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November 26, 2020

 

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Leading Romani activist and co-founder of Dikh TV, the musician Lajos "Paci" Balogh, has succumbed to COVID-19 at the age of 28

15.11.2020 7:59
Lajos
Lajos "Paci" Balogh (PHOTO: Facebook page of the Roma Press Center)

At the beginning of this month Lajos "Paci" Balogh, an activist, musician and politician who dedicated his life to improving the situation of Romani people in Hungary, succumbed to COVID-19. Roos van Hennekelder, a journalist from the Netherlands living in Hungary, published an obituary about Mr Balogh in the daily newspaper Trouw on 9 November in which she described everything he has done for Romani people in Hungary.

At the time of his passing, Mr Balogh was 28 years old. According to van Hennekelder, he first began communicating with the world by playing music on a tin water jug.

In Hungarian, this type of container is called a Ceglédi kanna and such objects originally were used to carry water, but during the 1970s Romani musicians in Hungary began using them as musical instruments. Mr Balogh was a very talented musician of this kind.  

At the age of 16, Mr Balogh joined István Szilvási's band and toured all over Europe as well as his native Hungary with them. He was, however, also interested in serious subjects.

Late at night or during his time off between performances he dedicated himself to discussions and interviews on the different themes that kept him up at might. He focused his attention on discrimination, impoverishment, and the low levels of education achieved by Romani people in Hungary.   

Mr Balogh was born into a Romani family living in a traditional way and speaking Romanes. Everything in his family revolved around music. 

His father and grandfather had also both been members of Romani bands. Mr Balogh was bothered by the fact that in Hungary, Romani people have almost no voice.

He took the initiative and began dedicating himself more to politics, which he believed would change the fate of Romani people in Hungary. He continued to enjoy musical performance and did not cut himself off from it entirely.

Together with others, he established Dikh TV, a television channel that is a platform for the cultural output of Hungarian Roma. He became a television presenter and produced reports about events all over the country.

Mr Balogh organized lectures about Romani culture and music in the schools, although he was not always welcomed with open arms. Teachers frequently insulted him with racist remarks, and more than once the tires of his car were punctured while he was lecturing.

Such experiences were hard, but he never gave up. He began an enormous campaign against the buying of Romani people's votes in rural areas and fought in the courts against clubs and pubs that discriminated against Romani people, also playing an important role in the protests against the Orbán Government in 2018. 

The Romani flag was flown during those demonstrations along with the flags of other demonstrators and opposition parties. Mr Balogh was a person who knew exactly how to communicate with others.

He managed to prevent harsh confrontations between right-wing extremists and Romani demonstrators in the village of Törökszentmiklós, where Romani people have been murdered in recent years. At the close of 2019 he officially entered politics. 

Mr Balogh became a local assembly member in a Budapest quarter where many Romani people live. He began several programs to improve the lives of Romani people in the capital before he met his fate. 

He passed away on 2 November as a result of COVID-19. Prior to contracting the virus he had mild diabetes, but no other conditions.

Mr Balogh's death has ended a promising career and deprived Romani people in Hungary of a unique person, a representative of the Roma who wanted to change something. On the day after his death, the politician András Pikó posted a photograph of himself together with Mr Balogh and his guitar to Facebook with the words:  "It was the end of a working day. You took up your guitar and simply started to play it, just as long as we both were smiling.”

With thanks to Jef Helmer for translating from Dutch.

SB, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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COVID-19, Deceased, Hungary, inclusive education



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