On International Roma Day, a number of European human rights organisations are warning that the economic crisis has left the Roma gypsies in Central Europe facing growing discrimination and violence. Anti-Roma sentiments are being nurtured by far-right and nationalistic groups.
György Müller says:
“Just looking like a Roma is enough reason to get only angry glances cast at you”.
He says he is rarely directly confronted with racism because he, as a son of a Hungarian mother, looks ‘Hungarian’. However, as a presenter for a Roma radio station, he gets to listen to stories about tensions and violent incidents all the time.
“Many listeners call in to tells us about their fears and solutions”.However, few people have an instant solution to the ‘Roma problem’. Under the former Communist regime, they were at least guaranteed a job as a factory worker, but these days about 70 percent of Hungary’s 700,000 Roma are unemployed. The Roma live in squalor in separate districts, and integration in society has proved difficult, if not altogether elusive.
“There are plenty of Roma gypsies who would like to form part of mainstream society, but many Hungarians believe every Gypsy is a criminal”.
Increasing unemployment, in tandem with dissatisfaction over the government’s handling of the economic crisis, provides fertile grounds for growing intolerance toward Central European minorities. Hungarian political scientist Peter Kreko confirms that, as Hungary’s largest minority, the Roma are an obvious scapegoat.
“The common stereotype characterises the Roma as a person who receives benefits but never does any work. The anti-Roma sentiments were already quite strong before the crisis and we expect them to become stronger still”.Far-right and nationalist movements and political parties who fan the flames of dissatisfaction are becoming increasingly popular. In Hungary, it is mainly the Hungarian Guard which plays the patriotic card, claiming it’s protecting ‘Hungarian traditions’, but at the same time marches down the streets of Budapest in black uniforms decorated with symbols linked to the country’s World War II fascist movement. Last year, the movement was banned by a judge, but as long as the appeal procedure is pending, the Guard keeps on marching.
During a meeting in Budapest’s Heroes Square, several hundred aspiring members swore an oath of eternal allegiance to the Hungarian Guard. The crowd was later addressed from a stage, and when the speech turned to social problems, it focused mainly on the ‘gypsy problem’.
Thomas, a 33-year-old construction worker from Budapest says:
“The Roma cannot deal with the fact that there are also Hungarians living in this country. The Roma are getting poorer and poorer, forcing them to go out and steal and rob, so we must make sure they go back to work”.
He believes the Movement For a Better Hungary, or Jobbik, the political wing of the Hungarian Guard, is the party which can make that happen.
“Because they are the only ones who can change something in this country”.Political scientist Peter Kreko says Hungarian politicians have failed to provide solutions to the Romas’ integration problems and have ignored the resulting electoral dissatisfaction, leaving the situation wide open for Jobbik to exploit.
“Jobbik’s growing popularity is inextricably linked to its anti-Roma campaign. In the current economic crisis, which has sparked widespread dissatisfaction among population groups plagued by large-scale unemployment, Jobbik’s message is more than welcome.”Peter Kreko is under no illusion that the far-right party has sincere intentions to provide solutions. However, he says that if they were to score an electoral victory in the European elections, which are scheduled to be held in two months, this might well be preferable to them shouting from the sidelines.
For more information: radionetherlands.nl