Perspectives

February 12, 2009
Gypsies are at home in Hungary, but still don’t fit in

Gypsy musicians in Budapest.

Hungary has one of the largest Roma communities in eastern Europe. Gypsies make up 5 to 7 percent of the country’s 10 million people.

But the Roma often face hardship and prejudice, and many live in poverty. Even Albert Pasztor, the chief of police in Hungary’s third largest city, stated last year that “gypsy and Hungarian culture cannot coexist without conflict.”

Eva S. Balogh is a Hungarian academic and blogger who writes at “Hungarian Spectrum” about how gypsies have fared under different Hungarian governments over the past half-century, and discusses how they might fit in with Hungarian society today.

Hungarian Gypsies in the Kádár regime and since

It wasn’t too many years ago that Gypsies still led a nomadic life. I was a very small child, perhaps four years old and not very brave, when my father stopped the car in the Mecsek Mountains above Pécs in order to meet a large Gypsy family living in tents in the woods right off the highway. I remember that I wasn’t too thrilled: it was a very strange world only a few kilometers from the city. But even in the summer of 1956 when three of my classmates and I were walking through the mountains on a marked path, out of the blue on both sides of the path a very large Gypsy family was camping. Or perhaps several.

Today these people are settled, three quarters of them in very small villages mostly in Northern Hungary and in Southern Transdanubia, especially in Baranya country, south of Pécs, close to the Croatian-Hungarian border.

Some of these villages were utterly transformed in the last fifty years or so. They are now inhabited almost entirely by Gypsies. Here is one example. I’m somewhat familiar with the village of Old. According to the 1910 census Old had a population of 502 out of which most likely the number of Gypsies was 59. In the 1910 census Gypsies were not specifically designated as such but were put under the rubric of “Others.” Today the village has a population of 370 or so and according to the latest reports (an article in Dunántúli Napló) the whole population of the village is Roma.

How did this happen? I remember visiting the village as a twelve-year-old and by then, during the Rákosi regime, the Gypsies who lived outside of the village were forcibly settled in the houses of better-off villagers. To this day, I remember a rather odd conversation with a middle aged man who wanted to know whether my family would perhaps be interested in hiring his daughter. He explained to me how useful she would be for us: among other things she could bring water from the well!

I’m relating this so that you would understand that sixty years ago some Gypsies were that unfamiliar with the modern world. Sure, there were the elegant Gypsies who played music in practically every restaurant. But today even that opportunity is pretty well closed. There are very few restaurants with live music, and especially not Gypsy music. So starting with the Rákosi regime and continuing under the Kádár regime the nomadic Gypsies were settled, mostly in villages.

[...]More and more people say that Gypsies under the age of thirty-five should be compelled to finish at least eight grades and learn a trade. Otherwise there is no hope for improvement in the future. But what is their incentive?

My preliminary, admittedly feeble thoughts go along the following lines. Find some things that Gypsies love to do and start competitions. And promote them. Basically, make Gypsies people the rest of the Hungarian population can root for. And as the top prize award not only money but an advertising spot. Create a Magic Johnson or a Tiger Woods. However primitive this suggestion, the idea behind it is to have Hungarians start to accept their Roma brethren, even occasionally cheer for them. If one can get to this level, then the government can start to impose some anti-discrimination legislation without a crippling pushback from the population.

To read more, see the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user abac077 under a Creative Commons license.

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Comments

14 comments

#14

Everybody seems that is better than the other for some reason. It starts when you are little and say: My mom is better than yours, my toy is better than your etc. No solution to this innate hate among each other. We have to work hard within ourselves to become better human beings. Maybe we need a galactic war so humans get together. Religion doesn’t work, philosophy doesn’t work, reason doesn’t work. We are doom. Have you compare us with the whole universe? worse than an ant and we are soooo vain and sooo arrogant.

#13

Dear enlightened!

Gypsies in Hungary are given lots of chances. In fact they have a small elite, mainly musicians. they are fully integrated, they are admired, they travel all over the world they are wealthy, very wealthy, they live literally in palaces, their vaults are full of gold and treasures, if they throw a party, or a wedding it is as lavish that not even a wealthy non Roma can afford it.
Five star hotels host family gatherings for them, which cost more than a party for multinational companies! They can afford to waste food and expensive drinks etc. This is also a part of the picture, and that they also do not want too much of their poor brothers.
As long as gypsies do not take care of their own issues, there will be no solution, they have thousand year old hierarchy, should be fixed! Unfortunately modern societies need somewhat educated people, and if they do not care whether their children are at school or not… this is the family’s responsibility and not that of third parties.
might sound strange, but there is also positive discrimination, they get PAID sending their children to school, they get more benefits because they are Romas without contributing to the system. This is also a part of the game. Those who want to integrate and make efforts to integrate are fine. Those who just want to live on benefits, because they are born entiteled are another story and unfortunately there are many of them…..

#12

I agree totally with Disgusted. They are not given a chance. I’m a black American and I see them in a similar situation to what we were in. Only problem is their situation has been less extreme, but lasted over twice as long.

These people deserve a chance like the rest of Europeans. That’s what they are Europeans. They’ve been there for closing in on 1000 years. They’re not going away. Stop denying them “real jobs”, stop assuming they will steal. Allow them to integrate and they will. People steal because they can’t meet their needs without it. Very few people choose this as their first option.

I visited Romania in 2008. I believe they have the largest Roma population. While there, a couple of Romanian women engaged in a conversation about them, one of them was very open to integrating them, saying that they need education and a fair chance at jobs. And they other believed they are a lost cause. How can an innocent child be a lost cause? They’re not even fully developed yet. Start with the children and treat them as equal members of society and the coming generations will follow in their footsteps. I love Europe, but there is a lot of racism there. Whites hating other whites. Of course, it’s not just whites, they’re Hungarians, Romanians, Bulgars, Gypsies, Serbs. But… What I’ve noticed is, these ethnic groups hate their neighbors. It’s very disheartening.

#11

Truth for Gypsies!!!
Tolerance for Gypsies!!!
OBAMA for Gypsies!!!

#10

A friend of mine; who is either 1/2 or full Hungarian, I am not sure………..she sure resembles an E Indian or a Roma———especially her facial features.

My point being is that she seems to have that ‘failure mentality’ of way too many Roma——–never mind she was born/raised here in the USA along with both of my parents.

Sad because this lady could have had a decent life……….oh well, life goes on.

#9

[...] Originally Posted by big daryle I am part Hungarian, the US would be lucky to have more immigration from our land. We are hard-working, intelligent people. I think that would be great. Especially the gypsy minority that’s being persecuted in Hungary. Hopefully human rights groups will look into it. And forced the government to stop the racism and genocide against the gypsies. Murder Mystery: Who’s Killing Hungary’s Gypsies? - TIME Gypsies are at home in Hungary, but still don’t fit in | Worldfocus [...]

#8

Frank Bogdan has pretty much summed up the issues surrounding the Roma culture, however his emphasis on persecution in Hungary is a little exaggerated. Sure there is discrimination like every where but by and large there is a serious ongoing attempt to confront the issues. This is despite the issues arising again and and again, quite frankly i take my hat off to the Hungarian social services and underpaid government officials who try to work with this amongst many other problems.
The idea that there is persecution on the level suggested is not the case. If you want to see government backed persecution just cross the border into Slovakia and see the way ethnic Hungarians are treated there!
The Roma in Hungary have not in recent decades ever had to flee to escape persecution, although it makes a good story for a visa!

#7

[...] people include the Palestinians of the Middle East, the ethnic Tutsis of Central Africa, some Roma in Europe and Haitian children in the Dominican [...]

#6

[...] people include the Palestinians of the Middle East, the ethnic Tutsis of Central Africa, some Roma in Europe and Haitian children in the Dominican [...]

#5

[...] of the most notably stateless groups include the Rohingya in Burma, some Roma in Europe and Haitian children in the Dominican [...]

#4

The first wave of Roma arrived in southern Ontario in 1998, fleeing the persecution in Hungary. Settling in the large urban areas, they quickly learned that social assistance was readily available, though not quite sufficient. Herein lies the problem, at least in my part of the world, work, jobs and other acceptable forms of obtaining cash is not in the vocabulary of far too many Roma, or as I know them Czigany.
Although some have established legitimate businesses, unfortunately some these are only “Fronts” for their criminal endeavours. Defrauding the overly generous governmental agencies is tops on the list of things to do, followed by various financial frauds, involving cheques, bank cards and credit cards, identity thefts and other frauds. Thefts, small and large are also on the agendas of many of these folks.
If I had a dollar for each time I’ve heard, “This is our culture and how we live”, I’d be a rich man.
I am not painting every Czigany with the same brush. I’ve met many hardworking and honest members of this unique society, however, the majority I’ve had to deal with, were of the former, criminally intent, bent.
If the idea of integration into the societies in which they live is not acceptable to the Rom, then the problems they face by their activities and inactivities,in Hungary, or the rest of the world for that matter, are inevitable and can only be blamed upon themselves.
With a few exceptions, what I’ve observed since 1998 to the current times was the rape and pillage of a country that openly welcomed these people. The cost to an already overly taxed society is mind boggling! Just the cost of the several year process of deportation of convicted criminals is incredible. The problems experience in Canada were of such a magnitude that the Canadian Government imposed Visa restrictions, and by doing so stemmed the influx of many undesirable Rom.
Well, in the infinite wisdom of “Government” those restriction have been lifted and we are now bracing for the second wave.
Even though the world is experiencing an econominc downturn, this side of the world is still a place of opportunity, compared to Hungary, for anyone willing to work hard, at legitimate employment.
The blatant acts of discrimination and hatred experienced by the Rom back in Hungary, do not happen on a regular basis here.
When my family and I came to Canada in 1956, there were no handouts, social assistance, or any of the myriad of good intentions doled out to present day “Refugees”. Welcome to Canada and “Good luck” was it.
Through very hard work and sacrifice, success was possible, even though it took 30 years!
As for Disgusted’s comment, “The Roma are not the problem, selfish, cruel and soulless societies are.”: You are living in a bubble of denial. I’ve done some very interesting research into the Czigany culture, since my father was of that culture. Their history, the persecution over the last 700 years was attrocious, no doubt, but to come to a country in this day and age seeking sanctuary and then boldfacely saying, “We live outside of the cultures we inhabit”, and continue on in illegal activities is a slap in the face to those that initially welcomed them in.
The Rom need to address the pertinent issues, police themselves, do some major soul searching relating to unacceptable activities and make a joint and concerted effort to blend.
You don’t have to give up your culture, at least not the admirable parts of it, but you do have to purposefully integrate into the societies in which you live. I did.

#3

Disgusted really believes:
“The Roma are not the problem, selfish, cruel and soulless societies are.”

You’re not helping. I spent a good part of my life in Hungary, and I’ve had more than enough personal encounters with gypsies. Most of them prefer their own outsider tribal subculture, and unwilling to make an effort to assimilate. Under the socialist regime there were many attempts to provide housing, jobs, education, etc. for them, with little or no results. You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.
Now we have some sort of “democracy” and some level of “freedom” and we cannot force integration, so we have to tolerate a growing population that refuses to accept the basic values of civilized society. This is not a “cruel and soulless society”, this is a society that’s tired of being abused by an uncooperative minority. Instead of the cliche “blame society” try to come up with a solution.

#2

To reply to Disgusted: I am a Brit who has been living in Hungary for 3 years and took an initially PC approach to Gypsy comments as some seemed to be more about discrimination than fact.
However following on from the murder of the handball player by a group of gypsies what has amazed me is that instead of the Roma communities which are very hieracical coming out and roundly condemning the act, there has been an attitude of responding with “this is what happened to us last month/last year etc. This is a seriously missed opportunity for the Roma to stand up together against the criminal element in their midst and will cost them dearly as far as the populations attitude towards them as a community.
As for Disgusteds comments, the US does not have a population where 5-7% are Roma, what it does have are ethnic “minorities that equal and exceed this - Hispanic, Black, Native Indian and so on with which it has in certain areas equal if not worse problems.
The UK struggles with its own ethnic issues, but one thing is for sure - by and large when a heinous crime is committed by a member of that ethnic group it is as loudly condemned by their own as by everyone else. This is not happening in Hungary by the Roma leaders. Now that is worrying.

#1

One would be hard pressed to find these “Gypsy” problems in the United States of America. Because when Rom come here, they are allowed to blend and fade into the fabric of society. Roma have a fundamental human right to integrate and prosper in their home society. Many bigoted folks claim that Rom refuse to conform to society. This is a lie. If that were true, then the US would have all the same Roma problems. We do not. Roma that come to America adapt and integrate just as quickly as any other immigrant group. Just as Rom have in every society, that affords them the freedom to do so. Roma falter in countries where they are still denied their basic civil and human rights, and where the citizenry at large is still allowed to harass, discriminate, persecute, defame, psychologically maim and oppress Roma.

These countries as a whole, seeded and maintain this vicious cycle. Roma children grow up being constantly shunned, dehumanized, denigrated, humiliated, persecuted and rejected. Children that are already being born into abject conditions, are psychologically hamstrung - by their fellow citizens - and later kept down - by their own people - from the cradle on. This has been ongoing for over 700 years!

The Roma are not the problem, selfish, cruel and soulless societies are.

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