A Roma’s Life in


Report 2003:

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: minor@minor.hu

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.


E-mail: info@molnart.hu


Foreword 7

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

Erika Törzsök





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

Roma women.

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.





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.

Geographical distribution

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.

Linguistic groups

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.

Housing segregation

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.

Employment prospects

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

manual workers.

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.




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.

Educational integration

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

Gypsy colonies.

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.




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

Nursery schools

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


General schools

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

are Roma;

b) 740 classes, comprising 10,300 Roma children, where more than 75% of pupils

are Roma;

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.

Secondary schools

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

vocational training.

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

Roma pupils;

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

minority education’.

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.

Government efforts

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

Grades 5-8.

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.

Nursery schools

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.


General schools

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.

Secondary education

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

trade schools.

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.

Higher education

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

between schools.

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

Application-based funding

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.

Market-driven funding

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

after-care, mentoring);


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





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

local authorities.

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

regular curriculum.

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

in Nyíregyháza

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.

Controlled selection

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.