Wednesday

6th Jul 2022

Opinion

Anti-Roma hatred on streets of Budapest

  • Storm clouds over Budapest. Only the city's mayor Gergely Karácsony has so far raised his voice in protest at the weekend's events (Photo: John6536)

"Gyp*ies are fundamentally degenerate," shouted neo-fascists from the far-right Mi Hazánk (Our Homeland) group during an anti-Roma demonstration in the centre of Budapest last Friday (29 May).

The unauthorised march was triggered by the stabbing of two soccer fans in a fight between rival groups of young people.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Anti-Roma slogans and abuse were hurled through densely crowded city streets. Though none of the three people arrested in connection with the murders was Roma according to media reports, the tragic incident was seized upon by neo-fascist demonstrators as evidence of "Gyp*y criminality."

This collective scapegoating of an oppressed and stigmatised community for individual criminal activity (whatever the ethnicity of the perpetrator) is a well-worn neo-fascist strategy.

Anti-Roma intimidation of this sort is neither new nor exceptional. Virulent anti-Roma attacks and killings have tarnished Hungary's record for the past 13 years.

Remarkably, no national or EU leader has publicly condemned the aggressive and open dissemination of violent hate speech in Hungary's capital.

Only Budapest's mayor Gergely Karácsony has raised his voice in protest.

Silence of this sort is potentially lethal, as the historical record of speech acts enabling atrocity amply attests, from Nuremberg in the Nazi 1930s to Kigali at the start of the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

From 2007 onwards, far-right and neo-Nazi organisations, including the Hungarian Guard, the Hungarian Guard Movement, and the New Hungarian Guard, have been established, dismantled by courts, and re-constituted in Hungary.

In 2009 evidence emerged that some of these groups had organised secret militia and paramilitary trainings for their members.

Under the battle-cry of "stopping Gyp*y crime" and dressed in special military uniforms, these groups have organised violent activities including terrifying, hate-filled rallies, and criminal attacks against Roma community members.

Neo-fascist activists have collaborated with local vigilante organisations and paramilitary groups intimidating, threatening, beating, and, on occasion, murdering members of Roma communities.

The European Roma Rights Center documented over 60 attacks against Roma between 2008 and 2012.

Some attackers used grenades and Molotov cocktails, killed Roma adults and children, including the five-year-old Robika Csorba and his father.

In 2011, vigilante groups patrolled the village of Gyongyospata for a month with paramilitary, extremist groups moving in armed with axes, whips, and bulldogs, attacking a 14- year-old Roma boy, and assaulting a pregnant Roma woman.

'Not fit to live among people'

The hate-filled violence of neo-fascist activists builds on the complicity of Hungarian political leaders and on the structural violence that perpetuates the devastating social and economic legacy of anti-Roma racism in Europe.

In 2013, Zsolt Bayer, founding member of the now ruling Fidesz party, wrote: "a significant part of the Roma are unfit for coexistence. They are not fit to live among people. These Roma are animals and they behave like animals."

Prime minister Victor Orban has invoked anti-Roma rhetoric time and again as part of his arsenal of racist hate speech.

In 2020, he openly criticised a court decision awarding damages to Roma children illegitimately segregated in special schools in Gyöngyöspata, describing the court ordered financial compensation as "money for nothing."

Extreme neo-fascist activity and anti-Roma hatred have seeped into collective Hungarian consciousness.

A 2019 Pew Research Center poll showed that 61 percent of Hungarians expressed negative sentiments toward Roma. The far-right TV station Hír backed Orban's criticism of the Gyöngyöspata school segregation judgment, with the support of 97 percent of its viewers.

Progressive and anti-racist Hungarians, including the thousands who mobilised and joined forces with Roma people to protest Orban's dismissal of the Gyöngyöspata case, have their work cut out for them.

With far-right groups on the offensive, government complicity, and hate speech again Roma and other minorities widely in evidence, and EU justice and human rights principles under attack across the continent, much more attention needs to be paid to each incident of anti-Roma violence, both to counter the immediate impact of intimidatory messaging and as early warning signs for potential future atrocities.

As we have argued since 2014, our all too recent past should prompt our institutions – national, regional and international – to build on the lessons learnt and take courageous pre-emptive steps moving forward.

Protecting hate speech and anti-Roma violence militate against both these urgent tasks.

Author bio

Jacqueline Bhabha is a professor of the practice of health and human rights at the Harvard T.H.Chan School of Public Health. She is the director of research at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University's only university-wide human rights centre.

Margareta Matache is a Roma rights activist and scholar currently working as an instructor and director of the Roma Program at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Feature

Pandemic: Roma at receiving end of racist policing

The reports we have received at the European Roma Rights Centre of extreme hardship, police violence, ethnic profiling and hate speech against Roma since the pandemic hit Europe, highlight the need for extra vigilance when governments adopt emergency powers.

Roma 'at heightened risk' from corona crisis

The EU's Agency for Fundamental Rights has warned that Roma inequality and discrimination is growing due to the coronavirus outbreak. Meanwhile, the EU Commission will present a strategy for Roma equality to tackle discrimination.

Inequality, anti-Roma racism, and the coronavirus

As citizens are urged to self-quarantine and wash their hands with soap and warm water, what if there's nowhere to hide, if you live in an overcrowded site or shanty-town, and don't have access to clean water and sanitation?

Feature

Covid-19's impact on Spanish Roma

There has been a lack of food and of basic necessities in many Roma households, which were already living in a state of extreme poverty and vulnerability: more than 40 percent experienced difficulty in accessing food.

The Digital Services Act — a case-study in keeping public in dark

Companies and lobby groups like Spotify, Google and International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) were able to lobby member states using live knowledge of the trilogue discussions on content-ranking systems, advertising and liability for search engines.

Council must act on core of EU migration package

By only screening, fingerprinting or relocating (some) refugees, or by outsourcing our border control to Turkey and giving Erdogan our keys, we will not solve the current problems.

News in Brief

  1. Instant legal challenge after ok for 'green' gas and nuclear
  2. Alleged Copenhagen shooter tried calling helpline
  3. Socialist leader urges Czech PM to ratify Istanbul convention
  4. Scottish law chief casts doubt on referendum
  5. British PM faces mounting rebellion
  6. Russian military base near Finnish border emptied
  7. Euro slides to lowest level in two decades
  8. State intervention ends Norwegian oil and gas strike

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  4. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers for culture: Protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage!
  6. Reuters InstituteDigital News Report 2022

Latest News

  1. EU readies for 'complete Russian gas cut-off', von der Leyen says
  2. Rising prices expose lack of coherent EU response
  3. Keeping gas as 'green' in taxonomy vote only helps Russia
  4. 'War on Women' needs forceful response, not glib statements
  5. Greece defends disputed media and migration track record
  6. MEPs adopt new digital 'rule book', amid surveillance doubts
  7. 'World is watching', as MEPs vote on green finance rules
  8. Turkey sends mixed signals on Sweden's entry into Nato

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us