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The Right Wing and the Roma (EU Presidency a Test for Tolerance in Hungary)


By Siobhán Dowling in Budapest, Hungary

Hungary will assume the six-month
rotating presidency of the European Union in January and the government
is pledging to forge a policy for addressing the Roma in all of Europe.
But the country has its own troubling history with the Roma, who have
been deeply impoverished and pushed to the margins of society since the
fall of the Iron Curtain.

Csaba Csorba is standing in scrubland beside the burned-out shell of
a small house. He points to the spot amid the tall grass where he found
his son Robert bleeding in the snow almost two years ago. Nearby lay
the body of his four-year-old grandson Robi. The small boy had been
shot through the head, his face was unrecognizable.

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The murders of Feb. 23, 2009 saw the Hungarian village of
Tatárszentgyörgy become synonymous with hate, hatred towards Europe’s
Roma people. Robert Csorba, a 27-year-old father of three, had gathered
up his young son in his arms and ran out to escape the flames that
engulfed his house, the last one on the edge of the village. Unknown
assailants had attacked under the cover of night, throwing Molotov
cocktails at the door and then opening fire when those inside tried to
flee. Robert was shot in the lungs and lived for another hour, dying on
the way to the hospital. His six-year-old daughter Bianka was injured
but survived, while his wife Renata and younger son escaped the blaze.

There is no indication that the murderers even knew who their
victims were. “The attackers didn’t really care who they killed,”
Robert’s father says today.

Csorba, a short stocky man who is missing many teeth, looks at least
10 years older than his 47 years. He believes his son might have
survived if he had received proper medical attention. “The ambulance
only came an hour and a half after we called, even though the hospital
is five minutes away, and it didn’t have oxygen,” he claims. And he
alleges that when the police arrived, they said the fire had been
caused by electrical problems, and that the doctor claimed his son’s
wounds had been caused by nails from falling beams and not gunfire.

It was only after the intervention of Viktória Mohácsi, a Roma
politician who at the time was a member of the European Parliament,
that the investigation into the deaths became a murder enquiry. Last
year, four men were arrested in connection with the crime, tracked down
through mobile phone records. But the suspects have yet to face trial.

Tough Questions as Hungary Takes EU Helm

The Csorba family were the latest victims in a series of attacks on
Hungary’s Roma that shocked the world in early 2009. Now, two years
later, Hungary is about to take the helm of the rotating European Union
presidency, and leaders in Budapest say a central plank in the
country’s EU agenda will be addressing the issue of the Roma. But how
much leadership can be expected from a country in which hatred of the
Roma is part of every-day discourse and where an avowedly anti-Roma
party regularly attracts the support of almost one-fifth of the

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The new center-right government under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán,
elected in April, has pledged to forge an EU-wide policy for addressing
the Roma issue during its six months of leadership in Brussels. “By the
end of the Hungarian presidency, the European Union will have a Roma
policy,” Orbán told state news agency MTI in late December. The
Hungarian leader said a draft policy would be presented in the spring.
“The European Roma strategy has to lay emphasis on education and
employment,” he said.

The issue took center-stage in EU politics this summer following
the expulsions of around 3,000 Roma from France. The EU rapped Paris on
the knuckles for its actions, saying it had contravened rules on the
freedom of movement of EU citizens, though it desisted from accusing
the government of French President Nicolas Sarkozy of discrimination
against an ethnic group.

The events of this summer brought into sharp relief the fact that
Europe’s largest minority group, with a population estimated at between
10 and 12 million, is living in poverty. Yet the Roma issue, in both
eastern and western Europe, often focuses just on the problems the Roma
pose, for example as a security or public order issue, rather than the
troubles they themselves face, from massive unemployment, poor access
to education, to discrimination and in the worst cases, anti-Roma
violence, including murder. And the wave of hate crimes against the
Roma in Hungary in 2008 and 2009, along with the rise of the fiercely
anti-Roma political party Jobbik and a general shift to the right in
Hungary, raises questions about what Europe’s Roma population should
anticipate from the Hungarian EU presidency.


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