Sunday, July 10, 2011

hungary's roma

Mailstrom has posted previously about the Roma. It takes extracts from this recent newspaper report.

Right across the continent, from Bulgaria to Britain, Europe is wrestling with a new outbreak of an ancient dilemma: the gypsies [the Roma], the gajé ( the non-gypsies) and how the two communities are to get along.

Since the arrival of the Roma from India via the Middle East in the 15th century, relations have rarely been smooth. Hitler's attempt to exterminate the community resonated with the deportations they suffered centuries previously in Spain and Henry VIII's England. President Sarkozy's grandstanding expulsion of thousands of Romanies over the past two years was only the latest version. In Britain the number has soared in recent years, because of waves of immigration from Romania and Bulgaria their alleged skilful exploitation of our benefits system has brought down the wrath of the tabloids. In Bulgaria and Romania, too, countries where they have lived in large numbers for centuries, the discrimination they suffer is still acute. Even in Spain, the dropout rate from high school is 80 per cent. And in many countries the image persists of a community of lawless, feckless petty criminals, condemned to eke out a miserable living on the fringes of our civilisation.

In Hungary in March, hundreds of uniformed vigilantes suddenly appeared in Gyongyospata. They stayed for three weeks. Wearing black paramilitary uniforms, they streamed into the gypsy ghetto and began ostentatiously to patrol in place of the police. They belonged to an organisation called Szebb Jovoert Polgaror Egyesulet, which means Civil Guard Association for a Better Future. They patrolled the town "day and night". The vigilantes were supported by a far-right political party called Jobbik which is anti-Semitic and anti-Romany. Roma residents are afraid to go to school, to work or even to buy food. The standoff ended only when the Hungarian Red Cross came and evacuated the gypsies with a convoy of buses.

In Hungary the previous "Communist" regime refused to regard the gypsies as a minority, but as a social problem - undisciplined proletarians who needed to be forced into the same mould as the rest. They were accordingly given poor-quality worker housing with very cheap mortgages, and obliged to toil, like everybody else. The regime didn't want them to get more education because they needed cheap unskilled labour. But when that system abruptly collapsed in 1989 the Communists' uneconomic factories and plants closed down. It was the unskilled workers at the bottom – the Romanies in particular – who were left high and dry. Romany unemployment shot up from 15 per cent to 85 per cent in two years. In the absence of work there was now welfare. Milking the system became a survival strategy. a Romany family would live off welfare, which arrives on the fifth of the month. By the money would run out, so they would run up credit at the local shop, and the men of the family would get a few days' casual work, building walls, fixing roofs, in the neighbourhood. But with the financial crisis, credit stopped and people stopped spending money and the work dried up. The Romanies have survived for the past 20 years but the economic crisis has driven them to the wall.

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