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Roma in Hungary: A Hard Life
January 11, 2013 11:34 AM   Subscribe

The status of Roma in Hungary has been brought into sharp focus with a controversial article [link in Hungarian] by prominent ruling-party FIDESZ member, Zsolt Bayer, in which he says, "a significant part of the Roma are unfit for co-existence. They are not fit to live among people. These Roma are animals and they behave like animals." The Guardian reports on the growing anger at the article, The Hungarian Spectrum, and well-known poet and translator of Hungarian literature George Szirtes weigh in with English translations of some of Bayer’s article. Many leading Hungarian politicians condemn the article.

Nonetheless, discrimination against Roma is widespread and pervasive. Myths persist about the life of Roma. Violent attacks [PDF] against Roma have taken place and the far-right Jobbik party actively espouses an anti-Roma platform. In response many Roma have sought asylum in Canada.

For those wanting a sensitive, and accurate, account of life as a Roma in Hungary the prize-winning film, Just The Wind/Csak a szél, which has been nominated (unsuccessfully) as Hungary’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars, is highly recommended.
posted by vac2003 (59 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Between this post and yesterday's, I'm pretty concerned for all minorities in Hungary. I don't like the way this is trending.
posted by mosk at 11:38 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's also been recently confirmed that Roma are descended from low-caste Indians who fled west 1000 years ago.
posted by empath at 11:38 AM on January 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


Another recommendation: Bury Me Standing. Awesome book.
posted by atomicstone at 11:43 AM on January 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


My wife attended an artist residency in Budapest about 5 years ago. The person who ran it was a fairly liber type lady, but even she had some pretty huge prejudices against the Roma.
posted by edgeways at 11:48 AM on January 11, 2013


The saddest part of growing up for me has been the growing realization that things like racism and war, and all those other hate-fueled enterprises are not in decline and no matter how "modern" we think we are, we're still a bunch of tribal monkeys bent on killing each other.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 11:52 AM on January 11, 2013 [9 favorites]


The Canadian Conservative government has determined that the Roma are not suffering persecution in Hungary or elsewhere in Europe.

Mr. Kenney has long questioned the merits of [refugee] claims put forth by members of the stateless ethnic group that says it still faces persecution by ultra-right-wing nationalists and neo-Nazi groups across Europe. Two years ago [2009], he called Czech Roma claims “bogus,” and last year told the House of Commons that some Roma asylum-seekers are “coached to come to Canada, make a false asylum claim, and then register for provincial welfare benefits.”

Denial is a low cost way of dealing with a humanitarian crisis. The really depressing thing is that Canada is nevertheless one of the least racist places of refuge available to Roma refugees. Their options are that bad.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:54 AM on January 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


We live near the border crossing that so many Roma blew through in 2012. It was baffling and strange because if anything, no one around here knew what to make of it. (Aside from pointing out that Stanstead is one porous border crossing.)
posted by Kitteh at 12:00 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not just Hungary; this stuff is endemic in eastern Europe. I recently heard a Bulgarian archaeologist (university-educated and basically the sole representative of her dig to Western sources of money and undergrads looking for experience) state matter-of-factly that she wouldn't hire the local Roma population to work on the site because they are "bad luck."
posted by oinopaponton at 12:07 PM on January 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Roma were one of the groups that the Nazis focused on exterminating, along with the Jewish and the homosexual. You hear less about it because they're such a small, scattered population. And another ugly thing you don't hear said too often is that Hitler didn't create these prejudices, but just tapped into existing veins of them and mobilized others into acting on them on a large, organized scale. The veins of bigotry are still there and need to be eradicated through education and other concerted efforts.
posted by orange swan at 12:13 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Western sources of money and undergrads

Of course I mean anglophone, not Western.

posted by oinopaponton at 12:18 PM on January 11, 2013


Oh, and te xal tu phuv, Jason Kenney.
posted by orange swan at 12:21 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Whoa, I was reading some of the free parts of Bury Me Standing linked above, and I just realized that Stromboli (the puppeteer in Disney's Pinocchio) was a gypsy. Wasn't he?
posted by resurrexit at 12:21 PM on January 11, 2013


When thinking about the widespread European prejudice against the Roma, I think it is important to remember that Roma were enslaved in Romania until the mid-19th Century. (Wikipedia tells me that Uncle Tom's Cabin was the first U.S. novel ever to be published in Romania). This was chattel slavery, not just serfdom. They could be bought and sold. Families could be broken up. There was also Roma slavery in Transylvania during periods when it was part of the Kingdom of Hungary.
posted by Area Man at 12:31 PM on January 11, 2013


I just read about this in Spiegel. Zsolt Bayer is basically the mouth piece for psuedo-Fidesz statements on the extreme right. Fidesz gets to pander to the racists and ultra-nationalists by Bayer making all kinds of inflammatory statements about Jews and Roma, then they get to deny that he's speaking in their name. Fidesz has to pander to that wing because otherwise Jobbik would steal those votes, and there's not much chance of Fidesz winning votes on the left. Spiegel also point out that Tibor Navracsics, a member of government who has thoroughly condemned this article by Bayer, is basically a nobody in Fidesz, despite being a minister.

Hopefully, Hungarians will get sick of this by next election, but that's only a hope. Even so, there's still a lot of work to be done in getting the Roma a proper place in European society.
posted by Jehan at 12:35 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the Roma get absolutely shat on all across Europe, so this guy's bigotry boiling outward during Hungary's right-ward march doesn't surprise me. One thing I have never been clear on, when you get pestered by people giving you little novelty toys and demanding money on say... a train from the airport in Paris into Paris, are they referred to as Gypsies because they are Roma or because its simply a catch-all derogatory term and the people I met had no relation to the Roma?
posted by Slackermagee at 12:36 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


These are the recent incidents re: Roma refugees I was talking about in our neck of the woods.

(There are many more articles about this but they are in French.)
posted by Kitteh at 12:38 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm a fairly groovy left leaning type but have heard not one good thing about the Roma since a vast amount of then appeared en masse, virtually overnight selling paper roses and the Big Issue (thus qualifying as self employed and entitled to housing benefit or so goes the local ranting). And this is in pretty tolerant Ireland were the non-indigenous population shot up from just under 1 per cent to 12 per cent in less than a decade with no one really minding, has no far right to speak of and which has its own well established and er 'cherished' traveller community. The Roma managed to somehow antagonise huge swathes of people they had only just encountered. They're doin it rong.
posted by Damienmce at 12:40 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hopefully, Hungarians will get sick of this by next election

This might be not enough to weed out the roots FIDESZ has planted everywhere: "A respected Hungarian think tank ran the numbers from the last three elections using the new district boundaries. Fidesz would have won all three elections, including the two they actually lost. "
posted by hat_eater at 12:41 PM on January 11, 2013


Nomadic cultures that do not have land-based private property laws have not historically done very well when surrounded by non-nomadic cultures with land-based private property laws.

How these value systems can coexist on the same land in the same economy seems nearly impossible.

I don't even think one system is inherently better than the other, just that they seem by definition at odds with one another. Someone is always in someone else's way.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 12:44 PM on January 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


Hey, that Decade of Roma Inclusion is going well.
posted by Area Man at 12:46 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the Roma get absolutely shat on all across Europe,..
I think it helps not to be too broad brush. Although their situation in Europe is broadly bad, some countries do sincerely work to better the engagement and treatment of Roma. Indeed, even though the "Decade of Roma Inclusion" might be derided, if it leads to a few governments making some meaningful change, then that's another step on the path.
posted by Jehan at 12:57 PM on January 11, 2013


whimsicalnymph, that's exactly what I've tried to explain to people who somehow, even in the US where there is a very small Rom population, have all kinds of biases based on historical propaganda. Hell, I work at a cafe called "Zingaro", a term that's been considered offensive for at least 10 years, the best I can find (maybe longer, though it's not a common term in the States).

Any group of people living at odds with a fundamental value of the greater population is going to have an antagonistic relationship. Thankfully the answer of history (CONFORMCONFORMCONFORMORDIE) to this type of relationship isn't the only one in our toolbox, but it's still very difficult to carve out cultural spaces in a property-oriented culture for those who don't value it. At least understanding this gives some ability to push back against the inherently racist claims that living in a different way makes you an "animal", but even people I know who have travelled in Eastern Europe come back with wild assumptions about the ways that the Rom treat their children, their personal hygiene and their values (they mutilate them to get more money from begging! they live like pigs! they'll rob you just because they hate tourists!*)


*: who doesn't?
posted by zinful at 1:23 PM on January 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


And this is in pretty tolerant Ireland
This is a common sentiment no matter where you live, especially in communities that are supposed to be fairly liberal. But it's hard to see what's going on if you're not the one being persecuted. I think it largely depends on how similar the culture is, not what people look like. And it's largely hidden to the privileged unless you go looking for it.

I've had to be very wary in my own thinking to not make that assumption about any community I'm in (large or small). Not only for global issues like racism, but simple open mindedness -- you'd be surprised at the negative reactions or assumptions people make about people who don't behave like them, like the same things they do or make the same exact decision that they would make. Even in a place where, for the larger issues, they seem to be saying the right things.
posted by smidgen at 1:31 PM on January 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's a bunch of prejudice against the Roma, but yeah, this friction comes from both sides. There's been a bunch of work done on inclusion, getting them to send their kids to school, curbing criminal or semi-criminal activity, etc., and it's not been particularly successful.

So yeah, I'm not sure what the solution is here. There seem to be some Roma cultural practices and norms, at least, that are inherently at odds with the laws and values of the countries they live in, and, as a nomadic people, they don't have a country of their own. In addition, some of the cultural practices may not be so positive, honestly, like the whole children not getting any education thing. This stuff worked a few hundred years ago, but it's highly problematic today.

Of course, the way they've been treated, up to and including genocide, has made them even more skeptical of the societies they live in, so there's no trust and very little common ground to work with.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:31 PM on January 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, to exert maximum control over the population, the totalitarian governments of the Eastern block forcibly settled the Roma in whatever slums were available, which made them about as happy and productive citizens as the Native Americans 100 years ago.
posted by hat_eater at 1:32 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Today's news is that Bayer will not face any charges for inciting hate speech, a court decision taken without any investigation or due process. Which is interesting since another Hungarian right wing racist ("Tomcat") was found guilty of incitement last week, sentenced to up to five years but had his sentence immediately suspended.

A lot of people use a phrase here "Hungary: The land without consequences." Bayer is FIDESZ, the ruling government party of Viktor Orban. He and Orban are very close freinds and college mates. Bayer was a founding member of FIDESZ, holds FIDESZ party card number five, and is basically the party's cadre man to the press via the right wing newspaper Magyar Hirlap and its allied TV and radio outlets. His New year's political columns always set the tone for the hard right wing for the marching season that culminates on the March 15th national holiday celebrating the 1848 revolution. Last year it was mainly anti-Semitic with a it of anti-EU sentiment thrown in, wishing that people with Jewish names (especially Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the EU rep who confronted Orban on the floor of the EU Parliament) would find themselves buried in the ground at the site of a notorious antisemitic pogrom site in Hungary. There was an outcry at that time as well, and nobody from within FIDESZ admonished Bayer. FIDESZ party boss Tibor Navracsics did say Bayer should resign, but those statements did not appear in Hungarian documents published in Hungarian, only in foreign language versions.

FIDESZ knows that Gypsies are their best ticket for stirring up a disgruntled electorate. Most people would not bother to vote at all, but if they feel their vote can "punish" Gypsies, they will take the time out to head to a voting booth. Without any opposition to speak of, the parties vying for their slice of the political pie are climbing over each other to stir up discontent with Gypsies.

And for you who only notice Gypsies when you read about a pickpocket or a car theft, when was the last time you read a gripping news story about a Rom who has a low paying job in the back of some mall unloading trucks or cleaning up construction sites because he will never have a rat's ass of a chance of getting a better job where his brown skin might be seen by the public, no matter what their level of education is?
posted by zaelic at 1:33 PM on January 11, 2013 [13 favorites]


when was the last time you read a gripping news story about a Rom who has a low paying job in the back of some mall unloading trucks or cleaning up construction sites because he will never have a rat's ass of a chance of getting a better job where his brown skin might be seen by the public, no matter what their level of education is?

And the endless replays of "My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding" on TLC don't count. :-/
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:37 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


when was the last time you read a gripping news story about a Rom who has a low paying job in the back of some mall unloading trucks or cleaning up construction sites because he will never have a rat's ass of a chance of getting a better job where his brown skin might be seen by the public, no matter what their level of education is?
posted by zaelic at 1:33 PM on January 11 [+] [!]


This seems like an extremely hyperbolic claim to me. I'm not sure the best way to fight prejudice is to make claims as wildly and inaccurately as the bigots make on their side.
posted by Keith Talent at 1:41 PM on January 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


When discussing countries where bigotry against the Roma is widespread and politically acceptable, is it that hyperbolic to claim that bigotry against Roma might hurt their employment opportunities?
posted by Area Man at 1:46 PM on January 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


endless replays of "My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding" on TLC don't count.

When Gypsies in Hungary and Romania ask me about how Roma live in America they are usually incredulous when I tell them "There are no poor Roma in America." But TV's fascination with the "otherness" of Gypsies is just another side of a racist coin. And a lot of the British "Fat Gypsy Wedding" shows were about Irish Travellers, a non Roma group often lumped together with Roma as "Gypsies. Don't think you have any experience with Roma because you watched one of these crap shows.

As for hyperbole... is it hyperbole to point out that a majority of Gypsies in East Europe live by cobbling together bad paying work, that the kids mostly have high school educations, and that only some receive welfare support or are involved in criminal activities... in other words, they are poor normal people in a bad situation .. that is hyperbole?

Just for the record... I live in Budapest.
posted by zaelic at 1:53 PM on January 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


If you belong to a nomadic tradition why would you voluntarily chose to settle where life is the hardest?
posted by Keith Talent at 1:58 PM on January 11, 2013


Don't think you have any experience with Roma because you watched one of these crap shows.

Oh, I'd gathered it was pretty far-fetched, fret not. (Not to mention exploitative, regardless who it was purporting to be about. But that's TLC for you.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:59 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


When Gypsies in Hungary and Romania ask me about how Roma live in America they are usually incredulous when I tell them "There are no poor Roma in America." But TV's fascination with the "otherness" of Gypsies is just another side of a racist coin. And a lot of the British "Fat Gypsy Wedding" shows were about Irish Travellers, a non Roma group often lumped together with Roma as "Gypsies. Don't think you have any experience with Roma because you watched one of these crap shows.
I don't know about in the US, but for sure a lot of folk in England know that the majority of the "Gypsy" community are actually of Irish or English descent. Indeed, they're often called "Traveller" and not "Gypsy".
posted by Jehan at 2:01 PM on January 11, 2013


Also, folks.. very few Gypsies / Roma are actually nomads or come from a nomadic tradition. At vaious times they move to avoid persecution - waves of Roma left Romania after the abolition of Gypsy slavery in 1855, the most recent migration waves were from Bosnia in the 1990s and then from Kosovo in 1998, but they tend to settle in one place when they find a place they can call "home." In Budapest Gypsies (with the exception of professional musicians) were not allowed to settle within the city limits or remain overnight until after 1945. Gypsies were ghettoized on "Gypsy Streets" - slums on the outskirts of towns and villages. The Communists decided to abolish this system in the 1970s, with the result that communities were broken up and people basically wound up in urban slums.

Presently, a lot of Hungarian Gypsies are moving to Canada on tourist visas and asking for asylum status on arrival. If you lived in Hungary, you would not find this surprising at all. In some cases local real estate developers hire skinhead thugs to harass Gypsy families in order to encourage them to leave their downtown apartment flats, often offering them airfare to sweeten the deal.
posted by zaelic at 2:10 PM on January 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


Keith Talent: "If you belong to a nomadic tradition why would you voluntarily chose to settle where life is the hardest?"
Even with the removal of EU's internal border controls as part of the Schengen Agreement's implementation in 1995 it is not necessarily legal to just move from one EU country to another.
posted by brokkr at 2:38 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


In the radio story I heard today, they said that "Gypsy" came from a (derogatory?) term for people from Egypt that then grouped together all forms of travelers.

There are no poor Roma in America? What was The Riches based off of, then? (If it's on TV it must exist, right?)
posted by jillithd at 2:40 PM on January 11, 2013


The Riches are Travellers, aka "Irish Travellers, a non Roma group often lumped together with Roma as "Gypsies.", as discussed above.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 2:43 PM on January 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


Even with the removal of EU's internal border controls as part of the Schengen Agreement's implementation in 1995 it is not necessarily legal to just move from one EU country to another.

Actually, Directive 2004/38/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 on the right of citizens of the Union and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States says that it is across the EEA, as long as you are not an "undue burden" on the recieving state and you have comprehensive health insurance. This is a fundamental part of the single market, as the right of establishment (to commence business) applies to both legal and natural persons and that has been interpreted to include the right to move to the place you wish to work in.

The only time this does not apply is when a new EU state has not fully entered the single market (and theoretically a new EEA state, although this is less likely to actually happen).
posted by jaduncan at 2:48 PM on January 11, 2013


Denial is a low cost way of dealing with a humanitarian crisis.

We have pretty much the same policy in Australia regardless of the asylum claim. Hazaras are clearly economic migrants.
posted by mattoxic at 3:32 PM on January 11, 2013


jaduncan,
"as long as you are not an "undue burden" on the recieving state and you have comprehensive health insurance."
being the money quote here.

There may be EU countries where you can just show up, wave your EEA passport and get health insurance. I'm not sure which they would be.
posted by brokkr at 5:06 PM on January 11, 2013


There are absolutely poor Roma in the US! George Eli's documentary Searching for the Fourth Nail looks at the breadth of economic situations within his own extended family, ranging from very prosperous business owners to fortune-tellers one police bust away from being broke.

It's a really interesting film.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:23 PM on January 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


zaelic, I'm really mystified by your comment that there are no poor Roma in the US, because one of the things that US-based Rrom community activists (Ian Hancock, for example) talk a lot about is the comparative lack of access to economic opportunities for Roma.

Is your point that Roma as a group are less economically marginalized in the US than in Europe? Because that might well be true, but Roma are far more economically marginalized in the US than other groups of immigrants who came from Europe and the UK, according to everything I've seen and read, and economic assimilation is slower in terms of generations for Roma than for other European immigrant groups.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:39 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


There may be EU countries where you can just show up, wave your EEA passport and get health insurance. I'm not sure which they would be.

Well, the UK would be an example.

But a) you can buy it privately, and;
b) this is very rarely enforced, it's just that depending on country they might not give you healthcare.
posted by jaduncan at 6:20 PM on January 11, 2013


The UK might be a good example for your average relatively well-to-do or otherwise white European, but are you seriously proposing that it is really easy for Roma people to move from EU country to EU country, jaduncan? Because if you are, you might check out this article from 2010. Or, here's the European Commission's own website on the Roma in the EU, which has a whole wealth of information on the Roma, EU initiatives to combat discrimination, and so-called 'national strategies' of assimilating the Roma into the EU. Since you are using the UK as your example, here is a relevant section from their national strategy:
Transitional restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian nationals’ access to labour market mean they cannot work in the UK unless that work has been authorised by the UK Border Agency. The restrictions mean that Romanians and Bulgarians cannot generally reside in the UK beyond three months as a job seeker. These restrictions will remain in place until December 2013.
According to Wiki, there are ~619,000 Roma in Romania, and they make up the second largest ethnic minority in the country following Hungarians. There are between 323,000 - 500,000 in Bulgaria. Combined, that is either just about or well over 1 million people. Comparatively, there are anywhere from 200k to 1 million Roma in Hungary. While we might say that Hungarian Roma are not de facto discriminated against in the UK, it seems that at least 1 million Romanian and Bulgarian Roma are, due to this policy. This is just one country and one example, but I'm sure we could find others if we delved into these "national strategies." Furthermore, those 2 countries which the UK has transitional restrictions against make up roughly 1/3 of the entire Roma population in the EU.

This stuff is easily googlable. Here, for example, is a 2009 report by the OSCE on Roma migration in the EU. Part of the preface states:
To date, European countries have not managed to effectively integrate Roma into the society in which they reside. Such a situation has given rise to new challenges concerning Roma migrating to other countries. As we have witnessed, some countries have experienced difficulties coping with Roma migrants seeking to remain on their territory. Some have failed to address negative attitudes towards Roma on the part of the general population, often stoked by hostile media reports.
Or how about this much more recent agenda from the Council of Europe?
The Assembly is concerned that the Roma are among the most disadvantaged, discriminated against, persecuted and victimised groups in Europe. This situation continues and is even getting worse, as is demonstrated by extensive research and highlighted by the Assembly in its Resolution 1740 (2010) on the situation of Roma in Europe...
The Resolution linked above is good reading for any of you still stuck on the stereotypes presented in this thread on the Roma, particularly the notion that they are largely nomadic and clash with the non-nomadic states in which they live, and especially the idea that they can simply pick up and move to a warmer, more welcoming EU state when they find their current situation untenable.

I am by no means a Roma or EU expert, but it is not that hard to look this stuff up, rather than just repeating things that have no basis in fact but 'seem' correct because they make us feel better about what is clearly discrimination against an ethnic group that seems widespread amongst large parts of Western Europe.

Sorry for the long comment, but racism is racism. Why Europeans and Americans think it is okay to say bigoted things about the Roma while biting their collective tongues about other ethnic groups is beyond me. This needs to be called out for what it is, especially when commenters protest, "but they pickpocket! and they steal! and they beg at the train station!"
posted by nonmerci at 7:16 PM on January 11, 2013 [9 favorites]


Significant numbers of my family in Hungary, who are otherwise perfectly lovely people, think it absolutely normal and obvious that Roma and Jews are inherently inferior peoples. My recollection is that this was very much the norm under "communism" and remained so when I last visited about ten years ago. I hesitate to generalize out to the public from my limited experience, but it really would be nice if Hungarians (Europeans? The world?) could get beyond this idiocy.

The persistence of this really grates on me. It was especially bothersome when I was actually in Hungary, but I was readily dismissed as too Americanized and uninformed. The type of interaction described up thread of the Bulgarian archaeologist was, dishearteningly, my normal experience: educated, intelligent people reverting to morons capable of completely ignoring all reason, evidence, and history on this one topic.

Zaelic, thank you very much for the updates from Budapest. Very informative.
posted by booksarelame at 8:52 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I love a book titled "The Romany Rye" I picked up a copy in an second hand book store. It had this tucked away in the back cover.
posted by Packed Lunch at 10:04 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


bookarelame Significant numbers of my family in Hungary, who are otherwise perfectly lovely people, think it absolutely normal and obvious that Roma and Jews are inherently inferior peoples. My recollection is that this was very much the norm under "communism" and remained so when I last visited about ten years ago. I hesitate to generalize out to the public from my limited experience, but it really would be nice if Hungarians (Europeans? The world?) could get beyond this idiocy.

This is exactly my experience of my relatives in Hungary. They are otherwise good, loving, intelligent people, kind and generous to a fault. Yet they are deeply racist, profoundly anti-Semitic. Their parents stood on the streets of the small Hungarian town where they live to this day during 1944 while their neighbors and townsfolk were marched, publicly, to their deaths in Auschwitz, Dachau and Buchenwald. They did nothing about that horror and to this day cling to the myth that it was "others" who did this, while they themselves hid so-and-so to save them. There is no guilt, no remorse, no sense of shame in what happened to some 600,000 of their compatriots. Their anti-Semitism, anti-Roma prejudice, lives on to this day in ways that are"absolutely normal". It is just a fact of life.

This causes me deep distress. Do I say nothing? Do I argue with them? Do I 'de-friend' them on Facebook? Do I try to enlighten them? Do I refuse their love and hospitality? I have no answer but the pain I feel is overwhelming at times. The complete absence of anything approaching remorse or sense of collective guilt at what happened, and at what is happening, is staggering. They seem completely oblivious to the danger that the attitudes that lead to the destruction of Hungarian Jewry could happen again. Of course they counter with, "You don't live here so you don't know what it is like." No I don't. But they are woefully and wilfully ignorant of their own past and the tragedies they themselves inflicted upon their own fellow Jewish and Roma citizens.

I fear the worst.
posted by vac2003 at 11:42 PM on January 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


vac2003, thank you for the note of support. I have spent a good deal of time rerunning and rewriting in my head conversations with my family in Hungary about race trying to think of a better approach - some way to get through what they see as the infallible obviousness of their position. So far, I think the only method I have not attempted is direct, relentless hostility. But I'm not sure that's appropriate for a once a decade friendly, family visit.

One of the things that makes this stand out to me as so odd is that Hungarians are underdogs. Have been for the past thousand years (painting with a broad brush). Consistently ending up on the wrong side of history (again, over simplifying). So common sense would dictate some empathy for other downtrodden groups. But instead it seems all the worse for this past experience.

To stay on topic a little better, I also wanted to thank empath for the link to the DNA study tracing Roma origins back to the untouchables caste from India. I had heard about this theory before, but I am happy to see some actually science coming out. If more supporting evidence emerges for this, the Roma will have one of the greatest foundation stories. It is most unfortunate that when the European powers were doing the last bits of carving up of the world into nation-states, merit was not a consideration. Roma, Kurds, Palestinians (to name only a few) would have fared much better.
posted by booksarelame at 12:54 AM on January 12, 2013


when was the last time you read a gripping news story about a Rom who has a low paying job in the back of some mall unloading trucks

'Illegal' Roma teenager wins French 'best apprentice' award

But, like other news subjects, she made headlines because she is exceptional.
posted by whatzit at 2:55 AM on January 12, 2013


They are otherwise good, loving, intelligent people, kind and generous to a fault. Yet they are deeply racist, profoundly anti-Semitic.

There are plenty of cultures in the US just like this. Very sad, and as someone said, tiresome.
posted by gjc at 4:35 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I also don't understand the thing about no poor Roma in the US. The Roma who came into my literacy center all appeared to be pretty poor-- and pretty familiar with discrimination. Here in the Midwest, people are constantly referring to "gypsies" in the sense of "people engaged in certain kinds of criminal activity." (There was a poster up in a local recreation center warning people to "watch out for gypsies" offering to resurface your driveway and stuff like that. This poster was illustrated with a drawing of a smirking guy with dark hair and a mustache.) There seems to be a vague sense among people who talk this way that they are talking about an ethnic group. I don't know, maybe the ridiculous National Geographic show about the Johns family helped clear it up?
posted by BibiRose at 4:51 AM on January 12, 2013


Sidhedevil: When I say (to my Roma friends here in Europe) that in the US there are no poor Gypsies, I am speaking in contrast to the situation in East Europe. American Roma do not live in mud hovels, on garbage heaps, in slums. Not all European Roma do either, but poverty is one of the factors that crush Roma's abilities to rise above their situation, which is why so many choose to emmigrate - not some inate urge to be nomadic. I just took a look at the trailer for the George Eli film "The Fourth Nail" which is about American Romani people, and no, I did not see any poor Gypsies. There is even a brief scene with Ian Hancock in the trailer, and he sort of proves my point: where in East Europe will you find a tenured University Professor of Romani origin? (I should point out that Hancock is internationally known for his work in Linguistics, not only for Gypsy Studies. And he would probably argue against the theory that Roma are descendants of Indian untouchables.) There may be limited economic options, but very few are actually living in dire poverty.

One issue among American Gypsies is that in the US or Canada (or Western Euope for that matter) it is relatively easy to assimilate into the non-Gypsy majority. That is not the case in East Europe. In the US, Canada or Western Europe, many traditional Roma families frown on formal school education: it puts their children into situations that are percieved to weaken Roma family cohesiveness (such as intermarriage.) Limited literacy is widespread among American Roma, but also serves to keep the Romani language prominent and limits social mixing with non-Gypsies. In Hungary and Romania Roma organizations publicly struggle to get proper schooling for their kids, who are often segregated into underfunded "special schools" for the 'learning disabled' as a means to keep them out of the general school population. A Roma activist friend of mine once explained that Roma school kids in Hungary generally do fine until they hit the seventh or eighth grade, at which point the Gypsy kids become aware that their schoolmates and the school system have begun to treat them "as Gypsies." And at that age they hit a wall. The problem here is not that we can't get more Roma University graduates. The problem is to get the kids through High School at all. Special Roma-run resident schools like the Gandhi School in Pécs have been successful in training young Gypsies in computer skills and foreign language skills to prepare them for a modern work force. But within the present atmosphere in Hungary, many choose to emigrate when they graduate.

As for general Hungarian attitudes to racism and ethnocentrism, remember that Hungary is a hyper-politicized society. Media, education, cultural expression, even the vegetables you eat are considered hot button political issues. We often speak of two Hungarys: one a tolerant, open society, and another a closed, intolerant, angry one that depends on scapegoats to explain its situation (and angry because they lost two thirds of their land territory and one third of their population in the aftermath of World War One. And yes, they are still very very very sore about that.) I try to live in the first one. The present Government and their busy PR firms and communications strategists live in the second one. British poet George Szirtes wrote an essay which explains the polarization of Hungarian political debate "The crack in Hungarian identity hadn’t shifted. The crack was not so much the fate of the minorities or the position of the border, but between different notions of Hungarian identity... The crack is not between left and right in this respect but between two different concepts of nation.... Left and right are therefore defined according to the version of nationhood... What the right wants is neither socialism or capitalism but a romantic, atavistic, specifically ‘Hungarian’ way that unites the genuine people. It is, at core, a kind of purist idealism."
posted by zaelic at 5:25 AM on January 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Transitional restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian nationals’ access to labour market mean they cannot work in the UK unless that work has been authorised by the UK Border Agency. The restrictions mean that Romanians and Bulgarians cannot generally reside in the UK beyond three months as a job seeker. These restrictions will remain in place until December 2013.

As I said, unless not fully part of the single market yet. Note 'transitional' and 'access to labour market'. Both countries are not fully part of the single market but are becoming so.
posted by jaduncan at 8:12 AM on January 12, 2013


In other words, jaduncan, you have nothing of substance to say to the vast majority of my comment. Got it.

Zaelic, thanks very much for your fascinating contributions. This has been a really interesting thread to read.
posted by nonmerci at 12:58 PM on January 12, 2013


I'm American. A friend of mine and I were both exchange students at the same time. It was our junior year of high school; he went to Germany, I went to France.

We compared notes, of course, when we got back home. We both got asked about the "Black problem" in the United States. It was weird for both of us for a lot of reasons. For starters, we were kids- smart kids, and therefore well aware that we were leaving an impression that would stick to all Americans.

I personalized my answer, and that seemed to satisfy the people I was talking to. I explained my family's multiracial history, and discussed my relationship with my then-boyfriend, who was also mixed race. We understood that to society we looked like a young black man and a white girl, and that while, at the time, we had gotten some funky looks out in public, for the most part everyone in our lives had been supportive. I expressed the opinion that while racism was still a very real problem, it would eventually fade as we all continued producing families across racial lines.

My friend was more courageous than me. He pointed out to his hosts that racism toward the Roma in Germany made the racism toward African-Americans in the U.S. look soft by comparison.

He and I talked about how horrified we were by the way the Roma were treated. It was, for both of us, a sad shock. He saw a street musician get spit on, and families refused service at public restaurants. I saw everyone else leave a public pool when a group of Roma got in it, and had my hosts carefully explain to me how dirty and untrustworthy they are.

My friend and I both cried a little that night when we talked about it. We were both in Europe over the summer of the 50th anniversary of D-Day, and WWII history and propaganda was in its full glory. It was shattering for us as kids to see how close to that history Europe still was.

I didn't even know the word Roma when I came home. It was a year or so later, when my high school got high speed internet, that I looked up the word Gypsy. It was one of the very first searches I ever did. I remember finding my friend at our lunch table, and saying, "Roma. Gypsies are actually called Roma." And he grinned at me, and said, "Finally!" We could learn about them now. We had almost nothing to go on before that.

But everything we found researching just made us sadder still.

I'm a liberal, my family is populated with liberals, I have a group of almost entirely lefty friends. I've noticed that some of them- a lot of them- think of Western Europe as some sort of socialist utopia.

I told my exchange student stories to some of them on election night of 2008. "There are ways," I said, "in which we are progressing faster. There are ways in which we really are better."

But that doesn't make me feel good. It just pisses me off worse at how little seems to have changed for the Roma over these past couple of decades.
posted by Athene at 1:13 PM on January 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


In other words, jaduncan, you have nothing of substance to say to the vast majority of my comment.

No. I was just attempting to tell you the state of EU law.
posted by jaduncan at 1:30 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, and just for the record I specialise in EU law at postgraduate level.
posted by jaduncan at 1:34 PM on January 12, 2013


zaelic, I get that Roma in the US are not as poor as Roma in Europe, particularly in Eastern Europe, but you're missing the point that Roma in the US, as a group, are poorer than other people in the US because of anti-Roma prejudice. Ian Hancock has had distinction and success, sure. But, you know, Barack Obama being President doesn't mean that black people in the US aren't, as a group, economically affected by racism.

The US has to do better to support its Rromani citizens and residents. Not doing as badly as the places where they're treated appallingly vilely isn't enough.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:31 PM on January 12, 2013


Canada is becoming an increasingly embarrassing place to live.
It's like we're just laying the groundwork and waiting for someone to bomb an embassy so that we can justify all those fighter jets.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:47 PM on January 29, 2013


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