Save the Roma Parliament in Budapest District 8
This page was created by University of Washington Students from Seattle as a response to their experience working with Roma intellectuals and Roma individuals at the technically “closed” Roma Paliament in Budapest.
Racism against Roma in Hungary
Racism is still seen throughout the world in different cultures, groups, and countries, and Hungary is no exception. While racism and xenophobia are not generally more severe in Hungary relative to other similar countries, the violent oppression of the Romani population is. Roma people face increasing disadvantages including segregation, discrimination, harassment, and unequal treatment all over Hungary. Although the Romani people have among them intellectuals, musicians, and poets, they are still treated as second-class citizens – this needs to change. The Roma Parliament is the only space in Budapes tin which this population can gather, support one another, and contribute to more positive developments in the interest of inclusion and minority rights for Roma people. We ask that the District 8 municipality reopen the parliament building – which has been closed but remains abandoned – for the benefit of the Roma community.
The media has a significant influence on society’s thoughts and opinions about particular groups of people and in Hungary, the Romani are consistently misrepresented. It is no wonder that a country that oppresses these people only contains one Romani-run media source, a radio station. While the Romani only have one media outlet to convey their image and represent themselves, mass media targets them and instills their biases among the greater population. An example of this representation of stereotypes by the media is the term, “Roma Criminality”. This is a topic discussed in popular media, contributing to the stereotype that Romani people are criminals. The Roma cannot identify with this discriminative representation, which further contributes to the result of an excluding society. It is because of things like negative media portrayal that 68% of parents in Hungary said they would not allow their children to be friends with a Romani child. In essence, Hungary is teaching its youth that this exclusion and separation is normal.
Specific examples of discrimination faced by the Roma community more than pepper Hungary’s history. From being denied rights to housing, employment, (unemployment for Roma is 90% in Hungary), health care, equal education as well as random acts of violence, mistreatment of Roma is far from a new development, and has escalated immensely in the past 13 years. Here are examples of the extremism rampant in Hungary:
300 football fans traveling to eastern Hungary by train attacked Romani people at the train station in Taktaharkany, they began shouting “White Hungary!” & “Get out of here!” at 5 Roma. At another stop they attacked the homes of Roma families with stones and as of Dec. 7, 2001, police suspected one person of collective disorderly conduct, and only few others were interrogated by police.
January 29th, 2002 unknown perpetrators tried to burn down the Pecsvarad Gypsy Self-Government office in the Baranya County
6 non-Romani men were drunk coming home from a local disco attacked Romani families in their homes, elderly people suffered broken bones and injuries from attacks with iron bars. The attackers broke home and car windows with sticks, axes, and bricks. The attack was supposedly an act of revenge for an alleged theft of 500,000 forints worth of copper. The attacker believed the perpetrator was Romani
According to reports now widely circulated in the Hungarian media, József Patai, a fifteen-year-old Romani youth, was stabbed in the stomach by one of a group of six persons shortly after he boarded a bus at Budapest’s Moszkva ter with two non-Romani friends. Two of the members of the group were reportedly armed with swords. The attacker reportedly singled out József from among a bus full of persons who had taken notice of the group and stabbed him after shouting “What are you staring at?” When one of József’s
friends started shouting for help, the bus driver opened the doors of the bus, which was just about to leave, and the assailant as well as the five other persons with him exited the bus. Thankfully the victim survived the attack although Hungarian police have not managed to identify or detain any of the alleged perpetrators.
During a 13-month reign of terror of the Neo-Nazis against the Roma they set fire to homes, threw Molotov cocktails and staged attacks in 8 Roma villages.
A four-year-old boy and his father were shot dead while they tried to escape their burning home in addition to killing a woman while she was asleep in her home.
According to an official statement from the police, they received a call that a busload of football fans had stopped outside the village school, drunkenly threatened and harassed the Romani school children. After arriving on the scene, the police failed to act against the racist attack, only checking the IDs of 26 persons, and then sending the fans on their way. According to the police statement, no criminal or administrative offence happened.
In part, modern racism exists because people blame certain social/racial groups for their own personal disadvantageous situations. Because of this, stereotypes, prejudices, and discrimination perpetuate themselves. This leads to the emphasis of cultural differences, thus homogenizing groups together. Hungary must take steps to de-homogenize groups, root out stereotypes, and end discrimination against Roma minorities. This will require providing public space for such efforts.
Strategies to Save the Roma Parliament
The most beneficial strategy to save the Roma parliament is to stir up interest of the past, present, and future of the Roma situation. Without a strong support group, improvement would be difficult.
Increase Awareness: One of the challenges that the Roma community has faced over the years has been the lack of education of their history and their current situation. The first step to improving their situation would be educating the public, to increase awareness and create a larger base of support. We appreciated our experience with the district educational tours provided by UCCU and our visit to Gallery8.
Expanding the Roma parliament: In the case of El Centro de la Raza in Seattle, the abandoned school was occupied by El Centro De La Raza despite the municipality’s eviction attempts.
Ultimately the city relented, and today the property is a vibrant community center focused on supporting the Latino community, but providing services and a safe haven for all local minority groups. The support group for this center was large and diverse and that is what has allowed the center to be successful. Expanding the support group for the Roma parliament could help save it, and building a base of allies is critical. perhaps partnering with the local Jewish community in District 8 would provide a wider base of support for saving the Parliament.
We hope that this annual university program can help serve as a bridge to build that base, and preserve the Parliament for Roma cultural, political, and educational endeavors that otherwise must be abandoned – like this Parliament building.
If Budapest and District 8 municipalities are serious about Roma inclusion during this Decade of Roma Inclusion, (launched by 12 European countries in 2005 including Hungary), then their priority should be preserving this Parliament as it is the only viable public space to which this community has access in the whole of Budapest. According to the United Nations Development Programme Report, Civil Society, Civic Involvement and Social Inclusion of the Roma, EU funds operate in a way that disproportionately exclude Roma civil society organizations, especially those operating at the community level.
These findings support the preservation of this space that provides a means to foster community, and actively participate in efforts to overcome the issues that they are facing in society. Having a safe place where stereotypes can be broken down would ultimately improve the situation for a larger group of minorities and perhaps ultimately the Roma Parliament would become a multicultural facility that supports a variety of minority needs in Budapest.
Fundraising: Having a dialogue with people that could support the cause would allow them to combat more issues. Reaching out to well-respected, popular social figures that were willing to help speak in favor of the Roma cause would help the youth population that has recently been shifting to the extremist party ideology become more enlightened and be more willing to listen to the counterargument to their beliefs.
Increase Use of the Roma Parliament: Continual use of the Roma Parliament for art exhibitions, cultural events, classes, etc., would solidify the Roma Parliament as a necessary establishment in the community. With these classes and events regularly taking place in the cultural center, a stronger sense of community would be created among the population.