Hungary


Hungary
   Estimated Gypsy population: 750,000. Gypsies may have reached Hungary by 1316, but the first certain reference to Gypsies refers to musicians who played on the island of Czepel for Queen Beatrice in 1489. However, others certainly passed through the country earlier in the 15th century. Sigismund, the king of Hungary and of the Holy Roman Empire, attended the empire's Great Council in 1417 at Constance. While he was spending some free days in the neighboring town of Lindau, some Gypsies arrived from Hungary and asked him for a letter of safe conduct. In 1423 Sigismund gave a safe conduct letter to another Gypsy leader, Ladislaus and his company, in Slovakia (then part of the Hungarian Empire). These Gypsies then traveled to Germany, where they used Sigismund's letters to get food and lodging from the authorities. Later, in 1476 Gypsies were sent to work by King Matthias Corvinus as smiths in Sibiu in Transylvania (part of Hungary at that time). In these early years, Gypsies in Hungary were under the jurisdiction of their own leaders.
   Things were to change with the rule of Maria Theresa. From 1758 legislation demanded the assimilation of the Gypsies, or "New Hungarians" (Ujmagyar) as they were thenceforth to be called. They were to settle and farm the land. Her son Joseph II continued his mother's policies. The 1893 census recorded 275,000 Gypsies, of whom more than 80,000 spoke Romani. The vast majority were sedentary, as a result of Maria Theresa's intervention.
   Apart from the musicians, Gypsies have been viewed with mistrust. From the mid-1930s, calls were made in the Hungarian Parliament for the internment of Gypsies in labor camps. However, although Hungary was allied to Germany in World War II, it was not until German troops occupied Hungary in March 1944 that mass deportations of Romanies to concentration camps began. The accession to power of the fascist Arrow Cross Party in October 1944 gave a new impetus to the persecution. With the Soviet army approaching Budapest, killing increased. More than 100 were shot in the woods near the town of Varpalota in February 1945. One postwar report suggests that 50,000 died in the camps, but this figure may be too high.
   After the liberation of Hungary in 1945, the official policy was that the Romanies had the same rights and responsibilities as other Hungarians. This policy was meaningless, however, because it did nothing to remedy the neglect of years and the general prejudice against the Roma. They continued to live in isolated settlements, and many children were not accepted into schools.
   On coming to power the following year, the Hungarian Workers Party adopted a policy of assimilation. Prime Minister Matyas Rákosi referred to them as New Hungarian Citizens, echoing Maria Theresa. Nomadism was prohibited. The regime of János Kadar (after the 1956 counterrevolution) took more interest in the Romany population, and in 1958 the Politburo of the Hungarian Socialist Workers Party adopted a policy of active support for minority culture and education. Part of this policy included the creation of the Cigányszövetség (Gypsy Union), the first Romany organization officially operating in Hungary (1958-1961). A report revealed that two-thirds of the Gypsies then lived in substandard housing, mainly in rural Gypsy settlements or separate quarters in towns. A rehousing program began in 1964 with low-interest, long-term loans.
   A debate in 1961 concerning whether the Romanies were an ethnic minority resulted in the conclusion that they were not and that Romani should not be taught in schools. The Gypsy Union was closed in the same year. Rom Som (I am a Romany), a bilingual journal, published its first issue in January 1975. It was produced with stencils by the Romany cultural club in District 15 of Budapest but circulated outside the capital. By 1982 it had disappeared, although the title has now been revived in a printed format.
   In 1976 the government ordered measures to ensure full employment for men and preschool nursery education for children in an attempt to integrate the Gypsy population. By 1986, the need to support a political organization for the Romanies was acknowledged, and the Orzsagos Cigánytanacs (National Gypsy Council) came into being. The head of the new body was Jószef Choli Daróczi. The establishment of the national body was soon followed by the creation of councils in each county to deal with individual cases of discrimination. A further body, the Ungro-themeske Romane Kul-turake Ekipe (Hungarian Romany Cultural Association), was created in 1986 to encourage and sponsor Gypsy artists and support Romany culture. It received a large grant to assist more than 200 cultural groups and 40 dance troupes. The president was Menyhért Lakatos. In 1979 the Gypsies in Hungary were finally recognized as an ethnic group.
   In 1989 multiparty democracy came to Hungary, and Dr. Gyula Naday formed the Magyar Cigányok Demokrata Szövetség (Democratic Union of Hungarian Gypsies), while Pal Farkas became chairman of the Social Democratic Party of Gypsies of Hungary. The Hungarian Roma Parliament was set up in the same year, as was the organization Phralipe under Bela Osztojkan. The Minorities Law, passed in July 1993, defined the rights of minorities in Hungary and led to the creation of the short-lived Minorities Round Table, a body that negotiated with the government Office of National and Ethnic Minorities. In 1994 the Romanies were able for the first time to elect local Romany councils, and in April 1995 a Hungarian National Council of Romany Representatives was formed, with Florian Farkas as its president.
   Independent Romany political parties have been able to put up candidates at the recent general elections: the Magyarorszagi Cigányok Bekepartja (Hungarian Gypsies' Peace Party), led by Albert Horvath; Magyar Cigányok Antifasiszta Orszagos Szervezet (National Organization of Gypsy Antifascists); and Roma Parliament Választási Szövetség (Romanies' Parliamentary Electoral Alliance). The Magyar Cigányok Szolidaritás Partja (Hungarian Gypsies Solidarity Party) presented three candidates, including Bela Osztojkan.
   Ethnicity is not registered officially in Hungary, so voting on the recently established local minority self-governments is not limited to the minorities themselves. The Democratic Romany Coalition, under the chairmanship of Aladar Horvath, swept to victory in the National Gypsy Minority Self-Government elections, defeating Lungo Drom.
   In 2003, there were four Romany MPs, Romany mayors headed four municipal governments, and 544 Roma sat on local and county government assemblies. A Rom, Laszlo Teleki, was appointed as first secretary for Roma affairs in June 2002. The government is appointing special commissioners for Gypsy affairs at six ministries.
   Democracy has also meant freedom for right-wing nationalists and skinheads to organize, and racist attacks against Romanies have occurred in Eger and other towns. Three Romanies were killed in 1992, but the government denied any racist motivation. In September 1992 there was an arson attack on Romany homes in Ketegyhaza. Heavy-handed police raids have taken place in Arantyosapoti, Orkeny, and elsewhere. In 1999 Laszlo Vidak from the town of Bag filed a complaint alleging that he had been beaten by police officers during interrogation in October of that year, and three police officers were later given suspended sentences. Following on from this, it has been suggested that a February 2001 incident where police raided a Romany settlement in Bag may have been intended to intimidate Vidak. More recently, in November 2003, a Romany man burned to death in a "rubber cell" at a prison in Zalaegerszeg, Zala County. It took nine years for the European Court of Human Rights to rule in 2004 that Sandor Balogh had been mistreated by the police in Oroshaza.
   Physical attacks by right-wingers are at a lower level than in other eastern European countries. Nevertheless, prejudice remains. A petition signed by 827 residents in Szentetornya in 1994 called for the expulsion of all Gypsies in the area. A poll taken earlier by Helsinki Watch found that one-third of the Hungarian population supported the idea of compulsory repatriation of the Romanies to India. In another poll by the Median agency, three-quarters of those asked expressed anti-Gypsy sentiments. Roma continue to be widely discriminated against, even by the judiciary. In one recent case, two Roma men who had served 15-month prison sentences were released from custody in November 2003, having been found innocent. They decided to sue for compensation but, despite the existence of an antidiscrimination law, were not awarded the requested amount, as the court stated that the individuals were more "primitive" than average and did not merit the greater compensation. An appeals court went on to uphold the judgment; however, the prime minister was later to reprimand the presiding judge.
   In January 2003 a police investigation into the minority affairs ombudsman's allegation of housing discrimination against Roma removed to villages surrounding the town of Paks in September 2002, concluded that there was no violation of the law, and the case was closed. However, in 2005, after proceedings stretching over three years, a court awarded damages of 2,400 euros to two Romany men who had been refused entry to the Zold Pardon discotheque in Budapest.
   The unemployment rate for Roma is estimated at 70 percent, more than 10 times the national average. That the government reduced the limit on unemployment benefits from one year to nine months in 2000 has only served to exacerbate the poverty of the Roma. The central government has, however, recently committed two billion forints ($24 million) toward improving the plight of the Gypsy minority. Some Gypsy leaders have called for a larger 20-year program.
   Romany children are often segregated by being placed in special schools, designed for children with mental disabilities or poor academic performance. The government states that these schools are intended to provide intensive help for disadvantaged children. The opening of a selective English-style private school in the 30-percent-Romany town of Jaszladany caused great resentment for the town's Romany population, who feel discriminated against and socially excluded because the high tuition fees at the school mean that their children are essentially barred from attending.
   There are, however, signs that the government is committed to increased efforts at various levels of Gypsy education. Pecs University launched the country's first postgraduate program in Gypsy studies, with a department of Romology. The teachers' training colleges in Pecs and Zsambek also have departments of Romany studies and the Romaversitas program supports Roma students completing higher education degrees. A high school with special responsibility for Gypsy education has been opened at Szabolcs, a deprived region of eastern Hungary. A kindergarten catering almost exclusively to Gypsy pupils has also been opened in Csepel, a poor Budapest suburb. The cities of Ozd and Szolnok have just signed an agreement with the Ministry of Education for the creation of student hostels providing 400 spaces to Gypsy pupils engaged in further education. Additionally, there are scholarships available to Roma at all levels of education through the public Foundation for the Hungarian Roma. Nevertheless, it took three years up to 2004 for a complaint against the primary school in Tiszatarjan to be upheld and for the school to have to pay damages to nine families whose children had been taught in a segregated class.
   More than 50 percent of Romany households in Hungary do not have access to hot running water, and 35 percent do not have access even to cold running water. More than half of the houses do not have indoor toilets, and one in 10 has one or more members of the family sleeping on earthen floors. Discriminatory rules preventing Gypsies from obtaining social housing have been reported from Budapest, Debrecen, and Miskolc.
   Music has always been a popular profession for the Gypsies of Hungary. In 1683 it was said that every nobleman in Transylvania had his own Gypsy-either violinist or locksmith. In 1839 the first Hungarian Gypsy orchestra visited western Europe, and in 1847 Barba Lautari met composer Franz Liszt. In 1938 the Federation of Hungarian Gypsy Musicians arranged a Gypsy music festival to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Gypsies' first appearance in Hungarian territory. Apart from the polkas and waltzes that they play in restaurants, there is Hungarian Gypsy music. The Vlah Romanies have a lively culture of their own, with ballads and songs to accompany dancing.
   Three main groups of Gypsies live in Hungary: the Hungarian Romanies, who form some 70 percent of the population, very few of whom speak (the Carpathian dialect of) Romani; the Vlah, some 20 percent; and the Bayash, who speak a dialect of Romanian.
   Weekly radio and television programs are aimed at Gypsies but also have a Hungarian audience. Agnes Daróczi was originally on the teams that produce these programs. In 2001 Budapest's Roma gained their own radio station with the launch of Radio C, a station run by and for Gypsies. The current director is David Daróczi. The station is noted for its breadth of musical coverage, including Romany rap, such as the band Fekete Vonat.
   See also Minority Self-Government (Hungary).

Historical dictionary of the Gypsies . .

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