The Gypsy Ethnic Minority in Hungary

The following article has been extracted from Report No. J/3670 of the Government of the Republic of Hungary to the National Assembly on the situation of the national and ethnic minorities living in the Republic of Hungary

Population statistics for the Gypsy minority show wide variations. In the 1990 census, 142,683 persons stated that they were Gypsies. According to the most reliable estimates their number is currently 450,000 - 500,000.

Gypsies live throughout Hungary, although their distribution by area varies. The estimated number of Gypsies is highest in the three northern counties (Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén, Heves and Nógrád): 120,000. At present 100,000 Gypsies live in the eastern counties (Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg, Hajdú-Bihar, Békés) and 60,000 live on the Hungarian plain (Csongrád, Bács-Kiskun, Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok counties). The number of Gypsies living in the Budapest area (Budapest, Pest, Fejér, Komárom-Esztergom counties) is 90,000 and there are 115,000 Gypsies in Southern Transdanubia (Baranya, Somogy, Tolna, Zala and Veszprém counties). Their number is smaller in the western region (Vas and Győr-Moson-Sopron counties) where just 15,000 Gypsies live.

Changes have taken place in the type of settlement, too. In 1971, 45,000 Gypsies were urban dwellers. This number has since tripled and currently comprises 30% of the total Gypsy population. A general observation, which can be made across the whole country, is that the urbanisation of the Gypsies is accompanied by an increase in ghetto and slum development.

In those counties where many Gypsies live, the percentage of Gypsy inhabitants in the older smaller settlements is growing as the non-Gypsy population moves away; the Gypsies move into their worthless properties.

Despite an improvement in the state of housing, 14% of Gypsies still live on separated sites. (The construction program of basic housing was concluded in 1988). Many Gypsy families are unable to cope with the burden of their mortgage payments (which have risen) and the cost of maintaining their homes.

Education at school and vocational training

Statistics of the Ministry of Culture and Education brought together data for 74,241 Gypsy pupils of the 1992/1993 academic year. 7.12% of the total number of pupils were of a Gypsy background. Segregation of Gypsies within the education system is widespread. According to the figures of a national survey made in 1971, at that time just 26% of Gypsies between the ages of 25 and 29 had finished eight grades of schooling. In 1993, among the same age group, this figure had risen to 77%.

This indicates that there was an improvement in the basic level of school education between 1970 and 1994. However, if we look at any other of the indices of educational qualification, we observe that the degree of inequality of opportunity between Gypsies and non-Gypsies has grown. The disadvantaged position of the Gypsies is particularly acute in the secondary, higher and vocational areas of education. The reasons for failure at school or for dropping out of school are of a socio-cultural nature. Regarding Gypsies, the education system has to face the challenges of a much greater collection of wide-ranging problems. These challenges are well beyond the scope of public education. The education sector has a fundamental role to play in changing the social standing of the Gypsy community. Taking into consideration the relevant parts of the National Curriculum, the Ministry of Education and Culture has set up programs for the development of minority education and Gypsy education. The strategic goal of the Gypsy Educational Development Program is to secure the necessary conditions for the success of Gypsies at school and for balancing out the disadvantages with which Gypsies are faced.


From the perspective of language and culture, the Gypsy community is a highly-fragmented minority. It is characterised by several languages and sets of cultural traditions. Gypsy culture is lacking a written form which is widely-known. A further problem is presented by the fact that the Gypsies do not have a mother country (or kin state), which would provide cultural and financial assistance. There are no central Gypsy cultural centres, museums or theatres.

The existing traditional Gypsy population groups are virtually the last in Hungarian society to have preserved folk art as an integral part of daily life. There can be no doubt that this is a factor which improves the chances of preserving Gypsy culture. On the other hand, the general view of Gypsy culture correlates with the picture of a pre-bourgeois, poverty-stricken lifestyle.

The values of Gypsy culture are not sufficiently present in the thinking of the public at large; nor have they become part of national culture. Recently, various initiatives have been launched to change this; for example a talent-spotting competition. With the assistance of the Ministry of Culture and Education, the Minoritás Foundation established the Gypsy Research Institute which has been functioning under the auspices of the National Gypsy Minority Self-government since July 1995. The Anthropological Museum established a Gypsy anthropological documentation centre which may provide the documentary basis for a Gypsy Museum to be established at a later date.

Since 1990, several Gypsy periodicals have been regularly published. Most of these have received a state subsidy. Currently, six Gypsy magazines receive a state subsidy. Every week Hungarian Radio broadcasts a program entitled 'Gypsy half-hour' and Hungarian Television broadcasts a twenty-five minute program for Gypsies twice per week entitled Patrin.


In the years following the change of political system, Gypsies were the first to be pushed out of the labour market and this development was of great gravity. They lost the basis for making a living. This basis had been gradually created over forty years and had served to provide them with a low, but secure, level of income. Whereas the unemployment rate of the total population is about 11%, the rate among the Gypsy community is approximately four to five times higher. There are settlements where the unemployment rate reaches 90 - 100% among the Gypsies. Studies of unemployment among Gypsies have shown that the desire of Gypsies to work is no less than that of comparable social groups. However, the chances of unemployed Gypsies finding work are below average because Gypsies have been unemployed for a longer period of time than members of comparable groups. Experience has shown that discrimination in employment is another reason for the negative employment situation of Gypsies. Earnings and wages used to comprise half of the income of Gypsy families, but now social transfers payments are the primary source of income. The result is that Gypsy families are dependent on grants and social security payments.


Factors detrimental to health occur cumulatively among the Gypsy community. The proportion of disabled people and persons unfit for work is higher among the Gypsies. Infant mortality is also higher and many babies are born prematurely having low weight. Gypsy children often develop slowly as a result of their poor surroundings. The life expectancy of Gypsies is ten years less than that of non-Gypsies.


Both the frequency and intensity of ethnic conflicts are on the rise. The victims of most of these conflicts are members of the Gypsy community. Such conflicts cannot be managed effectively through present legislation. Undoubtedly, the effectiveness of legal measures of conflict management is limited. However, other types of measures for preventing and managing conflict are still lacking. Authoritative forecasts predict an aggravation of conflicts.

Gypsy self-organisation and the system of Gypsy self-governance

Formerly, associations provided the sole organisational framework for minority public activities. Their number and role increased considerably during the period before the minority self-government elections.

The Act on minorities (Act LXXVII of 1993) is of crucial importance in assisting the integration of the Gypsy minority into society. The Act included the Gypsy minority among the thirteen recognised minorities.

415 Gypsy Local Minority Self-governments were elected in December 1994 and a further 61 were elected in November 1995. The National Gypsy Minority Self-government was also formed. So far, 13 Gypsy Local Minority Self-governments have ceased functioning.

As a result of the special and serious problems of the Gypsies, the expectations placed on the Gypsy minority self-governments are too great for the self-governments to be able to meet them under present conditions. Most of the minority representatives have just begun to be active and many of them do not have the experience necessary for their public role. Many of the minority self-governments rely exclusively on the central subsidy for their operation and do not take advantage of the other forms of support. The Gypsy minority self-governments find themselves in a special situation. Whereas the self-governments of the national minorities are active mainly in the areas of education, culture and preserving traditions, the Gypsy self-governments have additional tasks which relate to social, health and employment questions.

The traditional internal mechanisms of self-organisation of the Gypsies have broken down. Their active participation in modern civil life is only just beginning. Nevertheless, the establishment of the Gypsy minority self-governments is clearly of great assistance in the task of integrating the Gypsy community into society.

Posted 15 November 1998.