The growth of Hungary’s Roma minority — A fascinating new study

Hungary’s Roma minority has doubled in size over 25 years, according to a study conducted by researchers at Debrecen University for an academic journal entitled Területi Statisztika. What makes this study truly compelling is its unique methodology. Numbers compiled during the national census routinely underestimate the size of Hungary’s Roma community–the country’s largest minority group–as respondents often choose not to disclose their minority status. Instead of asking respondents to self-report their ethnicity, the researchers collected data from municipal governments, as well as from both Roma and non-Roma mayors of rural towns or villages, and information from Roma self-government bodies.

Photo: Országos Roma Önkormányzat.

There is a risk that this method may have somewhat overestimated the number of Roma and the researchers recognize this. However, after spending three years collecting data (from 2010 to 2013), they found that:

  • There are 876,000 Roma in Hungary, comprising 9% of the country’s population. In 1971, a study by sociologist István Kemény found that Roma numbered 320,000, while by 1987 this number was 400,000.
  • In large parts of northeastern Hungary (particularly Nógrád and around the town of Salgótarján), Roma comprise 20% to 25% of the total population.
  • In some regions of Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén county, Roma now comprise between 34% to 39% of the total population. (In and around the town of Ózd, the Roma make up 39% of the local population.)
  • Approximately 7% of Budapest’s population is Roma, while the average proportion in small to medium sized towns is 9% and in villages it is 12%.
  • The fewest Roma live mostly in parts of western Hungary, such as Mosonmagyaróvár (1%), as well as the Balaton region (1% in Balatonalmádi).

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the study is one of its conclusions. Similarly to what is still relatively pervasive in the United States, the “one-drop rule” applies in Hungary too. This means that Hungarians born from mixed marriages or those who have some Roma ancestry are generally classified as Roma by their immediate environment. Additionally, the researchers found that locals will sometimes classify the poor as being, be default, Roma, with little regard to ethnicity.

One question that arises with such a study is whether ethnic identity is constructed. The fact that often the poor are lumped together as being Roma seems to affirm this theory. However, many Roma do not self-identify as belonging to a minority for official purposes–so is it justifiable to ask others in society to label them and assign to them an identity that they do not publicly adopt?

In spite of this conundrum, the study provides valuable information on Hungary’s changing demographics–a change that school teachers in northeastern Hungary and in parts of Budapest can certainly confirm.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *