Wednesday, April 14, 2010



"If You Are Roma, You Can Be Shot Down Like a Dog"

Szilvia Varró, winner of the 2010 Joseph Pulitzer Memorial Prize for investigative journalism, recently spoke about the rise of the far right and anti-Gypsyism in Hungary with Bernard Rorke of the Open Society Institute.

Szilvia Varró, a journalist with the Hungarian weekly Magyar Narancs and an OSI Roma Initiatives Fellow, was recently awarded the 2010 Joseph Pulitzer Memorial Prize for investigative journalism. (1) Szilvia published a series of in-depth articles about the wave of gun and bomb attacks on Roma settlements that left six dead and many wounded. She has also extensively covered the rise of the right-wing extremist Jobbik party. The award citation said that while Szilvia holds “a definite worldview,” her conclusions are always grounded in fact; and described her as a writer ever prepared to challenge majority opinion, whatever the issue. She spoke recently with Bernard Rorke.

Bernard Rorke: Jobbik is trying to remold itself as a radical rather than fascist party. How would you categorize Jobbik?

Szilvia Varró: Jobbik is an openly anti-Semitic and racist party which uses populist ideas borrowed from left and right, covered with a strong hatred of Jews and Roma. They successfully manipulated a widespread and growing fear of crime, which Jobbik links to the Roma.

But Jobbik’s success cannot be described adequately in ethnic terms. During the European Parliamentary elections many young people voted for the party. A substantial section of the Hungarian population is fed up with mainstream political parties, wants law and order, and no Gypsies. Jobbik became a protest party which could attract the votes of people disenchanted with politics, who view the political class as distant and incompetent. Society was sensitive to corruption before the global financial crisis, but the meltdown made ordinary people particularly sensitive. Under these conditions the extreme right has been and is able to exploit the political vacuum with its quasi- fascist demagogy.

Jobbik is the Wunderkind of the European extreme-right scene. With its combination of successful use of new media and communications, its radical fresh and forthright language, and the conscious grassroots mobilization and structure of the party, it was able to connect with the younger generation. In part, Jobbik owes its success to the impotentsocialist-liberal government which has been in power for eight years, but failed to dissolve the Roma ghettos; failed to address poverty; and did nothing to help the multiply disadvantaged impoverished micro-regions.

Bernard Rorke: Attention to anti-Gypsyism in Hungary has abated since the wave of serial killings ended. How high is the level of prejudice against Roma now? Based on your direct contact with Roma communities, is there still a climate of fear and intimidation?

Szilvia Varró: Due to the overall decline in living standards, Roma became one of the main targets of increasing intolerance. Although the banned Hungarian Guard, the paramilitary wing of Jobbik, is no longer marching through Roma ghettoes, Roma still expect them at any time. Even if there are no more deadly attack against Roma in Hungary, no-one can wipe what has happened over the last two years from the collective memory of the Hungarian Roma. The message was clear, and clearly understood: even if you’re a hard-working student, even if you hold a high position, and have become an integral part of the Hungarian society—if you are Roma you can be shot down in your bed like a dog. Roma remain traumatized in Hungary; not even the relatives of those Roma who were attacked and murdered receive any assistance from the Hungarian state to cope with their trauma and tragedy.

(1) The Pulitzer Memorial Prize, which has been awarded since 1989 in memory of the Hungarian-born Joseph Pulitzer, recognizes outstanding achievement among Hungarian journalists working in print media or online.

A version of this article will appear in the coming days on the Open Society Institute blog.

1 comment:

Casimire said...

1936 all over again, just (slightly) different uniforms!!! The UN should take steps to get Romani out of those countries. We never started a war. Yet both sides shoot at Roma when there is a conflict.