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Hungarian Justice Minister says Europe's Roma could "join the terrorists"

23.10.2015 9:06
Hungary was shaken in September 2015 by a brief video taken at its border with Serbia showing a camerawoman for Hungary's N1TV station kicking young refugee boys and girls and tripping a refugee carrying a child as they made their way through a Hungarian Police cordon. (PHOTO:  YouTube.com)
Hungary was shaken in September 2015 by a brief video taken at its border with Serbia showing a camerawoman for Hungary's N1TV station kicking young refugee boys and girls and tripping a refugee carrying a child as they made their way through a Hungarian Police cordon. (PHOTO: YouTube.com)

The EU Observer reported on 20 October that Hungarian Justice Minister László Trócsányi told a conference on “criminal justice in response to radicalization” in Brussels that Europe's 12 million Romani people "could be a target of radicalizatoin" and there is a risk they will travel to Syria as foreign fighters to join the jihadists or other radical groups. When asked why Romani people, most of whom are Roma Catholic, would choose to fight alongside jihadists in the Syrian war, a spokesperson for the Hungarian Government told euobserver.com that the Roma are "deprived people and they are usually more exposed to radical views.”

The spokesperson added that while the minister’s stance is “just a hypothesis” that has not yet been fully explored, it cannot be ignored. Euobserver.com noted that Hungary has no known foreign fighters in Syria to date, while Austrians of Chechen background and Chechens granted asylum in Austria did begin fighting in Syria after Russia joined the conflict to shore up the Assad regime.

France has seen many foreign fighters travel to Syria and approximately 3 000 people in France face prosecution for these crimes, while 1 800 have such links to Syria and Iraq, Euobserver.com added. Europe's Romani minorities are widely acknowledged to be the most discriminated against in Europe.

Hungarian Roma children attend segregated schools, some Roma communities have no access to water, and Roma life expectancy is shorter than the national average, according to international human rights reporting. Approximately 700 000 Roma currently live in Hungary.

The Justice Minister's comments are not the first time a Hungarian Government representative has insulted Romani people. In September Prime Minister Viktor Orbán earned calls for his resignation after making similar remarks.

Orbán said he did not consider Hungarian Roma part of Hungarian society, for which he was sharply criticized by pro-Roma and Roma organizations there. He made his remarks on 7 September at a meeting of Hungary's foreign service.

In a speech lasting more than an hour, the PM focused especially on Hungary's approach to the asylum-seeker issue and international relations within the European Union. He particularly emphasized requiring a staunch position on this issue from each of Hungary's representatives abroad.

In the emotional introduction to his remarks, the PM reminded the diplomats of the feeling of victimization that Hungary is now suffering as a result of constant unjust "slanders" from other EU Member States, primarily Western ones. He hyperbolically compared himself to a "GI Joe", a lonely hero forced to run around the cold field of European politics in steel armor.

The PM then addressed questions of what he called "the price we must pay for flawed EU policy". He emphasized that on the question of refugee redistribution quotas there is a need to first focus on securing EU borders and then to address specific numbers of people.

Drawing a comparison between Hungary and Western countries, he ironically noted that a "more mature democracy" today de facto means that political representatives must distance themselves from the people more and more and that the course of a society's thought process is determined by the press. The PM said he believes the opposite is the case in Hungary, where the public quickly and swiftly responds when the media contravene majority opinion.

In the part of his speech that focused on asylum-seekers, the PM compared migrants to the Romani minority in Hungary. "It is an historical given of Hungary that, irrespective of what one might think about it, the country does live together with several hundred thousand Roma," he said.

"Someone made this decision at some point and we have inherited it. That's our situation, against which it is not even possible to express any reservations," the PM emphasized before drawing a negative parallel with the West yet again:  "We, of course, never present anyone, and certainly not Western countries, with the demand that they too live together with a large Romani minority. On the contrary, when some of that minority heads to Canada, we let them know that we would prefer to arrange our coexistence so they could remain here."

Representatives of several Romani organizations responded to the PM's speech the following day. The chair of the Romani Parliament, Aladár Horváth, called it absolutely unacceptable and said the Prime Minister is "unfit for office".

Horváth said the PM had "labelled the 10 % of the Hungarian population comprised of Romani people as aliens, excluded them from the nation, and lost the ability to represent the common interests and rights of all of Hungary's 10 million people... No other Government representative has taken such a step since the Second World War. We are firmly determined to continue to consider both the European Union and Hungary our homeland."

Béla Lakatos, Mayor of Ács, resigned his membership in the PM's Fidesz party after learning of the speech. "The way the Fidesz party is approaching these matters does not correspond to my values," he said.

The Hungarian PM concluded his September speech by claiming that the center of the ongoing international debate and its results consist of arriving at the question of "whether the 'liberal doctrine' applies, according to which each citizen on this planet can choose where to live and the inhabitants of various countries will have no privileged right to determine with whom they want to live and with whom they do not." He backed up his claims by referring to the results of the recent "national consultation on immigration and terrorism" during which Hungarian citizens were asked to express their preferences on these issues.

That Government campaign cost more than one million Hungarian forints and compiled responses from approximately 13 % of the population, 80 % of whom expressed the opinion that money for refugees should instead be spent on Hungarian families.

The Daily Mail in the UK reported at the start of October that the Hungarian Government's "all-out campaign against migrants" was being experienced by members of the Muslim and Romani minorities as actually targeting them. "I wish the government would think more carefully before starting campaigns like this," Robert Sulek, president of Hungary's Islamic Community, told the paper.

"It's our wives who get spat on and have their veils ripped off in the street," he alleged. Hungary has since shut its borders to refugees seeking to pass through the country en route to Northern Europe.

The Daily Mail reported that more than 240 000 migrants have passed through Hungary this year so far, nearly all seeking sanctuary in the richer countries of Western Europe from poverty and war in the Middle East. The country has erected a fence on its border with Serbia and introduced "fast-track" asylum procedures.

Most refugees pass through Hungary without staying. The Daily Mail reported that the country is home to around 30 000 Muslims, most of whom arrived after World War Two, and as many as 800 000 Roma who have been present in that part of Europe since the Middle Ages.

Representatives of both groups told The Daily Mail that they are feeling the impact of the Government's xenophobia. "We often experience the kind of exclusion that migrants feel," said Gabor Varady, a boxing trainer who heads the Roma advisory council in the northern industrial city of Miskolc, which has Hungary's largest Roma population after the capital, Budapest.

"You hear ever-stronger statements about Gypsies, about migrants, things you would never have heard 20 or 25 years ago," he  told The Daily Mail. The World Policy Journal also reported in August that the Government had posted billboards throughout the country warning immigrants not to take Hungarian jobs.

The anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, far-right Jobbik party continues to gain ground in the country, according to the World Policy Journal. According to a poll this summer, Jobbik would win 28 % of the electorate if votes to the legislature were to be held.

Opposition politicians have been quick to condemn the PM, as have the domestic and internataionl media and political elite. Timea Szabo, co-leader of Dialogue for Hungary, said this summer that “[Orbán] takes policies of the radical right as a model,” while the MSZP (the Socialist Party) called the billboards “revolting” and accused Orbán of “[promoting] xenophobia from public monies.”

In a blog for the European Roma Rights Centre, a Budapest-based international human rights organization, Bernard Rorke, an instructor at Central European University in Budapest, cited the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HLCU) as reporting that the Roma continue to suffer from racist violence and to face anti-Gypsyism in every aspect of life, including discrimination by authorities and institutions.

“Hungary’s system of education is one of the most segregated, unable to close the achievement gap due to wide differences in students' family, socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds,” the HCLU has said. Rorke notes that debates about Roma education have been ongoing in Hungary since the 1970s, when there was heated discussion of the merits of separate “Gypsy classes” and “Gypsy schools”, whose purpose was, according to a 1962 government decree: “to make it possible for the pupils to continue their studies successfully in normal classes after one or two years.”

Researchers at the time concluded that such segregation was not having results, as such children were not being reintegrated into mainstream education. Nevertheless, this system survived the transition from state socialism to multi-party democracy, Rorke reports.

Hungarian Education Minister Bálint Magyar then began to implement Central Europe's most ambitious desegregation policy during his second term at the end of the 1990s. Critics of the policy said that it was a futile attempt to deal with "spontaneous" self-segregation, because parents in Hungary are free to enroll their children in any school, not just ones in their local catchment area.

According to Rorke, after the 2010 elections resulted in Fidesz's unprecedented two-thirds majority in Parliament, the HCLU reported that efforts to integrate Romani children and introduce innovative education methods were stopped as the Government started to question “the hegemony of an integrated system.” In a press release about the new policy, the Education Ministry stated its support for "every institution which enables students with disadvantaged backgrounds to close the achievement gap, even if the institution only educates Roma children.”

Rorke reports that the Government introduced this concept in the Fundamental Law with the Fourth Amendment, and then introduced a bill before the Parliament to amend the law on equal opportunity using this notion of “closing the social gap” and helping the Roma to catch up through separate education. As the HCLU has stated, this created an opportunity for schools to avoid the country's legal ban on segregation.

Last November, according to Rorke, Hungarian Human Resources Minister Zoltán Balog filed a bill to amend Hungary’s Public Education Act to effectively legalize school segregation. Balog was responding to a domestic court decision in a case filed by the Chance for Children Foundation (CFCF), which ordered the closure of the Greek Catholic Church’s segregated school in Nyíregyháza.

Balog's amendment circumvented such verdicts by exempting some schools from the requirements of the Equal Opportunities Act. Rorke reports that Opposition MP Tímea Szabó called the modification of the law a disgrace and declared that Balog’s idea of “benevolent segregation” was contrary to both the statutes of Hungary and the European Union.

In April of this year, Hungary’s Supreme Court overturned that lower court ruling and exempted the Greek Catholic Church from the anti-discrimination provisions. That judgment effectively declared segregation of Roma pupils legal in religious-run schools, or as CFCF board member Gábor Daróczi described it, sanctioned “apartheid under the aegis of religious freedom.”

The European Commission called for Hugnary to end school segregation in June. Brussels noted that the country has a higher percentage of marginalized Romani children in segregated classes (45 %) than Bulgaria (29  %), the Czech Republic (33%), and Romania (26 %) and that it might launch infringement proceedings against the country over the issue as it already has against the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

The position of Romani women in Hungary is also especially hard, but there is activism underway on this issue. The Central European University's Roma Graduate Preparation Program (RGPP) has reported that recent graduate Ildiko Torok wants to see more decision-makers in the country actually be educated in public policy so they can facilitate coherent, effective policy-making to empower Roma women.

“Roma women are disadvantaged in multiple ways, not only as members of a minority, not only because their prospects of low income and few chances at employment, but also in their roles as women,” she told ceu.edu. Traditional women’s roles in Roma communities reportedly severely limit their chances of political participation.

“My most revealing and very sad example of this was a conversation during a meeting with one of the representatives of the National Roma Self Government, who said after my speech ‘That's all very well, but do you know how to cook?’” Torok told ceu.edu. “Traditions are all-important for us, but when they make it difficult to lead a happy life in the reality of the 21st century, we have to abandon those that encumber us.”

Born in Budapest, Torok holds a BA from Eotvos Lorand University in social studies. She joined the RGPP in 2014 after gaining considerable insight into minority policy-making by working at the Hungarian Ministry of Human Resources and in Hungary’s Public Administration Internship Program. 

adg, agw, Central European University, The Daily Mail, ERRC, EU OBSERVER, Global Policy Journal, RVN
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Hungary, hysteria, Immigrants, Immigration, inclusive education, infringement proceedings, integration, intolerance, minorities, Populism, Racism, refugee, Roma



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