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Analysis: Did the Hungarian Justice Minister really warn that Roma could join jihadists in Syria?

2.11.2015 17:31
Hungarian Justice Minister László Trócsányi (2015). (PHOTO:  kormany.hu)
Hungarian Justice Minister László Trócsányi (2015). (PHOTO: kormany.hu)

Brussels-based news server EU Observer reported recently that Hungarian Justice Minister László Trócsányi allegedly spoke at a recent conference in Brussels of the danger of the possible radicalization of Romani people, who could become the next jihadists in Syria. However, what precisely he said and what he meant is now the subject of ongoing discussion and speculation.

Several Hungarian dailies reported the following day that the EU Observer had gotten it wrong. Others used the sensational remarks in their headlines.

Army of analysts attempts an interpretation

The Hungarian Romani news server Romnet.hu published an article with the headline "Trócsányi: Roma might join jihadists in Syria". Another Hungarian Internet daily intended for Roma, Romasajtokozpont.hu, mused in its headline that the "Justice Minster either fears Roma or insults them".

"His words can be interpreted both to mean that there is a risk that Romani people might radicalize and that they therefore represent a threat, and that the European community of Roma could become an easy target for radicals. That last interpretation, however, makes no sense; why should Romani people in particular become terrorist targets?" the Romasajtokozpont article asks.

Another Hungarian Internet daily, 444.hu, speculates about the context within which the Justice Minister's claims were made and points to the fact that his words about the danger of Hungarian Roma radicalizing were made at point in the conference discussing radical forms of Islam and associated threats. "An entire army of analysts has attempted, so far in vain, to interpret Trócsányi's sensation-sparking words connecting the Roma with radicalization," commented Hungarian news server 24.hu.

Péter Niedermüller, vice-chair of the Democratic Coalition, is conviced that the Justice Minister's message was clear. He has called on Trócsányi to pubilcly apologize and to stop further stigmatizing a people who not only have not shown the slightest sign of radicalization, but who are already being discriminated against enough across all of Europe.

The ministry's disclaimer and mysterious spokesperson

In reaction to the stormy debates in the media, the Hungarian Justice Ministry has issued an official statement calling the EU Observer article an "outrageous provocation". The reporter, according to the ministry, is said to have "augmented Trócsányi's words according to his own imagination."

The explanation of his remarks that the Justice Minister subsequently provided through the ministry is so vague that it has not shed much light on the incident:  "I clearly drew a distinction between the fate of the Romani community and the fighters mentioned in the first part of my intervention, as I did with the topic of the radicalization ongoing in correction facilities. I mentioned Romani people in a completely new, separate context, for example, in connection with their exposure rate as a result of the fact that they are more at risk. My words concerned the fulfillment of the European Framework Strategy for Roma, which was adopted by the European Union during Hungary's EU Presidency in 2011."

What is interesting about all this is the fact that the Justice Minister has already previously expressed this opinion several times - namely, that people living in ghettos and in poverty are more easily inclined to succumb to "erroneous ideologies". In an interview for the Hungarian radio station Inforádió.hu in May he spoke of the refugee issue and again drew a link between refugees and Romani people in Hungary when he emphasized that one of the reasons Hungary is allegedly incapable of receiving so-called economic refugees is that the country "must take care of the integration of its own 800 000 Roma".

What precisely did he say at the conference? In the less than two minutes that the Hungarian Justice Minister was given, he first stated that while at the current moment there are no radical fighters on Hungarian territory, Hungary remains a transit country and is customarily a way station for the journey, for example, to Istanbul. In that context he said there is a need to pay attention to the functionality of the system for controlling passengers on various means of transport.

"However, I would like to warn of another aspect," the minister continued - without drawing any apparent connection. "The danger of radicalization can also afflict other groups. In Europe we have roughly 10-12 million Roma. During our EU Presidency, one of the priorities was the Framework Strategy for Roma. So they might become victims of radicalization" [in the simultaneous interpretation into English the term "victim" was instead interpreted as "target" - Author's Note].

According to all of this, it seems that the claim that the Justice Minister was talking about Romani jihadists is untrue and that such an interpretation can be unequivocally attributed to the EU Observer's understanding of his words. Most of the Hungarian press has reported that the EU Observer journalist reports having asked a follow-up question after the conference of an "unidentified press spokesperson of the official Hungarian representation in Brussels" who is alleged to have said that the Roma are socially deprived because of their poverty and therefore more exposed to radical influences, and who also allegedly emphasized that this is just an hypothesis "that had not yet been fully explored and that their plight should not be neglected".

It is difficult to say whether that press spokesperson was the same Dora Bókay whom the EU Observer contacted again "as part of its due diligence" and who "in an extensive phonecall conversation with EUobserver and in writing" is said to have confirmed that the ambiguous statement of the minister did actually mean he was expressing concerns over the possible recruitment of new jihadists from among the Hungarian Roma. The subsequent call by the EU Observer for the Justice Minister to provide them with a direct statement has gone unanswered.

Lost in translation

What did László Trócsányi precisely have in mind when he undertook this unexpected change of subject in his remarks? Why, actually, did he talk about Romani people at a conference about justice and radicalism?

What precisely did he mean by saying Romani people could be "victims of radicalization"? How is such radicalization supposed to hit the Roma?

What about non-Romani impoverished people, are they potential "victims of radicalization" too? It is not easy to evaluate what the connection is between the country's plan for Romani integration and the main topic of the conference, but one thing remains certain:  Whether the minister made a mistake and this was a "slip of the tongue" or not, the true essence of his communication was lost somewhere in translation.  

Adéla Gálová, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Hungary, refugee, Roma, Syria



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