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Hungary: Roma Press Center launches ironic campaign against police abuse featuring leading actors

27.4.2016 16:19
A police vehicle in Hungary. (PHOTO:  Wikimedia Commons)
A police vehicle in Hungary. (PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons)

The people who can least afford it frequently become the victims of absurd police interventions in Hungary. The Roma Press Center (RSK) was led by its own experience and that idea to the following inspiration:  With the aid of volunteers, they have collected the stories of specific interactions with the police and held a public contest for the most absurd police measure.

Some of the stories have been written up in literary form by leading Hungarian authors and, in the form of actors' sketches, have been produced by popular Hungarian actors under the collective title "Their existence in and of itself is a misdemeanor". One story from the fall of 2015 collected by the RSK goes as follows:

"A certain gentleman was pushing a wheelbarrow full of scrap metal alongside the sidewalk and walking in the gutter. A constable told him move onto the sidewalk and wrote him a ticket with a fine. A couple of meters further down the street, he was stopped by another constable, who gave him another ticket and fine, this time for pushing a wheelbarrow on the sidewalk. By the time he was near the scrap metal yard, he was stopped a third time by a third member of the police, who fined him for pushing his wheelbarrow in the road." 

This and many other gems are among the stories collected. Such misdemeanor charges are frequently aimed specifically at Romani people in the Hungarian countryside, who find themselves under constant surveillance and are subsequently often fined for matters that would never be noticed if committed by people not obviously Roma.

Last autumn the RSK managed to accumulate roughly 50 stories of such incidents. Most of the cases follow a similar scenario:  A fine is levied for an absurd misdemeanor (e.g, bicycle tires that are worn out, crossing the street outside of a crosswalk - in a place where there isn't a crosswalk, etc.) and then immediately the police demand payment of the fine "on the spot", which is of course disproportionately high (including in cases where the police officer has the option of first warning the "perpetrator", for example, that according to regulations it is necessary to have a bell on one's bicycle, etc.).

For failing to pay such significantly high fines by the deadline imposed, the "perpetrators" are faced in the best-case scenario with performing community service work, and in the worst-case scenario are faced with spending several days in prison. On the Hungarian website www.index.hu it has been possible to vote for the most absurd fine issued by local police for the last two years now as part of a campaign in which the winner gets a symbolic booby prize called the "Golden Mudguard".

As part of its recent initiative, the RSK has asked contemporary Hungarian authors to write up these stories in literary form, and those who have taken up the challenge include leading writers such as Lajos Parti Nagy, György Spiró and Endre Kukorelly. All of the stories and videos of sketches based on them, performed by leading theatrical actors, are available on the RSK website.

Adéla Gálová, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Hungary, Kampaň, Policie, Předsudky



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