Robert E. Koulish Ph.D.

What Roma Want Survey: Roma Civic Attitudes in Hungary

January 2001

“The gypsies are a litmus test not of democracy but of civil society.” Vaclav Havel

Summary of Findings

·         Roma have knowledge about local issues, minority self government functions and responsibilities.

·         Roma want to be involved and have input on civic issues.

·         Roma lack the civic tools and skills for effective involvement.

·         A strong plurality (44.6%) of Roma give their local MSGs a failing grade of Poor.

·         A solid plurality (40%) have no trust in their MSGs to deliver on its promises.

·         Overall Roma feel their local MSG is ineffective at providing the responsibilities enumerated by law (say in cultural activities).

·         There are significant differences among the five cities in the effectiveness of Roma MSGs.

·         Of the Roma asked in the five cities, 90% of Roma oppose abolishing MSGs.

·         Roma want MSGs to be working on job training, welfare payments, housing, and investigating discrimination complaints more than they want MSGs do be organizing classes on Roma culture, language, history. The only things they wanted less is to see their MSG assume all the responsibilities of the local government, including garbage pick up and supplying water and electricity.

·         The Roma feel a great deal stronger about having their MSG control for social rights than for minority rights.

·         Roma do not want self-determination.

Abstract: The What Roma Want Survey, a sample of 500 Roma in five cities, shows significant differences in Roma responses from city to city, reflecting in part the civic health of the specific communities. Since the transition, numerous attempts have been made to include Roma in democratic life. The MSG system has a rare opportunity to overcome obstacles to effective civic engagement. Overall, the survey finds that Roma have civic knowledge, civic interest and want to be involved in civic life. The Roma know about their MSG, they do not want to see it abolished. Beyond that, however, the Roma want substantial changes in MSGs to reflect dire social conditions in these communities.


In the ten years since Hungary’s political transition, decision-makers have undertaken several steps to enhance the vibrancy of civic life. Among these steps are policy measures designed to embolden the practices associated with the notion of Roma citizenship. Since Hungary’s first written constitution in 1949, the Roma have enjoyed full rights of legal citizenship. Under state socialism the Roma—and all Hungarians-- were denied public freedoms and attachments associated with citizenship. Since the transition, any positive benefit adhering to formal citizenship has been mitigated by social crisis in the Roma community.

Throughout the 1990s, the Roma have been Hungary’s most vulnerable social group: social and economic indicators extremely low, and discrimination high. As a new millennium starts in Hungary (it’s second as a nation-state), there is an increasing gap between Roma and non-Roma in jobs, housing conditions and educational achievement. By virtually any measure this is despairing news for anybody that takes for granted that Roma civil society means that the Rom have a modicum of control over and a say in the forces that govern their lives. It is with this social situation in mind, that the What Roma Want Survey asks if civil society is beyond the reach of the Roma.

The simple answer to this question is NO. Civil Society is not beyond the abilities or desires of the Roma. It may be beyond their reach, however, and it is here where things get complicated. A recent study shows Roma civic interest higher than non-Roma interest. We follow this track and endeavor to reconcile high civic interest and admittedly low civic skills and achievement among the Roma. This Report focuses on Roma citizenship in the wake of several policy measures designed to lend support to Roma civil society, by giving the Roma special rights. Because formal rights on paper have meant little to the real world social existence of 20th century Roma, the Report only briefly mentions the legal dimension of minority citizenship and refers instead to real world civic practices: Roma connection to local institutions and issues, voting and participating in local activities.

This idea for discussing Roma citizenship emerges from the UN Declaration on Minorities as well as Articles 25 and 27 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as they are adapted to Hungary’s LXXVII Act of 1993 on National and Ethnic Minorities (herein The Act). Article 2 of the United Nations Declaration on Minorities, recognizes the right of minorities to participate in…social, economic and public life.” Article 25 of the ICCPR guarantees the right to political participation. According to the head of the United Nations Working Group on Minorities, the purpose of minority rights as codified in Articles 25 and 27 is to link good government with effective participation of minorities in public life. These rights, according to scholars, consist of having say and control to some degree over social, economic, and public affairs.

Following the Hungarian Constitution that holds that international law is binding only when incorporated into law enacted by the Hungarian Parliament, these international standards of good citizenship are embedded in the Act to encourage the Roma to gain some semblance of control and mastery over their social, economic and public lives. The Act takes these minority rights and introduces measures designed to get Roma to deliberate about their communities and participate in shaping forces that contribute to the community as a public whole.

Specifically, the What Roma Wants Survey investigates the applicability of the Act to the Roma experience in Hungary. As we start this investigation, we are mindful of the bedrock of political thinkers and international standards that argue basic living conditions must be taken into account as a prerequisite to minority and civic rights. The writers among this group include Michael Sandel, Micahel Walzer, and Will Kymlicka. Further, Robert Putnam’s investigation of civic life in Italy, finds the correlation between high levels of civic engagement and involvement in public affairs. Putnam found civic involvement is a clear determinant of governmental success. Governments tend to flourish in regions, he said, with high voter turnout, high newspaper readership, and active cultural societies and other community organizations, while those localities bereft of community ties tend to experience governmental gridlock and political stalemate. This investigation examines Roma civil society as a foothold to understanding Hungary’s democracy. It looks at the flip-side of Putnam’s civil society. The overrepresentation of Roma who are illiterate and have less than an 8th grade education make them unlikely citizens according to Putnam’s indicators of civic strength. To write them off, however, distorts the potential contribution of Hungary’s largest ethnic or nationality group. Thus we examine Roma civic interest in local policy issues and institutions as well as in voting, volunteering and church attendance.

We focus on the notion of democratic rights and responsibilities for all as the glue that holds together local civic communities, and refer to strong civic attachments in terms of civic health or good citizenship. Civic health is a process of civic engagement in which Roma voices are heard and reciprocated, if not heeded. The subjective attitudes of Roma must indicate they are involved and satisfied with the process and intended outcomes, if not the actual outcomes.

The Roma and other actors in the civic community are bound together by horizontal relations of reciprocity and cooperation, not by vertical relations of authority and dependency. Roma and non-Roma alike must interact as equal, not as patrons or clients of the state or local government, or MSG. Given this circle of civic attachment, specific measures of Roma civic health logically include: norms of reciprocity, mutual trust, networking, and other forms of voluntary cooperation.

For this to work, however, and for strong civic attachments to take root and grow, Roma leaders must conceive of themselves as accountable and responsive to their fellow citizens. The Roma must be considered equals: their involvement must count, and they must be satisfied with the ends or direction of these evolving civic attachments.

Putnam’s template would overlook Rom civic assets altogether because the Roma may lack basic writing and reading skills as prerequisites to civic attachments. We disagree. Putnam’s standard would also hold civil society beyond the grasp of ordinary Roma. Rather in our study, this is the topic of inquiry. First, we adhere to the belief that civic health need not be logo-centric. We countenance Putam’s reliance on literacy as a prerequisite. We focus on norms of interaction between Roma—minority self-government, NGOs and local government that have a basis in oral communication as well as written information. In the process, we hope to reveal which political and civic institutions along with such non-political factors as education, income, and age come together to form networks capable of supporting strong civic attachments

This Report accepts the Roma as rational and capable of strategic self-interest. This means that the Roma, like anybody, make decisions in order to advance their needs/interest. It also takes the view that civic practice is relational, that is, people in a successful civil society are interdependent. This also means people are influenced in their decisions and behavior by their objective surroundings (socio-economic factors, institutions, history, tradition, etc.).

The dilemma the Roma face is a collective action problem. A common view in Hungary does not treat Roma as 100% citizens, and portrays Roma communities as laden with distrust, exploitation, isolation and disorder. Perhaps the most important mission of special minority rights is to establish an inclusive civic community where Roma enjoy democratic rights of citizenship. Local MSGs provide an unprecedented opportunity for Roma to get involved. In order for this to occur, the Roma community must overcome the tendency for members to free-ride—that is special rights going to all Roma, even those individuals who fail to assume their share of civic responsibility. This free rider problem generates resentment, bad-will, mistrust, and conflict between the individual and community, and civil society is weaker as a result.

We hold that the MSG system is beneficial in that it generates opportunities for civic attachments to take root, nurture and grow. Unlike other associations in Hungary, MSGs hold the potential to overcome this collective action problem, not because of their iron-clad enforcement mechanisms (they have none), but because they have a political and legal mandate to engage the Roma in skill building practices as trust, leadership and cooperation. In other words, MSGs have that rare potential to create a fabric of trust that enables the Roma community to overcome opportunism. What is less clear, and thus also the subject of inquiry, is if the MSG functions and is structured to effectively overcome the collective action.

Minority Rights

The Act LXXVII of 1993 on the Rights of National and Ethnic Minorities (the Act) that went into effect in ’94-5 guarantees the Roma and 12 other minorities in Hungary the right to “personal autonomy and self governance.” The Act encourages the Roma to have a say over civic matters, particularly in educational, linguistic and cultural affairs. This say is crucial to control and mastery in that it inculcates in Roma a sense of belonging and responsibility. Thus, in asking what Roma want from civil society, we seek to measure Roma citizenship in terms of having “a say” in issues that affect their lives. The Act also introduces the institution of minority self-government (MSG) that, by virtually all accounts in 1994, was intended to provide a civic foundation for Roma.

Of all the possible ways to investigate civic institutions, we focus on effectiveness because this is the term of choice in international reports that have discussed the participation of minorities in public life. The current minority rights framework for civic attachments is effective to the extent it generates trust, dialogue and associational activity, and offers a strategy that is appropriate to the people’s needs and interests.

We feel that any effective minority rights framework must provide an inclusive, transparent, and accountable process of consultation with local government, and service the Roma community in a way that is responsive to its needs. The notion of subsidiarity, a theoretical foundation for local minority self-governance, in this case-study requires dialogue and information and resource sharing. The logic here is that information and resource sharing democratizes community, boosts trust and confidence among local actors, and fosters intercultural understanding, all criteria of civic community.

We also consider subjective factors such as favorable job performance ratings, as important criteria for effectiveness, where Roma rank some MSGs more successful than others.

The findings in this Report show conclusively overall, that the vast majority of Roma have knowledge, civic interest and want to be involved in civic life, and this finding holds for even the weakest civic city. Likewise, there are obstacles to involvement in even the strongest civic city. Some of these obstacles deal with individual characteristics, and other obstacles deal with institutions that tie the Roma to civil society. That the Roma want to be more involved should come as no great surprise. What is surprising is that civic institutions such as local governments, Roma MSGs and NGOs are incapable of providing the Roma with effective access to public life.

Overall, the findings might do little more than muddy these already complex waters. Hopefully, they will bring to the fore a dialogue about whether or not civil society as highlighted in minority rights are the appropriate remedy for the problems that beset a Roma people that have yet to secure basic economic survival and political rights.


The questions cover Roma interest in being involved in a host of local, regional and national issues as well as in such civic activities as voting, selecting local leaders, participating in trainings, attending church and volunteering. Voting is considered one of the most important measures of civic participation. We spend a lot of time drilling into civic interest because every other part of this study hinges on this issue of how much Roma are interested in and want to be involved in local decisions that affect their lives.

Roma Say

Civil society is marked, first of all, by active participation in public affairs. According to the political thinker Michael Walzer, “Interest in public issues and devotion to public causes are the key signs of civic virtue.” Of course citizens need not be virtuous for civil society to function. What is needed, Alexis de Toqueville tells us, is “self interest, broadly understood,” that is, self interest defined in the context of community needs, or self interest, as Robert Putnam says, “that is alive to the interest of others.”

We start simply by asking, “Overall, how much say do Roma have in decisions relevant to their life?” The logic here is twofold. First, we want to attack the stereotype of Roma ignorance and apathy—is there any merit to these claims? —Second, we want to get a basic threshold for measuring civic involvement among the Roma overall and in the five cities. In particular, the responses to this battery of questions tell us about: 1) the interest/impact that Roma have over local matters, and 2) the amount of knowledge they have about local matters.

We give three response choices, asking if Roma have 1=“no say,” 2=“not much,” 3=”a lot.” “Not much” to “no say” means the Roma feel they have little interest and virtually no opportunity to get involved in public life. At the other extreme “a lot” of say means Roma have a great deal of interest in being involved and are active in their communities.

We measure the amount of say that Roma have in their communities in terms of 1) personal characteristics of the Roma, 2) their local communities, and 3) particular local issues. To what extent, if at all, is having a say linked to personal characteristics and where the Roma live?

First, we find real practical differences among personal characteristics. Roma who are younger and have higher education have the highest knowledge of local issues and impact on their communities.

Second, there are significant differences among the five cities. Nagykanizsa’s Roma have the most impact. Batonyterenye’s Roma place second, Budapest assumes the broad middle, Tiszavasvari’s Roma are fourth—they score high at the two extremes of having say (“a lot” and “none”), and Szeged’s Roma places last, suggesting they are disconnected from the public life of their city.

Third, what are the local issues that hold the Roma’s interest? We sought their response to questions about eight different issues that fall under local jurisdiction according to the Municipalities Act (1990). We ask about the following issues: 1. Schools; 2.Housing; 3. Police and civil patrols; 4.Health and medical service delivery; 5.Job training; 6.Basic utilities like electricity and water; 7.Cultural events; and, 8.Choosing local political leaders. The logic to this battery of questions is to determine if the Roma know what is going on in their city and if they feel they have any impact/influence on local matters. The question about choosing local leaders is designed to get at issues of local democracy and political representation.

There is a big difference in Roma having say among the local issues. Of the 8 issues listed, Roma have the most influence over education, and the least influence over policing.

Rank Ordering of Say/Interest in Local Issues


2. Health

3. Cultural Events

4. Basic Utilities

5. Choosing Local Leaders

6. Job Training

7. Housing

8. Police

Because these responses correspond nicely to local issues delineated in the Act and/or the1990 Municipalities Act, we can plausibly infer that the Roma have at least an intuitive knowledge about what is going on in their city. They know the most about local/ethnic-based issues like schools and cultural events, and less to say about those issues that are ostensibly beyond the scope of local politics: policing -- still a national issue in Hungary--. The issues of which they are most aware are by objective measure, those issues that are open to local citizen influence.

It is important to note that even though schools place first, the Roma influence over schools is small. The Roma input in cultural activities is less than in schools. Perhaps of greatest concern is the lack of Roma influence in choosing local leaders. The Roma have almost no say in selecting the people who are their leaders. This means the Roma recognize their voices are not heeded in the political process. The only area where the Roma feel even less empowered is in policing, a national issue that has caused a lot of pain in the Roma community.

With regard to the amount of say Roma have in the local issues, we find there are significant differences from one city to the next. When we examine specific issues like education we find that only the Roma in Nagykanisza rate their involvement above the medium level of “not much say.” The Roma in Batonyterenye place a distant second regarding interest in schools, but it is worth noting that their interest in education is between “not much” and “none.” The major city of Budapest hovers around the five-city average, which practically speaking is the same as in Tiszavasvari and Szeged at the bottom.

Although four of the five cities have almost the same interest in schooling, the more interesting story is revealed in the bar chart below. It shows the polarization of interest, most markedly in Tiszavasvari, almost tied with Nagykanisza at the top with many people having “a lot” of say, and with Szeged at the bottom with many people feeling they have virtually “no say.”

The five cities also differ when it comes to cultural activities. Roma have the most input in cultural activities in Nagykanisza. This finding coincides nicely with the prevalence of actual programs run by the Nagykanisza MSG and local NGOs. The only other city where Roma register some say in organizing cultural activities is Budapest. In the other three cities, Tiszavasvari, Batonyterenye, and Szeged, the Roma have almost no say in cultural activities.

In sum, according to the rank ordering of issues, we find it plausible to say that the Roma know what is going on in their city. Further, the Roma have little impact over these issues, particularly those that are supposed to generate civic attachments: education and culture.

Civic Aspirations

Next we ask how much say the Roma would like to have in local matters that affect their lives, and find overall and in each city separately, they would like to have more influence in local matters. In Nagykanisza, not surprisingly, the Roma want “a lot of say.” In the other two cities—Tiszavasvari and Budapest, the Roma want a modest but meaningful role We find a practical difference between the two other cities—Batonyterenye and Szeged-- that hover near the bottom of our “say” scale. In Batonyterenye, the Roma do not want much say, and in Szeged, the Roma want a great deal of say.

Civic Interest Gap: Roma Civic Health

To make sense of the relationship between the influence they possess and the amount they desire (question 2 and question 35), and get a first clean swipe at defining Roma civic interest, we introduce a “civic interest gap” (C-Gap) variable, to register the difference, if any, between these two categories of interest. The overall citizenship gap (the difference between the mean score for 2 and the score for 35 =2.609) is the difference in the average for question 2 and 35.

The existence of this gap shows that Roma want to be more involved. The gap also shows whether existing outlets for civic expression satisfy the Roma. First, there is no significant difference among the individual characteristics of Roma. Even adjusting for education, income, age and sex, Roma want more from their civil society. This means that even Roma with little to no educational achievement want more say; Roma who depend on state benefits as their only source of income want more say too. The existence of this gap contradicts the common sense view that Roma have tuned out and internalized characteristics that are the benchmark of a culture of poverty.It means that Roma interests in being involved are not being met by existing institutions and programs.

Second, there are significant differences in “the C-gap” among the five cities, as the graph below illustrates: Nagykanisza and Batonyterenye have a small gap, which means the Roma there do not want to be much more involved. There exists bigger civic interest gaps in Szeged, Budapest and Tiszavasvari, places where the Roma want to be more involved. The C-Gap is highest in Tiszavasvari where the frustrations of the Roma provide a palpable illustration of the civic restlessness there.

The C-Gap for Nagykanisza and Batonyterenye is small, but interpreting this finding shows the huge difference in the civic health of these respective cities. In Nagykanisza, the Roma start out much more involved than in any other city. They also score highest in the amount of say they want to have. The narrowness of the gap tells us that Roma are roughly satisfied with the influence they have. This finding together with the finding that Roma in Nagykanisza top the five cities in terms of having say, provide strong indicators that Nagykanisza has a healthy civic community for Roma.

The situation in Batonyterenye is much different. The small gap there, together with the finding that the Roma do not have much or any say in local matters, strongly suggests a weak civic community. The Roma do not have say and do not want to get involved. We take solace here in finding, however, that even in Batonyterenye, the Roma want to be involved and with say more than want to give up (hence even the smallest of positive gaps).

In Tiszavasvari, the large C-Gap evokes the sense of civic potential in that city. In Tiszavasvari, the Roma want to be a great deal more involved than they are at present. Obstacles to more effective involvement are no doubt in evidence and mush be examined.

C-Gap Graph (here)

Case Summaries


Which town?



Grouped Median

% of Total Sum

% of Total N





































In sum, the citizenship gap provides important information about the civic health of the different cities as it pertains to the Roma.

Next we take a step beyond knowledge and interest questions and towards tangible indicators of civic involvement that include: voting, volunteering, participating in civic trainings (msg/ngo), and going to church.


As indicated in several studies, voting is one of the standards of civic participation. What we find interesting in this section is that voting has no impact on the amount of say the Roma feel they have, or on the C-gap. Cities with Low civic health have high voting rates, and cities with high civic health have lower voting rates. This means voting is not an effective determinant of civic commitment. There is little if any civic meaning attached to it.

Overall, we find that the Roma vote almost regularly, and in some cities they vote regularly in surprisingly high numbers. Over all, 52% Roma say they vote regularly, in comparison to 20% who never vote. We find that a greater majority of people in the weak civic communities of Tiszavasvari and Szeged are voters, than in Nagykanisza the city with the strongest civic health.

When we examine individual characteristics in the five cities and ask which factors if any are connected to voting among the Roma, we find age is a key determinant. At a significance level of .046, we find that younger people—under forty-- are more likely than older—over fifty-- to vote overall. No other individual characteristic sheds significant light on Roma voting.

In four of the five cities they vote only occasionally. The Roma of Tiszavasvari have the highest voting rate of Roma in any of the five cities. In Tiszavasvari, 76.4% Roma vote regularly. Although this figure seems astronomically high, city records in the office of the notary in Tiszavasvari support this finding. Next comes Nagykanisza at 61.3%, Batonytereny, with 47.3%, Szeged at 44.2%and the most politically apathetic when it comes to voting are the Roma that hail from Budapest at 32.7%.




Roma Voting Rate












Next, we examine the voting rate in each of the five cities by individual characteristics. In Szeged, age is the best indicator of who votes, with young people the most likely to vote regularly. There is a tendency among the highest wage earners to be regular voters, but this does not reach levels of significance. In Budapest, income determines who votes, but interestingly, it is the lowest income earners who are have the highest tendency to vote. Here, the high income Roma—among them musicians and artists-- tend to not vote. In Tiszavasvari, the city where Roma tend to vote regularly, there are no individual characteristics that explain voting behavior.


Although, volunteering is perhaps the key to having a civic society, we were wary of drafting questions about Roma volunteering. Several Roma Rights advocates told us that volunteerism is not only a foreign concept in Hungary and among the Roma but inappropriate as well. We even had difficulty coming up with the appropriate Hungarian term for volunteer, and as a result there was trepidation in deciding to include this term and accompanying battery of questions. During this initial process we had reservations about the appropriateness of applying what some of us saw as ethnocentric queries. And yet, we carried on with initial pilot surveys that included questions about volunteering and found the Roma were responsive to the questions. We decided to include this battery of questions.

We start with a somewhat abstract question to ask if the Roma would choose to volunteer in local decisions that affect their lives if the option arose. Here four of five cities report that by the slimmest of margins, they would choose to volunteer. By a slim margin, the Roma in Budapest are most willing to volunteer. The Roma in Szeged, Tiszavasvari and Nagykanisza offer a virtual tie between those who want to volunteer and those who opt out. The Roma in Batonyterenye stood apart in their unwillingness to volunteer, but this margin of difference is awfully slim.




Next we ask how willing Roma would be to volunteer 2-3 hours per month to work with their local MSG office. There is a dramatic difference among towns in willingness to volunteer. Here the Roma offer a strong sign of support for MSGs saying overall they would be willing to help out. When disaggregated by city, only the responses for Batonyterenye show a strong disinclination to volunteer. In the other four cities, the Roma are probably or definitely willing to help with their time.

We ask the same question as it pertains to non-profits, or NGOs. An even stronger pattern holds here, with Roma in Batonyterenye once again turning their backs on volunteering, and Roma in the other four cities saying they would probably or definitely volunteer if given the chance.

We ask if they are willing to get involved (volunteer) with local organizations (MSG or non-profits for several hours a month). The responses to these more exacting questions show an ebb in Roma willingness to volunteer. Of course, there are differences among the cities. Of responses among the five cities, the Roma in Nagykanisza have the most volunteer experience (training programs), and the Roma in Szeged they have the least experience.

Next, we follow up these questions by asking if the Roma have anything to do with MSGs or NGOs in their settlement. By a whopping majority, overall, the Roma report they have nothing to do with their local MSGs. We find differences among the cities, Nagykanisza is the only city where a majority of respondents report having anything to do with their MSG. About three times as many Roma in Nagykanisza are involved than opt out. This is reversed for the other four cities, where only 20%-30% have anything to do with the MSG. Here, by similar 3:1 margins, the Roma report having nothing to do with their MSGs.

Next we ask about actual experiences with NGOs. Few responded when we ask if the Roma in the five cities have ever volunteered or participated in an NGO sponsored activities or training programs. The highest response rate is Budapest, followed by Tiszavasvari, Nagykanisza, Batonyterenye, and Szeged. This indicates the Roma are uncomfortable with the question. There are significant differences among the cities in terms of Roma responses. Of those that did respond, we find that Nagykanisza is the only city with a majority of participants in training or volunteer programs offered by an NGO or MSG. In Budapest, with the highest response rate, respondents by a 4:1 ratio say they have never participated in such programs. In Tiszavasvari, by more than 2:1, the Roma have not been involved, and in Batonyterenye and Szeged with very few responses, virtually nobody could offer up a volunteer or training experience.

If good news can be gleaned from these findings, it is that age shows a significant relationship, and the strongest instance of civic activity comes from young adults in their twenties. One might say this bodes well for future generations. The Roma’s optimism about the future is worth noting in yet another response where they report that they prefer leaders who are younger and professional rather than older with experience.

Church Going.

Church attendance is not a dependable measure of Roma civic interest. Overall more than two-thirds Roma never go to church. Almost 25% attend on special occasions and, barely 10% attend regularly.






Roma Church Attendance Rate













These questions about civic interest were motivated by our interest in three aspects of civic participation: knowledge about local issues, the amount of say, and actual involvement —these aspects all come together in the larger investigation of the amount of control and mastery that Roma have over their own lives.

The Roma have a limited amount of mastery and control over their lives; clearly they would like to have more. They vote, do not go to church, and would be willing to volunteer and get involved. The Roma want more from civic community than voting. Put another way, voting does not tell us much about satisfaction with civic society. The measures of civic involvement that are of greater importance to the Roma are not available.

For some as yet unarticulated reason, civic institutions are failing to tap into this resource and develop and nurture this community. The inability of the Roma to have say and gain mastery and control over their lives, and feel they belong is even more prescient. Our hunch was that MSGs provide this desired platform. We find, however, that although Roma know of their MSG, they have little if anything to do with their local MSG, and while few know of NGOs, even fewer participate in NGO sponsored events such as training programs. It remains to explain the gap between Roma interest in being involved and the lack of involvement with MSGs and NGOs.



The research methodology consists of survey research: finding and interviewing a representative sampling of Roma in each city; and open ended interviews with decision-makers and Roma and non-Roma leaders involved in the triangular relationship connecting Roma-MSG-Local government. Devising an appropriate survey instrument was the summer’s most agonizing task. I arrived in Budapest May 2000 with a rough draft and outline of the type of questions I wanted to ask concerning “what Roma want from local democracy in Hungary.”

For about three weeks, a small team of research assistants, consultants and I worked almost nonstop on the survey. We sought and received input from academics; advocates in the Roma rights movement, political and civic Roma leaders, Ph.D students studying the Roma, and representatives from NGOs in Budapest. Everybody pitched in and had their say. We ran into rough spots even after coming to agreement on wording of questions in English because of the word choices in Hungarian. Once we had an initial draft, we ran pilots and regularly made modifications. Nobody was completely satisfied, but after three weeks we neared a consensus that we had arrived at a coherent and effective research instrument that sounded right in Hungarian. Revisions and modifications were made even after we arrived at our first community case study site in Nagykanizsa as we used the first full day of interviews as the final pilot.

During this time, we held training sessions in Budapest and Pecs and then selected a team of 12-15 mostly Roma interviewers from Budapest, Pecs and Debrecen to assist in the survey interviews .We had about 70% retention rate of these interviewers throughout the five weeks of field work. Some already had experience in survey research, others experience as journalists, teachers and professionals. All were interested in the research question, some using the experience to challenge their own attitudes towards the Roma and themselves. All were at ease in the community we were preparing to enter. With a translator or two in tow, I tackled the open-ended interviews. Colleagues handled immediate logistics and as a team we handled and adjusted to the real life realities of five weeks of fieldwork.

The research tour consisted of Nagykanizsa, Budapest District 8; Tiszavasvari; Batonyterenye, and Szeged. Obviously, I make no attempt to generalize the findings of this study to all of Hungary. Rather, I attempt to limit my generalizations to these particular cities.

Mapping Roma Identity

In each city the first task is to map out where the Roma live in order to approximate a representative sampling of the community for our survey. In the five cities, I deployed a random sample of Roma in two (Tisavasvari and Batonterenye) and snow-ball methods in three (Nagykanisza, Budapest and Szeged). The snow-ball method was found as the more effective approach in these cities because of the residential mixing among Roma and nonroma in large parts of these cities. Because our surveys would only work if the individual identified as roma, even checking key names in phone book would not work because many Roma no longer identify as Roma.

The following story-line describes initial steps taken in each city: The first order of business upon driving across the city line is to access a street map of the city and then ask various local leaders where the Roma lived. My strategy was to ask at least two different sources; MSG, and LG where the Roma lived. I was told in Budapest before embarking on the research to ask educators, nurses, and of course MSG and city officials. In each city on the first afternoon I interviewed the head of the MSG and either the mayor or head of the education department. It was also suggested that I find voter registration lists. At each stop, my hosts told me roughly the same thing: I cannot tell you where the Roma live because I can not know. It is against the law in Hungary to know who the Roma are and where they reside…. And yet, at each location, within an hour or two I was able to begin sketching out who the Roma were and where they lived. Everybody from school headmasters to city leaders told me that they cannot know, (but of course they know).

At each stop I pulled out the municipal map and different color markers. As MSG or local government (LG) leaders told me they could not know or tell me who the Roma are, they started to point out on the map the streets and neighborhoods where Roma lived.

Next we took a drive to these streets and neighborhoods and LG and/or msg officials started pointing out houses where Roma lived. We marked down the addresses, assigned numbers to the houses and depending on the number of houses, selected every second or third as potential interview sites. Once in the field, interviewers asked the first person to open the door who was 17 or older if they would agree to answer survey questions “about what Roma want.” If they answered no, the interviewer asked to see a member of the family 17 or older. As the topic of the research was described to the person who opened the door and finally to the person who agreed to be interviewed, the subjects self selected as Roma by agreeing to participate. From 15-20% of the respondents for one reason or another refused the interview. The others spoke to us. We interviewed a total of 100 individuals in each city. The number of houses that we approached in specific neighborhoods was based upon the reporting to us by LG and MSG officials of the approximate percentage of the city-wide Roma population purported to reside on these streets/in these neighborhoods

The reluctance of LG and MSG officials to share relevant data about the Roma must direct our attention to Hungary’s law on Data Protection adopted November 1992. This law establishes institutions to protect the individual and minority rights against unwarranted state interference. The Data Protection law assures citizens the right to protection of personal data and access to data of public interest. The logic of data protection is that individual autonomy and dignity require the individual has exclusive control of the sensitive data of his/her private life. According to the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, “Without such control, as evidenced in Hungary’s fascist and communist recent past, the individual could be made a means of others capable of collecting any information on him/her and to manipulate him/her with the help of this knowledge.”

The relevant provision of the Act deals with personal data and sensitive data; the former relates to a specified natural person; the latter to an individuals racial origin, national or ethnic origin, political opinion, religious or other belief, criminal conviction, condition of health and sexual orientation. Sensitive data enjoy special attention: they may only be processed with the written consent of the data subject or if specified by the law.

My initial greeting in these cities reinforces to us the absurdity of some of the unintended consequences inherent in the implementation of data protection laws. The hypocrisy of data protection is also obvious. Designed to protect vulnerable members of vulnerable social groups, data protection has the unintended consequence of impeding effective delivery of special programs, services and benefits tailored to Roma interests. Each of the policymakers and MSG representatives who told me they couldn’t tell me who or where the Rome are, were also recipients of state funding that gives monies on the basis of the number and location of Roma. Of course they know. Money depends on it. Three quick examples of monies coming to MSGs/ local governments on basis of Roma population:

·         MSG receives funding for catering to specific minority concerns.

·         Local governments receive normative funding from State on basis on number of Roma. Normative funding comes from the State central budget for each student. This money is different for kindergarten, primary school, and specialized schooling. There is a very special quota for handicapped people, additional funding for handicapped people, and there is an other quota for ethnicity, which is basically a funding source for Roma students. So, you get a certain quota for each student, and if you have a Roma student, then you get additional money.

·         Schools receive funding to establish separate Roma classes on basis of requests from the parents of 8 Roma school children.

We provide an example of a typical interaction we had that shows the difficulties of data protection for positive discrimination because positive discimination requires divulging personal and sensitive data.

A Typical Interaction taken from real interview mid-June 2000.

Topic: State Normative Formula for Roma in Public Schools

Q: How do you know … (who) is Roma?

·         A: That is a quite funny legal problem… but I wouldn’t like to go into details because this whole issue is dangerous. According to the law in Hungary, you are a member of the ethnicity, you want to be declared to be. It would be very difficult even for an outsider to say who is Roma and who is not. I cannot tell you who is a Roma. It is very important, that Roma should not be singled out. As far as we know the situation in Hungary, Roma in comparison to other minorities, still face a stronger discrimination.

·         In the same interview. I asked about how the normative formula works in practice, Q. How do you decide in practice, not in terms of the written law?

·         A. It is quite easy in practice.

The Mayor instructs the directors of the schools to declare how many individuals would like to declare normative support; Teachers have a look at students; count them and provide number to the Mayor. End of story.

With this ascriptive process of identification in mind we were able to sidestep the nuances of data protection and start tackling the thorny issue of Roma identity as we went about finding subjects for the survey. As part of our own research methodology we identified Roma corresponding to two prevailing approaches to Gypsies as a social group: 1). Ascription: we tracked the Roma initially in terms of if others assigned them Roma identity. “Where do the Roma live?” We asked this question of Roma MSG leaders; and non-Roma officials of the local government. 2) Self- Selection: After we knocked on the door, the person self selected as Roma by agreeing to the interview.

Why local government?

After fifty years of top-down, central authoritarian control, Hungarians have increasingly turned to civic opportunities to forge local civic attachments. A recent study shows that Hungarians are turning away from national-based and overtly partisan attachments in favor of local civic matters. This is the stuff of paving streets, filling potholes, getting public transportation, better schools, and administering health care and social service benefits. This “scale-up” bias coincides nicely with the logic of local democracy where it is preferrable to keep public decision making and policy implementation as close to the people who are affected by it as possible. When deciding about the level of government appropriate to addressing a public problem, the “scale principle” also coincides nicely with Hungary’s new Municipal Act (1990) that devolved responsibility for many policy issues to local communities.

Before the transition, local government had few real powers and functioned administratively and politically as surrogates or mouthpieces for the state. Following the changes in 1990 and the first free elections for local municipalities in May of that year, local governments gained independence from the state and the county/ and received a wide range of authority. The Municipal Act of 1990 facilitated the growth of civil society at the local level by devolving responsibility of many important social issues from the state to local government. Such devolution allows citizens to participate directly and meaningfully in self-governance.

Why urban areas? A majority of Hungary’s Roma population now lives in urban areas. Although a solid 40% of the country’s Roma population reside in villages and small settlements, the MSG-LG relationships there are organized around personal relationships. For much of the 90’s Roma have become city dwellers. Cities offer the chance to examine institutionalized relationships that define patterns and practices of Roma participation/ involvement in Hungary’s democracy process. The institutional platform allows us to examine MSG performance through two election cycles. The results of a national survey conducted August 2000, provides support for our decision to focus on urban areas. It shows that Roma in cities have more civic interest than in villages or towns. It also shows that the MSGs are more likely to have a substantive role in local political issues in urban areas and county towns than in villages and townships.

Why these cities? These cities were selected to represent a mixture of 1) geographic diversity-our cities are located in four sof Hungary’s six regions (see below); 2) different sized cities: Nagykanisza: 36,000; Budapest District 8: 83,398; Tiszavasvari: 15,000; Batonyterenye__; Szeged: 173,000; and 3) common views of the types of MSG-LG relationships: strong and weak (4:1).

The distribution of gypsies varies by region. The estimated number is highest in North Hungary (120,000—Borsod, Heves, Nograd); about 100,000 in East Hungary (Szabolcs, Hajdu, Bekes), 60,000 in the southern Plain (Csongrad, Bacs, Jasz Nagykun), 90,000 in Budapest, 115,000 in South Transdanubia (Baranya, Somogy, Tolna, Zala, Veszprem), and about 15,000 in Vas and Gyor. A recent national survey has found that East Hungary has signifficantly less interest in civic affairs and minority self government issues. The selection of two cities in this region provides the potential to examine the discontented Roma; it provides a rich source of data to understand the weak connection between Roma and their minority self government. The findings in this report further support the choices made for their diversity.




# Roma MSGS




North Transdanubia















South Transdanubia












Middle Hungary









North Hungary









East Hungary












find population disaggregated by county*


I would like to thank Bentley College and Fleet Boston for their support of this research. In addition I would like to acknowledge PartnersHungary, Kinga Göncz, János Wágner, Antonia Hága, the Budapest University of Economic Sciences-Public Administration International Studies Center, József Berács, Illona Tóth, the Roma Rights Press Center, the University of Pécs Romology Department, the mayors, local officials, MSG presidents and representatives from Nagykanizsa, Budapest, Tiszavasvári, Bátonyterenye, and Szeged, and all the individuals who assisted in the conceptualization of this study, the interviews, research assistance, translation, and interpretation of data Among them are Aladar Horvath, Dimitrina Petrova, János Ladányi, Éva Orsós, Zoltán Asztalos, Zsófia Tószegi, Jennifer Borger, Nidhi Trehan, Emília Molnár, Kai Schaft, Joel Deichmann, Nick Teebagy, Sean McDonald, Charles Hadlock