Panic breaks out in a Hungarian Roma community

Panic broke out on Tuesday in the eastern Hungarian town of Tiszavasvári, with parents storming into the local school and kindergarten to take home children, as news spread that the local municipal government, led by far-right mayor Erik Fülöp, was planning to take Roma children into state care. According to official statistics, 9% of the town’s population of 12,840 is of Roma origins. This data, stemming from the 2001 census, almost certainly underestimates the real proportion of Roma in Tiszavasvári, located in Hungary’s economically disadvantaged Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg county.

The situation in Tiszavasvári deteriorated when Mayor Fülöp, affiliated with the Jobbik party, decided to task an extremist group called the Association of the Legion of Honour (Becsület Légiója Egyesület) to serve as a municipal security force. The association is run by another prominent far-right mayor, Mihály Zoltán Orosz, from Érpatak. The contract, signed on Monday, stipulates that the Legion of Honour would have a role in child welfare and social service cases as well. Many local Roma, not without reason, took this to mean that local authorities  were looking for ways to take Roma children away from their parents and put them under state care.

According to a report published by the Roma Press Center (Roma Sajtóközpont), parents stormed into local schools, with one teacher noting that absolutely nothing that the school said could calm them down and deter them from removing their kids from school. Several hundred people in the local Roma community also organized a spontaneous protest outside the town hall earlier today.

Much of Tiszavasvári’s Roma population lives in a dilapidated area of town along Széles Road. The term Széles in Hungarian means “wide”–an ironic name for a dirt road that barely accommodates cars in a single lane. The Roma settlement houses well over one thousand men, women and children and is infested with rats, littered with garbage and is a breeding ground for Hepatitis and other diseases. In 2014, 300 people in Tiszavasvári, mainly Roma, were diagnosed with Hepatitis and dozens were hospitalized. There is no municipal garbage collection in the Roma settlement and most homes do not have running water.

Roma in Tiszavasvári. Photo: Dániel Németh / Magyar Narancs

Roma in Tiszavasvári. Photo: Dániel Németh / Magyar Narancs

The liberal Magyar Narancs published a detailed report on the Roma ghetto two years ago and the reporter asked locals why everyone seemed to be carelessly littering.

“Listen, it’s easy to be smart over in Budapest and in government departments. Try living here for six months and then we’ll see. There is a single garbage container in the entire row,” said a local to Narancs’s journalists. One of the reporters observed that some of the rats are nearly as large as cats.

Jobbik Mayor Erik Fülöp was elected on a platform of “addressing” the problems in the Roma ghetto, including installing plumbing in all homes, the demolition of outhouses, and arranging for regular garbage collection. But the mayor’s long-term plan, already known in 2014, is for the settlement to be demolished and for child services to remove children from these homes. Upon taking office, Mr. Fülöp also attempted to crack down on loan sharks, who appear in the ghetto each month, the day that the postman arrives to deliver welfare payments.

The Széles Road ghetto is actually one of two Roma settlements in Tiszavasvári. Széles Road is inhabited by the so-called Oláh Gypsies (Oláhcigányok). This group is considered further down on the Roma hierarchy, and the term “Oláh” is usually a pejorative. Conditions in the town’s other Roma settlement are only marginally better, but the Roma here refer to themselves (and other Roma refer to them in this way as well) as Hungarian Gypsies (Magyar cigányok). In Hungary, Hungarian Gypsies form the majority of the Roma community and are seen as being more culturally integrated into the majority Magyar society and have always been prominent in the arts, especially in music. That having been said, even Hungarian Gypsies often live on the periphery of society, as can be seen so dramatically in Tiszavasvári.

12 Comments

  1. Charlie London says:

    The treatment of Hungarian Roma in Hungary is a testament to the failed fractured society that Hungary has become.

    10% of Hungarians are Hungarian Roma and are a wasted resource – and are persecuted, discriminated, isolated and even murdered.

    The average Hungarian is racist with regard to them – and their treatment in schools is just shocking.

    Schools – under Zoltan Balog – segregate, still, the Hungarian Roma – with the few PCs that a school is allocated being used upstairs, while the Hungarian Roma are taught downstairs.

    The Roman Catholic Unchristian Church – in violation of biblical tenets does nothing to address the balance.

    One would have hoped that the EU would have something to say about EU values – but nothing from them.

    Just as Finland will not return unsuccessful refugees to Hungary because it is ‘unsafe’ – then Hungarian Roma should be able to seek refugee status by fleeing Hungary.

    Many Hungarian Roma drop the ‘Hungarian’ because they don’t feel Hungarian – and that’s quite understandable. They are equal citizens in Hungary but are treated as anything but – making up the largest contingent of ‘fostered’ workers.

    Victims of the flat tax – and the collapse of communism, where they were the largest group to lose jobs, they have never recovered.

    Under this regime they will never recover and their predicament is hopeless. Truly hopeless.

    The church has blood on its hands, besides Orban and the people of Hungary.

  2. As it was written in the article, Roma community live in terrible circumstances. Not very good either for them or for their children. These kids will surely be destroyed growing up in this environment, see the kid’s faces in the picture.

    My question is for which I couldn’t find the answer in this piece is, what will happen to those Roma children who are taken into state care. What does it mean? Wold it become better for them or worse? How the government is planning their relation with their parents in the future. How carefully was the plan worked out. Does the Hungarian government have the financial background and reserve to continuously help the Roma community at times when Hungarians themselves cannot find a job, live in misery and Hungarian children are starving too, helplessly. The whole country is down.

    Anyway, something must be done as misery and suffering cannot be isolated, it must be helped and solved or will eat up the whole community, the whole country.

  3. To be noted here are also:
    – the Roma integration program of 2010/11, which Orban was noisy about and which came to naught, as in all his “protecting” (megvédeni) moves;
    – the corruption in the Gypsy Council and the Orban’s pet Florian Farkas. Where billions of of forints designated for job creation/occupation did not produce a single one.

    That said, it is important to reduce the PC whitewashing, to recognize the Sisyphus nature of the task with hardly any integration successes stories world wide.
    The often mentioned modest achievements in integration during the Communist period were carried out using the unquestioned state compulsion.
    The responsibility of the gypsy community should be acknowledged and integrated into the process.

    Without facing/recognizing the ugly reality the PC will nudge/keep the project off track and it will end the same way as so many before.

  4. The government has never intended to ever help the Roma community for real. The only thing they ever wanted was for them to vote as they are very easily bought. They will always resort to terrorizing them and using them as a scapegoat at every turn. Even if the Roma children were taken into state care, they will still not have an advantage as they will still be mistreated or at least not treated as well as Hungarian children.

  5. Stephanie Perrott says:

    Roma children should never be removed from their parents. Children do better in families and it is important that they are raised in their culture. Many gypsies do well in the UK and there are many examples of Roma flourishing in other countries. The racist , oppressive attitudes of Hungarians have to change.

  6. Hungarian LiberaL says:

    Its the nature of Power, keep the poor on their financial level, divide them, create an enemies to them… conceal the real source of the problems. You have more than the average ppl of the orld? Then you are a part of the problem. To the westeners who criticize “us”(hungarian gov, or hungarians at all): Your goverments made a getto from the third world, african, arab, asian ppl are suffering, because you have a nice comfort life. Donate your properties to the poor, then you have a rights to criticize. wont happen, because you are hypocrats, but you have done something for a better world, commented here.

  7. Who on earth really gives a rats sausage about the Roma. They make problems where ever they go – please, Hungary come and take back the ones that arrived in the UK ! Their “enrichment” knows no bounds, especially for the unfortunate individuals who live near by.

  8. Good article, but please note (and possibly rectify) a few factual errors:
    1. People in Tiszavasvári did not ‘panic’ when they took their children out of school, they acted in a concerted and organised way to defend their rights in the face of racist threats. The protests are also due to this conscious effort. They have been learning how to organise from a good friend of mine, one of the best hopes for powerful Roma activism in Hungary. Roma are not passive victims.
    2. Olah Roma are only seen as inferior by non-Roma. Within the Roma communities they are highly respected for their strong identity and traditions, while Romungro (Magyar Roma) are – erroneously sometimes – seen as more assimilated.
    3. I happen to work with lots I groups of Roma who have successfully addressed the problem of garbage collection through citizens’ advocacy campaigns. Because of this I know that mountains of garbage are always a failure of the local authority to provide the same basic services to Roma segregates as they do to the rest of the settlement, and that the solutions are glaringly simple and obvious. If people have garbage bins and the garbage collection vehicle picks these up, there will be less refuse lying around. I challenge any non-Roma to keep their environment clean if this service is not provided by the local authority!
    Please make sure you notice the elements of citizenship and the power dynamics when speaking about Roma. And it would be good to have images of the protests illustrating your article rather than poor people with children in arms.
    Thank you, respectfully
    Violeta Vajda

  9. @Nick Bryan……you some sort of tosser?

  10. Fair enough!

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