Budapest, Hungary – On Sunday, February 23, thousands of protesters gathered at Nyugati train station in Budapest to protest against the recent pejorative comments and hate campaign launched by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán against the Roma community.
Setét Jenő, Roma activist and the main organizer of the Budapest protest, started off by saying “what has happened in the last few weeks, we could call unbearable and controversial, but the reality, its the harshest attack from the government against the Roma people in the last 30 years.”
Horgas Péter, an activist read from his letter to Orbán “Look around, where have you gotten us, where have we gotten? You have championed the formation of a fascist state. I’d like to know, did you do this knowingly, or is it by accident?”
Many of the newly elected oppositional mayors, including András Pikó, Krisztina Baranyi and Gábor Kerpel-Fronius were present at the protest. However, besides a few oppositional MPs, the opposition parties were not visually present at the protest.
Cynical comment and common stereotypes
The scandal, which motivated the protest, started in early January when Orbán commented on a binding legal decision. The Hungarian courts had determined that in the village of Gyöngyöspata, the local school had been segregating students based on race and failed to provide equal educational opportunities to the Roma students. The courts ordered that the government must pay 100 million forints (300,000 euros) to compensate the students.
Orbán announced that the government would refuse to pay the fine in cash and instead offer payment in kind, through mentoring and jobs skills training. His logic? That cash payments to Roma would violate the sense of justice of Hungarians since the Roma “had not worked for the money.” The cynical comment strengthens on a common stereotype that the Roma live off government support.
In the case of Gyöngyöspata, the Roma students and their families met all their obligations to the state and society – they enrolled in and attended the local school. It was the state which failed them, in its obligation, defined in the Hungarian constitution, to provide quality education. The compensation and court case was an admission of this mistake and tried to make it right.
Since the early January statement, the government has announced a “National Consultation” on the issue of the Gyöngyöspata compensation. The National Consultation is a Hungarian perverted democratic innovation: under the guise of allowing citizens to express their opinion on social issues, the government mails all adults a survey, usually with about 10 questions.
By this, it creates the illusion of ‘having our say’ in politics in a simplified yes/no manner, on pre-decided topics framed as ‘issues’ by the government. The Consultation serves as a propaganda tool that frames political debates in terms that favors Orbán’s party, Fidesz, all at the expense of taxpayers.
For example, the last National Consultation was scheduled before the general elections of 2018, and asked Hungarians what they thought about the “Soros plan” and migration, with guided and biased questions such as ” Do you agree that the goal of the Soros Plan is to push the languages and cultures of Europe into the background so that integration of illegal immigrants happens much more quickly.” The National Consultation and the endless government media campaign quickly made Hungarians one of the most xenophobic nations in Europe.
The consultation will cost 10 times as much as the compensation due to the Roma students.
Is Orbán looking for a new enemy?
So to summarize, Orbán has overruled the courts and refused to pay the compensation due to the Roma students, and instead has launched into an aggressive and far-reaching hate campaign. But in a rule of law society, there is no room for the Prime Minister to question the courts, and no room for citizens to express their opinion on court cases. Courts should decide things based on impartial interpretation of the law, and not popular will or party politics.
What is motivating Orbán to launch into this campaign? After the stunning electoral defeat in the municipal elections in October, the first defeat Fidesz has suffered since their ten years in power, Orbán is looking for a new enemy. The scapegoating of Soros and migrants have run out of steam. It is only by framing enemies that Fidesz can hold onto power.
Even for a government which starves refugees on the border and sponsors neo-Nazi marches, this is a particularly cruel move. The Roma are one of the most vulnerable segments of the population and the hate speech and National Consultation is bound to manifest as attacks against the Roma community. budapest roma
First only verbal, but Hungary has a history of far-right terrorist attacks against the Roma community. Most tragically, it is the tens of thousands of Roma children, who in earnest seek education and through it a better life, that will be bullied and teased in schools, emboldened by a cynical bigot. For this, there is no forgiveness or excuse.
By Viktor Mák
Born in Jászberény in the Hungarian countryside, Viktor studied and worked in the United States. He recently returned to Hungary and finished a degree in Public Administration at the Central European University. During the day, he works in political communication. In his free time busies himself with activism fighting for a quality, well funded and accessible education system in Hungary. Check out his latest articles right here!