Sunday

28th Feb 2021

Letter

Right of reply: Letter from the Hungarian government

Dear Editor,

In an opinion published on Wednesday, Anti-Roma hatred on streets of Budapest, Jacqueline Bhabha and Margareta Matache seize upon a recent protest led by far-right radicals to portray Hungary as a place where "hate-filled violence of neo-fascist activists builds on the complicity of Hungarian political leaders" like prime minister Orbán who draws on an "arsenal of racist hate speech."

Read and decide

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It's a cheap shot. Their article is opportunistic, woefully biased and all too familiar. Now that it appears we have overcome the worst stage of the coronavirus pandemic in Hungary and the chorus of liberal critics have had to pause their campaign against PM Orbán's supposed dictatorial power grab and move on to something else to denounce.

The reprehensible protest by a group of far-right radicals offers a perfect occasion. Clearly, their intent with this is to convince readers of the Orbán Government's responsibility for the radical right and their anti-Roma rhetoric.

Often the most interesting details in the writings of these "scholars" are the parts that they conspicuously leave out, facts that would undermine or contradict their politically driven argument.

For starters, the article claims that "no national or EU leader has publicly condemned the aggressive and open dissemination of violent hate speech in Hungary's capital."

That is simply not true. Gergely Gulyás, the minister heading the prime minister's office, condemned the protest, saying, "There is no such thing as g*psy crime, because crime doesn't have an ethnicity."

What's more, Bhabha and Matache ignore significant details in the record of prime minister Orbán's governments on Roma issues since 2010.

Previous, Socialist-led governments viewed the Roma community's social issues merely as necessary line items on an agenda but failed to ever deliver actual results in terms of inclusion.

Following a series of shocking murders in 2008 and 2009, when a group of extremists, driven by ethnic hatred, targeted and killed innocent Roma citizens, it was an Orbán government that, on the initiative of the prime minister himself, decided on a compensation package to help victims get back on their feet.

In 2013, the court handed down three life sentences, plus 13 years with no parole for the fourth-degree offender.

Shortly after taking power in 2010, Orbán's administration outlawed paramilitary organisations that intimidated Roma communities, including the far-right, radical Jobbik party's notorious Hungarian Guard Movement.

That's the same Jobbik that has been embraced with open arms by Hungary's liberal opposition and given a pass on their racist past by the international press.

In the new Fundamental Law, the government introduced some of the most comprehensive hate-speech legislation, banning hate speech directed at communities and individuals. Also, during that period, the Fidesz-led parliament passed cardinal laws that increased the punishment for hate speech and displaying hate symbols.

To counter early drop-out rates, our government introduced compulsory pre-school attendance, raising the enrolment rate of Roma children to 79 percent at the time.

Similarly, children from families that struggle to provide regular meals now have access, free of charge, to the nutrition they need at nurseries, kindergartens and schools; plus, they are given free textbooks as well. Classes on Roma history and culture have been made part of the national curriculum.

Vice president of the European Parliament, Livia Járóka, is the first Romani woman ever elected to that body and she was elected on the Fidesz-KDNP ticket.

Unfortunately, readers will never hear these details from correspondents like Bhabha and Matache because they don't advance their anti-Orbán agenda.

Author bio

Zoltan Kovacs is state secretary for international communication in the cabinet office of the prime minister of Hungary.

Disclaimer

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

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