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Hungarian filmmaker: Attacks persist, Roma live in fear

Prague, 18.3.2014 20:27, (ROMEA)
Bereaved relatives of the victims of racist murders in Hungary during a funeral service for a father and son. (Photo:  Archiv Romea.cz)
Bereaved relatives of the victims of racist murders in Hungary during a funeral service for a father and son. (Photo: Archiv Romea.cz)

Starting in March 2011, documentary filmmaker Eszter Hajdú spent more than 170 days in a courtroom filming what would become the documentary "Judgment in Hungary", which tells the story of the trial of four right-wing extremists charged with murdering six Romani people. During that time, she said the hardest thing was to see how the relatives of the victims who testified in court were suffering. 

In an interview with the Czech News Agency, Hajdú said the Romani community has every reason to live in fear, not only in Hungary, but throughout the region, including in the Czech Republic. Her work was awarded the Best Film prize earlier this week at the One World human rights documentary film festival in Prague.  

The anti-Romani attacks in question occurred in Hungary between 2008 and 2009 and sparked commotion abroad at the time. Most of the attacks took place during the night, when the Romani people targeted were asleep.   

For example, in November 2008 two lives were lost in the village of Nagycsécs as the result of such an attack. The assailants threw Molotov cocktails at Romani people's homes and then used shotguns to fire on them as they fled their burning houses.  

During several such attacks, a total of 78 bullets were fired and the ultra-right radicals murdered six people, including a child, as well as putting the lives of 55 others at risk. "When I found out about the attacks, I was living in Portugal, and I was looking for subject matter for a film about Romani people and hate crime which I had long wanted to make. I experienced it myself," the Hungarian director said. 

She originally believed she would be returning to Hungary for just one year, but the trial ultimately took more than two and a half years. Hajdú filmed in the courtroom daily, making sure a cameraman was there on the few days she was unable to personally attend.

She captured the entire trial without any embellishments, from the defendants' initial declaration that all but one of them was innocent to testimony by people acquainted with them that often confirmed their hateful attitude toward Romani people and the members of other minorities. Many witnesses were called upon to testify during the trial.  

"The hardest thing, for me, was to listen to and see the victims' relatives, people who had lost a child, a grandchild, a husband, a sister, for absolutely no reason. It was plain to see how much they were suffering," the director said.

The moment at which those people had to stand only 10 - 20 centimeters away from the bench where the defendants were sitting was reportedly also extraordinary. "It was a great human drama. Those people have enormous internal self-control and strength, I would never have been able to handle myself like that," the director said.  

During several such testimonies the judge granted the witnesses' requests to have the defendants removed from the courtroom. "Those people are living in constant fear even five years after the murders. I spent the night more than once with the victims' families, and whenever there was noise outside in the street, everyone woke up, afraid those guys were coming for them again," Hajdú said. 

The film has not yet been premiered in Hungary. The director, who is currently living and studying in Portugal, first wanted to test how audiences in other countries would respond to it.

"I am interested in whether the audience takes an interest in it, whether they understand it. That's also why I participated in all of the debates that were held after the screening," Hajdú said.

The response from the public in the Czech Republic was reportedly very interesting. "A big debate was unleashed about the similarity of the situation here in the Czech Republic in particular," she said.

The director says she believes hate crimes are not declining but are on the rise, and that societies in many different states are living with prejudice against Romani people. However, it is very difficult to monitor such crimes.

"According to recent research performed in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia, most Romani victims of crime never go to the police because they have previously had the experience that when they did so, it was turned against them instead of helping them," the Hungarian director said. While the trial that she filmed was also attended by many promoters of the ultra-right in Hungary, Hajdú says she did not fear reprisals for making it. 

"I knew I would be showing the reality of what it was like in the courtroom in this film. I didn't want to manipulate it in any way," she says.

Three of the assailants were sentenced to life in prison at the end of the trial, with the fourth getting 13 years. However, the story is not yet over, because they have all appealed.

It is reportedly not yet clear when the appeals trial will take place. "I hope the appeals trial will be fair and that justice will prevail," Hajdú said.


ČTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Eszter Hajdú, Film, Hungary, Roma, Soud, Útok, Verdikt



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