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.
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