A Roma’s Life in
Illusory Politics and Standing Still
Public Foundation for European Comparative Minority Research
Edited by Ernô Kállai and Erika Törzsök
Consultant: István Kemény
This publication was made possible by financial assistance from the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Hungary
© Public Foundation for European Comparative Minority Research
© Translation by Tim Wilkinson
Published by the Public Foundation for European Comparative Minority Research (PFECMR)
1093 Budapest, Lónyay u. 24.
Telephone: +36 —1-216-792, 456-0779; fax: +36—1-216-7696
Website: www.eokik.hu; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Director: Dr. Erika Törzsök
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any
means without the prior written consent of the publishers.
© Photographs by Judit M. Horváth
© Cover design: AVARRO Graphics
Layout and printed by Stúdió MolnART Co.
1. Chronology of selected events in 2003 11
2. Changes in the situation of the Hungary’s Roma population
as reflected by nationally representative research studies 44
3. The main issues and the financing of Roma policy 58
4. The influence of normative funding on integration in
state-funded schools 71
5. The chances of integrating Roma students in state-funded schools 92
6. Romas and Roma affairs in the media 118
7. Events in government, politics and society 138
This Report has been produced with help of studies by the following experts:
Chronology (assembled from the on-line archive of the Népszabadság daily newspaper,
Romapage and Rom.net)—Ernô Kállai
Changes in the situation of the Hungary’s Roma population as reflected by nationally
representative research studies—István Kemény
The main issues and the financing of Roma policy—János Zolnay
The influence of normative funding on integration in state-funded schools—Iván Báder
The chances of integrating Roma students in state-funded schools—János Zolnay
Romas in the press—János Zolnay
Social and political events—Ernô Kállai
PFECMR Public Foundation for European Comparative Minority Research
(Európai Összehasonlító Kisebbségkutatások Közalapítvány, EÖKiK)
CSO Central Statistical Office (Központi Statisztikai Hivatal)
EU European Union
Fidesz Alliance of Young Democrats (Fiatal Demokraták Szövetsége)
GMS Gypsy Minority Self-Government (local)
(Cigány Kisebbségi Önkormányzat)
HUF Hungarian forint(s) (HUF 100 ≈ € 0.40 ≈ Ł0.25)
ICGA Interministerial Committee for Gypsy Affairs
(Cigányügyi Tárcaközi Bizottság)
MDF Hungarian Democratic Forum (Magyar Demokrata Fórum)
MSZP Hungarian Socialist Party (Magyar Szocialista Párt)
MTI Hungarian News Agency (Magyar Távirati Iroda)
NAGO National Association of Gypsy Organisations
(Cigány Szervezetek Országos Szövetsége)
NGMS National Gypsy Minority Self-Government
(Országos Cigány Kisebbségi Önkormányzat)
NNIE National Network for Integration in Education
(Országos Oktatási Integrációs Hálozat)
NPHMOS National Public Health and Medical Officers’ Service
(Állami Népegészségügyi és Tisztiorvosi Szolgálat)
OECD Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
OLANEM Office for Legal Aid to National and Ethnic Minorities
(Nemzeti és Etnikai Kisebbségi Jogvédô Iroda)
SZDSZ Alliance of Free Democrats (Szabad Demokraták Szövetsége)
UNO United Nations Organisation
The socialist-liberal coalition of MSZP-SZDSZ forces that took office after Hungary’s general
election of 2002 not only promised a change in welfare to alleviate poverty and a firm
anti-discrimination policy, it also set a goal of founding a social policy to secure substantial
improvement in the situation of Hungary’s community of 500,000-600,000 Romas.
The fundamental change in attitude that 2002 ushered in, however, with its reversal
of the trend in welfare distribution under the previous government’s parliamentary term,
was not followed up by real changes over the course of the year 2003. Neither any declaration
of clear principles of distribution nor any changes to systems for helping people
into the active workforce or providing unemployment benefits took place. The programmes
that were launched for training and for creating or subsidising employment of
Romas have reached only a tiny fraction of Roma society and have an insignificant
impact. As a result, there has been no prospect of any decrease in tensions between Roma
society and the majority population.
Another set of problems may be discerned in what János Zolnay, a PFECMR staff
member, writes in one of his papers: Romas are inevitably ‘invisible’ to big systems as
in Hungary it is prohibited to make distinctions in the provision of benefits and services
on ethnic grounds. As far as provisions go, one can at best infer where Romas stand
on the basis of their social position, income and schooling. The totalised so-called
‘Roma budget’ contains both subventions for projects explicitly targeted at Romas and
also outlays that do not have distinct ethnic labels. There are also serious consequences
to the fact that this summation of all subventions that go to Romas contains items that
assist social integration of Romas (e.g. the subsidy given to Gandhi High School, Pécs)
and also items that in practice aggravate their exclusion (e.g. supplementary funding in
education that may be claimed under several pretexts). Thus, insistence on the principle
of ‘invisibility’ allows a serious issue to be accounted for without those at the
receiving end feeling any improvement in their situation. For them to be able to detect
a change would require a realisation that the demand aspect of Roma affairs cannot be
expressed numerically in line with a departmental logic. The government of the day—
and thus the Medgyessy government in 2003—puts on a show that the Roma community
is financed in line with a departmental logic, through what appears to be a bar-
gaining process, but the government’s Roma policy ought to mean more than an annual
breakdown of items in a medium-term package of measures and the assigned outlays
in the Roma budget. This attitude does not take into account the fact that the disadvantages
experienced by Romas in housing, schooling and the job market are explained
in part by their poverty, in part by discrimination against them, and in part by their cultural
characteristics. Their chances are determined primarily by the aforementioned
‘big systems’, above all the financing of education, welfare redistribution, employment
policy, housing subsidies, and so on.
Following the 2002 change in government, the Romas were unable during 2003 either
to alter or even to influence the practice evolved by a succession of administrations. The
new National Gypsy Minority Self-Government that was formed in 2003, after the previous
autumn’s elections for local Gypsy minority self-governments, remains a long way
from being a body with the requisite political weight to have a say in politics at the top
table. The new NGMS was unable to alter the situation if only because a Gypsy politician
came to head it who, before he gained that position, had condemned the system of minority
self-government as a form of ‘institutionalised segregation’, and hence a system ‘to be
abolished’. After three months Aladár Horváth, who had the support of many of
Budapest’s Roma and non-Roma intellectuals, was displaced by Orbán Kolompár, a successful
businessman from the countryside who enjoyed, and continues to enjoy, the support
of Roma politicians outside the capital. The pity was that these political games went
on in the midst of commotions that detracted from the prestige of Roma politics and the
Roma community, and thus continually reduced the institution’s authority.
The underlying reason for the situation that has arisen is the games-playing set-up in
which Hungarian domestic politics operate, and specifically the inadequacy of the regulations
that govern minority rights.
Despite the fact that, for the first time in Hungary, four representatives of Gypsy extraction
were returned to parliament in 2002, and therefore Romas not unnaturally expected
them to be effective in drawing the National Assembly’s attention to their hard and forlorn
situation, that is not what happened. Two of the four representatives had not made their maiden
speech to parliament by the end of their first full year, while the other two—Flórián
Farkas and László Teleki—between them were able to occupy the attention of fellow representatives
on the subject of Roma problems for a grand total of just 22 minutes.
Contributing to the low profile accorded to Roma problems in 2003 was the constitutionally
uncertain sphere of authority possessed by the under-secretary of state for
Gypsy affairs, operating within the Office of the Prime Minister, along with constant
changes of government structures and a consequent inability to make decisions. First
Péter Kiss replaced Elemér Kiss as head of the Office of the Prime Minister then, in midyear,
Katalin Lévai was appointed minister without portfolio with responsibility for equal
opportunities. This appointment marked ultimate victory for the school of thought which
denies the very existence of a Gypsy Question. According to the political convictions of
the new minister, to whom overview of Gypsy affairs was passed from the Office of the
Prime Minister, the plight of the Romas is now to be treated by equal opportunities policy
on same level as the problems of the handicapped or women. The fact that these
diverse groups, each of them struggling with completely different sets of problems and
requiring different sets of solutions, were lumped together as a single community preordains
the policy to failure and serves only to turn variously disadvantaged groups against
one another when it comes to spreading the money around at the next budget.
This was the mindset in which Law CXXV/2003: Promoting Equal Treatment and
Equality of Opportunity, a long-overdue piece of anti-discrimination legislation that the
EU expected to see placed on the statute book, was enacted. Whilst this has certainly
plugged a gap in the law by defining the types of discrimination that are now recognised
in Hungary’s legal system, it is offset by the fact that the law now sees the widespread
practice of discrimination that afflicts Romas as falling into the same category as issues
relating to the physically disabled or gender identity—to say nothing of the fact that no
institutions have been set up to expose and deal with discriminatory behaviour. In short,
this is a necessary piece of legislation but one that lacks teeth.
Sadly, the case for re-thinking the Ethnic Minorities Act fared even worse during
2003. The frequent absurdities that have arisen in elections to, and the operations of,
minority-group self-governing councils prompted the legislature to hasten reforms, but
this got bogged down in a series of protracted debates about registers of the names of
individuals who belong to ethnic minorities, and passive or active eligibility to vote. A
new draft bill has been produced, but it has yet to go to parliament for approval.
The nexus of Roma institutions has been steadily eroding since the 2002 general elections.
During 2003 the Roma Affairs Council gradually turned into a body that was con-
sulted merely as a courtesy, whereas the Office for Roma Affairs, originally conceived as
an administrative body concerned with strategic planning and direction, was set up on a
rocky footing from the outset. It is true that a programme offering a new approach emerged
from the strategic planning, implementation of which could have represented a qualitative
step forward for Romas, but it became clear during the process of interministerial reconciliation
that this could not be carried out due to the problems outlined in this Foreword.
A comprehensive programme of this kind needs adequate resources behind it, but in this
case the necessary political will was lacking. The regular spending departments wished to
carry on with their earlier practice of deciding for themselves what sort of Roma-related
programme to implement, and how much of their budget they would devote to it, and this
long-ingrained yet ineffective procedure is the one that has continued to receive political
support. The school of thinking that ‘there is no such thing as a Gypsy Question’ has
become increasingly predominant, and at government level this has resulted in all institutions
and programmes that are targeted specifically at Romas being condemned for serving
as a form of segregation. In place of the latter what gains more weight is a so-called
equal opportunities policy in which Gypsies are not the subject of a separate programme
of their own but are included in some broader target group. This policy switch has made
the Office for Roma Affairs totally redundant. Thus, unable to implement its strategic programmes,
the Office has increasingly been going through the administrative motions.
It is a natural consequence of these events that there should be a constant tension and
a searching for, or confusion of, roles among individuals who have been given administrative
roles in ministerial structures, those with positions within the government structure,
and the leaders of the National Gypsy Minority Self-Government. As a result,
despite coming more under the spotlights during 2003, the situation of Hungary’s Romas
has become a pawn to in-fighting. In reality, the situation of Hungary’s community of
500,000-600,000 Romas has deteriorated further rather than improved.
These are the processes that our Report 2003 seeks to present.
Budapest, 29 November 2004
1. A CHRONOLOGICAL DIGEST OF EVENTS
AFFECTING THE ROMA OF HUNGARY IN 2003
One in every ten pupils enrolled at Hungarian general (elementary) schools is of Roma
descent. More than one third of these children are in classes where the majority of the
pupils are also Roma. Almost one in every five of Roma children attending general
school has at least a mild learning disability. Through the integration norms to be introduced
from the coming school year onwards, the Ministry of Education intends to intervene
at the core of the system by having segregation replaced by integrated education.
Forty to fifty Roma families are returning to Hungary from Canada every month.
They are people who emigrated there over the past five years but have failed to secure
refugee status or residence rights. Some statistics indicate that at least 5,000 Hungarian
citizens applied to the Canadian authorities for refugee status, about 300 of whom were
able to satisfy the agencies considering their cases. The Canadians declared the remainder
economic migrants and returned them to their country of origin. Some time ago the
Hungarian authorities undertook to give returnees every possible assistance.
According to an analysis carried out by the United Nations Development Programme
and International Labour Organisation, the living standards of the Gypsy populations of
prospective European Union members Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania
and Slovakia are stuck at much the same level as Black Africa, the world’s poorest zone.
One Gypsy in ten suffers more or less constant hunger, one in two suffers it on a regular
basis; their drinking-water supply is unsanitary, their children are severely malnourished,
their educational opportunities are slight, so that the chances of securing employment
would be low even if they were not subjected to racial discrimination. Alongside a relatively
high birth rate is an alarmingly high infant mortality, and a low life expectancy; thus,
even though the Roma populations themselves consider their health ‘reasonable’ in reality
it is catastrophically poor. Despite their multiple disadvantages and being caught in
sundry social traps, very nearly half of Gypsies nevertheless manage to find work on an
occasional or regular basis, though usually in the black or grey economy. Their incomes
(including all social assistance) are so minimal that more than half is spent paying for
everyday necessities. When hard-pressed, their only available sources of private loans are
at predatory interest rates. The poorest Romas, the study alleges, receive no assistance
even from wealthier Gypsies, but a ‘class solidarity’ does exist with the most underprivileged
non-Roma populations. Despite a widespread perception to the contrary, the vast
majority of Romas resort to begging or stealing for their survival only in extremis, and
with feelings of shame and guilt at having been reduced to that. In reality, the bulk of
Romas seeks to be integrated into society at large. but at the same time—like any other
minority—they reject assimilation and the loss of their own identity.
Candidates for the Democratic Roma Coalition (DRC) obtained 52 of the 53 seats on
the newly elected National Gypsy Minority Self-Government (NGMS) in voting at the 11th
January electoral assembly as, with a single exception, only individuals representing this
organisation appeared on voting papers. Apart from DRC candidates, only Elemér Farkas,
who was sponsored by the Democratic Alliance of Hungarian Gypsies, gained a seat in the
self-government. At the assembly, with some 2,700 electors registering their attendance, a
total of 1,347 individuals actually voted at the ballot boxes late on the Saturday night. Lungo
Drom did not participate in the voting; its supporters had previously left the hall to travel
home because the protests that the party had lodged with the National Electoral Commission
(NEC) over the assembly were rejected as unfounded. The highest number of votes were
received by the NGMS’s previously serving deputy chairman, Miklós Pálfi, whilst among
the DRC candidates for the chairmanship Vilmos Kövesi came in third and Aladár Horváth
in 26th place. At a press conference early on the Sunday morning, after the declaration of
results, Aladár Horváth promised a democratic system instead of the ‘despotic’ one-party
system and personality cult that had characterised the NGMS hitherto, laying emphasis on
the importance of humanity in the ‘change of Roma régime’ that was now being ushered in.
Vilmos Kövesi stated that the new NGMS would be working in close partnership with the
current national government to further the interests of Hungary’s Roma population.
A Supreme Court ruling has quashed the decision by the National Electoral
Commission to uphold the results of the election to the National Gypsy Minority Self-
Government and ordered a re-run of the voting. In its pronouncement on an appeal lodged
by the Lungo Drom electoral coalition, the Supreme Court found that only 1,347 of the
total 4,592 electors qualified to vote had actually participated at the electoral assembly to
choose members of the NGMS, and the voting had in consequence failed to reach the
numbers required for a quorum.
Flórián Farkas, a Fidesz national assembly representative and chairman of the Lungo
Drom coalition, has asked the prime minister, Péter Medgyessy, to appoint a government
commissioner to ensure fair and legal conduct of the re-run electoral assembly for the
National Gypsy Minority Self-Government. Lungo Drom’s chairman considers that close
supervision is necessary to forestall electoral irregularities. The request was made in a letter
that was sent to the head of government on Wednesday. Mr Farkas justified the request
on the grounds that “he had no wish to be a party to serial fraud and infractions of the
law.” Provided there was no repetition of the events to which they had taken exception
during the previous vote, they would not walking out of deliberations at the re-run electoral
assembly that is due to be held on 1st March. In his letter Mr Farkas urges “avoidance
of possible mass manipulation,” whilst in the interests of ensuring equality of
chances coaches transporting electors to the assembly venue should only set off from
county centres and deliver electors straight to the place where the deliberations are to be
held, with the timetable for the coaches being communicated to those concerned at least
eight days ahead. Mr Farkas furthermore asked that seating provision be made for the
total of 4,500 electors at the assembly venue; that entry to the area that was being used
be allowed only via ‘control points’; and that VIPs—invited in equal numbers by the big
national Gypsy organisations—be located in a ‘clearly separated area’ within the hall.
Registration and the counting of the votes should be scrutinised by observers who were
on no account to be electors, Mr Farkas proposed. He also felt it was important that those
arriving to vote should be registered by producing their identity card and using a PIN
code; that the agenda of the meeting be split up between the parties; and electors “be
informed that they may not take into or display in the hall any sort of distinctive marking
that might lend itself to influencing the result.” Lungo Drom’s chairman also suggested
that bars not be open whilst the meeting was in progress, or that they only be
allowed to operate during intervals. For open votes he proposed that there be two tellers
per sector, with votes being recounted until both arrived at the same figure. Prior to secret
ballots the presiding chairman should check that the assembly was quorate. “It is in the
interests of every democratically minded and committed citizen that the election called
for 1st March be fair and its result not under any shadow of dispute,” Mr Farkas noted in
his letter to the prime minister.
The Democratic Roma Coalition addressed a number of questions to Flórián Farkas, the
chairman of Lungo Drom. According to DRC leaders Aladár Horváth, Orbán Kolompár and
Vilmos Kövesi, last year the National Gypsy Minority Self-Government, then led by Mr
Farkas, received approaching HUF 1 billion in budgetary support. One of the questions
runs: “When can the public expect to gain a proper account of how that support was spent?”
The DRC leaders are also curious as to where Lungo Drom was at times when mass evictions
of Roma families were taking place, and how many times it intervened against racist
attacks or exclusionary measures directed against Gypsies. The Coalition claims that the
NGMS designated HUF 300 million for the construction of social housing, whilst Flórián
Farkas in his position as chairman had a budget allowance of HUF 20 million. It is seeking
advice on how the said amounts were spent. In reference to recent statements made by Mr
Farkas, the DRC leaders emphasised that, based on the position taken by National Electoral
Commission, no fraud had occurred at the NGMS electoral assembly held on 11th January,
and the DRC had won the election within the bounds of the law as it had been interpreted
up till now. Even the Supreme Court was not ordering a re-running of the election on the
basis of charges relating to fraud but on account of the failure to reach the necessary quorum
at the time votes were cast, which had been occasioned by the walk-out staged by
Lungo Drom. The Democratic Roma Coalition considers that the system of minority selfgovernment
is in need of radical reform, and it also regards it as being in the public interest
to remove Flórián Farkas from his position at the head of the NGMS.
The Democratic Roma Coalition sees its basic principles as being the elimination of
Roma segregation and their integration into mainstream society. Assuming that it wins
the March election of the National Gypsy Minority Self-Government for which it is now
gearing up, the Coalition would reconstruct one third of the existing Gypsy shanty settlements
within the next three years. “Experts have now worked out what needs to be
done to close the gap for the Roma population; all that has to be done is start to implement
it,” announced Aladár Horváth, one of the three leaders of the DRC. The grouping
intends to enter the March 1st election without declaring a candidate for the chairmanship.
In reference to ideas about provision of habitable housing, Orbán Kolompár noted
that so far, of the HUF 300 million earmarked by the NGMS under Flórián Farkas’s leadership
for its house construction programme, only HUF 48 million had been spent. Mr
Kolompár feels sure that this amount could be multiplied threefold from EU sources. He
also spoke about demolishing the 460 Gypsy ghettos in Hungary that currently provide
dwellings for almost 100,000 people. As he expressed it, “The houses in the shanty settlements
have to be bulldozed and homes fit for human beings constructed in their place.”
As to implementing the item on slum clearance in the medium-term government programme
that was accepted six years ago, no government has, as yet, accepted so much as
a single draft decree. According to a briefing given by Aladár Horváth, the prime minister’s
adviser on Gypsy affairs, the DRC wants to reach agreement with the government
on the technical aspects of the plans so that at the very least one third of existing slum
housing areas are cleared within three years. The alliance would like to set up a network
of Roma social assistants who would maintain contacts with local schools, the local
minority self-government and social institutions. Mr Horváth considers that a consolidation
programme is needed to support families that have been caught in a tax trap. He
declared that if the Coalition wins, the new NGMS would step in with all available means
to fight segregation of Gypsy children at school.
Following the Supreme Court ruling that the election to the National Gypsy Minority
Self-Government was null and void, Flórián Farkas, the chairman of Lungo Drom,
requested the prime minister to appoint a government commissioner in order to guarantee
the legality of the re-run ballot. In his written response, the text of which was published
yesterday, Péter Medgyessy stated that the government was not at liberty to extend
its role beyond that laid down in the constitution and thus was unable to comply with Mr
Farkas’s requests. The cabinet was not in a position to exercise any influence on the legality
of the election, either through the appointment of a government commissioner or by
prescribing any of the technicalities relating to the conduct of voting. The prime minister
nevertheless is asking the office of the Minister of the Interior, under whose supervision
the National Electoral Commission falls, to examine the other proposals made by Lungo
Drom and, in so far as they are compatible with existing legal provisions, make use of
them. In his letter, the prime minister finally noted: “I am sure that all public administrative
bodies that are involved in preparing for the election will adhere strictly to a firm
grounding of legality. Beyond that, however, democracy also calls for those who are entitled
to take part in the election to be responsible and sober in their decision and thereby
facilitate the formation of the minority self-government.”
The poverty index of Hungary’s Romas is three times that for the country as a whole,
while the support provided to them by self-government is quadruple. Thus, Gypsies are
employed somewhat more on public work projects, though such jobs are rather looked
down on by society at large. These are among the findings of a survey commissioned by
the National Association of Local Self-Governments from the Social Research Institution
Rt. According to the survey, Gypsies tend to live in greatest deprivation in settlements
where their numbers are relatively small. Examining social inequalities, the research found
that in settlements where Romas form under 2 per cent of the population the chances that
Roma children will attend a school in another village or town fall to one half that for the
population as a whole. With higher ratios the chances of attending a school in a more distant
district do grow, but this never attains the average mobility; or to put it another way,
Gypsy children are always relatively at a disadvantage as compared with their non-Gypsy
contemporaries when it comes to entering the school of their parents’ choice. The survey
shows that such inequalities are not affected by the size of the settlement in question. It is
curious that 2 per cent came out as the breakpoint a number of other times in this work.
For instance, when looking at interethnic conflicts it turned out that disputes were relatively
uncommon when the Gypsy population was below 2 per cent, whereas there was ‘a
sharp increase’ above that. In light of a sampling of opinions from local government leaders,
the likelihood of conflict within a community is a function not just of the number or
proportion of Romas but of the size of the settlement. The researchers were able to demonstrate
a ‘strong correlation’ between the distribution of Romas within a settlement and the
frequency of conflicts. Thus, social discord is more common in the case of Gypsies who
live in poverty on the margins of a community than it is with Gypsies living in better circumstances
within the heart of the settlement. Based on estimates of experts in the local
governments questioned, the group that undertook the survey put the size of the Roma
population within the settlements they investigated at 8.8%.
The re-run election for the National Gypsy Minority Self-Government is to commence
on 1st March at the Hungexpo site in Budapest. The results of an electoral assembly
held on 11th January, 2003 were ratified by the National Electoral Committee, but the
Supreme Court, in sustaining a complaint by the Lungo Drom coalition, which had
marched out of the assembly site, ordered a new ballot on the ground that “fewer than
half of the chosen electors at the electoral assembly had participated, consequently the
electoral assembly was not quorate.” The NEC subsequently took the view that the number
of votes cast did not necessarily have to reach the 50% required for quorum. In so far
as the second election is also unsuccessful, Hungary’s Roma population will be left without
a minority self-government for four years. One issue is what will happen if the assembly
remains quorate but the number of votes cast nevertheless still falls below the 50%
level: would the view taken by the Supreme Court ruling or the NEC’s determination take
precedence? Emilia Rytkó, head of the National Electoral Office, did not wish to offer
any opinion, noting that this was a matter of the NEC’s ‘informed decision’. In her briefing
on the technical details Ms Rytkó pointed out that, as in January, electors arriving
from outside the capital to vote on the Saturday would be able to use public transport free
of charge. Those travelling by rail would be issued a free ticket on showing their letter of
invitation. Apart from this, coaches would be transporting participants to the capital from
every county centre, with almost one hundred coaches—95 to be precise—being placed
at the disposal of the Roma electors. At the rerun election, an identity check would be
made not only to register electors on arrival but also to keep track of those leaving, so
that it would be possible to know precisely how many electors were present in the hall at
any given time, Ms Rytkó stressed. She added that in order meet the Supreme Court’s
expectations, the NEC had decided that, in addition to the number of electors registered
at the start of the assembly, it would also be officially recorded how many electors were
present when balloting effectively started. The electors would hold open votes on the
individuals who would be chairing the assembly, the committee of tellers charged with
counting the ballots, and the nominees. In a departure from the procedure in January, the
participants would be able to cast their votes with a special card issued at the venue,
rather than with their invitation, Ms Rytkó mentioned. In line with previous practice, the
representatives in the NGMS would be chosen by the electors in a secret ballot.
The Democratic Roma Coalition recorded a clear-cut victory at the rerun electoral assembly
for the National Gypsy Minority Self-Government held at the weekend. Only two of
the candidates from Lungo Drom —Flórián Farkas and János Bogdán Jr—were elected
to the 53-seat body. According to the results declared at dawn on Sunday, 2nd March, the
highest vote was recorded for Aladár Horváth. Congratulations to the winners were
offered by past chairman Flórián Farkas. The rerun NGMS election on Saturday evening
was notable for its high turn-out and placid atmosphere. Lungo Drom had marched out
of the first electoral assembly, held on 11th January 2003, and the Supreme Court had
annulled the sweeping victory that the DRC had likewise registered then, ruling that the
ballot was inquorate. The National Electoral Commission had accordingly called a new
ballot for 1st March, and in line with the Supreme Court’s reasoning it was required that
a quorum of electors be present not just at when the assembly commenced but when balloting
got under way.
In January 2,685 of the very nearly 4,600 qualified electors had registered for the
first assembly, whereas this time there were 2,993, or in other words a turn-out of 65%.
The proceedings at the Hungexpo site in Budapest started early on Saturday afternoon,
considerably later than was officially scheduled. Electors of the Democratic Roma
Coalition again wore white scarves, but unlike at the first assembly no red carnations,
marking Socialist Party members, were on view. In order to avoid the chaotic scenes that
had characterised the previous assembly, the two main alliances, Lungo Drom and the
DRC, had reached prior agreement on nominees for the chairpersons for the proceedings
and the committee of tellers. With the electors of both alliances keeping to the recommended
individuals during the open voting, no count was made of the actual number of
votes cast in view of the ‘clear majority’. Thus, unlike at the January conclave, it could
not be gathered at this stage which of the factions was numerically stronger. Alongside
Lungo Drom and the Democratic Roma Coalition, the Third Force Alliance, a new organisation
that is seeking to support independent electors, was also in evidence. Nomination
of candidates was completed speedily and with no hitches, the names of 150 electors
being set out in alphabetical order on voting cards. Apart from the 53 candidates each
proposed by Lungo Drom and the DRC, there were 35 nominees of the Third Force
Alliance, led by Miklós Pálfi, and nine who were unaligned to any organisation. The sole
surprise was that Mr József Ráduly, leader of the Budapest 100-Strong Gypsy Orchestra,
who was running for the Third Force Alliance, failed to receive the 10 percent of the votes
cast needed to be confirmed as a candidate. At the start of the secret vote to decide the
composition of the new NGMS, the chairman announced that on the basis of the computer
record 2,832 electors were present in the hall and thus the assembly was quorate.
With voting papers being distributed at about 9 p.m., a total of 2,869 were finally counted
as having cast their ballots, thus rendering irrelevant discussion as to what would happen
if the number of votes did not achieve the necessary quorum.
Despite the clear-cut advantage in seats won by the DRC, it has to be said that, as
with the NGMS electoral assemblies in 1995 and 1999, the margin was not as substantial
in reality as that suggests; however, the rules of voting by party lists preclude any element
of proportional representation in the result. The highest number of votes cast
(1,537) were for Aladár Horváth, whilst of the other two DRC leaders, Orbán Kolompár
(1,391) came in ninth, and Vilmos Kövesi (1,365) was twentieth. The 1,109 votes cast for
Flórián Farkas only sufficed for 52nd place. In speeches from the platform, the DRC
leaders and their elected representatives thanked the electors for their discipline and
patience during the election. Mr Horváth gave assurances that the losers had nothing to
fear from either witch-hunting or discrimination. He, along with the other two leaders,
emphasised that the new NGMS would be doing everything within its power to be truly
representative of Hungary’s Roma population. Through the programmes that were to be
launched for alleviating poverty, they would be seeking to improve the situation not just
of Gypsies but of all needy Hungarian citizens. At present, there is no sign that Lungo
Drom intends to lodge any objection to the election; in an announcement he made to press
reporters on the Hungexpo site but in another building at the time the election result was
announced, Flórián Farkas congratulated the winners. In response to questions, he said
that he would “in all probability” be taking part in the work of the NGMS.
The new body will hold its inaugural meeting after the elected representatives have
received their letters of credence. The person most likely to win the position of chairman—
though the DRC did not officially nominate a candidate—is Aladár Horváth.
At its Tuesday meeting, the National Electoral College formally ratified the results
recorded in the official minutes of the electoral assembly held last weekend for the
National Gypsy Minority Self-Government. Prior to the decision making, the NEC chairman,
Lajos Ficzere, reminded those present that no complaint or objection had been
lodged to date in regard to the deliberations. “As we were able to observe, the assembly
was conducted in an orderly fashion and in accordance with the provisions laid down for
it,” Mr Ficzere added, also noting that the process had been quorate throughout, with a
level of participation continuously in excess of 60%.
At its inaugural meeting on Wednesday, the National Gypsy Minority Self-
Government elected Aladár Horváth as its chairman. In the ballot—with the candidate
abstaining—31 representatives voted for Mr Horváth, who is one of the leading figures
in the Democratic Roma Coalition. By a similar margin Orbán Kolompár, chairman of
the Forum of Gypsy Organisations of Hungary, was elected executive chairman. Prior to
the voting, members of the National Association of Gypsy Organisations (NAGO) who
had been nominated onto the body staged a walk-out since, according to a statement
made by vice-chairman Vilmos Kövesi, they considered that the manner in which the
meeting was convoked had been irregular. In giving thanks for the support following the
ballot, Mr Horváth declared that he had hoped that at the inaugural session, after months
of strenuous effort, the NGMS’s affairs would finally reach a position of rest and would
be able to elect a chairman in the presence of all representatives. On Thursday he would
be appealing by letter to the leaders of NAGO to propose that they seek agreement on
ways in which the Association would be able to gain representation in the chairing of the
NGMS. He singled out the creation of equality of educational opportunities for Roma
children with the children of Hungary’s majority society, the provision of work for the
unemployed, and the provision of decent living conditions as the most essential tasks,
emphasising that their aim was that these benefits should also be accessible to underprivileged
non-Roma Hungarian citizens.
The National Association of Gypsy Organisations considers Wednesday’s election of
the National Gypsy Minority Self-Government’s chairman illegal and will be lodging an
objection to the vote on Friday, Vilmos Kövesi, NAGO’s vice- chairman announced.
According to Mr Kövesi, several issues relating to yesterday’s election had posed a legal
problem. For one thing, invitations had been sent out to the members of the new NGMS only
three—not the prescribed eight—days in advance; secondly, his own name had been printed
on the invitations without his permission. The tension that arose during Wednesday’s election
had not subsided by the next day; on Thursday morning, one of the representatives had
assaulted a colleague, who was currently receiving hospital treatment. Having examined the
NGMS statutes, NAGO’s own legal experts, including György Kolláth, a constitutional
lawyer, have concluded that there are grounds for lodging a protest against Wednesday’s
decision. NAGO was a member of the Democratic Roma Coalition, the electoral alliance
that gained a stunning victory at the rerun election of representatives on the NGMS on 1st
March. Even before the election, there had been arguments between DRC members as to
which organisation would supply the chairman of the NGMS. At its inaugural meeting on
Wednesday, which NAGO’s representatives had walked out of, the NGMS had ended up voting
Aladár Horváth, a Roma Parliament politician, as its chairman. One of the deputy-chairmen
chosen at the same meeting has already announced that he will step down from the
newly won position. The statement released to the press, datelined Bátonyternye, 13th March
2003, runs: “At the National Gypsy Minority Self-Government’s inaugural session yesterday,
I did not agree that a walk-out was the appropriate response under the circumstances. In
view of the divisions within the NGMS, however, I do not wish to play a leading role within
the body, and for that reason I resign my office of deputy-chairmen. Szilárd Szomora,
NGMS representative.” In giving his own reaction to this to the Roma Press Centre, Aladár
Horváth, the newly elected NGMS chairman, commented that he was staggered by the
course events had taken, and he found it incomprehensible that defeat in an election could
provoke such tempestuous passions: “This is a matter for the police, but equally a heavy
political responsibility is borne by those who, by raising tempers and provocation, seek to
undermine confidence in the newly elected NGMS.” Mr Horváth called on all his fellow representatives
to resolve their political differences peacefully. He noted, “There is no reason
for anyone to be anxious. Just a few dozen are prepared, through actions such as this, to jeopardise
the moral standing of several hundred thousand Romas.”
The Gypsy minority self-governments of the S.W. Hungarian town of Mohács and surrounding
villages are sending a petition to Prime Minister Péter Medgyessy to request
that public works programmes be set up in their district. István Kovács, chairman of the
Mohács Gypsy minority self-government, said that 80% of the able-bodied Romas living
in the town are unable to find employment, and as a result the roughly 3,500 local Gypsy
population faces major problems with making a livelihood. Those problems had been
alleviated somewhat over the past 18 months by a public works programme that provided
a modest, but more or less steady income for some 50-80 families. This year, however,
the programme proposal worked out by the Mohács Gypsy minority self-government
had been rejected by the Ministry of Works due to lack of funding, and that was made
worse by the fact that public works projects were also not being organised for the Roma
inhabitants of nearby villages, although these too were suffering from high unemployment.
The district’s Gypsy minority self-governments are now looking to the prime minister
for assistance. If the Ministry of Works continues to reject the claims of the Mohács
district’s Gypsies, the Roma inhabitants were threatening to close down and paralyse traffic
at the Hungarian-Croatian border crossing at Udvar, Mr Kovács declared. They were
well aware that a demonstration of that kind was illegal, he added, but their level of deprivation
and hopelessness had made them willing to run the risks that might arise from
such an infringement of the law.
Many fewer people would lose out through Hungary’s accession to the European
Union than would have been the case had the country stayed out, chancery minister Péter
Kiss suggested. Accession would give new opportunities, through teleworking or parttime
employment, to those who had been unable to adapt to earlier changes, the head of
the Office of the Prime Minister pointed out. He also noted that during the three years
after accession roughly the same number of people would be able to work abroad as do
so currently, the difference being that they would now be able to do so legally. Aladár
Horváth, chairman of the National Gypsy Minority Self-Government, sees a chance for
the Roma population not to come out as losers in the modernisation process. As he put it,
Hungary could be a thriving nation if the Romas, who are in most need of progress, are
part of that. Mr Horváth sees the most important tasks as being to guide Roma children
back into ‘the normal educational system’ and decreasing segregation within settlements.
Under questioning, he said that he did not think there was likely to be a mass emigration
by Gypsies following Hungary’s accession to the EU.
A joint press conference to mark International Roma Day was held at the Kossuth
Club in Budapest by Mrs Magda Kovács Kósa, the Socialist Party parliamentary representative,
László Teleki, Under-Secretary of State for Gypsy Affairs in the Office of the
Prime Minister, and Aladár Horváth, chairman of the National Gypsy Minority Self-
Government. Information provided in a hand-out stated that the first World Gypsy
Conference was held in London in 1971, with 21 countries sending delegations, and it
was they who had decided that 8th April would thenceforth be designated International
Roma Day. Speaking about the increasingly active part that Romas are playing in
Hungarian public life, Mrs Kovács Kósa pointed out that surveys indicated that participation
in the most recent parliamentary and local government elections had been as high
among Romas as among the non-Roma population. As she put it, the Gypsies have produced
their own political élite. The current government was seeking to improve the situation
for the country’s Roma population by working with Gypsies, not ignoring them or
going over their heads. Mr Teleki asserted that what he was hoping to see from EU accession
was an end to all forms of exclusion, including segregation in education, whilst from
leading figures in Gypsy public life he was looking forward to common stands being
taken on major issues. Mr Horváth now sees a possibility, for the very first time, of harmony
being achieved between modernisation, catch-up by the Roma population and the
achievement of human dignity. He called for a high turnout by Roma voters to support
Hungarian accession to the EU in Saturday’s referendum.
Radio C, the only radio station in the world that is broadcasting to a Roma audience
round-the-clock, is facing serious financial difficulties. László Teleki, Under-Secretary of
State for Gypsy Affairs, has revealed that György Kerényi, Radio C’s head of programming,
recently put in a request to his office for a HUF 30 million grant package. Teleki
has offered Radio C HUF 6 million from the discretionary budget available to him, and
he will be seeking to make up the remainder of the total from other government sources.
Aladár Horváth has announced that the National Gypsy Minority Self-Government will
launch a collection to assist the station. The HUF 30 million will only provide a temporary
respite. In a press release to the MTI news agency Mr Kerényi noted that Radio C
needed altogether HUF 70 million to pay off its accumulated debts and still remain on air
for the rest of the year. The head of programming reported that despite all belt-tightening
Radio C has accumulated a debt of more than HUF 50 million, and so far they had seen
none of the HUF 6 million that the government promised last December and that was
needed for sheer survival. For the time being, programming was being cut back to transmissions
of music only, but soon even that might not be possible.
One in ten Roma youngsters do not complete their elementary education—that is one
of the findings of a survey carried out by Delphoi Consulting, an advisory and research
firm, under the guidance of psychologist Ferenc Babusik. According to the study, 97% of
non-Roma children complete their elementary schooling by the age of 15, whilst for
Gypsy children the ratio is just 70-75%. There is also a substantial difference between
Roma and non-Roma youngsters in regard to further education. More than three quarters
of Roma children who complete their elementary education go on to enter trade schools,
which offer little in the way of useful qualifications, whilst only 15% enrol in a vocational
middle school, and fewer that 7% continue studies in a high school. For non-Roma
pupils, some 47% go to a trade school, and almost one in five—18.5%—wins entry to
high school. The summary of the results of the study takes the view that nowadays gaining
a vocational qualification without passing the regular high-school diploma leaves
people a short step away from finding themselves unemployable. Despite that, a mere 15-
22% of Roma youngsters who complete their basic education manage to gain entry to
secondary institutions that offer their students a decent chance of being able to obtain jobs
in the current labour market. The researchers point out that the ratio of Roma pupils also
strongly affects choices at secondary level: in general schools that have high numbers of
Gypsy pupils, as compared with the national average, only half the non-Roma children
go on to high school.
How Roma pupils fare at elementary school was also the subject of a study by Gábor
Havas, István Kemény and Ilona Liskó, the results of which have appeared in book form.
This analysis shows that in the decade from 1985 to 1996 there was a 40% growth in places
available at Hungarian high schools and 70% growth at vocational middle schools, while
the number of youngsters completing elementary schooling actually declined. Due to the
way school funding depends on hitting numbers for class sizes, it lies very directly in teachers’
interests to accept and retain as many pupils as they possibly can. The book points out:
“With fewer pupils applying for a greater number of places, room has now been found for
Roma children as well. Secondary schools need children, and under those circumstances
even Roma children have been accepted in the same way as Roma workers were accepted
by mines and steel works 30-40 years ago. In order to ensure that pupil rolls were met, they
have relaxed their insistence on previously applied standards. To put it bluntly, they have
relaxed their insistence on the children being White and even on their knowing anything.”
In other words, significantly more young Gypsies are staying on in school, but those youngsters
who belong to the majority society are gaining the education at a higher level. The gap
between Romas and the others has not diminished in recent decades.
The Ministry for the Environment and Water Management has announced that it is inviting
entries—to be submitted by the deadline of 31st July 2003—for projects aimed at
“Reducing environmental hazards occurring in Gypsy settlements”. The background to
this competition, as the sponsor sees it, is that “the environmental state of Hungary’s
Gypsy settlements has been remarkably neglected. We therefore wish to make it possible
for local Gypsy minority self-governments to put their surroundings into a more habitable
condition by taking advantage of public works and utilities.”
In Hungary the average level of registered unemployment is 6%, but among the
Roma minority it can run as high as 60%. This year the Ministry of Employment Policy
and Labour has allocated HUF 10 billion to programmes aimed at helping those in the
Roma minority into work, said Gábor Csizmár, under-secretary of state at the ministry, in
a speech to the Roma Job and Training Fair organised by the Békés County Job Centre.
Fourteen Roma job-search managers have set about helping non-registered unemployed
Roma to sign on. Atotal of 1,685 individuals have been assisted one way or another under
what was called the Roma Start programme, stated Ágnes Nagy, director of the Békés
County Job Centre. Encouraged by the successes that have been achieved to date, they
are continuing that programme under the name of Roma Start Plus. In addition to their
primary service of giving careers and employment advice, the Roma managers would be
helping to set up a family assistance network within the county. At the Job and Training
Fair, which was organised at the Békés Sports Hall, approximately 1,000 Roma visitors
had the opportunity to choose among 41 training opportunities and 520 jobs notified by
close to 100 employers.
The National Association of Gypsy Organisations is calling on Aladár Horváth,
chairman of the National Gypsy Minority Self-Government, to resign on account of his
unethical political conduct and his opaque economic endeavours. Vilmos Kövesi,
NAGO’s deputy chairman, told the MTI news agency on Friday that he and a number of
fellow representatives were hoping the present leadership would declare the NGMS’s
29th May session an extraordinary meeting for the re-election of officials. He added that
in his actions hitherto and during the elections Mr Horváth had not fulfilled his promises
of democracy and régime change but, on the contrary, had stirred up conflict with the
Under-Secretary of State for Gypsy Affairs and several ministries. “Hungary’s Roma
population and society at large need Gypsy leaders who are capable of thinking responsibly
and have a feeling for social peace, not non-Roma experts hiding behind inauthentic
programmes,” Mr Kövesi asserted.
At this Thursday’s session of the National Gypsy Minority Self-Government, a heated
debate broke out between representatives loyal to the Horváth and Kövesi platforms. In
line with the announcements that he had made beforehand, the NAGO leader proposed a
motion of no confidence in Aladár Horváth, the NGMS chairman. Among the reasons that
he cited for proposing the motion, which had twenty-one signatories, Mr Kövesi mentioned
that over the past two months, in contravention of the electoral agreement, there had
been no significant cooperation between the two platforms. In NAGO’s view, Mr Horváth
had not been successful in representing Hungarian Roma society and there had been no
perceptible attempts to make further progress. To fend off accusations that might be made
against himself, Mr Kövesi pointed out that the criticisms he was putting forward were not
fuelled by right-wing motives; he had already publicly dissociated himself from rightwing
political attitudes. The mood then turned somewhat ugly. NAGO’s representatives
asked that the session be declared a closed meeting and the vote of no confidence be held
by secret ballot; however, these requests were rejected by a majority of the representatives.
The Kövesi platform then claimed that inappropriate provisions had been applied to determine
the order of voting, and thus the decision made by Orbán Kolompár—deputising for
Mr Horváth, who was disqualified on grounds of personal involvement—to put discussion
of the motion of no confidence to an open vote had infringed the rulebook. In their opinion,
Mr Horváth’s supporters had thereby influenced the end result of the no-confidence
motion by thwarting the possibility of Roma representatives voting according to conscience
rather than along party-political lines. Aladár Horváth rejected NAGO’s accusations
at the meeting: “Experience has shown that the past two and half months have not
been sufficient for NAGO to come to terms with the final outcome of the election [to the
new NGMS]. Another attempt had been made to split the coalition that won that election.
My congratulations to NAGO and Lungo Drom on their marriage, and may I be the first
to wish them every success in their role as opposition. Gypsies will understand what the
message of today’s session is for NAGO and for us.” For purposes of being able to reassure
the group of representatives putting forward the no-confidence motion, the executive
chairman had asked the NGMS’s legal expert for an opinion on the matter in issue, and in
the expert’s view Orbán Kolompár and those present had proceeded in full compliance
with the relevant provisions, and that in regard to the Rules of Procedure, as currently formulated,
there is no foundation for requesting that a secret ballot be ordered.
The National Gypsy Minority Self-Government is striving to avoid giving even the least
appearance of corruption or shady financial dealings, insisted Aladár Horváth. In the opinion
of this Roma politician, who is widely known for his human rights work, the government
will have to make serious efforts to head off a large-scale westwards migration of
Romas following accession to the European Union. Mr Horváth noted, “As was promised,
we are carrying out a régime change in Roma politics. The sham politicking that depended
on whoever was in power is now a thing of the past with the defeat of Lungo Drom. All the
same, speedy, radical changes are not going to remove at a stroke received ideas of what
the NGMS was about till now. Previously there was a tacit agreement between successive
governments and the so-called Roma élite to the effect that we’ll hand over a bundle of
money but not look too closely at how you spend it, and in return you won’t criticise us and
you’ll keep a muzzle on Roma opinion. That world of the old pals’ act and unprincipled
deal-making is finished, but some of my fellow representatives can’t quite believe this and
still think of Gypsy affairs as a cross between a system of nationalist tribal heads and a business
enterprise. For my part, I am seeking to bring value-driven politics into wider currency.
The absence of a democratic culture can also cause problems, with many people having
not yet learned how to assert their rights and interests legally. That is understandable. For
centuries the state has driven Gypsies to the margins, forcing them to adopt solutions that
lie outside the law. It is in the balance right now whether the current government truly is
offering Hungary’s Gypsies a historical perspective on integration.”
On Friday, Radio C asked the media regulator that it be allowed—contrary to the
programming undertakings laid down in its contract—to carry on putting out music-only
broadcasts for a further two weeks. In other words, it is still uncertain that the radio station,
which is struggling with its finances, will be able to relaunch. According to a statement
made by Mr György Kerényi, Head of Programming, donations of HUF 7 million
have come in to the radio station, but these were insufficient to meet even the staff payroll
for March. Radio C has been given HUF 3 million by the Pro Cultura Urbis
Foundation, a fund set up by Budapest’s Metropolitan General Assembly, or town council,
HUF 2 million by the local self-government for Budapest’s Eighth District, and HUF
1.6 million plus 25% VAT by the Ministry of Employment Policy and Labour. Due to its
financial problems, Hungary’s first Roma radio station has been forced, since 7th April,
to suspend its programmes and broadcast a music-only stream. Statements made by the
Head of Programming at that point indicated that in addition to its regular income of HUF
60 million the radio station required HUF 50 million in order to settle its accumulated
debts and a further HUF 20 million to be able to operate satisfactorily. On 29th April,
Hungarian Radio signed a long-term agreement to cooperate with Radio C, which would
settle the Roma station’s financial worries and guarantee continued future operation.
Under the agreement, Hungarian Radio has undertaken to purchase form Radio C a min-
imum of one hour per day of a magazine-style compilation that will be broadcast by all
of Hungarian Radio’s regional radio studios.
On Friday, the Gyöngyös Gypsy Minority Self-Government this year awarded
eleven individuals a Pro Egalitate prize for work done to promote Roma equality. Among
those recognised, on what is now the fifth occasion the prizes have been awarded, were
Nancy G. Brinker, the USA’s ambassador to Hungary; Péter Kiss, chancery minister;
Bálint Magyar, Minister of Education; László Teleki; Ferenc Baja, Under-Secretary of
State of the Office of Prime Minister; and Jenô Kaltenbach, Parliamentary Commissioner
(or Ombudsman) for Minority Rights. The others include Colonel Michael C. Hart and
Major Mark Wills, US Army representatives in Hungary; József Pásztor of Érsek, counsellor;
László Szabó, managing director of MAUT Kft; and Zsolt Iványi, general manager
of the Property Managing Company of Gyöngyös. Most of the awards were accepted
by proxies for the prize winners. In a speech following his own acceptance, Mr Teleki,
the Under-Secretary of State for Gypsy Affairs in the Office of the Prime Minister,
emphasised that the government was committed to securing a rise in social and economic
standards for Gypsies and obstructing discrimination against them. One sign of that, he
claimed, was the historical step of ensuring that Gypsy affairs were represented at a high
level within the Office of the Prime Minister.
Radio C has so far received a fraction of the subventions that had been promised.
György Kerényi, Head of Programming, hopes that with a few months it will be possible
to end the station’s current involuntary breaks in transmission.
According to a recently published survey, 15 per cent of Roma respondents who
were questioned in five Central and Eastern European countries admitted to being more
or permanently hungry. A sizeable generation of Romas is now growing up whose members
often go without sufficient food, are in poor health, attend inappropriate schools and
as a result are likely to find they have relatively few opportunities on the job market.
Aladár Horváth was relieved of his post as chairman of the National Gypsy Minority
Self-Government chairman at an extraordinary meeting for the re-election of officials held
by the body on Wednesday. The majority of representatives who sit in the body were present
and they unanimously chose Orbán Kolompár, hitherto the NGMS’s executive chairman,
as their new leader. Mr Kolompár asked Mr Horváth to continue to cooperate, promising
that there would be no mudslinging within the NGMS. Mr Horváth, who lost the
body’s confidence because—among other things—he was seen as a divisive figure,
described as irregular the fact that the extraordinary meeting had been called, and he anticipated
that legal consequences were likely to follow. László Teleki, the Under-Secretary of
State for Gypsy Affairs, was evasive in his response to a question about whether the government
regarded the meeting as legitimate. That would only emerge after he and his legal
experts had been able to go through the current rulebook. The NGMS headquarters had to
be vacated yesterday after a bomb threat was received. It is not known whether this scare
was in any way associated with the organisation’s current internal dispute.
The nine countries taking part in a regional Roma conference have created an intergovernmental
working group at prime ministerial level, which the Hungarian prime minister,
Péter Medgyessy, was charged with setting up. At an international press briefing for the
three-day conference, the Hungarian prime minister said that the shared goal was to elaborate
a programme for the integration of Romas within their societies—a task that would
span several generations but one on which a start had to made without delay. The other
task would be to help the nine countries make effective use of international aid that was
received to promote Roma advancement.
Up till Monday afternoon, the local Gypsy self-governments of 19 settlements had
informed the Hungarian new agency MTI that they objected to Aladár Horváth being
stripped of the chairmanship of the National Gypsy Minority Self-Government at its recent
extraordinary meeting. Reacting to this, Mr Horváth said, “I sense the confidence and affection
in which I am held.” Gypsy politics in Hungary is well-organised, which explains how
letters of protest from different parts of the country can appear with exactly the same wording
and layout, he noted. Those who had signed the letters of protest “are giving utterance to
their outrage” at what was happening within the NGMS and “are protesting about the ille-
gitimate and shameful attempt to replace its leader.” They were underlining that their reason
for sending their representatives to the minority self-government was “so that a régime
change should also take place at last in Roma politics.” Some letters that bear a 26th June
date also note that “if necessary, we shall be able to enforce our will by way of street demonstrations.”
Mr Horváth is calling for another NGMS general meeting to be held on Friday,
because he considers that the Wednesday session convoked by Orbán Kolompár to relieve
him of his office was unlawful. “My aim is that the NGMS should come to democratic and
lawful decisions on Friday,” he stated, adding that he had been attending a conference in
Budapest on “Romas in an integrating Europe” as chairman of the NGMS, and he “continues
to regard himself as chairman” at least until the meeting he has called for Friday.
According to information he himself has passed to the news agency, László Teleki,
the Under-Secretary of State for Gypsy Affairs, gained his high-school diploma this
Wednesday. “I sat the examination at the István Széchenyi Vocational Secondary and
Trade School, Nagykanizsa, and passed with an average grade of 4 [the highest grade is
5],” Mr Teleki announced. He noted that, contrary to the information supplied by the
National Assembly’s home page, he does not have a college degree, but during the mid-
1990s he completed a one-year extramural course in Roma studies at Zsámbék Catholic
College. “The craft diploma that I gained more than twenty years ago was enough to be
admitted for that, ” the under-secretary of state commented.
In Hungary close to 20% of adult Romas and 60% of Roma children go hungry, it
has emerged from a recently publicised UNO study. A piped supply of running water is
not available to 34% of Roma households, whilst two thirds of households are not connected
to a sewage disposal network. According to the survey, close to half of the Roma
population lives on less than HUF 900 per day. The Romas find there is a lack of
employment and educational opportunities, and they feel that their political interests are
not represented either at national or the local level. Most think that they can only rely on
themselves, and at best can look for help from their neighbours.
In line with earlier reports from the Roma Press Centre, Roma women of the Eger district
have been complaining that on arriving to give childbirth at Eger County Hospital their
race is used as a ground for placing them in a segregated ward. Employees of the Press
Centre used a hidden camera to record the hospital’s midwife explain that Roma women in
childbirth had separate wards. After its own subsequent investigation, the hospital claimed
that no racially motivated segregation had occurred in the institution; it was filing charges
to gain redress from those media organisations that had published the information. The
cases against the Népszava daily newspaper and the Medical Tribune weekly specialist
magazine, in which the court concluded that Roma women were indeed discriminated on
the basis of skin colour, ended today. The Medical Tribune has been ordered to communicate
to its readership that, despite this being the case, it had been wrong to report that segregation
extended to the delivery rooms themselves. The court censured Népszava for featuring
what it found was the unsubstantiated term ‘C’Ward—[for ‘Cigány’ i.e. ‘Gypsy’]—
in the title as well as in the body of article. The court felt that the report in question gave
the false impression that a Roma woman had been sterilised on account of her race. The
hospital had admitted that the woman was indeed sterilised, but this was not mentioned in
her final report on discharge. The woman in question is expected to sue the hospital.
In so far as the National Gypsy Minority Self-Government fails to pursue policies that
keep the interests of Gypsies and the country to the fore, then Aladár Horváth, having
weighed up the situation, is contemplating withdrawing from the body, he communicated to
the MTI news agency on Friday. According to information learned by the Népszava daily
newspaper, and irrespective of any future decisions that the organisation or courts may make,
Mr Horváth is soon to retire for good from the NGMS’s work because he does not see the
body’s future as secure, while due to worsening relations he is finding it impossible to work
with the NGMS’s other Roma politicians. For the time being, Mr Horváth continues to
regard himself as the NGMS’s chairman, classifying his recent removal from the post as
irregular. At Friday’s session of the NGMS in Budapest, the Roma politician called on those
who had ousted him from office to refrain from putting unlawful decisions into effect.
A good week since the Sziget [Island] Festival in Budapest, which this year may have
been visited in even greater numbers than before by youngsters curious about the more
popular programmes, which undoubtedly did a power a good for the box-office receipts.
Many people had been concerned that a one-week event would lead to a dilution of content,
but those fears were not borne out because the main stage, the world music stage,
and the theatre and Roma tents all presented important and demanding performances to
maintain a balance. The Roma tent—given the very difficult situation in which Radio C,
the organiser of its programmes, currently finds itself—was a focus of specially close
attention. Operating the tent and putting together nearly 40 programmes cost approximately
HUF 15 million, and György Kerényi, Radio C’s Head of Programming, has
pointed out that they still have to find HUF 3 million of that total. There are few opportunities
to cut back on that expenditure because they feel under pressure, whether this is
explicit or tacit, not to transmit what is actually the mass culture of Hungary’s Gypsies
but to provide a challenging international roundup of Roma music, in which space needs
to be found equally for re-imagined authentic Gypsy musics as for Roma jazz or contemporary
electronic dance music. Radio C’s Roma tent, as a regular feature at the Sziget
Festival, has become a major meeting point for people of Roma and non-Roma origin.
Those who did not find an opportunity to visit the tent this year can look forward to a
somewhat similar programme being run this autumn. As plans stand, Petôfi Hall in
Budapest will host another festival of Roma culture, possibly somewhat wider-ranging
than at Sziget, which is again being organised by Radio C staff members.
In an event organised as part of the Sport and Culture against Racism, Hungary’s
Gypsy national team beat a British team of ethnic-minority players by 7-1 at the Ferenc
Puskás Stadium, Budapest.
One week before children go back to school, it is still impossible to learn exactly
how many of them will be attending the Mihály Antal Foundation School in Jászladány
and how many will remain at the local self-government elementary school. Anna Berkes,
director of the latter, stated that it will only become clear on 1st September, the day the
new school year commences, how many pupils will have transferred to the private
school. Ibolya Tóth, headmistress of the foundation school, earlier indicated that two
hundred and four children had applied for admission to classes there. It may be recalled
that the foundation school began the school year at this time in 2002 but was forced to
close its doors on 2nd September due to its failure to obtain the Ministry of Education
(MoE) identification number that is needed to operate. This year, however, the MoE have
issued a number to the school, thus allowing it to announce that it would be opening from
the start of academic year 2003-4. A meeting that was held to promote enrolment provoked
scandalous scenes when the headmistress refused to accept letters of intent from a
number of Roma parents. Ms Tóth claimed that in the cases of seven children who had
sought admission late in the day the school would only be able to enrol them by setting
up an eleventh class, instead of the ten classes on which earlier plans were based. The
foundation that finances the private school’s operations, however, did not have enough
money for that, the headmistress said.
In another item of news relating to Jászladány, the Jászladány Job Opportunities
Club for Gypsies has appealed to the non-Roma members of the local Roma minority
self-government to resign from the body. The club’s chairperson, Mrs Ferenc Lázók,
declared that in their opinion the job of representing local Romas in the minority selfgovernment
ought to be a matter for real Gypsies. It may again be recalled that in the
local elections held in October 2002 the only representative actually of Roma descent
voted onto the five-person Gypsy minority self-government was Mrs Rita Banyáné Suki,
who was later chosen to chair the body.
The Equal Opportunities Office has asked the government for HUF 1.2 billion for
this year from the budget reserve. For the forthcoming 2004 financial year it will be calling
for HUF 30 billion.
A new Roma organisation has been set up under the leadership of Aladár Horváth
and calling itself the Roma Civil Rights Movement (RCRM). The organisation has been
founded by some fifty Roma and non-Roma individuals to promote the effective assertion
by Romas of their civil rights. At a press conference held during the organisation’s
inaugural meeting, Mr Horváth declared that the formation of the body had nothing to do
with the situation that had arisen in the National Gypsy Minority Self-Government, from
whose chairmanship he was recently removed under controversial circumstances. Mr
Horváth did, however, express concern that in next year’s budget the government was not
going to commit enough money to promoting Roma integration. The press briefing and
inaugural meeting were later on interrupted by a bomb warning, as a result of which the
founders continued their deliberations in the public square outside.
In a paper written before the start of the school year, Aladár Horváth comes to the following
views on the practice of segregation in the educational system: “It is our responsibility
that there is room for ambiguous selection procedures in all too many Jászladánys
throughout the country. We have been training our teachers, conditioning society as a
whole, for selective education for decades on end; since the 1989-90 change in régime,
we have even given financial encouragement to segregation. That cost a big chunk of the
budget then in order that it will now cost even more to end the segregation and bring in
an integrated education system. The more Roma children were classified as unsuitable for
normal education, the better that suited the body maintaining a school. The segregation
of Roma pupils was linked to the intellectual undervaluing of an entire ethnic group, and
vice versa. Attempts to promote ‘catching up’ never achieved any catch-up, only impairing
self-respect, for generation after generation of Roma pupils. There are many who
believe that the way today’s situation arose was a natural process, with a minority becoming
detached from the ‘Magyar’ Hungarians, as if this form of apartheid were not an
affliction for everyone, Roma and non-Roma alike. Because that’s what apartheid is, in
the legal sense of the term as well.”
“The National Gypsy Minority Self-Government welcomes the fact that the Hungarian
Socialist Party (MSZP), as well as Fidesz, wishes to include candidates of Roma background
on the list of candidates it puts together for the elections to the European
Parliament,” announced Ferenc Fodor, the NGMS’s press chief. Speaking on behalf of
the NGMS chairman, Orbán Kolompár, Mr Fodor noted that this would further increase
the chances that Romas will achieve “effective representation in Europe” after Hungary
has acceded to the EU. In confirming that news to the MTI press agency on Monday,
László Kovács stated that the MSZP is indeed thinking along these lines, but no final
decision on the matter has been taken within the party: “That is one of the leadership’s
intentions, just as it is also our intention to see that, sooner or later, a person of Roma origin
is selected for an ambassadorial posting,” the MSZP chairman declared.
Not long ago, the local self-government for the town of Keszthely, at the southern end
of Lake Balaton, ordered that a plank fence was to built in front of a group of dilapidated
houses that are standing on the land of a former brick works at the edge of town and currently
provide dwellings for four or five Roma families. In justifying this step, Mayor József
Mohácsi reckoned that the fencing was the only solution they had been able to come up with
to screen this eyesore from tourists. The town currently does not have enough money to
demolish the properties, which are owned by the local self-government, and resettle the
Roma families involved, most of whom have taken them over as squatters. Local leaders
claim that they were forced into taking urgent action because the brick works site lies right
beside the main Keszthely—Héviz thoroughfare, the most heavily used stretch of highway
in the whole district, where foreign visitors are regularly surprised at the desolate appearance
of the buildings and their environs. By building the fence, it was asserted, they had not shut
the Roma families living there into a ghetto, nor had they banished them, simply hidden the
sight behind a plank fence from the eyes of those passing down the highway. Mrs Gyula
Horváth, chairperson of the local Gypsy minority self-government, stated that the families
living in the brick works dwellings had not raised any complaint over the construction of the
fence. She added that she personally also finds that the local authority was justified in taking
this action because the filthy and untidy homes of the Roma families on the brick works
land had for a long time been a poor advertisement for Keszthely and Héviz, which are very
dependent on the income earned from the foreign tourist trade.
“My God! There are so many of them that it’s a pity Hitler didn’t begin with them!”
is one statement the deputy clerk for the town of Piliscsaba is alleged to have made in
regard to the Romas, according to Mária Varga, a foster care officer. The chairman and
deputy chairman of the local Gypsy minority self-government claim they also heard the
statement. The deputy clerk has been working for the town’s self-government for five
months and, with the chief clerk on sick leave, has had to attend all the chief’s duties as
well. Others who are working for the self-government are also protesting; in a letter deliv-
ered to the town’s mayor they maintain they cannot work together with the deputy clerk,
and it has become virtually impossible for the office to function. The deputy clerk has
rejected the charges and is seeking legal remedy. The employees’ petition was the sole
item under discussion at an extraordinary meeting of the Piliscsaba town administration
on Friday. Gábor Laboda, the mayor of neighbouring Üröm and a Socialist Party parliamentary
representative, has asked Piliscsaba’s mayor by letter to investigate the matter.
László Teleki, Under-Secretary of State for Gypsy Affairs in the Office of the Prime
Minister, likewise considers that an investigation is essential and has therefore referred the
case to Jenô Kaltenbach, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Minority Rights.
At its session on Tuesday, by unanimous decision, the National Assembly’s
Committee for Human Rights, Minorities and Religious Affairs agreed in principle to set
up a parliamentary committee to look into the matter of compensating Roma individuals
who were persecuted in Hungary during the Holocaust. With the Committee giving over
the meeting agenda—at the original suggestion of the Roma Civic Grouping (RCG)—to
informing itself about the situation with regard to compensation, the motion was put to
the committee by Flórián Farkas (Fidesz). In line with the decision, the proposer of the
motion will submit a detailed motion within the next two weeks. At the meeting, István
Makai, the RCG’s chairman, explained that, despite the good intentions of the German,
Austrian and Swiss governments who were funding the programme, the compensation
process was labyrinthine and lacked transparency. As he himself put it, although for
Hungarian Romas the subject is “the most momentous issue of the period since the
change in régime,” it nevertheless remains “a big black hole” for them. He threw out the
idea that in Hungary, as in some other countries, a public foundation might be established
to handle compensation-related tasks. Tibor Lázók, the RCG’s legal adviser, complained
that only those who had directly suffered wrong or had been slave or forced labourers
were entitled to apply, whereas those who lost lives during the persecutions were excluded.
Anikó Bakonyi, speaking for the Budapest office of the International Organisation for
Migration, clarified that the compensation rules were set by German law and a court decision
that had been reached in the USA. Erika Plankó, head of the main section in the
Ministry of Justice, pointed out that in Hungary several hundred thousand individuals,
including many Romas, had received compensation over the past ten years or so.
Over half of those who live in Gypsy households in Hungary belong to the bottom decile
of income distribution in the population and are thus poor, in the most literal sense of the
word, unable even to keep themselves adequately nourished. That was one of the facts
that was to be heard at a conference organised by the Institute for Minority Research of
the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Comparable national surveys had previously been
conducted only in 1971 and 1993. In the 1990 national census 143,000 individuals had
characterised themselves as belonging to the Roma minority, whilst in the 2001 census
190,000 had likewise done so. Sociologist István Kemény pointed out that it would be a
mistake to infer from that numerical growth that Romas were becoming more willing
than before to declare their origin, because in the meantime there had been substantial
growth in the actual Roma population, and if one looks at proportions, then in 2001, as
in 1990, only around one third of the actual Roma population had declared themselves to
be so. It emerges from the survey data that employment among working-age Romas barely
exceeds 20%. Sociologist Béla Jánky reported that even fewer Romas than this—just
16% of men and 10% of women—are in a regular, officially reported job providing a
guaranteed 40-hour week. About 70% of Gypsies who do have opportunities to work earn
their money as unskilled or semi-skilled workers. Only 22% of Romas in employment
have jobs as skilled ‘blue-collar’ workers, and a mere 8% earn a livelihood with nonmanual
work in ‘white-collar’ jobs (which for the purposes of the survey includes jobs in
the uniformed services). The average net monthly pay for people in their main job was
HUF 61,000 over the country as a whole, ranging from no more than HUF 48,000 in the
Eastern counties to HUF 65,000 for workers in the Greater Budapest industrial conurbation
and southern Transdanubia. On average, Roma men earned HUF 9,000 more than
Just four or five people in Hungary decide who is a racist, asserted Sándor Fábry in
a debate held by the Roma Civil Rights Foundation. Fábry—an inimitable figure in the
light entertainment field, and not just in his own estimation—has again made a small but
significant contribution to media history. In the most recent edition of his widely watched
evening TV show his invited guests were exclusively Gypsies. A number of things
emerged from statements made by these guests; for instance, that Gypsies are great boasters
(“If less than a thousand turn up for a wedding reception, that’s just pitiful!”), male
chauvinists (“A Roma woman may only walk behind her husband, not beside him”), and
put their sons on a pedestal (“Pure gold, of course. We had it made specifically for him”).
Last but not least, one learned that a Gypsy voivode, or chief, is the lord of life and death
(“For us Gypsies he’s like a tribal chief among the native American Indians”).
ARoma delegation has returned home from a pilgrimage to the Vatican. Government
politicians who made statements over the course of the visit emphasised that the trip
counted as a milestone in the cooperation between Hungary’s Gypsy inhabitants, government
and the Roman Catholic church. Orbán Kolompár, chairman of the National
Gypsy Minority Self-Government, categorised the pilgrimage as more productive than
might have been expected. The Hungarian Gypsies and the government representatives
who also made the trip to Roma—Katalin Lévai, Minister for Equal Opportunities,
László Teleki, Under-Secretary of State for Gypsy Affairs in the Office of the Prime
Minister, and Antal Heizer, Chairman of the National and Ethnic Minorities Office, who
joined the delegation on Tuesday—proclaimed during the trip that they were confident
their joint pilgrimage would contribute to the more complete integration of Romas into
Hungarian society. Pope John Paul II received the 180-strong Hungarian delegation at his
regular Wednesday audience. This was the largest delegation of European Gypsies ever
to call to see the head of the Catholic church. During the audience the pope gave his
Apostolic blessing to Hungary’s Gypsies and, at the request of the pilgrims, blessed the
cross that will be erected next Whitsuntide at Csatka, the most important Roma pilgrimage
site in Komárom-Esztergom County.
“This is the kind of integration effort that I personally have always stood for,” Ms
Lévai remarked to reporters. She laid particular stress on the fact that Pope John Paul II
preaches reconciliation, and she noted, “He was the first pope to bring together representatives
of the major religions and to ask for forgiveness for the sins committed by
Christians.” These were marvellous gestures that offered examples to be followed by
each and every one of us. In response to a question as to why she had felt it was important
to be personally involved in the pilgrimage, the minister said that she wanted to draw
to the world’s attention the fact that Hungary has a very serious Roma problem for which
a rapid solution is required. “Hungary’s Romas are important to the country; let them be
important to the whole world,” she added.
The lifespan of Hungarian Romas is 10-15 years shorter than that of non-Romas, and
the Ministry of Health (MoH) is inquiring whether that is related to any factors to do with
the level of provision of health care, it was announced. The MoH has provided funding for
a survey carried out by the National Institute for Primary Care and the Delphoi Consulting
Social Science Research Unit in which those who complete the questionnaire are asked for
their opinion on a series of derogatory statements about Gypsies. These include: “One can
never be too careful with Gypsies”; “Those who want to limit the role Gypsies have in public
life should be able to spread their views freely”; “Those who call for violence to be used
against Gypsies should be able to spread their views freely”; “Gypsies should be encouraged
to emigrate.” Among statements that refer to stereotyped attributes are: “They are lazy, incapable
of doing the work one should be able to expect”; “They can only blame themselves if
others are hostile towards them”; “They are dirty, they don’t wash themselves enough.” The
president of the Hungarian Association of District Nurses categorised the questions as outrageous
and commented that it would have been better if they had been consulted in advance.
In the opinion of Aladár Horváth, chairman of the Roma Civil Rights Foundation, the survey
in itself is discriminative and prejudicial. “If they are only conducting investigations of
this kind among Romas, then that in itself is discrimination and can only serve to reinforce
prejudices,” he noted, adding that it was impermissible to identify the Roma population with
grinding poverty. Some two thirds of Romas were integrated, perhaps some better than others,
but nevertheless incorporated into Hungarian society, he noted. The National Gypsy
Minority Self-Government expressed regret that the MoH had not asked them for their views
before carrying out this Roma-related survey. Ferenc Babusik, head of the Delphoi
Consulting Social Science Research Unit which compiled the questionnaire, stated that there
was no deliberately provocative motive behind the questions. More than three decades of
international practice had shown that negative biases were most readily quantifiable if their
gist was expressed explicitly—and as prejudicially as possible, he noted.
“The police and Romas have an equal interest in seeing a reduction in prejudiced attitudes,”
Police Commissioner László Salgó emphasised at a national conference for police
chiefs that was also attended by officers of the National Gypsy Minority Self-Government
and László Teleki, Under-Secretary of State for Gypsy Affairs. This social tension can be
a serious obstacle to the growth of democracy, which is why it has to be curbed. “The outcome
of prejudiced attitudes is decided on the streets, in town and village, not here in this
room,” the commissioner warned. In summing up what needed to be done, he stated that
he was going to set the ball rolling next year with a national conference at which police
liaison officers and Roma coordinators could jointly evaluate their experiences at working
together, whilst the national conference for police chiefs would conduct an annual review
of that cooperation. The police chiefs would support any local initiative, the commissioner
added. Mr Teleki pointed out that prejudices can appear in any sphere of life, and everything
had to be done to conquer them. The fact that the police and Gypsy representatives
are forging real links at the local level, and not solely over problem cases, is a significant
indicator. “The police have to become acquainted with the Gypsy population,” he emphasised.
Orbán Kolompár, the NGMS chairman, pointed out that communication between
the police and Gypsies was not working well. “Prejudices arise from there being no communication,
little information. The media bears a big responsibility, however, for how it
chooses to present conflicts,” he noted. It would be better if both sides were to shift the
focus onto prevention. Cooperation between the police and Gypsy self-government bodies
was necessary at both county and local level, with direct links being built up between
the local police commander and the local Gypsy leader.
The Zala County Public Prosecutor’s Office has commenced criminal proceedings at
Kaposvár Military Prosecutor’s Office on grounds of there being a well-founded suspicion of
failure to render assistance in connection with the case of Attila Forgács, a prisoner who was
found dead following a cell fire last Thursday in Zalaegerszeg Prison. This is the third set of
proceedings into the case, an internal inquiry into which has been instituted by the National
Headquarters of the Prison Service and criminal inquiries are being conducted by Zala County
Police Headquarters. On 27th November, under as yet unexplained circumstances, fire broke
out at Zalaegerszeg Prison in a solitary confinement cell known as ‘the rubber room’, which
led to the death of 29-year-old Mr Forgács, who was being held in the cell at the time.
Social scientists at the Szolnok-based Lowlands Scientific Institute, which is affiliated
to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences’ Centre for Regional Research, have produced
an analysis of the reasons for conflicts between Romas and non-Romas, and possibilities
of alleviating them, in the three northern Lowlands towns of Jászladány,
Mikepércs and Nagyhalász. According to the survey, the majority of those questioned in
Jászladány agreed with proposition “Every Gypsy child has a right to be taught in the
same school classes as non-Gypsies.” In contradiction to that, though, are other findings
which demonstrate that the driving forces of prejudice lie not far below the surface, with
most people seeing conflict in the community as having an ethnic colouring. Jászladány’s
inhabitants consider that this could be reduced through a joint effort by the local self-government
and the state, and they would even see the county self-government as having a
major role in reconciliation efforts. Prejudice against Roma minority groups in
Jászladány is strong, though it does not differ significantly in degree from that found
nationally. For those questioned, all other ethnic groups were preferred to Romas on a socalled
‘sympathy scale’, and only groups that are ‘stigmatised’ on account of their
lifestyle—alcoholics, drug addicts, skinheads—scored worse. In accordance with this, for
instance, the majority of non-Romas would not want to work in the same workplace or
live in the same street as Gypsies.
One possible line for reducing conflicts, the researchers believe, is by securely
establishing equal rights policies. Among respondents it was particularly those of
Roma descent who felt it was one of the jobs of the educational system to remedy
social disadvantages. Most respondents—particularly those with university degrees—
believe that experiences picked up at school can exert a positive influence in altering a
family’s cultural habits. According to Tibor Szarvák, differences could be lessened in
a variety of ways; for instance, if settlements were able to institute income-generating
programmes to provide subsidies that would allow at least some Romas to return to
working land of their own in order to make a living. Currently, two thirds of workingage
Romas in Jászladány are unemployed and, the survey suggests, see no chance of
that situation improving in the near future. The researchers consider that it would help
if Romas had the chance to become familiar with the benefits of information technology
and the internet, given that there is a study which suggests barely one per cent of
them use a computer.
“The biggest difficulty stems from the fact that there is no uniform set of criminal
statistical criteria that realistically reflect reality on which one could uniformly adopt a
position as to who should be considered a Gypsy. Differentiation based purely on the
name is not satisfactory… That is why a differentiation that allows us to speak about
offenders of Gypsy descent who are assimilating or who are unable to assimilate seems
appropriate.” This is a passage that present and future teachers will be able to read in an
anthology with the title Roma Pedagogy: Theoretical and Practical Foundations, edited
by two members of the Pedagogy Department at the Károly Eszterházy College and published
in 2000 by Okker Kiadó.
Next year will mark the start of the programme to demolish Hungary’s remaining
run-down Gypsy colonies. It is planned that by the end of 2006 half of the 446 identified
colonies will have been replaced by new dwellings, László Teleki, Under-Secretary of
State for Gypsy Affairs, announced at a press conference in Salgótarján on Wednesday.
Based on a sociological survey, that is the number of isolated Gypsy colonies that are
located outside land in the public administrative domain and lack access to public utilities.
He added that close to HUF 1 billion would be expended on the eight model programmes
for clearance and rehabilitation of these settlements that are to commence in
January 2004. From the latter half of the year it was expected that additional finance
would be drawn in from domestic and international sources. Those who were going to be
affected would be involved in the construction work, having been given 6-8 months training
in advance. Following clearance and rehabilitation of these settlements, integration of
the Roma families would be assisted by putting in place a mentor network to maintain
daily contact with workplaces, educational establishments and social institutions.
2. CHANGES IN THE SITUATION OF HUNGARY’S
GYPSIES IN THE LIGHT OF NATIONAL SAMPLE
Over the past 33 years three representative sample surveys have been carried out into the
Gypsy population of Hungary—in 1971, in late 1993, and in the first quarter of 2003.
All three surveys classed as Gypsy any family or household whom those coming into
contact with regarded as being a Gypsy. This approach has been a constant subject of
debate from the beginning. Many would argue that it is incorrect to adopt that definition.
However, no other workable criterion offers itself as only about one third of Hungary’s
Gypsies are prepared to identify themselves as being of Gypsy ethnicity in their declarations
to the national census. In other words, if one were to proceed solely on the basis of
those declaring themselves to be of Gypsy ethnicity, then one would be gaining information
on the circumstances and position of only one third of the population. Nor is there a
way of recording the census data that will allow one to know where people who declare
themselves to be of Gypsy ethnicity happen to live, at what address, and thus one cannot
use this as a line of approach to them. The only feasible way is to take as a basis the opinion
of those who come into contact with them.
This was the approach adopted by the Statistical Office in a national Gypsy census
that was carried out in January 1893, when great efforts were made to record all Gypsies
without exception. Thus the 1893 census was a complete register, whereas the 1971, 1993
and 2003 surveys were representative, with 2% of Gypsy households being assessed in
1971 and 1993, and 1% of households in 2003.
The Roma population
According to the 1893 census, 65,000 Gypsies, including infants, were living within what
are the present-day borders of the Hungary. To put it another way, there were 280,000 living
within the entire territory of the country (which was approximately three times the
present area), but only 65,000 of these were living within the territory of today’s
Hungary. For comparison, the number of Gypsies was estimated to be 320,000 in 1971,
470,000 in 1993, and 570,000 or 600,000 in 2003. Thus, over the 110 years from 1893 to
2003 the Roma population grew ninefold.
Of the 470,000 individuals living in Roma households in 1993, however, some
18,000-20,000 had a non-Roma spouse. Strictly speaking, therefore, the number of
Gypsies was about 450,000, which with dependants came to a total of 470,000.
Two figures are given for 2003: 570,000 or 600,000. Where do these figures come
from? In the survey 1% of the population was sampled, and 5,408 individuals were
recorded. Multiplying 5,408 by 100 gives 540,800 for the total; in this survey, though,
as in 1993, allowance was made for the fact that however careful and thorough the
search for Gypsies in the country may be, it is impossible to locate and record every
person, every household and every address. If the assumption is made that only 95%
of them have been found, then that suggests 570,000 instead of 540,000. If, on the
other hand, it is assumed that it is only 90% of them—or in other words 10% have
escaped being recorded—then that gives 600,000 for the total population. These are
realistic estimates and comply with the logic that statisticians conventionally follow in
similar cases. Here the remarkable readiness of respondents to give answers to survey
questions is particularly relevant. Generally, when one reads in a newspaper about a
piece of public opinion research, the views that people adopt on various issues, as a
rule 30-50% of the people who are approached will actually respond to the questions.
In this 2003 survey, of the 5,400 Gypsies living in 1,160 households there were altogether
100 instances when it was found that the individuals being sought were not living
at that address or had moved away, or else the housewife said she was not prepared
to give any answers because her husband was not at home. To put it another way, the
Gypsies were so extremely obliging that a high degree of accuracy is assured for the
results of the study.
As was already noted, the current number of Gypsies in Hungary is nine times
what it was in the same area in 1893. It is possible to do a certain amount of forecasting,
at least for the immediate future, and state with some confidence that by 2010
the population will be somewhere between about 640,000 and 670,000. Forecasting
25 or 50 years ahead, however, is a hazardous business because customs change, and
one possibility, for instance, is that Gypsy families will have fewer children than they
do at present.
As in 1993, the total of 570,000 or 600,000 includes 18,000-20,000 cases where
there is a non-Roma spouse, so if one wishes to look strictly at those who are regarded as
Gypsies the current number is 550,000 or 580,000.
Ten per cent of Hungary’s Roma population lives in Budapest, 50% of them live in
provincial towns, and 40% in villages. This distribution differs from the earlier survey
results in that 8% lived in Budapest in 1971 and 9% in 1993, whilst just 14% lived in
provincial towns in 1971 and 30% in 1993, leaving 78% who were village dwellers in
1971 and 60% in 1993.
The Gypsies are also scattered unevenly across the country. Altogether 30% of the
total live in the northern region, consisting of the counties of Borsod, Nógrád and Heves,
and 20% live in the eastern region, which includes Szabolcs, Hajdú and Békés counties.
Afurther 10% in the Lowlands region of central Hungary and not quite 20% in the southern
Transdanubian region, leaving a sparse few who live in the western Hungary.
Number of live births
The number of children born per 1,000 inhabitants in Hungary was 15 in 1971, 11 in
1993, and 9.5 in 2003, which has resulted in a major decline in the number of children in
the population. There has also been a decline among the Roma population, but the rate
was higher to begin with and the fall has been much smaller: in 1971 there were 32 children
born per 1,000 inhabitants, in 1993 it was 29, and in 2003 it was 25.
Looking at this from another angle, in 1971 out of a total 152,000 children born in
Hungary 10,000—or 7%—were Roma children, but in 1993 out of a total 116,000 children
13,000—or 11%—were Roma, and in 2003 out of a total 97,000 children 15,000—
or 15%—were Roma. One can therefore say that in 20 years, when these children have
grown up, 15% of 20-somethings and 11% of thirty-somethings will be Gypsies. In some
20-25 years the point will be reached where more than 10% of Hungary’s inhabitants are
of Roma descent. That 10% is a boundary level about which can say that once the ratio
of Gypsies exceeds this, then there will be a quantum leap in their influence on the life
of the country as compared with now. Indeed that influence will be exerted not only on
the life of the country but on their own lives, because essentially all the measures that
presently affect the lives of Gypsies—in fact roughly 94% of them—are the measures of
majority society. In 20-25 years, whilst there will still not be a Roma majority, a Roma
population bigger than 10% will nevertheless be able to exert a much stronger influence
on the measures that the country as a whole votes for.
With Roma families having significantly more children than non-Roma families, the
age distribution is very different between the two. Right now, not quite 37% of Hungary’s
Roma population is under 15 years of age, as compared with 17% for the country as a
whole. On the other hand, 20% of the national population, but only 4% of the Roma population,
is over 59 years old. That last figure alone is an indication that the life expectancy
of Gypsies at birth is much shorter than it is for non-Gypsies.
The Gypsies of Hungary belong to three linguistic groups: the Magyar Gypsies, or
Romungros, who speak only Hungarian; the bilingual Vlach Gypsies, who speak both
Hungarian and Romani; and the bilingual Beash Gypsies, who speak both Hungarian and
Back in 1893, 80% of the Gypsies then living on what is the present territory of
Hungary spoke Hungarian as their native language, whilst 10% were Romani speakers,
4.5% Romanian speakers, and 6% had some other mother tongue. Asubsequent shift took
place, such that by 1971 the proportion of Gypsies speaking Hungarian as their mother
tongue had declined to 71%, with 21% now Romani-speaking Vlach Gypsies, 8%
Romanian-speaking Beash, and just 1% speaking other languages. The reason for the
growth in Romani- and Beash Romanian-speakers between 1893 and 1971 was immigration,
with the Beash generally coming from the south—from Croatia and, more especially,
Serbia—and settling in the south of the Transdanubian region, whereas the Vlachs
mainly came from those areas of western Romania that had been integral parts of
Hungary prior to 1920, though there was also a steady trickle from historically
Hungarian-dominated Transylvania and indeed from other regions of Romania, including
Wallachia and Moldavia.
By 1993 a steep decline was being seen in the proportion of Romani- and Beash
Romanian-speakers, with the ratio of Hungarian-speakers having risen to almost 90%,
leaving 4.4% speaking Romani and 5.5% Beash Romanian as their mother tongue, which
suggests a widespread linguistic assimilation occurred during the two decades between
1971 and 1993. One of the determining factors in this would have been the fact that
between 1965 and 1984 a substantial proportion of Hungary’s Gypsy colonies were swept
away, with Roma families pulling out of the separate Gypsy-only areas—typically some
distance outside the village or town borders—that they had previously inhabited and
moving either to the outskirts or right into the middle of the town or village that had previously
been the preserve of non-Roma families. That move increased contacts with the
non-Roma population, thus hastening the process of linguistic assimilation. Astill greater
influence was the fact that between 1971 and 1989—in stark contrast to the present day,
when the greater part of the Roma population is unemployed—virtually every adult male
Roma was in some sort of employment where the language of communication was
Hungarian, and thus they were compelled to use that language 8 hours or more every
workday. A large proportion of Roma women also took on work for outside employers,
and there too the language of communication was Hungarian. School was an even greater
stimulus for swapping languages. This was compulsory for all children of school age, and
there was a marked improvement in school attendance by Roma children between 1971
and 1993. At school, of course, there was no chance of speaking Romani or Beash, only
Hungarian, which inevitably had repercussions in the form of widespread linguistic
Naturally, deliberate intention and determination also have a part in linguistic assimilation.
Thus, despite the fact that Hungarian is not their mother tongue and they normally
speak, say, Romani with one another, the parents of a child may decide that they will
speak Hungarian with the child because they see that in Hungary the best way to get on
in life is to communicate in Hungarian. That is a matter of conscious decision, though
naturally the decision may be a function of a great many factors.
By 2003 a certain degree of linguistic reversion has become evident. Whereas in
1993 the proportion of native Romani speakers was less than 5%, in 2003 that had gone
up to 8%, whereas among the Beash the ratio continued to decline. That does not alter the
fact that there is still a strong tendency for the Gypsies’ own languages to be squeezed to
the margins, even in communication between native speakers, and one can only count on
those languages continuing to be rolled back in the years and decades to come.
In Hungary’s 1990 national census 143,000 individuals declared themselves to be of
Roma ethnic descent, whilst in the 2001 census the corresponding figure was 190,000.
We know, however, that in 1990 the actual number of individuals of Roma descent was
440,000-450,000, so that of these 143,000—or 32%—were willing to declare this as their
ethnicity. In 2001 likewise 190,000 out of an actual total of 550,000-570,000 Gypsies—
or 33.3-34.5%—chose to declare themselves as being of Roma ethnic descent. It is common
for this to be interpreted as showing that Gypsies do not wish to admit to—even
actively deny—that they are Gypsies. The fact is, however, that they could not do so even
if they wished, in part because their appearance shows that they are Gypsies, but also in
part because non-Roma neighbours in both villages and towns, or colleagues in workplaces,
keep tabs on the fact that somebody is of Roma origin. Denial would therefore be
a frankly futile exercise, and indeed it is not commonly encountered. Undeniably there
are some Gypsies who would like to be able to deny that they are of Roma descent, but
very few of them actually succeed in doing so.
The one third of Gypsies freely declaring their ethnicity does not mean that the rest
are seeking to deny it but reflects the fact that they are counting on a declaration of their
Roma ethnicity marking them out from the majority in Hungarian society, which may be
associated with various disadvantages. If, however, they declare themselves to be of
Magyar (Hungarian) ethnicity, then that will not only not be associated with any disadvantages
but may indeed be associated with certain advantages.
In questioning about ethnicity in the 2003 survey a chance was given for respondents
not merely to describe themselves as being ‘Hungarian’, ‘Gypsy’, ‘Beash’, or whatever
they wished, but also to use the term ‘Hungarian Gypsy’. This term did not feature on the
national census form, but our reason for including it was an expectation that some respondents
would choose this. It had already been tried in 1993, but in the 2003 survey it was
found that 38% of Romas declared they were of Magyar ethnic origin, 30% of Magyar
Gypsy origin, 27% of Gypsy origin, 4.5 of Beash origin, and a negligible 1.1% as being of
some other ethnicity. What one finds is that those Roma who are from the Beach ethnic
group did indeed declare themselves to be Beash, and the Romani speakers generally
declared they were Gypsies; a fair proportion of monolingual Hungarian-speaking Gypsies,
however, likewise declared themselves to be Gypsies, with another group identifying themselves
as Magyar Gypsies, and altogether 38% declaring themselves to be Hungarians.
These differ from the proportions recorded in 1993 with rising numbers of Romas declaring
themselves to be Gypsies or Magyar Gypsies. So often and so comprehensively have
Gypsies been shown rejection by the majority society that over the past decade there is now
a growing number of Gypsies who say they are not Hungarians, they are Romas.
In 1971, two thirds of all Hungary’s Gypsies lived in what were more or less their own
‘colonies’. The dwellings in the colonies were not proper houses but rather shanties, without
electricity, running water or toilets. In 1964, a total of 49,000 such dwellings, inhabited
by 222,000 individuals, were recorded across the country. The following year a start
was made on clearing these colonies. At the initiative and say-so of the state, and with the
state’s explicit backing as guarantor, the National Savings Bank (OTP) offered Gypsies
who were in regular employment loans to build houses for themselves. In those days,
some 85% of adult male Gypsies were in regular employment, so the vast majority were
in a position to take on such loans. What this meant in practice was that with the loan,
which was not received in the form of cash, it was possible to buy a plot of land and to
have a rather inferior quality family house built on the plot. A large number of these lowgrade,
basic-amenity houses—‘CS’ houses as they were abbreviated in Hungarian—were
built at that time, and very many Gypsies moved from the old Gypsy colonies into such
‘CS’ houses. The other possibility they had was to purchase cottages that Hungarian peasants
had vacated to move elsewhere, whether to town or another village.
This clearance of the old colonies went on for some two decades. By 1984 just 42,000
out of the originally recorded 220,000 Gypsy inhabitants were still living in such housing.
Accordingly, the Hungarian Roma population experienced a major decrease in its degree of
separation and segregation from the rest of society between 1971 and 1993. In 1993, out of
the total Roma population of 470,000 some 62,000 (14%) were living in a slum colony. In
that year’s survey data were collected not merely on how many Gypsies were living in a
colony but what sort of environment they were living in. Thus, respondents were asked
about the numbers of Gypsies living in the immediate area around their dwelling. In 30%
of cases the answer was that the neighbourhood was inhabited exclusively or predominantly
by Gypsies, whilst in 30% of cases Gypsies and non-Gypsies were mixed up together; in
yet another 30% of cases the majority of people living in the neighbourhood were non-
Gypsies, leaving 10% of cases where there were no other Gypsies living nearby.
In 2003, out of the total Roma population of 570,000-600,000 some 36,000 (6%) were
living in a slum colony, but 2% were still living at some distance from a settlement. In
answer to similar questions about the neighbourhood, in 56% of cases this was inhabited
exclusively or predominantly by Gypsies, whilst in 22% of cases Gypsies and non-Gypsies
were mixed up together, in 17% of cases the majority of people living in the neighbourhood
were non-Gypsies, and in 9% of cases no other Gypsies were living nearby. It is safe to say,
then, that segregation has increased for Gypsies between 1993 and 2003, with 56% of them
(instead of 30%) now living mainly or exclusively surrounded by other Gypsies.
At the present moment, 50% of all Hungary’s Gypsies live fair and square within the
area of their home town or village, whilst 42% live on the edge of that settlement; as already
noted, 6% still live in a Gypsy colony, and 2% at some distance from a settlement. This suggests
that half of them are in isolated or segregated housing, but if one takes a closer look
at those who are nominally living within the boundaries of settlements, it turns out that 22%
of that 50% are predominantly surrounded by other Gypsies. In other words, it would be
truer to say that 72% of Gypsies live segregated from the non-Gypsy population.
In short, a worsening in the situation of Gypsies in Hungary was seen between 1971
and 1993 with regard to their degree of segregation from the rest of the population, as
with other aspects. If one looks at how the majority society has treated the Gypsies, it
would be reasonable to say that a worsening of the situation, with a growth of tension,
has occurred since 1990.
As many as 85% of adult male Gypsies in Hungary were in regular employment in 1971.
At that time the national figure was 88%, so the difference between Romas and non-
Romas was very small. Indeed, what difference there was could be attributed primarily
to the fact that 5% of the Hungarian male population between 15 and 74 years of age were
classed as students (i.e. had completed their general (elementary) schooling and were
attending a secondary school, college or university). Among the Gypsies, however, students
made up barely 0.5% of their numbers.
There was a different situation among women. In the general population 64% of
adult women were employed in 1971, whereas among Gypsies that was true of only 30%.
This was mainly a consequence of the higher birth rate among Gypsy women. Between
1971 and 1990, however, there was a steady increase in the rate of employment among
Gypsy women, and during the 1980s more than half of them had a job.
Around 1990-91 Hungary was hit by an economic slump worse than any the country
had faced before. As a result of the slump employment plunged throughout country,
one measure of its extent being that whereas Hungary had some 5.5 million in its active
labour force around the mid-1980s that figure had fallen by over 1.5 million (30%) to 3.8
million in employment by 1993. The job losses among Gypsies were proportionately
even more brutal. In 1993, the proportion of working-age Hungarian males who were in
employment fell to 64% from the earlier 88% level, but among male Gypsies it fell to just
29%. Among adult women employment in the general population was 66% but among
Gypsy women, just 15%.
The position in 2003 is that half—50%—of the total Hungarian population between
the ages of 15 and 74 years are in employment, whilst among Gypsies the corresponding
figure is 15%. As for those who are not recorded as employed, of course, they are not all
unemployed as some are students and others are pensioners, but there is a third group
who are indeed unemployed as well as a fourth group who are economically inactive but
belong to none of the three preceding categories because they are not registered as unemployed
and simply do not appear in the job statistics.
In this area a huge difference is seen between villages, provincial towns and the capital.
In the rural areas 20% of male working-age Gypsies are employed, 10% are students,
and the rest have no job. In provincial towns the figures are 29% in a job, 11% studying,
and 60% unemployed. The biggest difference is seen with Budapest, where 66% of Gypsy
men are in work, 13% are studying, and only 20% do not have a job (and that figure
includes pensioners). That situation arises because, for all practical purposes, there is no
unemployment in the capital, which is to say that the unemployment rate in the population
as a whole is less than 5%, or in other words the level at which statisticians treat anyone
who is between jobs as being unemployed. Turning to Gypsy women, in the rural areas
10% of them are in a job, 12% are studying, and 78% are unemployed, whilst as for
provincial towns 17% are in employment, 9% are studying, and 74% cannot find a job. As
with the men, the situation for Gypsy women in Budapest is much better, with 36% of
them having a job, 1,5% studying, and 54% unemployed. The level of unemployment for
Gypsies in Budapest, therefore, is at a low level and cannot seriously be complained about,
but outside the capital it is widespread. Nor is this compensated for by the social benefits
to which Gypsies have access: family supplements, child allowances and even pensions
make up only in small part for the loss of income that results from unemployment.
Let there be no mistake about it, the situation is rather bleak for the non-Roma population
as well. Whereas Hungary had a working population of 5.5 million in the mid-
1980s, by 1993 that had dropped to 3,827,000, and now, in the first quarter of 2003, at
3,860,000 it is barely any higher. The slump is over in terms of productivity, with GDP
having been on a rising trend since 1997 and having regained the level it was at in 1989,
just before the slump. In other words, the forint or dollar value of Hungarian production
is the same now—indeed several percentage points higher—as it was in 1989, but the
number of employed is still no higher than it was in 1993, at the depth of the slump.
From the viewpoint of having to make a livelihood, however, the economic crisis is
not over, and it weighs disproportionately on the Roma as compared with the non-Roma
population. A primary reason for that is the poorer schooling that Gypsies have to fall
back on: eight years of general (elementary) education are no longer enough to get a job
in Hungary. Many Gypsies have not completed even eight years of general school, but
even many of those who completed their elementary education are unemployed. Second,
many Gypsies are living in those parts of Hungary—notably the northern, eastern and
south Transdanubian regions of the country—where the employment prospects are much
worse than average. Third, as a result of their lack of schooling the sort of jobs that are
open to Gypsies, even when they can find employment, are usually as unskilled or semiskilled
workers, but the branches of the economy that would employ such workers—mining,
steel making and the construction industry—are the very areas that have been hardest
hit by the economic downturn since 1990 and, indeed, have yet to recover. As things
stand, construction is the area in which Gypsies are most likely to find employment these
days, but this is now a much smaller industry than it was in the 1980s. At present there is
not even a glimmer of an upswing or boom in construction that would be able to absorb
significant numbers of Gypsy men and, indeed, to some degree women as well.
Pay levels and incomes
For the population as a whole, the average monthly pay packet of a Hungarian worker in
the first quarter of 2003 was HUF 85,000, but ranging from HUF 65,000 for the average
pay of a manual worker to HUF 109,000 for a white-collar worker. For Gypsies,
however, the average pay was significantly lower—at HUF 61,000 per month—than for
the general population mainly because 70% of the Gypsies in employment have jobs as
unskilled or semiskilled workers, with 22% having jobs as skilled workers, and only 8%
white-collar jobs. Gypsy pay is accordingly close to the HUF 65,000 average pay for
Families have access to other incomes too, including family income supplements, child
benefits and other welfare payments. Even taking regular income from work and social payments
together, the average monthly income per head in a Gypsy family in Hungary as whole
during the first quarter of 2003 was just HUF 21,000. In Budapest the per capita income was
HUF 33,000 whereas for Gypsy families in provincial towns it was HUF 20,000, and for
families in the villages it was HUF 19,000. Thus, Gypsies living in Budapest, on average,
are not poor, unlike those who live outside the capital. To look at it another way, 67% of all
Hungarian Gypsies live in households where the per capita monthly income is under HUF
20,000, which is an income level representing what can only be called absolute poverty. In
approximately 20% of Gypsy households per capita monthly income is HUF 20,000-30,000,
and in 19% it is greater than HUF 30,000. On these levels of income, about 18-20% of
Hungary’s Gypsies could be said to belong to the middle band of incomes for the Hungarian
population as a whole, whilst 60% belong to the absolutely poor segment, and around 20%
belong to an intermediate zone between those two groups.
One would expect household incomes to be decisively influenced by the employment
or lack of employment of family members. The survey therefore looked at how families
fared as a function of the number of adults in the family who were employed and the num-
ber who were unemployed. In families where none of the adults had a regular job, the average
per capita monthly income was HUF 14,852, which is poor by any standard. In households
where a minority of the adults were working the income was HUF 20,380, which is
in the grey zone around the poverty threshold that separates the poor from the not poor. In
households where half of the adults are employed the average per capita income was HUF
26,932; where the majority of the adults were in regular work it was HUF35,824, and where
all adults in a household were earning the average monthly income was almost HUF 40,000
per capita. Not surprisingly, then, the income of a Gypsy family depends completely on the
extent to which the adults in the family manage to find regular work.
In the general Hungarian population the vast majority of children from 3-5 years of age—
88% of them—attends nursery school. This is not the case with Gypsy children of the
same age group, only 41.5% of whom go to nursery school, even though these are known
to be crucial years that largely determine how well a child is going to do later in life,
because nursery school provides a preparation for regular school that it is very hard—
indeed usually impossible—to make up for missing. Gypsy children who did not spend
three years at nursery school therefore generally have a hard time getting on at their general
(elementary) school, giving them little real prospect of going on to secondary school
and, ultimately, university.
In regard to general school, the position in 1971 was that three quarters of Gypsy
youngsters did not complete the eight grades of elementary education and therefore as a
rule remained functionally illiterate for the rest of their lives. A big change occurred
between 1971 and 2003 inasmuch as 82% of the 20-24 years age-group now complete the
eight grades of general school. This is a major advance as compared with the position in
1971, even if a great many Gypsies achieve this much later than non-Gypsies, typically
between 16 and 18 years of age (rather than at 14-15 years), with only 52% having passed
the Grade 8 exams at 16 years, 64% at 17 years, 76% at 18 years, and 82% at 19 years.
Obviously, by the time most Gypsy youngsters have got to that stage the lost opportunities
for further education are too great to be made up. This largely determines in particular
whether or not they go on into secondary education. This area too saw big changes
between 1971 and 2003. During the 1970s a mere 1.5% of Gypsies of the appropriate
age-group completed a secondary school, and that improved subsequently inasmuch as
this went up to 2% during the 1980s and 3% in the early 1990s. The real change, however,
has been ushered in since 1997, with ever-greater numbers of Gypsy children applying
for admission to secondary school. It is not yet possible to assess what the outcome
of this will be because, while we know that 1% of the age-group of 15-19 years in 2003
had finished secondary school and a further 10% were still at school, we do not yet know
how well those 10% will leave school. For comparison, 5% of the 20-24 years age-group
had finished secondary school and a further 2% were still attending classes at that level.
Thus, the level has currently reached around 5%, but it does look as though the change
that began to be evident in 1997 is set to carry on unbroken, so that in 10 or 15 years time
it would not be surprising if something like 18-20% of Gypsy children will be completing
secondary school, though that will still be a long way behind non-Gypsy children,
around 70% of whom will be completing their secondary education by then. About 10.5%
of Gypsy children who are at present in Grade 7 or 8 of general school would like to continue
studies at high school and 14% at a vocational middle school, so nearly one quarter
intend to stay on at secondary school. As for young Gypsies of 20-23 years of age,
only 1.2% attends a university or college—a conspicuously low proportion.
One reason for this dismal situation has already been touched on, and that is the low
attendance at nursery school, which leaves most Gypsy children with gaps in their education
that they cannot make up for later on, between the ages of 6 and 16 years. There
are also other reasons for Gypsy children falling behind. One of these again stems from
the way Gypsy families are geographically located: most villages do not have a high
school or a vocational middle school, so it is necessary to travel outside the village to get
to such establishments, which is both wearing and costly, present a distinct disincentive
against going to secondary school. Another major barrier to further education is the use
of remedial schooling. A significant proportion of Gypsy children find that even as early
as six years of age, before they have begun the Grade 1 of elementary education, they are
referred to a special needs school or remedial classes, i.e. to forms of education that are
expressly intended for children with learning disabilities. In Hungary at present 4% of all
children are being taught in special needs schools or remedial classes, which in itself is
rather high by international standards (in western European countries typically 2-3% of
children attend institutions of this nature) but pales into insignificance beside the figure
for Gypsy children. At present 14% of Hungary’s Gypsy children are shunted into special
needs schools or remedial classes, and that does not include those who are pupils at
normal general schools but placed in small, so-called ‘catch-up’ classes, which would
take the figure up to 16.7%. The chances of being admitted to a secondary school from
one of these institutions is effectively nil, because not only do they provide no teaching
in certain subjects but the demands placed on pupils in the subjects that are taught are so
modest as to make it impossible for children to reach the necessary standards.
3. THE MAIN ISSUES OF ROMA POLICY AND
The position in which the Roma community find itself in Hungary is so special and grave
that one has no qualms about not encasing the term the ‘Roma policy’ in quotation marks,
although—for all the present government’s genuine commitment—the concept can only
be used with reservations, given that it is open to interpretation.
For one thing, the framework of Roma policy was determined by the medium-term
package of measures, which in itself has been altered several times over, as well as by the
decision-making and financing mechanism associated with that package. The system of
interdepartmental harmonisation suggested that the government wished to make a coordinated
effort to assist the Roma community. The trouble was that it was left to the individual
departments to arrange the finances needed to implement the medium-term package,
with the various separate sums identified by the ministries being aggregated by an
Interministerial Committee for Gypsy Affairs (ICGA). The ‘Roma budget’ generated by
this method then substantiates the funding for the government’s Roma policy.
Not only does this system lack transparency, it lacks any conceptual underpinning
and is actually a barrier to strategic thinking.
It lacks transparency in the sense that any project for which the outlays are departures
from the major budgetary streams is bound to be arbitrary. The ‘Roma budget’ is
merely an arbitrary grouping of outlays—and only outlays!—which hides the actual distributional
trends. Equally, this method of financing lacks conceptual underpinning inasmuch
as it does not pick out the social and ethnic dimensions of the disadvantages under
which Romas suffer; it takes no account of the fact that the disadvantages encountered by
Romas in housing, education and employment are explained in part by their poverty, in
part by discrimination, and in part by characteristics of their own culture. The opportunities
that are allowed Romas are determined primarily by the funding for the ‘big ticket’
items of education, welfare redistribution, employment policy, housing support, etc.
These subventions and programmes aimed directly at the Roma population are supposed
to counteract disadvantages stemming from discrimination and cultural characteristics.
Finally, the present method of budgetary planning for Roma policy hinders strategic
planning because decisions on the sums that are to be allocated under the individual head-
ings are all taken in advance of the spending departments’ own intradepartmental decisions
on the sums that are to be set aside specifically for purposes of the ‘Roma budget’. Yet
equally, by constructing a ‘budget for Roma affairs’, the government makes believe that it
is providing ‘financial assistance for the Romas’ in line with some departmental logic.
Another way of interpreting this is that the government’s Roma policy is far more
important than the annual scope of the tasks of the medium-term package and the expenditures
that are allocated to the ‘Roma budget’ under that—a strategy for welfare,
employment, educational, anti-discrimination housing policy as a whole which takes into
account the Roma community’s distinctive needs. In what follows we shall try to provide
a survey of the successes and pitfalls encountered by the government’s Roma policy to
date in this second sense.
Roma-related government priorities
On entering office in 2002, the present Hungarian government set four priorities that
would also determine the thrust of its Roma-related policy, promising to encourage a
change in the principles and practice of welfare distribution, anti-discrimination legislation,
an educational policy aimed at equal opportunities, and clearance of Roma slum
colonies to which was linked the construction of social housing. In principle, the four
goals interlock harmoniously; nevertheless, emphases frequently become shifted in the
course of interdepartmental horse-trading.
‘Welfare shift’ and composite social policy
By its ‘welfare shift’ programme the government was indicating that it sought to improve the
situation of Romas through a composite system of socio-political instruments, seeing the
main goal of its social policy as being to halt the widening of income differences in society
as a whole, or at least to moderate their further growth and improve the position of the poorest,
most disadvantaged groups. This approach works on the assumption that the social and
housing situation of Hungary’s Roma communities is so bleak, their exclusion from the job
market so extensive, that it has become impossible to institute genuine changes solely by
means of human rights and anti-discrimination measures and without significant resources.
There is obvious justification for such an approach. The widening of income disparities
in Hungary was not brought to a stop, merely restrained, by the upturn in the economy
in 1997. Indeed, according to the annual Monitor survey carried out by TÁRKI, a
sociological research company, the results for 2003 indicate that inequalities have again
been on the increase between 2000 and 2003: the ratio of the top to the bottom decile of
the population when it comes to income distribution widened from 7.5:1 to 8.4:1 over
that period. The economic upturn has affected different income groups in divergent ways
and to various degrees. Whereas in 1999, the third year of the upswing, the only
improvement seen was in the top decile of incomes, by 2001 an improvement was registered
for almost all income groups—all except the lowest decile.
The income of Hungarian Romas has been on a continual relative slide ever since
the change in régime, even though there may have been a slight reduction in the burden
of poverty in society as a whole. Here too the only data to go on are those produced by
TÁRKI. On the usual definition of poverty—anyone, that is, whose income is less than
half the median income—31.9% of Hungary’s Roma were poor in 1991, but by 2001 that
had risen to 61.5%. If half of the mean income is taken as the threshold, then 48.9% of
Romas were poor in 1991 and 68% in 2001. Looking at it yet another way, 61.6% of
Romas fell into the lowest quintile of incomes in 1991, and 75.1% of them in 2002.
The reason why opposition MSZP politicians were critical of the welfare policy that
was followed in practice by Fidesz, the government party up to mid-2002, was that it significantly
shook up the system of visible and invisible transfer payments (i.e. income
boosts engineered via tax allowances) and, what is more, rigged it in favour of the better-
off middle classes at the expense of the poorest strata in society. With reference to the
principle of fair distribution, the Socialists attacked Fidesz for freezing the levels of family
supplements, child allowances or regular child-welfare payments*, for curtailing entitlements
to unemployment benefits**, for reintroducing income-related child allowance
benefits, which particularly favoured high-income families, and finally—the most far-
* So-called child-welfare support (gyermekvédelmi támogatás), introduced by the Child Welfare Act in 1997, was a standard provision paid out to
the parents of Hungary’s poorest 600,000-800,000 children. In 2001 this was renamed the ‘supplementary family allowance’ (kiegészíts családi
pótlék), the amount paid out being raised by a nominal HUF 400 and then frozen. What that did was to end the automatic index-linking of the sum
granted under the original legislation, which had set it at a minimum of 20% of the current old-age pension entitlement.
** From the year 2000, what had been a three-pronged unemployment benefit system was reduced to a two-pronged system. First, the length of
time for which the benefit would be paid was cut from 12 months to 9 months. Second, the payment of income support supplements for up to two
years to the long-term unemployed was simply stopped. The payment of regular social assistance to unemployed people of working-age was limreaching
of all the welfare measures pursued by the Orbán government—the family tax
allowance, which again mainly profited high-income families.***
During its election campaign in early 2002, the MSZP promised nothing less than to
change the welfare system, though it never disclosed exactly what that would mean. The
party did not promise that it was going to stem the growth in, or eventually reduce, the
income gap; it did not define how far it considered it had to improve the finances of the
very poorest strata in society, or the role that it envisaged social benefits or greater
employment would play in achieving that; nor did it tie the assistance threshold to any
guaranteed minimum income—and with good reason too. During the campaign the prime
minister-to-be made much of a policy of alleviating poverty, but at the same time—to
avoid certain failure at the polling box—he reassured the electorate that he would not
touch ‘acquired rights, or in other words the family benefits, tax allowances, and mortgage
support schemes granted by the Orbán government that are so favourable to the
middle classes. This equivocation has left its mark on the welfare policy pursued by the
Medgyessy government during its first two years in office.
The gravest practical dilemma faced by the MSZP-SZDSZ government, with its stated
goal of welfare change, is whether it should see its goal as being to expand its outlays or to
change the structure of welfare income distribution. Two sorts of pressure weigh on the government:
on the one hand, it already became clear during the election campaign that maximising
the vote was going to be hard to reconcile with achieving a fairer distribution of welfare
incomes; on the other hand, the unbalancing effect of overspending and excessive outlays
has strengthened the arguments of those who exhort the government not just to bring in restrictive
measures but to take a firm stance in undertaking drastic reforms and adopt the principle
of means-testing of welfare benefits. Or to put it more simply: there are fiscal limits to the
expansion of outlays, whilst tinkering with income distribution carries political risks.
The Medgyessy government shillyshallied between the two expectations for as long
as the resources at its disposal allowed:
ited to one year from the time a person became entitled, with the condition that the unemployed individual could obliged to perform paid community
work for 2-12 months. The legislation therefore left it to local self-government bodies to decide what portion of the support would be paid out
unconditionally and what portion would be paid in return for completion of community work. The associated system of financing the re-jigged
assistance scheme was also altered to work in much the same way as the defunct income support, with local self-government bodies being able
to claim back 75% of the total of assistance they paid out in excess of the social norm.
*** According to TÁRKI’s data for 2000, the poorest 35% of Hungarian households simply did not earn enough to derive any benefit from this tax
• The cruel dilemma over welfare payments could only be put off at the cost of growing
expenditures. During its first 18 months the government had three welfare priorities.
It moderately boosted the assistance going to the very poorest families by granting
a 20% rise in the family supplement, introducing payment of the family supplement
for a 13th month, and widening the entitlements to the supplement; furthermore,
a 9.1% increase in regular child-welfare payments in 2003 was explicitly
aimed at helping the poorest families. The incomes of the lower middle classes were
improved by a 50% pay increase for civil servants and other public employees, the
introduction of minimum wages for graduate employees, and the fact that, having
granted the pay rise, the government was in no position to proceed—at least overtly—
with its declared programme of job cuts in the public-sector. The third—and also
most closely guarded—aspect was a partial reclassification of tax concessions. The
introduction of tax exemption for minimum wage earners automatically reduces the
size of family tax allowance, but without the government being forced to declare its
hand openly. The provision for family tax allowances in 2003 was HUF 20 billion,
which was 74% of the previous year’s allowance, whilst the allowance for 2004 has
grown by HUF 4 billion. The groups that profit from this re-jigging of tax allowances
are the lower-income employed who are on fixed wages. The Medgyessy government
has therefore gone some way to detoxifying the ‘poison pill’ of the Orbán government’s
welfare policy—the generous family tax allowances granted to the middle
classes, that is to say—but it has not dared to remove the pill altogether.
• The year 2003 seemed to underline the dangers of the hefty wages hike and of economic
growth based on consumer spending. By the end of the year the government
had been forced into taking its first unpopular measure, which was to restrict the preferential
mortgage concessions. The prime minister’s announcements suggested that
this restriction was justified not only by the need to cut government spending but also
from considerations of fair distribution; however, the general public, having watched
him seesaw for the past year and a half, was not about to be persuaded that such
moves were informed by grand principle rather than the necessity of the moment.
In any event, by the midpoint in its parliamentary term the MSZP-SZDSZ government
had managed to reverse the trend in welfare distribution that had been encouraged
by its predecessor. The structure of welfare spending, with the government devoting more
of the budget to funding provisions that benefited the poorer strata in society and less to
provisions or concessions that favoured the middle classes. A similar tipping-point was
observable in the distribution of welfare incomes between strata, with the share of all
such incomes that goes to low-income groups having once more risen since 2002.
For all that, the Medgyessy government has side-stepped both formulating clear principles
of income redistribution and effective targeting of welfare incomes. The poorest of
all strata receiving income support are the long-term unemployed and those who receive
child allowances or regular child-welfare payments, and of course Roma families are
among those particularly affected by these provisions. The government has not touched
unemployment benefit, nor has there been any talk about combining child allowances and
child welfare, or stopping family tax allowances, any more than about playing around with
the assistance thresholds. At the midpoint in its term, the government can show that it has
made the income redistribution system fairer, but income discrepancies have continued to
grow, and the situation of the very poorest families has not improved.
Besides the distribution of welfare payments, the other crucial element in the ‘composite
social policy’ aimed at the Romas would be to improve employment prospects.
High unemployment is one of the most devastating points of weakness in Hungarian society.
The position of Romas in the job market since the change in régime has evolved in
nothing short of a catastrophic fashion, with the evidence of the 2003 survey of the Roma
population recording no improvement from where they were ten years ago.
Despite the fact that this exclusion from the job market has now been going on for
more than a decade, the government’s programme confined its remarks relating to boosting
employment prospects for Romas to generalities such as its intention to launch a
large-scale, comprehensive scheme to ease the passage of Romas back into the workplace,
or to provide targeted programmes to help groups that were at a disadvantage in
the job market. In practice, however, the process by which actual jobs are obtained has
remained unchanged as have the benefits paid out to the unemployed.
The running of local community-work schemes provided a few months’ employment
for around 18,000 long-term unemployed Romas in 2003, and another 6,700 took part in
centrally funded public works programmes. The numbers of participants in training programmes
was rather more modest: in 2003 job centres sponsored the training of altogether
3,120 unemployed Romas, and a further 1,302 Romas attended courses put on by
regional manpower development and training centres. Considering the many tens of
thousands of unemployed adult Romas who are looking for jobs, the numbers who were
included in such training schemes would be trifling even if those taking part had actually
gained any real skills or knowledge through completing the courses. The fact is, however,
that most of the training schemes offered unmarketable skills.
Government statistics indicate that in 2003 a total of 3,000 unemployed Romas were
involved in composite job-market programmes, but that number is contradicted by the reports
from county job centres, which indicate that over the entire period 2000-2003, never mind a
single year, there were altogether 3,200 participants in programmes that, by linking various
training, instructional and skills development schemes with job subsidies and networking
opportunities, offer appropriate solutions for the special needs of unemployed Romas.
Subsidies given to wages or other contributions assisted a total of 2,250 to find
employment or retain a job during 2003. The numbers of Roma beneficiaries of travel
and mobility grants or Roma participants in the job experience programme for those starting
their career came to no more than a few hundreds, whilst another few hundreds were
trained and used by job centres as mentors, Roma managers or assistants. Job-centre programmes
aimed at encouraging people to set up their own business or work on a freelance,
self-employed basis are totally irrelevant in practice to unemployed Romas: in
2003 a grand total of 35 of them was given assistance of this kind.
In summary, the programmes offered by Hungary’s county job centres and training
facilities are barely able to offer Romas any substantial help in gaining employment. The
number of training opportunities is slight, the courses are of mediocre effectiveness,
whilst the composite programmes are only available to a few small communities and
reach few unemployed Romas.
The Ministry of Education’s efforts to achieve integration in the public education system
are reflected by the amendments that have been made to the Education Act and also by
the funding structure for the educational sector. In view of their huge importance, the
MoE’s endeavours on the integration front will be examined in greater detail in the following
two chapters of this booklet.
The liberal MoE leadership’s integrationist policy, backed up as it has been by substantial
funding, has succeeded in keeping itself largely immune to the above-mentioned
shifts in the government’s focus. The ministry is tussling with another sort of dilemma:
legislation passed in Hungary during the early 1990s placed the rights for deciding educational
policy largely in the hands of the bodies that maintained the country’s schools—
for the most part, its local authorities, the self-governments. The MoE was left with just
three ways in which it can have any influence on the educational process:
• It may lay down general principles within the Education Act through the usual
process for amending legislation that comes up during each parliamentary cycle,
as indeed happened with the revisions of the Act that were passed in 2003. One of
the prime motives for those amendments was in fact precisely to expand the role
of equal opportunities, though admittedly opinions are divided on the likely
impact of these new elements of the Act.
• It can set a new direction for central control of the syllabus, but the SZDSZ’s liberal
minister of education stuck to his principles by abolishing the compulsory nature
of the outline curricula that had been brought in by the previous government on the
grounds that he was opposed to any form of central regulation of curricula.
• Lastly, it can restructure its funding to match its educational priorities.
In consequence, the MoE sought to achieve its integrationist goals through legal regulation
that also included sanctions and through funded programmes. It also became obvious
that the instruments at its disposal were limited, and if a local authority put up stiff resistance,
the ministry was essentially powerless to act against local acts of segregation.
The MoE is the only government department that has made a serious attempt to
achieve integration of Roma pupils within the school system and, in order to at least curb
the practice of ethnic segregation, clamp down on the unjustified practice of remedial
schooling and the significant resources that are channelled into it.
The plan to clear Roma slum housing
Clearing Hungary’s Roma colonies is a plan that the present government, like its two
predecessors, seems more and more to trundle out ritually as a pious intention. The
Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development’s forebear already made an attempt in
1997 to assess the number of Roma colonies and their inhabitants in order to lay the foundations
for a clearance programme. On that count, 96,000 individuals were then living in
19,000 colony dwellings—26,000 more than had been registered by the 1993 national
sample survey of Gypsies. Experts in the field, however, considered that the data local
authorities supplied for this assessment were rather suspect, pointing out that the informants
had a vested interest in boosting the numbers because they were hoping to gain funding
for redevelopment. For what they were worth, the same data indicated that in 1997
there was no metalled road leading to half of the identified colonies, whilst 42% did not
have a supply of clean piped water, and 48% lacked sewerage.
Four years were to pass from the completion of that assessment before the relevant
ministry produced a bill to give a legal framework for the clearance programme. Going
by its title, this bill, which was reckoning on an expenditure of HUF 43 billion over a 5-
year period, concerned “the abolition of areas of colony-like slum housing.” In reality,
though, it would have devolved choice between the two options on offer—demolition or
redevelopment—to the local self-government concerned as the proposals laid down that
it was essentially up to local politicians to decide whether they considered it was better
to pull down the slum colonies and place their former occupants in more acceptable housing
or it was worth to put money into redeveloping the colonies as they stood. In the former
case, the old colony would be demolished and the families moved into rented housing
or given assistance to build cheap houses on preferential terms. Such redevelopment
was likely to entail, above all, building up the infrastructure, particularly the roads and
sewerage, but the government might also provide financial support within the programme
for discontinuing the use of rubbish tips or hazardous waste disposal facilities close to
In the autumn of 2001, the Interministerial Committee for Gypsy Affairs created a
precedent by rejecting the proposal that the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural
Development had put forward. Not only did they think the planned costs of the project
were excessive, they also felt the expert input was misguided, sharing the misgivings that
critics of the plan had voiced that the billions of forints earmarked for the large-scale
project would actually be diverted locally into supporting pet redevelopment schemes,
with the entire undertaking only serving to exacerbate the spatial isolation of Gypsy
After the current government took up office in the summer of 2002, responsibility
for this particular task was transferred from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural
Development to the Office of the Prime Minister. However, neither the budget for 2003
nor that for 2004 set aside any substantial sum of money for clearance of slum colonies,
nor has any new proposal been forthcoming, suggesting that the government has yet to
tackle the dilemmas on which the 2001 proposal ran aground.
The slum colony clearance programme in truth covers up a range of socio-political
problems for which there are no appropriate political answers. The problem of spatial
segregation is much vaguer than the matter of the number of colonies that are to be
demolished or redeveloped. According to the 2003 national sample survey, the number of
Romas living in such colonies is 36,000, as compared with the 70,000 counted during the
1993 survey or the 96,000 estimated by the responsible ministry in 1997. At the same
time, however, segregation is growing apace, with 25% of Roma families now solely surrounded
by other Roma families, and another 31% having predominantly other Roma
families as their immediate neighbours. The government is unable to exert any influence
on the process, whilst local self-governments are either unable or do not wish to withstand
the segregationist pressures that are being placed on them.
A majority of the colonies were originally built as housing estates for factory workers
or miners, or they were army barracks or else some other collection of properties that
were not constructed as dwellings but at some later stage were reassigned for tenement
housing. Another group of colonies are estates made up of basic-amenity ‘CS’ homes that
were built in the 1970s. Essentially two obstacles are encountered to demolishing them.
First of all, many non-Roma inhabitants of the towns and villages in question bridle at
the very thought that Roma families from such condemned colonies might move into
their neighbourhood, either by purchasing an existing property or by building a new
home there. Second is the fact that there is anyway barely any supply of alternative housing
that is affordable for the families who currently live in the colonies. The programme
on which the MSZP entered office promised that it would promote the construction of
5,000 units of social rental housing annually by local authorities, but that programme has
since been dropped. Another option would be to increase the amount of the social housing
grant that is available, which the government indeed did in line with its programme;
however, the bulk of Roma families who live in slum colonies are unable to take on the
35% of construction costs that they are expected to contribute. The dearth of financing
opens up plenty of scope for abuses, much as occurred during the construction boom that
was seen the last time the social housing grant was raised, in 1995. In 1998 the Ministry
of Finance requested the Hungarian Institute of Culture to undertake an investigation of
housing units that had been constructed using social grants. The survey found that one
quarter of the units had been constructed entirely from the amount of the grant, without
the recipients putting in any of their own resources as required. Of these underfinanced
units, 80% were constructed by contractors who specialised in building such underfinanced
units: 47% of these homes did not even include a bathroom.
Despite the lack of budgetary funding and the lack of a definite scheme, the government
has not given up on its colony clearance programme—at least not explicitly. László
Teleki, the Under-secretary of State for Gypsy Affairs in the Office of the Prime Minister,
reckons that according to the information available to him there are some 150,000-200,000
people in Hungary who are currently dwelling in 450 run-down colonies. This rather exaggerated
estimate does not help when it comes to calling for serious attention to be paid to
an action plan: the under-secretary has stated that demolition of 40-50% of the colonies
must start by the year 2006. As funding he has only mentioned a credit facility of HUF 10.5
billion that has been granted by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development,
and that is supposed to finance the government’s entire three-year clearance programme.
That is a great deal less than the sums arrived at by previous calculations, whilst the need
to borrow will push the start of any work on the project to the end of the parliamentary term.
It is true that the National Development Plan promises to make significant funding available
for the rehabilitation of Hungary’s settlements, but that is focused essentially on cities
and effectively excludes Gypsy colonies from being considered as beneficiaries.
The impression of a dynamically growing ‘Roma budget’
According to László Teleki, the Under-secretary of State for Gypsy Affairs in the Office of
the Prime Minister, in 2003 the various state departments “spent HUF 16.7 billion on programmes
that were working for the social integration of Romas.” The growth of HUF 5.17
billion—or almost 50%—in comparison to the 2002 spending is spectacular enough to cover
up the lack of a strategy for Roma policy at government level, the contradictions between
departmental spending which happens to include an element going to Romas and the measures
they actually take—and even the government’s genuine achievements. Even the present
socialist-liberal government has no wish to alter the logic of the financing of ‘Roma
affairs’ and what are now years of going through the routine of presenting an arbitrary ‘Roma
budget’ that fosters the impression of a dynamically growing ‘Roma budget’.
That same approach is reflected in the document outlining the medium-term package
of measures as it has been modified yet again in the spring of 2004. As this puts it: despite
the fact that the objectives of the government’s earlier programme, or rather the regulation
enshrining that programme in law, have largely been fulfilled, there has been no improvement
in living conditions for Romas, and the reason for this failure it sees as lying in the
inefficiency with which the streams of funding identified in the budget were actually spent,
their lack of transparency, and the squandering of funds at the departmental level.
For all that, the modified medium-term package still does nothing to alter this system
of financing. In line with previous practice, the restated package also fails to provide
orientation on essential matters. It fails to separate the social and ethnic dimensions of the
disadvantages that Romas experience. No view is adopted as to how much those disadvantages
might be reduced by social policy measures and how much by anti-discrimination
measures. That failure to distinguish makes it virtually impossible to communicate
Roma policy, because it creates the false impression that the ‘target group’ is receiving
additional support rather than making it clear that Romas are being treated as members
of the same society, parts of the same education, healthcare, welfare and employment systems,
as anyone else—except that they have special needs and problems.
Grand social policy objectives can only be achieved by centrally coordinated measures
that are sustained over several government terms—and closing the gaps that exist
between Roma communities and the rest of Hungarian society is nothing if not a huge
task. Any programme that is to be sustained over more than a single term requires agreement
between the parliamentary parties, and no government can be held to account if that
is absent. Equally, there is no chance of the present government being able to obtain the
two thirds parliamentary majority that would be needed to alter the existing legislation on
ethnic minorities or that on local government. When it comes to evaluating what their
Roma policy has achieved so far, it would be worth calling on the MSZP-SZDSZ government
to explain the thinking behind it and its coherence.
If there is an absence of thinking at government level, then it is obviously impossible
to harmonise steps taken by individual ministries that also happen to be directed at
Romas. Hitherto only the Ministry of Education has made any serious efforts to implement
the Roma policy objective that falls within its own remit, but it has to be said that
the success of this isolated, departmental-level strategy is questionable. Programmes that
are aimed at integrating Roma pupils in educational establishments may yet come to grief
if the government fails to make a start on clearing the slum colonies or to create a supply
of affordable homes for the strata who have no prospects in the current housing market;
if it fails to clarify the aims of altering the system of social provisions; and if it fails to
instigate effective job creation programmes. Only coherent government action can give
any hope of success.
4. THE INFLUENCE OF NORMATIVE FUNDING
ON INTEGRATION IN STATE-FUNDED SCHOOLS
The problems associated with teaching Roma children are a permanent item on the educational
policy agenda in Hungary. There are multiple reasons for their being singled out
for attention, but the fact that stands out above all is that the majority of Roma children
simply find it impossible to thrive in Hungary’s educational system as it stands at present,
with their rates of drop-out and repeat years being considerably above the average,
while the size of the Roma school-age population is climbing rapidly.
The findings of a recent study indicate that 15% of Roma children do not continue
their formal education after completing the eight grades of general (elementary) schooling,
whilst 57% do continue but only enter a trade school, and a mere 20% study at a regular
secondary school that provides the opportunity to take the high-school diploma. Just
2% of Roma students currently go on to a further education establishment. It is also clear
from the data that not even all the children who enrol in a middle school manage to complete
their studies, given the far higher drop-outs rates that are experienced with them as
compared with non-Roma students. Although the drop-out rate has dropped at general
school level, it has grown in both trade and secondary schools.
That study was commenced in early 2002, shortly before the change in government
brought by that year’s general election. The new masters at the Ministry of Education,
with the particular prominence they were giving to integration, proclaimed a new educational
Laying out the problem
Roma children generally already start their school career at a major disadvantage, and
that disadvantage only grows further over the time that they spend in formal education.
This is because the kind of knowledge that resides in the typical Roma family fails to
match what is called for, and indeed is usually inapplicable, within the framework of a
modern school. What nursery schools should be doing is, on the one hand, reconciling
the two sets of values and, on the other, preparing the children for general school. The
trouble is that a significant proportion of Roma children do not attend a nursery school.
According to the data of a sample survey completed in 1994, 40% of Roma threeyear-
olds, 54% of four-year-olds, and 72% of five-year-olds were enrolled in a nursery
school. That latter figure seems to be a high ratio, but it has to be noted that in Hungary
nursery school is compulsory for five-year-olds as a preparatory year for their entry into
general school. What it means is that nearly 30% of children were not meeting this obligation
at all. It also has to be underlined that enrolment at a nursery school does not, of
course, signify regular attendance.
Several reasons lie behind this:
a) The actual provision of nursery school facilities is inadequate, so that existing
schools are forced to reject many applicants for places. In many disadvantaged families
one of the parents is unemployed or chooses not to seek work, so the ‘child-minding’ role
that nursery schools play is undoubtedly not so important. As a result, ever fewer children
from disadvantaged backgrounds are now attending nursery school.
b) There are significant geographical variations in the provision of nursery school
facilities. In villages, where the numbers of disadvantaged Roma children are particularly
high, it is fairly likely that the small size of a settlement and the local authority’s relative
lack of finances mean that it will have little in the way of such facilities, if any at all.
c) Since most nursery schools fail to provide suitable conditions (with regard to the
attention, tolerance and teaching competence offered), Roma children do not like going
to them. There may in addition be cultural differences between disadvantaged and nondisadvantaged
In 1994, for the country as a whole, 90% of children of 15 years or older had completed
the full 8 grades of general school studies. The sample study disclosed that the figure for
14-year-old Roma children was 44%, and even if one takes into account the numbers of
those who formally completed the grades later on, one can still only say that 77% of
Roma teenagers eventually do so. The data collected by the Institute for Educational
Research showed an increase in segregation of Gypsy children at general schools as compared
with a decade ago. In 1992 roughly one Roma child in fourteen (7.1%) was being
taught in an establishment where a majority of the pupils were Roma, whereas nowadays
this is true of one Roma child in every five or six (18%). The study data show that
Hungary has 126 such general schools, and moreover fully 40% of elementary schoolage
children of Roma descent attends such a school, as compared with 6.3% of children
of non-Roma descent. It may be assumed that the country currently has:
a) 230 classes, comprising 13,300 Roma children, where more than 50% of pupils
b) 740 classes, comprising 10,300 Roma children, where more than 75% of pupils
c) 700 classes, comprising 10,000 Roma children, which contain only Roma children.
Thus 33,600 out of a total of 93,000 Roma children—or 36%—are being taught in
classes where the majority of pupils are Roma.
Two thirds of Roma pupils finish their general-school studies by the time they are 16, and
a further 14-15% by the time they are 18. Of these, 85% carry on in some form of further
education. Table 1 provides a summary of how these Roma students are distributed across
the types of school, with non-Roma students for comparison:
Type of school Roma (per cent) Non-Roma (per cent)
Drop out from further education 14.9 3.2
Technical school 9.4 3.2
Trade school 56.5 36.8
Vocational middle school 15.4 38.1
High school 3.6 18.4
Table 4.1: Further education choices made by those completing general school, 1989/99
The significant point here is that just 19% of Roma youngsters enter schools that
offer the chance of taking the high-school diploma that is indispensable for tertiary education
and most careers. Some 50% of these youngsters then drop out over each of the
next two years (Grades 9 and 10), leaving just 32% who start the final year (Grade 11).
It seems fair to assume that there will be more drop-outs over that year, leaving approximately
24% of those entering secondary school who last the course to pass the highschool
diploma. The options for Roma girls are particularly narrow as the chances of
being accepted for training for the careers in commerce, services and light industry that
young Hungarian women tend to be prefer depend on successfully completing at least
Grade 10 of their education.
In the last four years a single initiative has aimed at introducing a second-chance
programme, and that is the ‘catch-up training’ regulated by Section 27 §8 of the
Education Act, which would offer students who had been unable to gain admittance to
what in the past were called workers’ night schools the opportunity to enrol for vocational
classes at technical schools. Reference to this type of training cropped up for the
first time in Section 27 §7 of the 1996 Education Act, though to avoid misunderstandings
it might be better to call it an ‘integration programme for technical schools’. This
regulation in effect enabled practically any student to study any traditional discipline.
Those who represented education policy failed to accept the positive discriminatory
aspect of catch-up training, i.e. the regulation that students over the age of 16 years who
did not possess a general-school certificate should be permitted to study those elements
in the final stages of the general school curriculum that were functionally required for
The requirements for vocational training themselves changed, and under the regulations
as they currently stand catch-up education makes it possible for students to commence
vocational training provided they are being prepared to take the examination that
is used for marking general-school classes (i.e. if the training in effect takes on what was
formerly the role of workers’ night schools). Catch-up programmes of this sort have now
got under way at around 20 schools, with participation from less than 400 students.
Types of segregation
Segregation between schools
The emergence of segregated Roma schools is closely bound up with the segregation of
housing areas. The schools mirror the local ethnic divisions, so there is a close relation
between the institutionalised segregation of Roma children and their homes being locat-
ed in isolation, apart from the main community. There are two factors that bring this
about, one being the economic climate, the other being prejudiced behaviour on the part
of non-Roma parents.
Over the 1990s a spontaneous migration process took place which resulted in a significant
growth in the relative density of the Roma population in the smaller settlements
of Hungary’s poorest regions and in the more run-down areas of the cities. Families that
were not disadvantaged typically sought to move away from such areas. There was a
sharp fall in the enrolment of non-Roma pupils at local schools and, with prejudice at
work, even non-Roma families that did not move away pulled their children out of
schools where there was a high proportion of Roma children.
Roma families, for their part, were discouraged from thinking of placing their children
in other schools, either because of the travel costs involved and/or they were simply
unaware of their rights to choose their school, so that they usually plumped for the educational
establishment that was closest to home, which likewise facilitated the emergence
of ethnically segregated schools. Such schools are typically in a poor state of repair and
inadequately equipped, so it is little wonder that better-off families are not thrilled to have
their children taught in them. As a contributory factor, thanks to the higher normative per
capita funding that the state gives for education of ethnic minorities, the schools and the
authorities that run them have an interest in organising various forms of minority education
in order to boost their income. There are two ways in which such education may be
set up, with the educational establishment being either ‘an educational establishment
assisting in minority education’ or else ‘a minority educational establishment’. There are
no clear criteria, however, as to what exactly turns a school into ‘an educational establishment
assisting in minority education.’
Segregation within schools
As a consequence of the normative funding of education in Hungary, it lies in the interest
of schools and the authorities running them to attract as many pupils as they possibly
can. Consequently, in order to obstruct the above process of spontaneous segregation,
schools where the ratio of Roma children has started to grow have developed ways of
structuring classes that allow the Roma children to be segregated. These organisational
frameworks for separation within the school take essentially three forms:
a) Special remedial or catch-up classes, in which the demands placed on the children
are lower, the teaching is of substandard, and there is a disproportionately high ratio of
b) Streamed classes, generally reserved for non-Roma children, in which more hours
of teaching are given for certain subjects;
c) Separate classes are organised by abusing the aim of the institution of ‘Roma
In a piece of research conducted by the Institute for Educational Research in 2000,
the proportion of Roma children in remedial or catch-up classes was investigated at 192
schools. Whereas 45.2% of Roma children were placed in classes that were taught a regular
curriculum and 16.2% were in streamed classes, they made up 81.8% of the children
in catch-up classes.
Normative schemes of financing have the basic problem that it is difficult to define the
size of the head count that will serve to achieve the goal that is being sought, on top of
which the financing system is quite unable to handle school-specific variations in expenses.
Those variations in expenses, moreover, are negatively correlated with the size of the
school/settlement and with the proportion of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds who
are at the school. The per capita costs of educating pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds
are therefore going to be higher in a school operating in a small community, but funding
based on head counts cannot take account of this. Another problem is the above-mentioned
improper practice of providing purely nominal minority education, for if the objectives of
the financial support are not defined in a clear-cut manner, then local authorities have no
incentive to employ the money for the intended purposes. On the say-so of an expert committee
or educational advisory centre, it is possible to have children placed in separate
remedial classes within a ‘normal’ school, even though the child is in no way mentally subnormal
but finds it hard going at school due to learning difficulties, behavioural disorders
or some other problem of integrating into that environment.
Special needs schools
Disproportionately many more Roma children attend special needs schools than could be
justified by their numbers within the school-age population. As far back as the 1974-75
school year, the ratio of Romas among the children enrolled at special needs schools was
already 25%, and by 1992 it had risen to 42%, whilst the findings of an investigation carried
out in 2000 indicated that almost one Roma child in five is classified as having a
learning disability. Another reason for sending Roman children to such schools is that the
experts who investigate the children are still using methods that are simply inappropriate
for assessing the abilities of children who are from deprived backgrounds and/or have
socialised in ethnic minority families.
Yet another way of separating problematic Roma children is to record them as studying
privately at home and exempt them from school attendance. These children are thus
relieved of all classes and comply with the universal compulsory education requirement
by sitting a grading examination before an examining body every six months.
There are two ways in which a child may be allowed to study privately at home. One
is when this is a parental choice (though in many cases this happens because the school
forces the parents to apply on the child’s behalf for this legal status), whereas the second
is when a child has some learning or behavioural disability and an expert committee so
determines. The school is even so left with an obligation to concern itself with such a
child (i.e. prepare it for the above examinations) for six hours a week.
Since 1989, successive Hungarian governments have elaborated various strategies for developing
Roma education. Although new strategies arrive without fail after each general election,
the programmes have also displayed certain shared, recurrent elements, which comprise:
• programmes catering for the needs of catch-up education and gifted pupils;
• scholarship and fee-payment systems;
• promoting the integration of Roma children;
• meeting the demands for giving children a basic education whilst school attendance
is still compulsory in the face of a growing population of Roma children;
• assisting Roma children in education at secondary school level;
• supporting teachers’ training that provides basic information about Roma society;
• encouraging in-service further training for teachers, social workers and educational
None of these elements can be said to have been fully realised in practice. No Hungarian
government to date has been able to work out a coherent strategy that was able to get to grips
with all the factors that lie behind Roma children’s scholastic failures. Roma educational policy
has been marginalised, and certainly it has not always been harmonised with educational
policy for the majority society. Although statistics from recent studies suggest there have
been positive changes as compared with the data from the early 1990s, there are still enormous
problems with the effectiveness of teaching efforts for the Roma population.
Basic elements of an integrated educational policy
In August 2002, the Minister of Education appointed a Ministerial Commissioner with
Responsibility for Integration of Disadvantaged and Roma Children. In order to give
pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds a chance to obtain educational qualifications, the
commissioner’s office has built up a uniform and interlocking system that offers such
opportunities from nursery to first degree. The principal elements are summarised below.
Applying to all levels
a) Free school textbooks in cases of need.
Effect: low-income families are not so greatly burdened by school costs, especially
at the start of the school year.
Date of introduction: from 2003 for general school Grades 1-4; from 2004 for
b) Families on welfare payments receive a double family allowance in August.
Effect: to alleviate the financial burden of the start of the school year.
Date of introduction: from 2002.
c) The new Education Act explicitly bans discrimination in state education. The new
regulations make it possible to rescind any decision or measure that discriminates against
any group of children or students, or even a single child, on grounds of gender, age, origin,
family circumstances or any other reason.
Effect: this new measure helps schools and local authorities look for legal ways of
organising their education services that can win the harmonious cooperation of all concerned.
The most glaring discrimination—that of separating Roma pupils in classes that offer
a substandard education—is still widespread practice in Hungary. In the year 2000 there
were more than 700 separate all-Gypsy classes being operated in regular general schools.
Date of introduction: September 2003.
d)Greater caution in approvals for home-schooling.
Effect: The aim of this regulation is to prevent the most severely disadvantaged
youngsters from dropping out of education in an unsupervised manner. Sociological studies
suggest that Gypsy pupils are exempted from regular school attendance with an eightfold
greater probability than their non-Roma contemporaries, as a result of which 10% of
Roma youngsters of 14-15 years do not attend school regularly.
Date of introduction: September 2003.
a) Free provision of meals at nursery school in cases of need.
Effect: hitherto 11% of Roma children were not sent to nursery school at all, a primary
reason for which has been the cost of services. This measure is therefore expected
to boost attendance.
Date of introduction: September 2003.
b) The new Education Act makes it obligatory to admit a child or pupil into nursery
school, day-care centre or the like if the child or pupil is held to be at risk or is subject to
proceedings to be made a ward of court.
Effect: this will open up new learning opportunities for children from poor families
in small settlements.
Date of introduction: September 2003.
c) A ‘21st Century School’ programme will support the establishment of new nursery
places in Hungary’s more disadvantaged areas.
Effect: this programme, in partnership with the Hungarian Development Bank,
invites applications from schools authorities for grants to renovate and modernise their
Date of introduction: on-going.
d) The National Development Plan’s Regional Operative Programme invited applications
from local authorities to expand their nursery school provision.
Date of introduction: February 2004.
a) Every disadvantaged child is entitled to be assigned to skills development training
backed by a standard grant of HUF 17,000.
Effect: this provision seeks to reduce the handicaps of disadvantaged children by
making it possible to organise preparatory instruction within a framework that allows
pupils to display their individual abilities and talents, assists their development, enables
them to catch up with other pupils, and improves their chances of continuing with studies.
Date of introduction: September 2003.
b) An ‘Out of the Back Desk’ programme is to be started because Roma pupils are
unjustifiably overrepresented among children admitted to special needs schools.
Effect: the ratio of Roma children sent to these schools is expected to fall gradually
from the current level of 5.3% (the EU mean is 2.5%).
Date of introduction: December 2003.
c) The MoE has made a start on devising a programme to enable special needs children
as wide an integration as is possible within mainstream education.
Effect: Hungary currently has 60,000 special needs children within its educational
system. As a result of the integration efforts, as many as 20% of them may be able to
brought out of segregated schooling. Some elements of this programme comprise part of
the National Development Plan.
Date of introduction: May 2003.
d) Appointment of a Ministerial Commissioner with Responsibility for Integration
of Disadvantaged and Roma Children and the establishment of a National Network for
Integration in Education.
Effect: the steps needed for integration that sociologists have been urging will be
implemented nationally, and modern approaches to educating disadvantaged children
will gain more scope. The institutions on which the network is to be based will be located
primarily in the north-east of Hungary and to a lesser extent in southern Transdanubia
and the metropolitan area.
Date of introduction: August 2002 (for the National Integration Network: January 2003).
e) Prohibition on year-end failures, with repetition of a school year only being
allowed in Grades 1-3 if a child fails to meet the required standard due to excessive
absence from class.
Effect: being made to repeat a school year instils a sense of failure, even though most
children who are assessed as needing to repeat show that they can make up the arrears if
given due attention. There is little point in undertaking integration in the school system
if a segment of the children are being made to fail.
Date of introduction: September 2004.
f) Longer foundational period.
Effect: some children already in Grade 1 accumulate handicaps that they are unable
to throw off later in their school careers. Failure to gain adequate reading and writing
skills, for instance, is almost bound to lead to lack of later scholastic success. A longer
foundational course would offer time to acquire these basic skills.
Date of introduction: Progressively from 2004 (in practice from 2008, which is when
the first effects will be seen in Grade 5 entrants).
g) ‘Extramural coaching’ programme.
Effect: ‘Extramural coaching’ (as referred to in Section 95 of the Education Act) is
to be brought in to boost the scholastic success of disadvantaged children by occupying
them outside school. Currently 70% of all Hungary’s children pass the high-school diploma,
compared with under 10% of Roma youngsters.
Date of introduction: a separate piece of legislation is being prepared.
h) Development and introduction of teachers’ training and further training programmes
to brief teaching staff on integrated education.
Effect: a working group involving higher education, the National Integration Office,
and the teachers’ training institutions has been formed to progress this.
Date of introduction: October 2003.
i) A programme to provide unemployed Romas with jobs and training in state educational
establishments has been launched at 150 schools.
Effect: adult Romas will work as family coordinators within the schools whilst
in addition being offered flexible skills training that can be put into practice at the
school where they work. An important feature of the programme is that it should
offer flexible training modules to ensure that the instruction is as productive as
Date of introduction: Autumn 2003.
j) Review of the National Curriculum.
Effect: the National Curriculum has been amended to stipulate that all children in the
state education system are required to learn about the culture of Hungary’s Roma groups
and elements of their history that are shared with the majority society.
Date of introduction: 2004.
k) First tenders for the National Development Plan Human Resources Operative
Programme’s measure 2.1 are to be announced.
Effect: Will generate proposals for projects to support integrated schooling for disadvantaged
and special needs pupils as well as ‘extramural coaching’ programmes to
encourage greater scholastic achievement by disadvantaged pupils.
Date of introduction: March 2004.
l) Implementation of training courses and development within the central programme
of the National Development Plan Human Resources Operative Programme’s
measure 2.1 is in progress.
Effect: to ensure the development of training modules and packages that may be
used in teachers’ training, and to provide practice-oriented training for 11,500 teachers
and educational experts, on the subject of how children from varied backgrounds may be
effectively taught together. Training will also be available for the social environment
(child welfare services, local decision makers, representatives on maintaining bodies,
civic bodies, local minority self-governments, media personnel) in which the institutions
that implement this integration will be functioning. The organisation that wins a contract
to be announced in 2005 or 2006 will work out a model possessing a complex integrated
pedagogical framework system that pulls in approximately 270 institutions. Programmes
will be developed that serve to recognise when pupils are at risk of prematurely dropping
out from school.
Date of introduction: March 2004-2007.
a) Linguistic preparatory year.
Effect: low-income families are unable to pay for private foreign-language tuition,
so that for children who lack language skills an already disadvantaged situation only
becomes worse. The aim is that all children should pick up a foreign-language skill by
the time they have left secondary school.
Date of introduction: September 2004.
b) The high-school diploma will become the university-level entrance exam.
Effect: Hitherto higher-education institutions have often demanded from applicants
a knowledge of material that lies outside the secondary curriculum. This further exacerbated
differences in opportunities, because successful applications meant paying for private
tuition and preparatory courses.
Date of introduction: 2005.
c) The focus of the János Arany Programme for Gifted Children will be altered inasmuch
as the main emphasis for including children, besides demonstrated talent, will be
that they have been contending with poor conditions for studying rather than just poor
local facilities as hitherto. A János Arany Programme will be started to provide boarding
facilities for Disadvantaged Children, with a HUF 990,000 sum to fund each place.
Effect: Many disadvantaged children who currently cannot continue studies due to
the distance of their home from a suitable school will be able to attend a secondary school
if they have boarding facilities.
Date of introduction: September 2004.
d) Free language and ECDL examinations.
Effect: the MoE will reimburse fees paid for state-approved intermediate language
examinations by high school and vocational middle school children who take the highschool
diploma or completing vocational studies at the end of the 2003/4 school year.
Examination fees paid before September 2003 will also be reimbursable.
Grants to cover the fees paid by any high-school or vocational middle-school students
in their final year of tuition in 2002-3 to take the ECDL exam or the computer skills
certificate listed in the National Register of Qualifications.
Date of introduction: September 2003 and January-October 2003, respectively.
e) A programme has been undertaken to help expand the teaching done at trade
Effect: The programme is expected to halve the long-term drop-out rate of 30% in
Date of introduction: 2004-5.
f) Creating a realistic opportunity for teaching of Romani and Beash languages in
schools by amending MKM Statute 32/1997
Effect: An OKÉV survey found that Roma children have the chance to study their
mother tongues in only three state educational establishments in the entire country.
According to preliminary information, once regulatory amendments are in place,
Romany language teaching is set to commence at Tarnaörs, Tiszabô, Csobánka and
Nagyecsed, and Beash language teaching at Csapi, Gyulaj, Darány, Magyarmecske,
Gilvánfa, Kétújfalu, Városdomb, Gödre, Tereske, Nagyharsany, and Barcs.
Date of introduction: September 2003.
g) Under MKM Statute 32/1997 as now amended, the fact that a child is receiving
Gypsy minority education will no longer be accepted as an exemption from having to
learn foreign languages. As things stood, there were big discrepancies in local practices,
with as many as 17% of Roma children in schools in N. Hungary being excused from foreign-
language tuition, but only 3% of children in schools in S.W. Hungary.
Date of introduction: September 2003.
a) Disadvantaged applicants who reach the necessary score may gain fee-paid admission
to first degree courses. Thus, for children from poor families the state rather than the
family pays the costs of university tuition. The ratio of such students will not be allowed
to exceed 5% of the student roll at any given institution.
Effect: At present many children in low-income families cannot afford to enter higher
education. The aim is to give such youngsters a chance to continue their studies.
Date of introduction: September 2005.
b) Mentor programme.
Effect: Youngsters entering higher education will be allowed to pick a mentor who
will be able to assist them during their studies. It is expected that somewhere between 500
and 1,000 students will enter higher education with such assistance.
Date of introduction: September 2005.
The integration grant and its critics
From 1st September 2003 general schools will be able to draw on a per capita integration
grant for children in Grades 1 and 5 which will follow them in successive
years. This will amount to three times the present skills development grant of HUF
51,000 per child. “The target group of this integration grant will be children whose
parents have themselves completed only eight or fewer years of elementary education
and, due to their financial situation, are entitled to draw child-protection assistance of
HUF 4,600 per month. In 2001 such assistance was claimed for 780,000 children
(CSO data). The national census shows that Hungary has 2,220,00 inhabitants up to
the age of 18 years, which indicates that regular child-protection payments are paid
out for less than one third of the total population. Integration is therefore not targeted
at any ethnic group, though it is true that Roma children are to be found in disproportionately
high numbers among those who will be assisted. Whereas hardly more than
20% of all school-age children fall under this category, in the case of Roma children
it is 80%,” the Ministerial Commissioner with Responsibility for Integration noted in
one of its press releases.
The hard definition of what such grants would mean in legal terms was supplied in the
official gazette, Magyar Közlöny No. 152 (Appendix 3, points 24 (b)-(d) to Law CXVI/2003):
“The local self-government may claim triple the supplementary contribution for
pupils participating in daytime education if the pupil is receiving instruction or education
in accordance with the requirements laid down under §39(e) of MKM decree 11/1994
(18.vi) and the published programme of the Ministry of Education.”
To look more closely at the provisions of the above-mentioned decree, the individuals
who will undergo integration preparation and pupils who are taking part in skills development
courses and are attending the same class or (should the class be split) the same group
as pupils who are not are taking part in skills development courses. Integration preparation
may not be combined with pooling of pupils who are taking part in the integration preparation.
For purposes of the regulations, pooling of pupils will be taken to mean:
a) A single school operates in a settlement with a single class per year and the ratio
of pupils taking part in integrated education within the class (or within the group, if the
class is divided) exceeds 50%;
b) More than one school operates in a settlement, and the number of all pupils taking
part in integration preparation in any one of those schools, in relation to the total number
of pupils attending that school, is 20% higher than the proportion of pupils taking part
in integration preparation in relation to the total number of pupils in all the schools
c) A school has more than one class per year, and the variation between classes in
the proportion of pupils taking part in integration preparation in the individual classes of
a given year, as compared with the total number of pupils in that class, exceeds 20%.
Integration preparation may be initiated in Grades 1 and 5 at general schools and
Grade 9 at trade schools. The decree also orders that pupils who are receiving instruction
and education at ethnic minority schools must be taught a curriculum that ensures they
acquire the Hungarian language and culture, whilst pupils who do not belong to an ethnic
minority must be taught a curriculum that instructs them in the culture of ethnic
minorities living in the locality.
Since its introduction, the new grant has been claimed for 32,800 children, amounting
to roughly one-third of Roma children.
The regulation of this new approach distinguishes the catch-up element from the cultural
element in the case of the education of Roma children; or to be more accurate, it
makes the catch-up element completely independent of the Roma origin of any students
requiring catch-up education on account of their socially disadvantaged status.
Some criticisms have been voiced at this approach, which might be expected to
throw up a variety of problems. In November 2002, the Parliamentary Commissioner for
National and Ethnic Minority Rights organised a national forum on the subject of education
for minority groups. Speakers at the meeting pointed out that the conditions that had
been laid down for participating in skills development and integration training inappropriately
limited the scope for being able to introduce them. Among those conditions were:
a child may take part in training if the highest school qualification obtained by the parents
is the general school certificate and the parents are entitled to a supplementary family
allowance. There is no significant difference in lifestyle and employment prospects
between a family where a parent has a skilled worker’s diploma but is unemployed and
one where the parent has only the general school certificate. Furthermore, many families
do not claim the supplementary family allowance because they are unaware of it, or else
they fail to enforce it even though they would be entitled to it. Only time will tell how
valid these objections will prove to be.
There is also a problem with the institution of Roma minority education leading to abuses
as well as to Roma children being segregated within schools. There will be no real assurances
of the quality of this programme until the regime of professional inspection is tightened.
Introducing an integration grant does not represent a major change in the financing
of Hungarian state education. The main difference between the present catch-up grant
and the integration grant that is to replace it is that the former scheme imposes extra tasks
on the school whereas the latter rewards integrated education in itself. An integration
grant therefore does not, as a matter of course, increase the hourly costs of teaching.
It should be noted that none of these per capita supplementary grants offers any
encouragement to stop residential segregation. Better-off families are always going to
have incentives to seek out the more reputable schools in order to differentiate their children
from pupils who come from less affluent families.
Another drawback is that the integration grant does not cover the various school-specific
expenditures. It assumes that disadvantaged pupils are evenly distributed throughout
the educational system, and thus that the cost of education is similar everywhere. That
is far from being the case: the variability of the hourly costs of teaching means that in
some schools the extra financial support does not cover the actual costs, while in other
schools it is more than sufficient.
With these supplementary grants the recipient of the financial support from the centre
is the local authority that runs the school. Local political accountability and central
regulation therefore coincide to encourage schools to improve their results. This assumes
that central government is making clear-cut, readily achievable demands on the schools,
but if the demands are not clear, then very often the local authority is in a position to
utilise the support for other purposes. The integration grant may thus pass down to
schools only to a certain degree.
The advantages that the scheme offers are its transparency, simplicity, and low
administrative costs, which means there is no need to reform official channels. It is also
advantageous that it does not call for special efforts from either schools or teachers and
yet it still carries the promise that it will be able to bring an end to segregation within and
At the same time, there are more schools where the number of Roma children is higher
than that of non-Roma children, and these schools have not been able to claim integration
grants. In parallel with this, the amount of the earlier ethnic minority grant has been adjusted,
inasmuch as the maximum can only be claimed if the school provides tuition in Romani
languages; only 50% is claimable if there is tuition in Roma cultural studies but not the lan-
guage. The only trouble with this is that most of the schools that now have a Roma majority
are attended by Romungro, or Magyar Gypsy, children who do not speak Romani and
whose parents in fact object to their children being taught it. As a result, such schools receive
neither the integration grant and now they will not receive the ethnic minority grant that they
received hitherto. In other words, schools that may have utilised the support that they
received for non-segregationist purposes will now be unable to continue what had been
decently functioning programmes. This raises the question of what will now become of the
Roma pupils in schools where they form the majority. Is there no need to integrate them?
In the opinion of the author of this section (a teacher of Roma background at just
such a spontaneously segregated school), it is impossible for grants alone to solve social
processes that have spontaneously segregated institutions as their end-result. Schools
cannot be forced to amalgamate or cease to exist purely in the interests of ‘integration’.
The integration grant is a good thing, but it is not the sole answer. Improving quality at
Roma-majority schools ought to be just as important, because it is also necessary to
secure the chances of the children there gaining a high standard of education. That in turn
raises the question as to what other forms of funding would improve the educational
opportunities of Roma children?
Other funding options
The main feature of this system is that the target institution is the school itself, which is
able to undertake certain (e.g. anti-segregation) projects. As a form of funding, however,
it only works over the long term. It absolutely requires a solid central government commitment
to encourage schools to apply for such support. By taking one layer (the local
authority) ‘out of the funding loop’ it is possible to guarantee that the government money
is spent on the recommended goals, and that school-specific cost differences are taken
into account. It gives central government a chance to formulate its requirements and also
to create a monitoring system that will enable the recommended projects to be implemented.
This is a distinct advantage as compared with the integration grant—if the government
prefers to pursue a centralised policy, that is—since the only criterion for assessing
extra funding in the latter case is the number of disadvantaged pupils (which in turn
is useful if the government is pursuing a policy based on the autonomous local authorities).
Having said that, funding based on putting in applications unquestionably adds to
administrative costs. Still it seems a rational approach as the majority of disadvantaged
children are being taught in a readily definable group of schools.
Szilvia Németh has written: “Of the two feasible market-driven types of funding, one is
a voucher system in which the parents are given vouchers that they may use as they see
fit to purchase education for their children, whilst the second is a quasi-market system in
which the institutions receive funding in accordance with their student headcount and are
given the possibility of staying under the direction of the local authority or of ‘opting out’
from such control and choosing to be maintained by the central government. Both systems
can lead to keen competition arising between schools in order to attract pupils—
even, depending on the size of whatever additional funding is given, for pupils coming
from disadvantaged backgrounds.
In either case, this funding model assumes that well-informed parents take an active
part in selecting their children’s schools. The parents and pupils are consumers of educational
services, and are always best advised to make their choice on the basis of the quality
of those services. It should be noted that low-income families generally have little
information about the quality of schools.
The government’s role is merely to determine the size of any additional funding or
the appropriate value of the voucher. If the value is set too high then that will lead to segregated
schools where only pupils from disadvantaged families are taught because institutions
would find it worth their while to specialise in educating such pupils. If, on the
other hand, the sum in question is less than the real additional costs incurred in teaching
such pupils, then no institution would undertake to provide a service for them.
The chief drawback of the system, though, is that it can only work properly if the
financing of the entire educational sector is reformed in the same manner. In other words,
no market-driven funding can be adopted when it is only to be applied to the group of
disadvantaged pupils. The advantages are clear: competition between schools would
replace local or central inspection, leading to lower administration costs and better utilisation
of taxpayers’ money.”
Supplementary funding mechanisms
Over and above the structure of core funding, the government is obliged to put considerable
emphasis on mechanisms of continued funding. Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds
need not only education but also assistance from grown-ups. Thus central government
should also be funding programmes that serve to develop teaching methods and
training for teachers of children from disadvantaged backgrounds. From nursery school
on, the infrastructure ought to be developed in such a way that no child need ever be
rejected and every child can be provided with an optimal learning environment.
As far as preparatory schooling is concerned, the need is not so much to overcome
the problem of segregation as to ensure that every child attends a nursery school. It would
therefore seem sensible to apply the existing supplementary funding mechanism for
schools to financing the bodies that run pre-school institutions.
At secondary level the big problem is not reducing segregation but boosting the very
small numbers of children from low-income families who continue their education after
elementary school or the lower classes of secondary school. This appears to be more an
individual rather than an institutional problem, and thus it seems sensible that any financial
help be provided at the level of the pupil (e.g. in the form of scholarships). It also
means such things as creating boarding facilities for secondary-school pupils, laying on
appropriate transport between home and school, and ensuring that pupils have access to
essential educational equipment (computers, books, etc.).
It is crucial for the government to recognise that although most Romas are disadvantaged,
and the majority of the disadvantaged in Hungary are Roma, the two groups
are not interchangeable. It is also essential that, alongside its work to end segregation and
help those from disadvantaged backgrounds, the government also elaborates programmes
to restore ethnic cultures.
As yet unresolved steps in integrated teaching
Finally, let us simply list the various tasks that need to be implemented if the integration
funding is to achieve the desired result:
a) Encourage ideas of school not being tied to strict hours (preparatory training and
b) Project work as opposed to the traditional, chalk-and-talk approach;
c) Providing after-school activities on the school premises;
d) Maintaining contacts with families and community;
e) Further training of teachers (for multicultural instruction);
f) Partnership-style approaches to working with pupils;
g) Rethink the principles of vocational training for youngsters from disadvantaged
5. THE CHANCES OF INTEGRATING ROMA
STUDENTS IN STATE-FUNDED SCHOOLS
On taking office during the summer of 2002, the new head at Hungary’s Ministry of
Education endeavoured to face up to, or at least explicitly acknowledge, the socio-political
impact of processes that are at work in the public educational field. Both in recent
discussions among educational experts and in the parliamentary debate on the 2003 bill
of amendments to the Education Act, a greater accent than before was placed on the issue
of equal opportunities. The ministry also took serious action to achieve the ‘Roma policy’
objectives that had been laid down as falling under its remit. Unlike in other branches
of government, it is not so much the size of the budget that the MoE is able to secure
to achieve its priorities that is the token of success in educational policy; much more
important is the question of whether the open and covert discrimination, and the ensuing
educational disadvantage, that afflicts the Roma community is separable from the issue
of equality of opportunities within the educational field. More specifically, whether there
is a possibility of offering effective legal or government intervention to counter the segregation
of Roma students within a system that is set up on a framework of academic
freedom, free choice of schools, and control of education resting largely in the hands of
In what follows a summary will be provided of the ministry’s efforts to date and an
endeavour made to assess the chances of the integration/anti-segregation policy in a big city.
Government goals and dilemmas
Equal opportunities, segregation and further education
The MoE’s reform ideas based the necessity for changes on two conclusions of the Pisa
2000 report. According to this, the Hungarian education system was the least able in all
Europe to offer equality of opportunity—or in other words was the most adversely selective—
for children of parents who had few school qualifications or were on low incomes.
Despite the outstanding results of a few élite schools, the reading, comprehension and
mathematical skills displayed by Hungarian pupils were distinctly weak, knowledge of
foreign languages and familiarity with information technology poor, whilst interest
groups for specialist subjects and the demands from further education establishments
were placing ever more taxing demands on schoolchildren in terms of teaching hours and
the extent of their book knowledge.
As far as scholastic achievements go, the selectivity of the Hungarian school system
means that there is a larger distribution of results between schools than within schools.
Whereas in OECD countries 36% of the range of difference in tests of reading, comprehension
and mathematical skills of pupils can be explained by differences between
schools, in Hungary’s case the ratio is 71%, essentially double. The opposite extreme is
Sweden, where 77% of the difference in tests of reading, comprehension and mathematical
skills can be attributed to differences within schools and only 23% to differences
between schools. In Hungary, the performance of children from lower-status families
who attend the better schools is better, whilst the performance of children from higherstatus
families who attend the poorer schools is poorer than would be expected on the
basis of their family background. Early school selection therefore goes a long way to
explaining a child’s chances of success.
A double trend is manifested in Hungary’s education system: merciless selectivity
and expansion of the secondary-school sector. Higher-status families select the schools
they feel best suit their children, whilst higher-status schools in turn select the pupils they
feel are most advantageous to them or rapidly drop pupils they do not want to have. At
the same time, the ratio of children completing elementary school who are now applying
to enter secondary schools has been growing apace: over the course of the 1990s the ratio
of 14-year-olds who went on to study at high school rose from 20% to 32%, admissions
to vocational middle schools (the only other establishments in Hungary that offer the
high-school diploma) went up from 27% to 39%, and the proportion of 18-year-olds taking
the high-school diploma increased from 36.9% to 53.6%.
These general trends also had an impact on Roma children, of course. The right to
choose one’s school combined with the selectivity of the school system led to a rapid
growth in ‘spontaneous’ segregation; that is, segregation resulting from the departure of
non-Roma children from a school. A few years ago the Institute of Education undertook
a comprehensive study of this problem. In the year 2000, on their estimate, there were
around 770 homogeneously Gypsy-only classes operating in Hungarian general (elementary)
schools, another 740 classes in which the ratio of Roma children was over 75%,
and 1,230 classes in which they made up over 50%. Though Roma children make up only
10% of the total general-school population, easily one third of them—32,000 out of
93,000—were being taught in classes where a majority of the pupils were of Gypsy origin.
Quite apart from ‘spontaneous’ segregation, there is a substantial amount of artificial
segregation of Roma pupils, the main tool for which is the resort to unjustifiably high levels
of referral to remedial education. More than 40% of all the pupils who are being
taught in remedial classes or schools in Hungary are Roma in origin, whilst 20-22% of
all Roma general-school pupils—more than ever before—are being allocated to such
teaching (see Table 5.1).
Expansion at the secondary level partly offset the negative consequences of segregation.
According to the data collected by the Institute of Education, the proportion of
Roma pupils in a year who completed their elementary education and went on to be
admitted to a high school rose from 0.6% to 3.6% between 1993 and 1999, whilst the proportion
admitted to a vocational middle school rose from 10% to 15.4%. That move
towards staying on in school remains impressive even when it is borne in mind that the
chasm between Romas and non-Romas widened still further and that the drop-out rate of
Gypsy pupils is substantial.
Table 5.1: Numbers of general-school pupils receiving normal and remedial
education in school year 2001-2.
County Total no. of pupils in No. of pupils in Per cent in
general schools remedial schools remedial schools
Bács-Kiskun 53,396 2,468 4.6
Baranya 37,060 1,622 4.4
Békés 37,281 1,666 4.5
Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén 78,461 3,961 5.0
Budapest 128,950 6,483 5.0
Csongrád 38,981 1,271 3.3
Fejér 42,406 2,108 5.0
Győr-Moson-Sopron 38,223 1,494 3.9
Hajdú-Bihar 57,923 2,385 4.1
Heves 29,797 3,171 10.6
Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok 41,832 1,804 4.3
Komárom-Esztergom 30,468 1,617 5.3
Nógrád 20,423 1,045 5.1
Pest 101,968 4,588 4.5
Somogy 31,781 2,264 7.1
Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg 65,558 3,647 5.6
Tolna 23,466 1,279 5.5
Vas 24,587 1,261 5.1
Veszprém 35,276 1,514 4.3
Zala 26,407 939 3.6
Total 944,244 46,587 4.9
Source: Institute of Education Report 2003, as calculated by Erika Garami from
data in the Ministry of Education database.
Table 5.2: Proportion of pupils continuing education in secondary school as
compared with those completing elementary education at year end.
Type of school 1996-97 1998-99
Non-Roma Roma Non-Roma Roma
(per cent) (per cent) (per cent) (per cent)
Drop out of further education 2.3 16.5 3.2 14.9
Technical school 4.4 8.6 3.2 9.4
Trade school 36.5 61.6 36.8 56.5
Vocational middle school 38.3 9.3 38.1 15.4
High school 18.3 3.7 18.4 3.6
TOTAL 100 100 100 100
Source: Institute of Education
Budgetary expenditure and government measures
The Ministry of Education appointed a ministerial commissioner with responsibilities—
and also set aside substantial sums of money—specifically targeted at curbing the abovementioned
segregationist processes. An effort was made to concentrate this larger
resource on supporting the settlements and schools that were actively taking part in the
programme. Where possible, the ministry strove to avoid specifically labelling these new
programmes and financial support as being for Roma pupils but instead chose to designate
its two target groups as ‘pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds’ and ‘special needs
pupils’. There are objective criteria for the former category, which covers families in
which the highest school qualification is having completed the 8 years of general (elementary)
school and also the income is low enough to qualify for regular child protection
assistance. Special needs covers mild to moderate degrees of learning disability that
require that a child is taught in a specialist remedial school.
The ministry wants to change the teaching for these two target groups by three different
processes. First, integration is intended to reverse the process of segregation
between schools, associated schools and classes. Second, skills development seeks to
alter the practice whereby children who suffer from attention-deficit disorders, hyperactivity
or other learning difficulties but are not adjudged to be mentally subnormal are
taught to lower standards. Third, the aim of the ‘Out of the Back Desk’ programme is to
see that pupils who have been falsely labelled as having learning disabilities and unjustly
shunted into remedial education are returned to mainstream schooling.
For the 2003-4 school year and onwards, the MoE has brought in two new forms of funding,
one for skills development and a second for integration. The aim of the former is to provide
more catch-up facilities within schools whilst the integration funding, which will be staggered
in such a way that it can be claimed for pupils in Grades 1 and 5 (at general school) and
Grade 9 (at secondary school), seeks to reduce the degree of segregation between schools and
classes. Authorities maintaining schools that participate in the integration programme will be
able to claim three times the present per capita funding that is available for children and pupils
with special needs provided they undertake to meet two conditions: first, pupils who have
hitherto been taught in segregated classes must be put into organised preparatory courses that
will give them whatever skills they need to be able to continue their studies in normal school
classes from the following year onwards; second, segregation within the system must be
reduced by at least 10% annually (for that reason alone it is clearly not possible to make a specific
budget provision for this funding in the breakdown of the ministry budget).
During the year 2003 HUF 900 million of the MoE’s budget was earmarked for projects
aimed at supporting Hungary’s national and ethnic minorities, of which HUF 750 mil-
lion was to be allocated to Roma programmes. HUF 500 million of the latter sum plus a
further HUF 100 million from the 2002 reserve was planned to go into setting up 50 foundation
institutions that will form the National Network for Integration in Education
(NNIE). Institutions applying to participate in this were required to meet two main conditions:
first, the applicant institutions must neither be practising segregation currently nor
have practised it in the past, and second, any school that wins the designation of foundation
institution is obliged to develop contacts with at least five neighbouring schools that
are setting up anti-segregation programmes.
The third main funding source is a PHARE project to promote the social integration of
multiply disadvantaged youngsters, primarily those of Roma origin. The aim of this is to set
up Roma community centres, to develop teaching courses in Roma studies, and to organise
training in the subject. The total sum awarded for this project by the EU is HUF 2.4 billion,
one quarter of which is to be contributed as Hungary’s own portion by the MoE.
The reform of remedial school referrals never got further than an expression of
intent for school year 2002-3, with those running education becoming concerned
that the school system simply did not have the capability, in parallel with implementing
the anti-segregation programme, to attempt in addition the transfer of several
tens of thousands of children from such schools into classes that are taught the
In 2004 the ministry wanted to expand the NNIE network further and also make
inroads on the remedial school reform. As part of what is called the ‘Out of the Back
Desk’ project, all children in Grades 1and 2 who had been diagnosed as showing a mild
learning handicap were to be reviewed, starting in September 2003, with the reviews
being conducted by independent experts or an expert panel from another county. The
children found not to be genuinely handicapped are to be transferred to classes in which
the regular curriculum is taught. This whole process will be supported by a new funding
under which for each child transferred into normal teaching the authority running
the school will for two years receive a higher than basic per capita grant amounting to
70% of that for a remedial-school place. Serving the same ends is a reform of the tests
that experts in the field of remedial education have been using over the past several
decades, and this process alone is being underpinned by a National Development Plan
grant of HUF 100 million.
In addition to the above, the MoE is trying to introduce regulations that will restrict
the scope for two well-proven methods of practising segregation by selection: opting for
private tuition and gaining exemption from certain subjects in the curriculum.
For 2004 a total of HUF 890 million was budgeted by the MoE for meeting national
and ethnic minority objectives, which will be rounded out by a HUF 150 million grant
from the ‘Chance to Learn’ Foundation. Of this, around HUF 330 million is earmarked
for projects that concern the Roma community.
Table 5.3: Budgetary funding set aside for Romas by Ministry of Education in 2003-4
Allocated funding (HUF x 000)
Reason for funding 2003 2004
National and ethnic minority tasks 900,000 of which:
750,000 for Romas
Social integration of multiply disadvantaged, primarily
Roma youngsters (EU-funded PHARE project)
Ethnic minority tasks 330,000
Minority nationality tasks 560,000
'Chance to Learn' Foundation 250,000
Source: Budget White Book
The MoE’s budgetary provision for Romas will drop in 2004, as compared with
2003, but that will be offset by assistance promised by the National Development
Plan under the priority that its Operative Programme for Human Resources
Development’s (OPHRD) gives to overcoming exclusion by entry into the labour
market and a sum set aside for ensuring equal opportunities in the education system
for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. The first three projects for which
OPHRD has invited applications have been explicitly designed to complement the
MoE’s own efforts.
Under an allocation to fund institutional cooperation for supporting the integrated
education of pupils with special needs, OPHRD will be providing HUF 600 million over
a two-year period to finance the reinstatement to mainstream education of children
incorrectly diagnosed as having learning disabilities. Institutions will be able to apply
for bloc grants of HUF 12-40 million, so that the total sum set aside is rather modest in
relation to the number of potential beneficiaries.
The significantly larger sum of HUF 1,800 million will be channelled over a twoyear
period to institutional support for preparations to integrate pupils from disadvantaged
backgrounds, the goal of which is explicitly to reduce segregation between establishments.
Under this heading, consortia may apply for grants of altogether HUF 12-15
million—a rather meagre sum that in itself begs the question of how effective it is likely
to be. A tacit aim of the announcement was directly to offset the reduction in MoE budgetary
support and indirectly to provide additional funding for foundation institutions. To
have any hope of success, therefore, applications required that the consortium brings in
at least one foundation institution. During the period over which applications could be
made the only places with foundation institutions were located in regions with a high
Roma population, thus the project made it possible for applicants—instead of implementing
any actual inter-institutional integration—to set up their projects for adapting
other experiences with integration. Many of the applicant consortia comprised schools
that were distant from, and had no connection with, one another in addition to foundation
institutions that were located even farther away. The biggest of the OPHRD projects, this
can be predicted to have a very low efficacy.
The objective of the third of the OPHRD projects in the field of education is to boost
the scholastic success of disadvantaged children by supporting extracurricular activities
of model value. Again over two years, this will provide a total of HUF 600 million, with
applications invited for grants of HUF 12-15 million.
According to the MoE’s report for 2004, the skills development funding was claimed
for 24,117 pupils in the programme’s first school year, whilst local authorities claimed
integration funding for 8,033 pupils in institutions maintained by them (see Table 5.4).
To date 45 foundation institutions for integration have been set up, mainly in regions with
a big Roma population. That means that the programme started in many schools without
an adequate preparatory background.
Table 5.4: Numbers of local authorities claiming integration funding and number
of pupils affected in 2004.
County Total no. of pupils in No. of pupils in Covered by NNIE
general schools remedial schools
Bács-Kiskun 10 358
Baranya 28 437 yes
Békés 5 106
Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén 56 1,603 yes
Budapest 5 city districts 694 yes
Csongrád 10 219
Fejér 9 185
Győr-Moson-Sopron 7 18
Hajdú-Bihar 25 1,017 yes
Heves 13 291 yes
Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok 13 517 yes
Komárom-Esztergom 7 161
Nógrád 16 196 yes
Pest 14 161 yes
Somogy 20 366 yes
Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg 50 1,407 yes
Tolna 7 154 yes
Vas 6 34
Veszprém 6 30
Zala 8 79
Total 315 8,033
Source: Ministry of Education.
NNIE = National Network for Integration in Education
The chances of, and obstacles to, an integration policy in education
The MoE is banking that its system of devices will be effective, and that by 2008 these
will not only have halted but reversed the flow of non-Roma pupils away from schools
where Gypsies are taught in significant numbers. It also fervently hopes by then to have
eradicated the practice of within-school segregation through setting up what the professional
jargon refers to as ‘C’ classes [for ‘cigány’ = Gypsy]. Thirdly, it would like to cut
the number of children being referred for remedial schooling to one third of the current
rate of around 3,000 per year.
Several factors might hamstring the success of this integration policy. The school
segregation of Roma children is not some isolated phenomenon but a part, indeed a consequence,
of the considerable selectivity of Hungary’s school system and its guarantees
of free parental choice of school. The policy of promoting the integration of Roma children
thus runs counter to the school system’s ‘inherent’ inequality of opportunity and
selectivity. Segregation is thus purely a part, indeed a consequence, of the complex phenomenon
of inequality of opportunity in schools, and it has to be doubted whether it will
be possible to reduce its extent in isolation from the wider ramifications of the equalopportunities
The other factor arises from this: the education policy decisions that have a determining
influence on inequality of opportunity in schools are largely taken by each settlement’s
self-governing local authority in line with what it sees as its own education policy
and local development interests. The real condition for success of the central government’s
integration policy will not rest solely on getting schools that already teach poor
Roma children struggling with learning difficulties, or even children diagnosed as mentally
backward, to sign up to the programmes but also on other schools being willing to
cooperate and, crucially, non-Roma parents refraining from withdrawing their children to
punish schools that do cooperate, and the extent to which the authorities that maintain a
school are able or willing, or can be obliged, to adopt goals formulated by the ministry.
Here local authorities are at an advantage even at the informational level, for although the
ministry has made a big effort to adopt objective indices to define criteria for what is
meant by a disadvantaged child, it will be near-impossible for the ministry to check the
reliability of data supplied by individual school managements. Equally, it is left up to the
schools how they tackle and eventually seek to change the number of disadvantaged
pupils within the school. Actual segregation trends may be masked even further by such
moves as amalgamating or separating schools or re-streaming pupils.
An urban lesson: ‘notional’ educational integration
We shall endeavour to illustrate the chances of, and obstacles to, an integration policy in
education through the concrete example of a thriving N.E. Hungarian county town that is
run by nationally recognised politicians who side with the present government. One cannot,
of course, generalise from single cases, still less see them as definitive; nevertheless
this does offer certain lessons with a validity going beyond the town.
Nyíregyháza’s education policy is bound up with its leaders’ ideas about town redevelopment
and managing the residential housing stock. To appreciate this, it is necessary
to look at the town plan. There are two Gypsy colonies within the inner-city area: the 500-
to 700-strong Orosi Avenue Estate, which is located along the thoroughfare that leads out
of the town’s thriving ‘East End’, and a secluded pocket, called the ‘Hussar’ Estate, with
an estimated population of at least 1,500. The local authority has a definite but not widely
trumpeted redevelopment goal of being able eventually to demolish the Orosi Avenue
Estate and move the families that live there into an expanded and partially modernised
Hussar Estate. Romas live, or used to live, in other parts of the inner town, of course, but
by targeted demolitions and house exchanges the local authority has prevailed upon the
bulk of those who used to rent dwellings in the apartment buildings within the inner ring
road to move out. Aportion of the Roma families who reside in the town’s three big housing
estates have been squeezed by rising rents to seeks cheaper homes elsewhere. Since
the 1970s, many Roma families have in fact moved into clusters of rundown hamlets on
the outskirts of the town.
Inner-city Roma colonies
The Orosi Avenue Roma colony was built in the 1960s, when town leaders demolished
Nyíregyháza’s two long-standing Gypsy shanty settlements and built a total of 89 small
apartments consisted of a living room and kitchen with no modern conveniences. At that
time the area seemed to be the ideal location for what was envisaged as only a temporary
estate since the lack of piped water forestalled any thoughts about modernising the housing
in that neighbourhood, and the town leaders did not reckon on it becoming a flourishing
‘East End’. That upgrading was the result of a decision, taken for purely prestige
purposes, to annex what had been the separate municipality of Oros to Nyíregyháza in
the late 1970s, thereby increasing the county town’s population to 100,000. The estate on
Orosi Avenue, now firmly located within the inner-city area, grew in importance as industrial
concerns set up offices, making the slum housing a growing eyesore in what was
now an up-and-coming area. During the 1980s, half of the houses on the estate were
knocked down and the families moved to the Hussar Estate. It seemed just a question of
time before the remainder of the Gypsy homes on Orosi Avenue disappeared, but the few
years that were left before the change in regime at the end of that decade proved insufficient
to ‘cleanse’ the district completely of the temporary housing that still provided
homes for substantial number of Romas.
By the late 1990s the continued existence of the Orosi Avenue slum estate had finally
became intolerable, because it was hindering investment in, and utilisation of, one of
the most valuable areas within the city. Growing numbers of people were arguing for the
estate to be demolished, but no one had any ideas about where the families that were living
on Orosi Avenue might be relocated. Whilst the basic services that were previously
lacking had long ago been brought into the surrounding area, the ‘temporary’ homes still
lacked not just bathrooms but even running water, with families only able to get this from
hydrants in the street. There are too many inhabitants in this estate for them to be fitted
into any other part of the city, but too few of them to be able to close in among themselves
in a form of ghetto existence that would provide a measure of protection against
the ever more hostile surrounding area.
The Hussar Estate is located in a more secluded area, shut off from the rest of the
town by railway lines, a barracks and a zone of industrial development. The estate itself
was originally built in the late nineteenth century as barracks for a cavalry regiment, with
two-storey buildings as quarters for officers and this housing being bordered on two sides
by long blocks of stables and quarters for the common soldiers. In 1957, the government
handed the barracks over to the town council as a place to locate Soviet army officers
who were posted to the town and, later on, the town leaders and top party officials. Atotal
of 310 dwellings were set up in two phases, of which 229 were one-room houses with
kitchen and bathroom in the former stable blocks. In 1958, a school was established in
what had been the main administrative building of the barracks, and later on a nursery
school and food store were opened.
With the arrival of the 1960s the town embarked on the construction of new housing
estates. The population of the Hussar Estate was rapidly replaced, with better-off families
acquiring apartments in the new housing estates elsewhere in town, whereas the
estate, from the 1970s on, increasingly became home for Romas who moved into
Nyíregyháza—and, moreover, through a far from spontaneous process. The town fathers
were deliberately seeking to pump up the population but, at the same time, were concerned
when those numbers came from Romas settling in the city. Their way of resolving
this dilemma was for the housing authority to treat the Hussar Estate as the very bottom
of the housing hierarchy, allocated to families that were in arrears with their rent and,
to some extent, to incoming Roma families. Within just a few years the perceived status
of the estate had altered radically.
The first scheme for reconstructing the Hussar Estate was put forward in 1989, after
which it began to acquire an ever more strongly marked function within the town’s structure,
with growing numbers of people declaring that the estate’s presence and redevelopment
were indispensable equally for the town’s further growth and for the management
of its rental housing sector and its education policy.
Representatives of the town’s developers were disposed to pay the price for demolishing
the Orosi Avenue Estate, which was to expand the Hussar Estate. In addition the
Hussar Estate homes were growing in relative importance within the available stock of
rented housing as a good three quarters of Nyíregyháza’s 6,920 one-time council homes
were sold off to tenants, under the country’s right-to-buy legislation, from the mid-1980s
on. With sell-off arrangements now at an end, the town’s local authority can count on
three types of social housing being available for it to rent out: the remaining homes in
tower blocks, the small units in houses that have been split into flatlets and old people’s
homes, and the dwellings in the two Gypsy colonies. The local self-government pursues
a segmented approach to allocating its rented properties, with three different lists of
names being drawn up. Thus, an expert committee proposes a ‘basic’ list to get on to
which the crucial factor is not any social criterion but whether or not the selected family
has a steady income and can be expected to pay the rent and running costs of the
dwelling. A second list comprises those pensioners who are waiting to enter sheltered
housing, whilst the third, so-called ‘crisis’ list covers mainly people who will be housed
in the two Roma colonies. The local authority thought that renovation of the Hussar
Estate and also providing additional rental units would be advantageous even from the
viewpoint of the town’s three housing estates, since that would enable them to displace
to them any tenants who were unable to afford the charges. The considerations with
regard to education policy are more complex, but there are serious forces arguing that as
many of Nyíregyháza’s Roma children as possible should be directed away from other
schools to the Hussar Estate elementary school with its already purely Roma intake.
An opportunity to refurbish the estate arose in 1998, when the Public Works Council
invited tenders for redeveloping run-down estates in ways that would involve the labour
of inhabitants on the estate. In the first phase of this programme, the stairwells of the twostorey
blocks were painted, cellars were cleared, and pavements were laid in the narrow
passages between the former stable buildings. Water pipes throughout the estate were relaid
and individual water meters set up for the single-room flats. The finances also ran to
installing a Roma community centre.
A plan for the complete reconstruction and expansion of the estate was ready two
years later. Within the scope of this large-scale project they were to complete the laying
of sewerage to the estate, renovate the roofs of one-storey buildings, and connect all
homes to the town’s distance heating network. The small homes would be heated to a
minimal temperature as a social benefit, paid for from the housing assistance that families
receive in kind. If they can afford it, families renting the units may raise the temperature
of their home at their own expense. Two approaches to expanding the housing stock
have been put forward. Under the first of these, the town would set out building plots
within the Hussar Estate or its immediate neighbourhood and then pick families whom it
felt deserved to have the chance of having socially subsidised housing built for them. The
second idea is counting on the likelihood that the Ministry of Defence, with major
reforms of the armed forces in prospect, will soon wish to dispose of another barracks
that lies close to the estate, which will give the local self-government the chance to
acquire another complex of run-down properties. These properties could then be converted
to rental housing units with finance from government grants.
The idea that the Hussar Estate needs to be redeveloped now has widespread political
support in Nyíregyháza, but the actual aim has been rather shielded from those most directly
affected, the Roma families that live in this and the Orosi Avenue Estate. This lack of
frankness has to raise questions about the redevelopment of the Hussar Estate site, useful
though it would be. Unification of the two colonies is a taboo subject, with none of those
concerned wishing to entertain the idea, because each set of inhabitants sees the other as
providing a negative endorsement of their own position. Thus, the Roma families on Orosi
Avenue have always thought of their status as being provisional and have not given up their
hope that the town will some time, in some way—through allocation to rented housing, providing
subsidies to build or purchase homes, or offering building plots—help them leave
their slum housing. For them, however, a move to the much larger and ill-reputed Hussar
Estate is in no way an appropriate alternative, despite the fact that the housing there is of
better quality. The Hussar Estate families, for their part, consider that the influx of several
hundred families from Orosi Avenue would have a devastating impact.
State education, segregation, integration
When it comes to inequalities in schools, perhaps one of the hardest questions to answer
is the extent to which selectivity in the Hungarian school system is a product of deliberate
processes. The status of general (elementary) schools is a function, first and foremost,
of the success a given establishment has in picking its pupils by closing its gates to undesirable
children who happen to live within its catchment area and to what extent it can
make itself attractive to middle-class families that may live elsewhere. If ‘school-consuming’
parents reach their decisions by a process of weighing up rational factors, then a
local authority would be able to regulate the local demand for places, and hence the
degree of segregation in the state education sector, through the teaching programmes that
it accepts and the financing it provides. The ratio of Roma pupils in a school, however,
is an index that tends to override any sober criteria for school selection, such as the range
of foreign-language teaching offered, the degree of subject specialisation, teaching
approach, the provision of computers and other equipment, exam results, or the number
of school leavers who remain in education. Most parents feel that the school of first
choice has a decisive influence on their child’s chances, and the ratio of Roma pupils is
certainly one—if not invariably the most important—factor that makes a school more or
less attractive. Non-Roma parents object to having their children being taught alongside
Roma pupils, even though they have no qualms about other areas of potential conflict in
group education: an external value judgement is thus a more important determinant of a
school’s status in the ‘market’ than actual experience.
The elected representatives who sit in local self-governments more often than not are
happy to stand for the irrational ‘consumerist’ interests of parents who live within their
electoral district, but a municipality’s leaders will sooner or later come up against the
serious consequences of such attitudes. Nyíregyháza’s political leaders have recognised
that control over educational processes has slipped out of their hands, and they are less
and less in a position to make rational decisions when it comes to matters of investment,
funding and education policy. An outline of the city’s general school system is given in
the next section to illustrate this.
Élite general schools
For present purposes, the élite general schools in Nyíregyháza can be divided into three
groups. Firstly, some schools (e.g. the inner-city József Bem General School) have very
few or no Roma families living within their catchment area.
A second group that is attractive to middle-class parents consists of schools that
employ a range of tactics to avoid having to admit Roma pupils. For the most part, these
are schools that made a reputation for themselves before the 1989-90 change on
Hungary’s political régime. The Zsigmond Móricz General School, for instance, can
ascribe much of its prestige, and also the circumstance that there are hardly any Roma
pupils on its roll, to the fact that during the 1980s it was allowed to instigate special
courses in physical education and mathematics. The school’s current head still manages
to keep the doors closed to children he sees as unwanted despite the fact that the nearby
Hussar Estate and a fair few clusters of Roma hamlets to the south of the city fall within
the school’s catchment area. Its counterpart is the Károly Vécsey General School, which
is taking in growing numbers of Roma pupils from such hamlets and from the Érkert
housing estate. There are also two neighbouring schools on the Örökösföld housing
estate: one, the Ferenc Móra General School, lay the foundation for its still continuing
exceptional status when the Mátyás Hunyadi General School was built nearby and some
of the Móra School’s pupils were relocated to the new establishment. The Móra School’s
director manipulated his political contacts to ensure that he got to pick which children
would be relocated—an effect which has been reinforced since the change in régime.
Making up a third élite group are those general schools that do not have a prescribed
catchment area and so are legally free to pick and choose who is admitted. These include
the Zoltán Kodály Music School, the two teaching practice schools of Nyíregyháza
College of Education, and of course the various church-maintained schools.
Nyíregyháza also has several educational institutions that have been established to handle
particular teaching problems or accommodate children with special needs. The
municipal education authority considered that it is best able to keep control over school
mobility by partially segregating its chief ‘problem groups’, that is to say, children with
mild learning disabilities, the partially handicapped, the hyperactive, the over-aged, early
drop-outs, and pupils who come from low-income, isolated hamlets.
The Viktor Göllesz Special General and Training School was set up primarily for
children with learning disabilities but has been complemented with a training school
facility which endeavours to provide ‘auxiliary students’ with an opportunity for further
education. Some 40% of these ‘auxiliaries’ are Roma. The László Bencs General School
was also established to ‘take the pressure off’ regular schools by catering for children
who, whilst not considered mentally handicapped, suffered from a variety of partial disabilities.
Its function has in the meantime changed, with its being turned into a kind of
school for ‘drop-outs’, which takes on youngsters of 14-18 years of age that other schools
have not accepted or who have failed to attend or have been transferred from some other
school for disciplinary reasons; it also provides tuition within the framework of ‘catchup’
courses for vocational schools for some 30-40 city children who have failed to complete
the 8-grade general school before they reach the age of 16. These courses amount
to a cut-down training in which students are able to make good on Grades 7-8 of their
schooling but are not obliged to complete Grades 9-10 before making a start on their
training for a trade qualification, so they already receive some career orientation in the
first year and some technical training in the second year. In the past there used to be a socalled
day-release general school course for youngsters, a kind of ‘sink’ school that took
children who had been discarded by the city’s other general schools. With Hungary’s
declining birth-rate, though, any general school nowadays would think very hard before
letting any pupil go, so there is no demand for such a facility.
Nyírszôlôs General School and Student Home has likewise, through deliberate planning,
become a place for pupils who would not be looked on favourably in most other
establishments. Lying about 12 kilometres to the north-west of Nyíregyháza’s centre, the
village of Nyírszôlôs used to be administratively part of nearby Kótaj. As a result of a
decision that the district made during the 1960s, a hostel was built to provide board for
children from the more distant hamlets. When the village was subsequently attached to
Nyíregyháza, the city authorities again came out with a ‘two-track’ solution, with a hostel
that was in the city centre being designated a boarding school for gifted children,
while the hostel at Nyírszôlôs was given the task of looking after children with hyperactivity
and behavioural problems. With growing numbers of Gypsy families moving into
the hamlets around the city, more and more Roma children were to be found among the
boarding pupils. In addition, a temporary home was sited next to the hostel, while in
Nyírszôlôs five lodgings were set up for children in state care. Around 20% of the school
roll, which now numbers 300 children in 16 teaching groups, are of Roma background,
but that ratio is rising among the younger pupils. Two thirds of those who complete their
elementary schooling there go on to a trade school, but one third continue studies at a secondary
institution where the high-school diploma can be sat. The suburbanisation of
Nyírszôlôs carries on apace, turning it into an increasingly attractive garden city, however
the well-off families who are moving in are not sending their children to the local
school but enrolling them in Nyíregyháza’s inner-city schools.
A few years ago, those in charge of Nyíregyháza’s educational policy decided to
change the profile of László Bencs General School and as a result to enrol elementary
school pupils with partial disabilities at Gyula Benczúr General School, where they are
assigned to small classes with less demanding curricula. These small classes have been
designated PHYMOLD classes (standing for pupils with physical, mobility and learning
difficulties) for the freely acknowledged reason that they do not wish to alert parents
immediately to the real purpose of the special training. The number of disabled children
that it has proved possible to enrol in the school is much less than was expected: over a
5-year period they have only been able to start up two of these small classes. On the other
hand, the school considers it a clear benefit that it is also able to teach disabled pupils
from its own catchment area in such classes.
Through selective enrolment of pupils with special needs, the city hall leaders are
unable to control the mobility of pupils in the education system, in large part because the
ratio of Gypsy children in a school is a rock-solid index of its standing in the hierarchy.