An initiative supported by the Far-Right Hungarian Party continues to mount in favor of putting Roma (also known as Gypsies) into highly-controlled camps by force, and some, for life.
Roma are the largest ethnic minority in Europe and make up 2% of the Hungarian population. The social issues between the Roma and the rest of Europe have grown heated especially in recent days.
The Roma continue to be among the poorest people in the country with high birth rates and lower life expectancy rates by ten years to their Hungarian neighbors. Unemployment is over 60% and combined with lesser educational and trade opportunities, the cycle of poverty continues. Centuries of nomadic existence, the Romani people have existed along the outskirts of many laws and nations, only recently have they settled during much of the twentieth century. Still the populace has failed to integrate successfully into society anywhere they have settled.
The Far-Right Hungarian Party known by many as The Jobbik party has staunch resentments towards the Roma minority and wants to relieve their communities of “anti-social” Roma behavior. The party is particularly strong in northeast Hungary where most of the 700,000 Roma live in large numbers and in poor conditions. The sentiment runs deep within the walls of Hungary’s parliament too as April elections approach. A campaign has begun in anticipation of municipal elections in October. Since last June The Jobbik party has won its first three seats in the European Parliament and secured third place in a general election taking 17% of the votes.
Csanad Szegedi, the vice chairman and European Parliament representative told Reuters that these camps are “public order protection camps.” Szegedi goes on to state that, “At these camps, there would be a chance to return to civilized society. Those who abandon crime and make sure their children attend school, participate in public works programmes, they can reintegrate. No doubt there will be people who show no improvement. They can spend the rest of their lives in these camps.” These outwardly forced solutions and opinions are being debated over the spectrum, but all in all, are growing forces between both party lines.
Within the Roma community unemployment is startlingly high and petty crime is commonplace. Jobbik Chairman Gabor Vona has said that previous attempts at integrating the Roma people into the majority have failed and that segregation was the best tool to teach them to coexist. In defense of the idea that these ‘public order protection camps’ resembled ghetto life, Szegedi has responded to the news stating that “these are not ghettos, they are camps to protect public order,” he continued by saying that “I don’t believe this should be a problem as we would execute these plans in accordance with all laws.”
Issues centered on the Roma plight have gained attention ever since the French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced a crackdown one month ago on Roma camps in France. The United Nations rebuked France for singling out the Roma forcing many to take flight to Eastern Europe, mainly Romania and Bulgaria. A recent report from the European Commission has claimed that French law lacked the minimum safeguards needed by the European Union laws to protect deportees. The executive body of the European Union declined to endorse the French government’s actions which have led thousands to flee France. In order to fall within the guidelines for expulsions, each case is to be considered individually. France will face legal action if it fails to satisfy the commission that it is obeying European law. So far, the French authorities have deported 283 Roma, just last week, adding to the lot of 8,313 Roma’s already deported this year alone. 7,875 Roma’s were deported in 2009 with some who left voluntarily after receiving cash payments.
The stance that France has taken in regards to the Roma has given Hungarians the support they need to continue down this vein of action, according to Jobbik leader, Gabor Vona, “to face realities and have the guts to say what…90% of the Hungarian population says during their family lunch on Sundays, namely, that the integration of the Roma population has failed.” Vona added that “we need entirely different solutions if we want to avoid civil war in the country.” Differences in opinions about how to acclimate the Roma populace has differed, for instance, it was Vona’s idea to impose compulsory education of Roma children in boarding schools to get them away from the disruptive home environment. Rules proposed for these camps would include established laws such as requests for permission to leave the premises and a 10pm curfew.
It is the perspective of people like Rob Kushen of the Budapest based European Roma Rights Centre that the Roma issues in Europe have never improved as no Eastern European government has truly put in a strong enough initiative to support them. For instance, Roma children, according to a new survey by Amnesty International says that one of the biggest problems is schooling and that Roma children are routinely placed in institutions for the mentally handicapped. Roma children in Slovakia, for example, make up 60% of special school populations and only 10% in regular school counts.
Other issues have rose to the surface like when Hungarian police sought help from the FBI after a series of attacks on Roma settlements killed six people. Problems with the Roma people exists in Western Europe as well, although not as pronounced, some have been subjected to firebomb attacks in Italy, pogroms in Belfast and forced evictions in Greece. Even after the Europe’s Decade of Roma Inclusion initiative was launched in 2005 at the Riverside Hotel in Budapest, five years later, most Roma are worse off than they were under communism. Many Romas have left under new EU regulations allowing free travel between bordering countries bringing cheap workers from the east to the west. Still at home, this failure to integrate the Roma in Bulgaria, Serbia, and the Czech Republic, according to a recent World Bank study estimates that the annual cost of this dilema is at $7.3 billion and will continue to rise with population growth. The study notes that “bridging the education gap is the economically smart choice.”
Protests have followed in response to recent events with dozens of people just this week in Romania having dumped French wine, cosmetics and food to protest the expulsion of Gypsies from France in recent weeks. Protestors marched in front of Bucharest’s French Embassy and in the western city of Timisoara saying, “Stop Sarkozy.”
Sarkozy, the French President, is believed by some to be stigmatizing minority groups like the Romas/Gypsies. Criticism has also surmounted from the United Nations agency, French churches and from the Pope in the Vatican. Meanwhile, the future of the Roma and the Hungarians remains unclear as the debate grows on political fronts, both in Hungary and abroad.