Thursday, March 31, 2011


30 Mar 2011 16:42


Source:  Reuters

By Marton Dunai


March 30 (Reuters) -

In the past three years Hungary Roma, or gypsies, have been shot dead in their homes, killed by hand grenades and attacked with petrol bombs. Now they are going to be policed by right-wing vigilantes.

Next month, the far-right Jobbik party, which gained its first toehold in parliament last year on a right-wing tidal wave that put the Fidesz party in power, will field 200 vigilantes in the hardluck northeastern town of Hajduhadhaz.

"This will be a kind of demonstration," said Gergely Rubi, a Jobbik MP and the local leader of the Brighter Future Vigilante Association.

"The government likes to sweep gypsy crime under the rug but that leads nowhere," Rubi said. "If the government can't guarantee our safety they shouldn't wonder we organise our own defence."

Hajduhadhaz, a town of 13,000, some 30 percent of whom are Roma, was once a prosperous agricultural centre with a wood-products factory but is pretty much a perfect breeding ground for trouble today.

Unemployment is 40 percent, many households survive on $150 month and on a recent visit there was little activity beyond a handful of publicly employed gardeners tending the main square.

"The lack of order and security in Hajduhadhaz is horrid," said Marika Ferenczi, a 65-year-old retired railway worker. "A lot of people dare not sleep, fearing who might lurk outside."

She is not a Roma, but she does not think vigilante justice is the way to go.

"For (vigilantes) to insult and provoke everyone on the streets, against that... All this is tied to extremists.

"Should I name them? Jobbik."

Mayor Denes Csafordi said the police would not stop the vigilantes from patrolling, as long as they break no laws, but predicted they would not cure the town's ills.

"I find it deeply unsettling that self-styled arbiters of truth should descend upon this town and try to tell us how to get our house in order. They come here for a week or two... They will not solve anything, only generate more problems," he said.


Hungary has long struggled to reintegrate its Roma, who lost their jobs en masse when communism collapsed. A Roma generation has grown up since then with few memories of regular work, many of them living on welfare and a revolving door to jail.

Friction between Roma and the rest of population is endemic. In 2008, two Roma were shot dead in their home in northeastern Hungary, firebombs were lobbed into three Roma homes west of Budapest and shots were fired at three homes nearer the capital.

A group of men accused in those killings, and woundings of dozens of Roma, went on trial in Budapest last week, but the effort to solve the crimes does little to ease the tensions, which are compounded by recent economic woes.

The centre-right government, which parted ways with the IMF last year and needs market trust to roll over the highest debt burden in the region, recently bowed to market pressure to trim social spending.

Unemployment benefits will be cut to three months from nine and public employment -- often the only type of job going in places like Hajduhadhaz -- is capped at four hours a day, with a monthly pay of $150 per month.

"The $150 doesn't pay our bills, let alone cover our living costs," Balint Bernath, a local Roma leader, said.

"We voted for this government because they promised hundreds of thousands of jobs. It's been nearly a year. We can't see them."

"They want us to stop crime," he added. "If it goes on like this, they take the jobs and they take the aid, then crime will rise in Hajduhadhaz, and all over the country, I assure you."


While Jobbik got into parliament on rhetoric vilifying the Roma, Fidesz grabbed a two-thirds majority on promises of a million new jobs in 10 years and a return of public safety in two weeks.

However, Fidesz has struggled to boost the economy and has yet to bring unemployment lower.

Meanwhile, Jobbik continues playing the Roma card. Its vigilantes held a rally in a conflict-ridden village in northern Hungary earlier this month where 2,000 people, many in black uniform, marched through the Roma settlement on the outskirts.

"Had we not ordered police to critical scenes in significant numbers, ugly things could have happened," Prime Minister Viktor Orban said afterwards.

In Hajduhadhaz, Roma say the vigilantes only add oil to the flames, and promised they would not back down.

"They have not dared come to these areas yet," Bernath said, speaking near a litter-strewn shanty town where a few brick houses stood among a scattering of adobe shacks and makeshift huts with walls made of blankets cast on wooden poles.

"If the vigilantes don't escalate this, we won't either. If they declare war on us, I will declare war on them, too."

Csafordi, elected mayor in October, said the local Roma were isolated, impoverished and that unemployment will take years to erase.

"I believe the country, like our town, cannot afford pseudo measures any more," he said. "We need to do more than trying to be popular. We need to dig down to the root of the problem."


The government says it plans to boost public employment again, but welfare benefits will be linked to work.

"The only way to get welfare will be through work," Mihaly Varga, state secretary of the Prime Minister's Office, told state radio.

Peter Kreko, an analyst for the research firm Political Capital, rejected this approach.

"There is no way public works projects alone can employ all these people," he said.

He warned that in a worst-case scenario, Hungary's Roma could end up in revolt, much like Slovakia's Roma revolted in 2004 when government measures stripped them of aid with few alternatives and they broke into stores in search for food.

"Of course, it's not automatic, it needs an ideological catalyst, which is a given now because of Jobbik," Kreko said.

"All we need then is a spark for the mix to explode."

 (Reporting by Marton Dunai; editing by Michael Roddy)

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