Tag Archives: segregation

Zoltán Balog, who is in charge of Roma integration, fights for segregation

In the last two years I wrote a couple of times about school segregation in Hungary. Of course, segregation along ethnic lines is illegal in Hungary and after 2003, when the law on equal treatment was enacted, the ministry of education managed to achieve some success in school integration. One can read more about these efforts in a blog I wrote in January 2013.

In 2010 Zoltán Balog, then only an undersecretary in charge of the so-called Roma strategy, assumed the job of integrating and “converging” Hungary’s sizable Roma population. Moreover, during Hungary’s presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first six months of 2011, the Hungarian government took upon itself the creation of a Roma program for the entire European Union.

From the beginning I noted Balog’s reluctance to follow the earlier Hungarian government’s strategy of integration. There were also signs that Balog, realizing the enormousness of the task, wanted to dump the problem on the churches. He made frequent references to his belief that religious communities are best equipped to handle the special issues of the Hungarian Roma. What happened behind the scenes I have no idea, but most churches were not willing to take over what should have been the job of the government. On the whole Hungarian churches said “no thanks.”

My other suspicion was that in his heart of hearts Balog does not believe in school integration. He is convinced that special Gypsy classes enable students to catch up with their non-Roma contemporaries–separate to become equal. Based on countless studies we know that this is a misguided notion. But it seems that Fidesz politicians cannot easily be convinced by hard data or evidence.

If someone had not noticed earlier that Balog is no fan of integration, it became absolutely clear this spring when at a meeting of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) he argued that there can be no uniform Roma strategy for all EU countries and therefore the European Commission has to be “more responsive” even as he stressed that the Roma issue “is a European responsibility.”

Zoltán Balog, the defender of quality education of Roma children

Zoltán Balog, the defender of quality education for Roma children

The clash between Balog and civil organizations dealing with Roma issues came to a head in Nyíregyháza where there was a segregated school for Roma children which was closed in 2007. However, came the 2010 municipal election and with it a new Fidesz mayor who convinced the Greek Catholic church that had taken over the school in the interim to reopen the segregated school only about 1.5 km from a new modern school that served the majority of the students. It was at this point that an NGO, Esélyt a Hátrányos Helyzetű Gyerekeknek Alapítvány (CFCF), sued both the city and the church.

After a careful consideration of the facts and listening to experts the court decided in favor of the foundation. At that time Balog went so far as to testify on behalf of the Greek Catholic church. He supported segregation which he called a “tender loving attainment process.” When the church lost the case, Balog was furious and made no secret of his feelings: “this verdict only increases my fighting spirit. We will continue to fight for a good, decent verdict which is good for the children.”

How strongly Balog felt about this particular case is demonstrated in a press release his ministry issued on November 6, the day the appellate court issued its ruling affirming the lower court’s decision. This press release is a perfect example of the double talk this government specializes in. The final verdict in the case is” highly regrettable because many children will be deprived of a superior education.” Of course, “the Government of Hungary condemns segregation which is forbidden by Hungarian law. If segregation can be proven we will do everything to ensure its discontinuance.” But this time, it seems, segregation is a good thing.

In fact, twelve days after the appellate court’s decision the government moved to change the 2003 law. The proposed amendment says that in the case of schools run by churches or in schools serving national minorities the minister–in our case Zoltán Balog–can issue a decree that will allow segregated classes. Surely, for the sake of superior education. The Orbán government is trying to integrate by segregating, a solution that is a time-tested failure.

CFCF issued a statement in which they question the legality of this amendment. They claim that the 2003 law is protected by the Fundamental Law’s Article  I(3): “A fundamental right may only be restricted to allow the application of another fundamental right or to protect a constitutional value, to the extent absolutely necessary, proportionate to the objective pursued and with full respect for the essential content of such fundamental right.” Therefore Balog’s amendment is unconstitutional. CFCF somewhat naively sent this statement to all members of parliament, asking them not to vote for the amendment “in its present form.” The voting robots will not oblige, which means that the case will most likely end up in the European Court of Human Rights.

The Hungarian government supports school segregation for Roma

A  couple of days ago I noticed a short news item in Euraktiv.com entitled “Hungary criticizes EU Commission’s ‘lack of flexibility’ on Roma policies.” Zoltán Balog, minister of human resources, who represented Hungary at the meeting of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC),  wants flexibility in implementing the integration of schools. In fact, as we will see later, Zoltán Balog doesn’t believe in integration. This fact is well-known in Hungary, but it seems that the news hasn’t reached Brussels yet, as so many things don’t.

Balog emphasized at the meeting that there can be no uniform Roma strategy for all EU countries and therefore the European Commission has to be “more responsive” to the changes demanded by member states. However, he added, the Roma issue “is a European responsibility.” How typical. The EU is responsible financially and otherwise for dealing with the very serious unemployment and poverty of the Roma minority but Hungary will do whatever the Orbán government, specifically Zoltán Balog, thinks ought to be done. And since  Zoltán Balog doesn’t believe in integration, what he would like is to have a free hand in the matter.

Naturally, Zoltán Balog was wise enough to keep his conviction to himself, and instead he listed the government’s accomplishments in the last four years. It is true that they named an undersecretary, Zoltán Kovács, to be in charge of Roma issues. Kovács, it should be noted, failed as undersecretary in charge of government propaganda directed toward the outside world and also failed as government spokesman. It is also true that the Orbán government changed the constitution to allow separate parliamentary representation for ethnic groups and nationalities, but we know from Professor Kim Scheppele’s essay on the electoral law that it only provides for the election of one Fidesz-picked MP to represent the Roma community while it deprives Gypsies of the right to cast a vote for the party of their choice. That’s why Aladár Horváth, a Roma activist, urged Gypsies not to register as Gypsies and organized a separate Gypsy Party which will have 60 candidates running in the next election. Balog also talked about “training schemes in sectors such as masonry, forestry, and construction aimed at giving Roma the necessary skills to find a job on the market.” I must say this is new to me.  The only thing I have read about, in article after article, are the absolutely useless classes that prepare the chronically unemployed for nothing.

It was at least three years ago that I gained the distinct feeling that Balog, then still undersecretary in charge of Roma issues, wanted to “outsource” the problems associated with the Gypsy minority’s economic and social difficulties to the churches. He kept talking with church leaders, emphasizing their unique talents for such tasks. Although he tried to dump the whole thing onto the churches, he didn’t quite succeed. However, as the churches took over more and more schools, some poor segregated schools ended up in their hands.

Erzsébet Mohácsi / Source: Népszabadság, Photo by János M. Schmidt

Erzsébet Mohácsi / Source: Népszabadság, Photo by János M. Schmidt

Enter a foundation that has been fighting for a number of years for the rights of children coming from disadvantaged backgrounds (Esélyt a Hátrányos Helyzetű Gyerekeknek Alapítvány). The Foundation has been trying to mediate between parents and schools to achieve integration. But since it is becoming obvious that the government itself doesn’t stand behind integration efforts, the Foundation has only one recourse: to go to court.

Lately, the Foundation had an important win against the Greek Catholic Church, which has two schools in Nyíregyháza: one elite school and one segregated school. The school that is currently segregated had been closed earlier and the children were bused to the school downtown, but after the Church took over, the segregated school was reopened.

For one reason or another Balog is enamored with the plans of the Greek Catholic Church in Nyíregyháza. He sees this particular school as the “citadel of convergence” for Roma students. He imagines integration as a two-step effort: first you put the disadvantaged, mostly Roma, children into segregated schools where “they will catch up.” Once they achieve the knowledge and skills in these segregated schools equal to that of students in the “white” schools, the Roma children can be integrated into the mainstream population. We know that this is nonsense. American segregated schools were also supposed to be “separate but equal,” which of course they were not. According to Erzsébet Mohácsi, president of the Foundation, Balog believes that there is good and bad segregation. His segregation will be excellent, of course.

The Foundation won the case against the Greek Catholic Church where Balog went so far as to be a witness for the defense where he argued for segregation before the judge. Although the Foundation won the case and therefore the Greek Catholic Church is supposed to close its segregated school, it became quite clear during the proceedings that the good Christians have no intention of integrating. The judge apparently asked whether they could find places in the Church’s downtown school for 12 children who just started first grade in the segregated school. The representative of the Church, after some hesitation, announced that perhaps they could create a new classroom directly under the roof. The judge was taken aback and tried to explain to him what the suit was all about. The answer was that the students couldn’t be integrated into the existing classes because it would be “harmful to the other children.” Balog after the trial announced that the verdict “is a sad commentary on the judiciary, which denies parents’ right to a free choice of schools.”

I might add that Balog found an ally on the European Economic and Social Committee in Brussels– the president of EESC, French politician Henri Malosse. He praised Hungary’s efforts. He visited Hungary and was very impressed because “pupils have knowledge about the Roma culture” there. He also called the critical coverage of events in Hungary “disinformation.” Although Malosse has a degree in Russian and East European Studies and speaks Polish and Russian, he seems to know little about Hungary. It is hard to believe that he would approve of segregated schools for Roma students as the norm in Hungary and elsewhere. Members of the Orbán government are very good at hiding their true intentions. Let’s hope that the hidden agenda will not remain hidden for long.

Joint effort of the Hungarian state and the churches to keep some schools segregated

It was about a week ago that I wrote a post about “the growing influence of the Catholic Church in Hungary.” In that post I mentioned that both the Church itself and Catholic lay organizations had acquired schools in Hungary. For example, the Kolping International has taken over at least three schools.

No one knew at that time that a school acquired several months ago by Kolping International in Szászberek (pop. 987) would soon be the focus of a huge controversy as it expanded its “campus” to take over part of the segregated public school of nearby Jászladány.

Jászladány has been in the news off and on since 2000 when the “independent” mayor of the town (pop. 6,000) decided that the single eight-grade elementary school was not big enough for both Gypsy and non-Gypsy children. I might add that according to the official statistics 11% of Jászladány’s population is Roma. So came the ingenious plan of establishing a private school, to be housed in part of the enlarged school building, where students had to pay tuition. The bulk of the expenses, however, were covered by the municipality.  For example, the newer half of the school building was given free of charge to the private foundation that ran the school. The town also allowed the new school to use all of the equipment that had earlier belonged to the public school. There was a door between the two wings of the school building, but it was locked for six solid years.

Those children whose parents could afford the tuition fees went to the good school; the rest, like the Roma, went to the inferior school. The “private school” children received all sorts of privileges. For example, a free lunch regardless of need. They were the first ones to receive free textbooks; the children in the “Gypsy” school got them only once everybody was served in the “private school.” At one point the Open Society Institute offered to pay the fees for those children who wanted to attend the private school. The Institute was told that it had missed the deadline.

Erzsébet Mohácsi, director of CFCF and lawyer for CFCF, Lilla Farkas after the Supreme Court's favorable decision

Erzsébet Mohácsi, director of CFCF, and lawyer for CFCF, Lilla Farkas, after the Supreme Court’s favorable decision

The head of the local Roma organization is an energetic man who soon enough called the attention of Esélyt a Hátrányos Helyzetű Gyermekekért Alapítvány (Foundation for Equal Opportunity of Underprivileged Children), popularly known as CFCF, to the situation in Jászladány. For ten years CFCF fought against the barely disguised segregation in Jászladány, losing one case after the other, until June 2011 when at last the Supreme Court (today the Kúria) ruled in favor of CFCF and Jászsági Roma Polgárjogi Szervezet (JRPSZ), a Roma organization in the area. The court ordered the town to work out a plan to integrate the two schools.

The new mayor, Katalin Drávucz (Fidesz), whose own child attends the “private school,” ostensibly complied with the court order. She began negotiations with the plaintiffs’ representatives to work out the details of the integration of the two schools. But behind their back she also began negotiations with the county’s “government office,” a newfangled institution that is supposed to be the arm of the central government in every county. Her real goal was to avoid the integration of the school in Jászladány.

They came up with a splendid solution: they decided to pass the private school over to Kolping International, which functions under the authority of the Archbishopric of Eger. The idea was to automatically transfer the pupils of the “private school” to the new Kolping Katolikus Általános Iskola. Although negotiations between the town and the “government office” began more than a year ago, the deal materialized only on August 30. Since Szászberek is only 10 km from Jászladány, the deal stipulated that the Szászberek Kolping school will simply “expand” and take over the former “private school” of Jászladány.

This new-old school will not charge tuition, but the Roma parents were not notified of this rather important change. By the time, practically on the day that school opened, the CFCF learned about it, it was far too late. They managed to get in touch with about twenty families, and a handful of children enrolled. The new Catholic school has no more places. As the spokesman for Kolping International said, their first obligation is to the children of the “private school.” Segregation remains intact in Jászladány. With the active participation of the Catholic Church.

And now let’s move back in time to the first months of the Orbán administration. Zoltán Balog, a Protestant minister and now the head of the mega-Ministry of Human Resources, was in charge of Roma integration in the Ministry of Administration and Justice. He often expounded on the plight of the Gypsies and promised all sorts of remedies. These remedies did not, however, include school integration. In his opinion, segregation works to the advantage of the underprivileged, most of whom are Roma. They need special attention to catch up with the other students. Of course, we know that this is a myth. Just as the U.S. Supreme Court declared when rendering its historic decision in Brown v. Board of Education, “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” And, indeed, the special classes into which Roma children were herded in the past almost guaranteed failure. Balog, however, remains unrepentant. Only recently he repeated this mistaken notion when he sided with the Greek Catholic Church in a suit brought against it by the same CFCF that handled the Jászladány case.

What happened in this instance? In Nyíregyháza there was a school in a largely Roma inhabited section of town that was closed in 2007 because of its blatant segregation. In 2011, however, the new Fidesz administration in town reopened the school and it was given to the Greek Catholic Church. CFCF pointed out that only a couple of bus stops from this segregated school there was another school that is also run by the same Greek Catholic Church. It is a newly refurbished modern school. The Roma children could certainly attend that school. Balog offered himself as a witness on behalf of the Greek Catholic Church which refused to close the segregated school and refused to integrate the Roma children into their modern facilities.

There is more and more criticism of the churches lately because they seem singularly insensitive to social issues. Criticism of the Hungarian Catholic Church has grown especially harsh since the installation of Pope Francis, who has been a spokesperson for the downtrodden. Critics complain about the extreme conservatism of the Catholic hierarchy and point out that their involvement with charity work is minimal. It is quite clear from these two cases that the churches are reluctant to deal with disadvantaged children, Roma or not. And the good minister, Zoltán Balog, advocates keeping the disadvantaged separate from “mainstream” Hungarian children. The state and the churches are working hand in hand to keep segregation alive in the Hungarian public school system.

Testimony on the situation of Roma in Hungary by the European Roma Rights Centre

For consideration by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, U.S. Helsinki Commission

The situation of Roma in Hungary

Human rights NGOs have consistently reported that Roma in Hungary are discriminated against in almost all fields of life, particularly in employment, education, housing, health care, and access to public places. Yet government representatives maintain that the problems faced by Roma relate to their economic and social difficulties, rather than racism and prejudice against Roma in Hungary. A similar view of the Hungarian authorities has been noted by the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in its report following a mission to Hungary.

In January 2013, following a complaint initiated in 2005 by two Romani people represented by the Chance for Children Foundation and the ERRC, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Hungary violated the European Convention on Human Rights in a case challenging the segregated education of Romani children in a special school. The Court underlined that there was a long history of wrongful placement of Romani children in special schools in Hungary and that the State must change this practice. The Court concluded that ‘positive obligations incumbent on the State in a situation where there is a history of discrimination against ethnic minority children’ would have required Hungary to provide necessary safeguards to avoid the perpetuation of past discrimination or discrimination practices.

State response to violence against Roma

In Hungary the European Roma Rights Centre examined the progress in 22 known cases of violence against Roma. In these incidents seven people died, including a five-year old boy, and a number of individuals were seriously injured. Ten Romani homes were set on fire with various levels of destruction. Guns were involved in 10 of the examined cases and in two cases hand- grenades were used. Out of the 22 attacks, nine, resulting in six deaths, are believed by police to have been committed by the same four suspects who are currently on trial.

Police misconduct and procedural errors were documented during the investigation of one of the violent crimes against Roma, as raised by NGOs and later confirmed by the Independent Police  Complaints Committee and by the Head of Police. Misconduct by the National Security Service was also found.

In the majority of the cases examined, the information provided by State authorities was inadequate. Where information was provided, limited results of investigation and prosecution were revealed. In several cases information was not provided by the authorities, who cited data protection and criminal procedure laws.

The Hungarian government does not systematically monitor racist violence. Police, prosecutors and court officials are reluctant to consider racial bias motivation as an aggravating circumstance to crimes: it is not explicitly included in the Criminal Code (only “base” motivation is included). Hate crimes are dealt with as a separate legal provision but are not linked to other crimes.

In Hungary, there are no specific protocols or guidelines developed for police and prosecutors on how to investigate and prosecute hate crimes. In addition, there is no systematic monitoring of racist violence, or the collection of data disaggregated by ethnicity about the victims of crimes. There are no reliable statistics on the real number of racially-motivated crimes in Hungary: according to available statistics the number of cases investigated under the hate crime provision of Hungary’s Criminal Code is extremely low.

Law enforcement abuse against Roma

Following an incident in 2010, the ERRC and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union represented a Romani woman in domestic procedures and before the European Court of Human Rights. In June 2012 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Hungary had violated the European Convention of Human Rights in a case of police violence against a Romani woman.

In its judgment, the European Court found that there had been a substantive and a procedural violation of Article 3 of the Convention (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment). The Court concluded that the police used excessive force during the incident, and that such use of force resulted in injuries and suffering of the applicant, amounting to degrading treatment. The Court also noted that no internal investigation or disciplinary procedure appeared to have been carried out within the police force concerning the appropriateness of the police action. The Court also found that no adequate investigation had been carried out into Ms Kiss’ allegations. However it rejected the claim of discrimination (under article 14), finding there was no evidence of discriminatory conduct by the police. Anti-Roma demonstrations and statements Romani individuals and communities continued to be victims of intimidation, hate speech and various violent physical attacks throughout the last two years. The ERRC’s non-exhaustive list on Hungary includes eight attacks in 2012.

Paramilitary groups have been marching and organising demonstrations in Hungarian villages since 2006. In spring 2011, paramilitary groups marched and patrolled, particularly in the Hungarian village of Gyöngyöspata, harassing and intimidating Romani communities. Members of the organisation patrolled the town, where they prevented the Romani residents from sleeping by shouting during the night, threatened Roma with weapons and dogs and followed them every  time they left their houses, unimpeded by local police. Human rights NGOs raised concerns and called on State authorities to take immediate action. During these unlawful actions Romani women and children were relocated due to the threat of violence. As a result of racial harassment, and due to stress, a Romani woman in her eighth month of pregnancy delivered her baby early and needed to be hospitalised. The incidents have been reported by the US State Department in its Hungary Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2011 alongside other incidents.

Similar far-right movement activities continued in 2012, when several demonstrations were organised in Devecser, Cegléd and Miskolc. In Devecser pieces of concrete and other missiles were thrown at Roma houses, and one female activist was injured. In an open letter to the Hungarian Minister of Interior and the National Chief of Police, three Hungarian NGOs expressed their concern about the violence in Devecser, stating that by not dispersing the demonstration, the police failed to ensure the rights to freedom, equality and security of the local inhabitants. The Ministry and the police responded by saying they considered the police intervention in Devecser had been adequate.

Incitement to hatred is a common occurrence in Hungary. One of the latest examples was the publication of an op-ed in the Hungarian daily newspaper Magyar Hírlap on 5 January 2013 by a leading journalist and co-founder of the ruling FIDESZ party, calling Roma “animals” that “need to be eliminated” “right now by any means”.   This kind of inflammatory language is especially dangerous in Hungary. Bayer was initially criticised by the Deputy Prime Minister, Tibor Navracsics; Navracsics later defended Bayer, saying that he could not imagine that Bayer seriously thought what he said in his article. Key senior figures in the government, e.g. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, and the Minister with responsibility for Roma issues, Zoltán Balog, did not officially condemn the racist article by Bayer on behalf of the Hungarian Government.

In response to the incident, the ERRC joined with a coalition of Hungarian NGOs in asking domestic companies and Hungarian divisions of multinationals to take a stand against racist commentary in Hungary. The NGOs have asked, among others, Vodafone, T-Com, FedEx, IKEA and Procter and Gamble to reconsider advertising in Magyar Hírlap.

To date seven companies have said they will no longer place advertising in the Hungarian newspaper that published the extreme anti-Roma statements. Erste Bank blacklisted Magyar Hírlap after the NGOs’ call, and expressly brought it to their media agency’s attention to “act more prudently next time” when dealing with the publication of their advertisements. They also emphasised that the bank will not advertise in any media whose content “hurts the dignity of others, or uses an inflammatory tone regarding any minority, ethnicity, or religious group”. The leaders of CIB Bank said that the CIB Group will refrain from advertising in Magyar Hírlap and its portal “until the editorial staff categorically condemns Zsolt Bayer’s writing and ensures that both publications are free from writings that include hate speech”. IKEA, FedEx, and GDF Suez also distanced themselves from the article, and stated they do not plan to advertise in the online version of the newspaper in the future.

On March 15, 2013, a national holiday in Hungary which is also the “Day of Hungarian Freedom  of Press” the Hungarian Government awarded the journalist Ferenc Szaniszló the “Táncsics Mihály” award and honoured him as the “journalist of the year in Hungary”.  Mr Szaniszló is infamous for spreading Jewish conspiracy theories and describing the country’s Roma minority as “human monkeys.”

The award was given for “extraordinary journalistic achievements” and was presented by the Minister of Human Resources, Zoltán Balog, who is also in charge of integration of Roma. Balog claimed that he did not know who had received the award, but still handed it over to Szaniszló. Balog later distanced himself from the views of Szaniszló.

Recently, Canadian authorities launched a billboard campaign in Miskolc, Hungary, to deter Romani asylum seekers. The majority of Hungarian Romani asylum-seekers to Canada originate from this town. The billboards around the city stated that “Canada’s refugee system has changed” and that “Asylum claims are evaluated within weeks instead of years”. The billboards further cautioned the public that “Applicants with unjustified immigration claims are sent home faster”.

A side effect of the billboard campaign in Miskolc has been the aggravation of the hostile atmosphere that Romani people have to face every day. The Mayor of Miskolc Ákos Kriza (member of the governing party FIDESZ) stated that, “Miskolc will not welcome back repatriated Roma refugee claimants arriving from Canada”.  A couple of days after his appearance on national television, Mr Kriza announced that he will “keep the criminal elements out of Miskolc by checking whether any of the people who left for Canada also took advantage of social assistance from the city or the central government.” He claimed that he had already found five people who were ineligible and who thereby committed a crime. He got in touch with the police. He will do everything to prevent “these criminals from settling in the city. Moreover, criminals currently residing in Miskolc will be driven out by the authorities.” He even threatened returning Romani parents that the authorities would take their children away and place them under state supervision.

After the campaign in Forró (near Miskolc) anonymous anti-Roma graffiti appeared on houses calling on the Roma to “go to Canada”.

Suggested questions to the Hungarian Government:

Does the Hungarian Government keep detailed data on the number and type of racially motivated crimes committed against Roma, and in particular Romani women, as well as information on prosecutions? Please supply detailed information.

  • What measures have been adopted to bring the Hungarian criminal legislation in line with international standards on investigating and prosecuting hate crimes?
  • What professional training and capacity-building activities have been implemented for law-enforcement, prosecution and judicial officials dealing with hate crimes?
  • What measures have been adopted to ensure that access to counselling, legal assistance and justice for victims of hate crimes is explored, in co-operation with relevant actors?