 paintings.

A reply to our Ministry letter came from Károly Czibere, State Secretary for “Social Catch-up”, on 9 May 2016: Tavaszmező utca 6 was to be the “Capital City Roma Centre”… which was “also backed by the patrons’ committee of famed Roma artists convened by Minister Balog, who were informed of details at a patronage supper on July 18, 2016.”

The LGO made no attempt to meet our requests for the new premises. Indeed they attached conditions we could not meet: the local Roma local government could have the old studio of Radio C in Teleki tér (incidentally unsuited to the purpose) and rent it to us, etc.

It became clear that the political motive was to make the Roma Parliament disappear, not find it premises. That explained the lack of honest communication or willingness to agree, and messages rather than dialogue.

Every letter from State Secretary Czibere reiterated that “the aim of the Ministry and the LGO is for Tavaszmező utca 6 to transfer to state ownership by agreement…. From what has been said I do not think anyone will decide your fate without consultation. Our hopes are to find a solution to housing your organization as soon as possible” (letter of August 15, 2016).

Two weeks later we read in the press that the LGO would make a legal attempt to push out the Roma Parliament.

On the 60th anniversary of the 1956 Revolution, Józsefváros LGO broke into the Roma Parliament, emptied it and closed it, while the case was still before the court. It was officially held that the building was dangerous. Yet the government website announced next day the formation of a Cziffra György Roma Education and Culture Centre, to be housed at Tavaszmező utca 6: “The choice in consultation with Józsefváros LGO fell on Tavaszmező utca 6…. which the LGO undertook to empty.” No wonder we were not allowed back in the dangerous building! Meanwhile an illegal stocktaking of our intellectual and cultural goods, artworks, archives, financial documents and valuables built up over 25 years was made and they were taken to an unknown place. We tried to discuss our possessions and documents with the Józsefváros Mayor, but he did not deign to reply.

By a seemingly unstoppable process, Hungary uses illiberal (Mafia-like, dictatorial) force to pull down 25-year walls of a civil-rights movement and colonize its cultural and intellectual heritage. Its corporative system means building (on a small area at high cost) a governing-party cultural and public center with patrons who are servile Roma intellectuals shaped in its own image.

It was painful but expected. The Roma Parliament has no truck with Hungary’s authoritarianism, opposes it vehemently, and supports the Republic. We stand by Roma pushed out of many places, thrust from Székesfehérvár, driven to Canada from Miskolc. Our fate is theirs. We too are pursued.

At this point we must bid farewell to the Roma Parliament, the iron stair decorations, stuccoes, ’56 bullet holes on the front, frescoes on the stairs, stage, theatre and our Home. But we can never bid farewell to our civil revolutionary ideas embodied there until our dream of equal dignity and chances of social inclusion for the Roma becomes reality.

October 30, 2016.

November 2, 2016

Zsolt Bayer, the purveyor of hate, in his own words

Decent, democratic Hungarians are stunned. The hate-filled, racist, anti-Semitic journalistic hack, Zsolt Bayer, on the recommendation of Zoltán Balog, received the third highest decoration the government can bestow on people of great achievement. János Lázár presented Bayer with the “Hungarian Middle Cross.”

The independent media could scarcely find words to display its disgust with the government, but some headline writers rose to the occasion. One headline read “By mistake Zsolt Bayer received the cross of the knight [lovagkereszt] instead of the Swastika.” Swastika in Hungarian is “horogkereszt.” A blog writer at Népszabadság titled his piece “The knight of the Godfather” since Viktor Orbán and Bayer are old friends and fellow founders of Fidesz.

Instead of trying to describe Bayer’s “literary output,” I think it’s best to let Bayer speak for himself. I will be only his English voice. In the past, every time I wrote about Bayer I always said how difficult it is to translate his prose. For starters, Hungarian obscenity beats American obscenity by a mile. Moreover, I hate to repeat this smut.

The first time I discussed Bayer at some length was in January 2011 shortly after András Schiff, the world-renowned pianist, wrote a letter to the editor of The Washington Post. Bayer retorted with an article titled “The same stench.” Here are a few lines from that piece.

A stinking excrement called something like Cohen from somewhere in England writes that ‘foul stench wafts’ from Hungary. Cohen, and Cohn-Bendit, and Schiff. Népszava appears with the red figure of the man with the hammer and demands freedom of the press. Most people think that this is something new and that war like that didn’t take place before. Nonsense. There is nothing new under the sun. Unfortunately, they were not all buried up to their necks in the forest of Orgovány.

A brief explanation. Orgovány, a small village on the Great Plains, was the site of massacres committed by the leaders of the Hungarian White Terror in 1919-1920. Most of the victims were Jewish. In plain language, Bayer is expressing his sorrow that not all the Jews were killed in those days.

Zsolt Bayer, leading the Peace March in Hungarian Guard uniform

Zsolt Bayer, leading the Peace March in Hungarian Guard uniform

A year later he got angry because Ulrike Lunacek, an Austrian MP in the European Parliament, criticized Hungary. Bayer, who at the time had a program on Echo TV, had the following to say about Lunacek in the company of two other right-wingers:

Then comes a half-witted [The Germans translated it as ‘brain amputeed’] impetiginous lying idiot, Ulrike Lunacek, and I expressed myself delicately … The whole rotten filthy lie from the mouth of a rotten filth bag.” In choice Hungarian: “Csak jön egy olyan agyament ótvar hazug idióta, Ulrike Lunacek, és milyen finoman fejeztem ki magam. … Az egész egy rohadt szemét hazugság egy rohadt szemét szájából.”

In 2013 Bayer wrote another hateful piece in which, although he didn’t use the word “Jew” or “Jewish,” anyone who is familiar with Bayer’s style and way of thinking knows whom he has in mind when he talks about those who have been doing their best to ruin the white Christian race ever since the 1919 Soviet Republic, which in far-right circles is considered to be a “Jewish affair.” Those who are antagonistic toward Hungary organize themselves “in packs and attack their victims like loathsome drooling hyenas.” And he continues: “For you only death is the proper punishment. Because you believe in death, in public executions while your victims are left alone, go bankrupt, their friends deny them, they lose their jobs, and come to a sorry end. This is your goal.” Their sins are immeasurable and they will be punished. Because these mysterious people don’t realize “what monster [they] are trying to resuscitate. In fact, [they] woke him up already.” All that sounds pretty threatening, but then comes the twist:

You don’t foresee yet that it will be only we who raise our voices in your defense. We, the marked victims. We are the only ones to whom you can turn for help. It will be only we who will hide you. Because we are good to the point of ruining ourselves. And take this all very seriously. You miserable ones.

In January 2013, in Berlin, Zoltán Balog proudly outlined the accomplishments of the Orbán government as far as its Roma strategy was concerned. Bayer wrote that

a significant portion of the Gypsies are unfit for coexistence. Not fit to live among human beings. These people are animals and behave like animals. … If he finds resistance, he kills. He voids where and when it occurs to him. … He wants what he sees. If he doesn’t get it, he takes it and he kills…. From his animal skull only inarticulate sounds come out and the only thing he understands is brute force… There shouldn’t be animals. No way. This must be solved, immediately and in any way. [In Hungarian: “Ezt meg kell oldani–de azonnal és bárhogyan.”]

This particular article was deemed to be racist, and the state media authority fined Magyar Hírlap, where it appeared, 200,000 forints. Since then Magyar Hírlap had to pay another fine, this time 250,000 forints, because he called all refugee boys over the age of 14 “potential terrorists.”

When it comes to the migrants, Bayer usually dwells on horror stories, like the IKEA murder in Sweden, which then gives him an opening to blame liberalism for being the source of all the trouble. For example, he expresses his sorrow that the two suspects cooperated with the police because otherwise “the police could have shot them as one does a mad dog.” Now the Swedes have two murderers from Eritrea and two dead white Swedes. “Surely, the exchange was worth it. Long live liberalism! Long live human rights! Except when we talk about the rights of the European, white, Christian race.” Here Bayer uses the word “rassz,” which is practically never used in this sense in modern Hungarian. Bayer’s conclusion is that Europe must be defended. “It must be freed from this horror. If necessary with arms in hand. If everything remains the same, there will be bloodshed. These hordes believe that only the blood of Europeans can be shed.”

Perhaps the most often quoted Bayer lines were written in 2006 after the tragedy that occurred in Olaszliszka when a Roma girl stepped in front of a car driven by a school teacher. The child wasn’t hurt. The man stopped when a group of about twenty men and women dragged him out of the car and beat him to death in the presence of his two young daughters. Bayer wrote at the time:

Anyone in this country who runs over a Gypsy kid acts wisely if he doesn’t for a minute contemplate stopping. In the case of driving over a Gypsy kid, we should step on the gas. If in the meantime Gypsies surround the car, we should step on the gas even harder. Those we run over are unlucky. Leaving the scene at the greatest speed, we should call the ambulance from the car and we should stop at the next police station and turn ourselves in. (Unfortunately, I know that this scenario cannot take place because if someone runs over someone, especially a child, one must stop. So, we will stop. But we will have to do something. It is a good idea to get a gun before leaving. If we hit a child, let’s stop, and if the animals begin to gather we should use our weapon without hesitation.)

I don’t always have the stomach to read Bayer’s articles that appear in Magyar Hírlap and lately on his own blog as well. I’m sure that others could come up with hundreds more quotations that would further demonstrate that this man’s decoration by the Orbán government is a disgrace.

As for the charge of anti-Semitism, analysts pussyfoot around when it comes to the Orbán government’s attitude toward the country’s Jewish citizens and their role in Hungary’s history. I don’t think that, with the decision to award Bayer this high honor, there can be any question where Viktor Orbán stands on this issue. Bayer’s decoration must have been cleared with Orbán himself, and he must have known that this move will be interpreted as the government’s approval of Bayer’s racism and anti-Semitism. It seems that Orbán doesn’t care what the world thinks of him and his regime. Bayer’s decoration strikes me as a purposeful provocation not only of the Jewish community at home and abroad but of democratic communities in Europe and the Americas.

August 19, 2016

Eviction looming for both Roma and non-Roma poor in Székesfehérvár

Press Release of the Roma Parliament

Residents of Székesfehérvár—largely Hungarian citizens of Roma ethnicity—have turned to our organization for assistance in confronting their housing crisis. In three meetings in July, a total of 30 families asked the Roma Parliament to represent them and defend their legal rights and interests. According to the families, there are at least 60 to 80 households, or about 500 individuals, currently at risk of eviction and becoming homeless. Among those who asked for our assistance about a third are not Roma. Our assessment is that among those are being evicted about half are Roma and half non-Roma Hungarians. Most have had no warning and are currently debt-free. They earn the minimum wage or below, mostly from public works.

One local resident, Elvira Lakatos, put it this way: “We take bread away from our children’s mouths so there would be a roof over our heads.”

The Székesfehérvár city hall is not extending leases that are up for renewal or is presenting reasons to annul the leases on such grounds as that families hosted relatives for 3-5 days and did not report the visit, families do not use the property for their own purposes, the family has been living in the apartment long enough to have saved money to take care of the rent on an apartment on their own. No official justification for the evictions has been provided.

The locals are guessing that the apartments are needed for 30 NATO soldiers, the Videoton business, skilled laborers from abroad, or perhaps Hungarians impacted by the foreign-currency denominated mortgage crisis.

The apartments in question were largely built with EU funding for the purpose of housing the Roma community and disabled individuals. We met one individual confined to a wheelchair who will have to leave his home within three months.

Thus far we have met with ten families who have either become homeless or are staying with relatives as a result of the new evictions. One retired, ill Roma individual left so as not to lose custody of grandchildren. The Lakatos and Szajkó families had their children taken away (three each), and the children are now staying with foster parents while their parents live in the forest. One individual now residing in the forest—Noémi—goes from the forest to her job as a cleaner at a supermarket.

The Roma Parliament on July 27 considered the concerns of the Roma and non-Roma families, and presented the individuals now living in the Palotavárosi forest, separated from their children.

In the name of the 30 families who turned to us for representation, we are demanding:

  • An immediate halt to evictions and a pledge to impacted families that the city will not follow in the footsteps of Miskolc’s anti-Roma policies.
  • In the case of those currently living in the forest, we request assistance, housing support, and custody of their children.
  • A review of the municipality’s policies and decision-making, especially when it comes to families with children, ill individuals, pensioners, and grandparents.
  • A municipal decision annulling eviction decisions made over the past months.
  • Assessments of the socioeconomic condition and income levels of families impacted, to be used when examining future changes in residence to avoid threats to the well-being of families.

We call upon the leadership of the city as well as on political parties not to repeat the professional and political mistakes of the 1997-2000 Székesfehérvár ghetto affair. We ask that local officials and politicians use current evidence, not outdated, ten-year-old photos. We also ask that they respect the basic rights of their citizens and voters and show the city’s residents—Roma and non-Roma—that they have representation.

These are the goals of the Roma Parliament.

 

The statement of the city of Székesfehérvár

The response of the city of Székesfehérvár to Aladár Horváth’s press conference is a lengthy and somewhat confusing statement that it is not easy to follow. The announcement begins with a denial that the evacuation decision has anything to do with ethnic discrimination, which is odd in light of Horváth’s own admission that only half of the families to be evicted are Roma. The city’s account also includes such, in my opinion, superfluous pieces of information as that unemployment in Székesfehérvár is low and that the earlier elimination of “infamous ghettos met with the approval of the overwhelming majority of the people of Fehérvár.”

Following these introductory remarks come some details regarding the four “evicted” families mentioned in Horváth’s press release who found shelter in the forest. It is hard to decipher what the real situation is, but it seems that six non-Roma and two Roma individuals do live in the forest and that they are being taken care of by “the street activists of the Crisis Center on a daily basis.” It is not clear from the city’s release whether these eight people have anything to do with the eviction of individuals from low-income housing that Horváth is talking about.

City officials deny Horváth’s claim that the families are not behind on their rent. At least “one Roma couple owes a sizable amount of money on their rent” and they are guilty as well of a “total disregard of the rules of cohabitation.” The city claims that this couple has been offered “several possibilities for their housing needs” but they declined all offers. The fact that the official statement mentions only one family leads me to believe that the others are indeed current on their rent.

The town officials explain that the real reason for the evictions is the city fathers’ desire to have a turnover in the inhabitants of these low-rent apartments owned by the town. The idea is that families in need should stay no longer than three to eight years, during which time they should be able to get on their feet and move to apartments available on the open marketplace. Some of the families have been living in these buildings for the last 17 years.

It seems from the above explanation that among those about to be evicted were some, perhaps most, who paid their rent regularly. It’s just that the authorities thought that they had overstayed their welcome. Whether these people were aware of this policy, whether it was in fact a policy, is not at all clear.

Finally, the city’s statement contains several before and after pictures showing old low-income housing occupied by Roma families and what was recently built to replace it. The contrast is striking (with the discarded junk I assume intended to reflect poorly on the occupants) but unfortunately irrelevant.

fehervar1

Fehervar2

The problem is that the new housing units seem intended for an entirely different segment of society. Those who are facing eviction currently live in apartment buildings, not in the slum-like “before” housing. Wherever they end up if they are evicted, it won’t be in the attractive low-income housing that was opened with great fanfare recently. The city fathers obviously believe they’ve been subsidized long enough and that it’s time for them to pay the going rate for housing. There were dozens of pictures taken at the time the new housing was opened, and I couldn’t spot one Roma among the occupants. They look to me to be mostly elderly white folks with a sprinkling of middle-aged or young people.

Fehervar3

The city of Székesfehérvár declared on July 27 after Aladár Horváth’s press conference that it had followed all the rules and regulations and that, as far as the city’s low-income housing is concerned, there is perfect understanding in the city council. For example, the recent statement of Roland Márton, the head of the MSZP-DK-Együtt caucus, reflects consensus on the issue. I may add that the Székesfehérvár city council consists of 15 Fidesz, 1 Jobbik, 1 independent, and 3 MSZP-DK-Együtt members. I couldn’t find a copy of Roland Márton’s statement.

July 31, 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.

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.”