Budapest, Hungary – Viktor Orbán has called a Supreme Court landmark segregation ruling awarding damages to schoolchildren from the Roma minority who were put in separate classes “unfair” and pledged to change the law to prevent any future such decisions.
Earlier this week, the highest court in Hungary, the Kúria, rejected the appeal of the local government to compensate students through educational and vocational training vouchers or to reduce the amount of the compensation. The Gyöngyöspata government would have to pay the compensation in cash owed to the families of the Gyöngyöspata children who where forced into segregated education between 2003 and 2017.
“I sent them the court decision, so that they could see it for themselves, it wasn’t made up. There had been so much fake news, so many people that doubted us, that I didn’t want to believe it,” said Erzsébet Mohácsi, one of the board members of CFCF, which led the legal battle for the segregated students.
A January court ruling had already ordered the municipal government of Gyöngyöspata to pay 99 million forints (300,000 euros) to the 60 students who were segregated at the Nekcsei Demeter Elementary School based on their ethnicity. The compensation was awarded due to the failure of the state’s obligation to provide quality education to the children. The appeal against this verdict was rejected this weak, paving the way forward for the payments.
As we recounted earlier, the Gyöngyöspata segregation case was lining up to be one of the defining political topics of 2020 in Hungary. A national consultation and a billboard campaign were in the works when the pandemic swept in. Searching for a new enemy after the defeat in the municipal elections in October, Orbán had singled out the Roma community and had hoped to use the Gyöngyöspata case to gather supporters and build the Fidesz base.
“If I lived there, I would ask myself, how is it that, for some reason, people living in my community, of different ethnicity, will be entitled to a large payment without performing any work for it,” he stated in January. He outlined that the case violates the sense of justice in Hungarians, that people would “get money for nothing.”
The local Fidesz MP, László Horváth, linked the case to the Soros, claiming the families were convinced to sue the state by a Soros backed NGO. “This decision might be legal, but it is unjust, one sided, exaggerated and destructive” he said, referring to the January verdict which mandated the compensation payments. roma segregation hungary
Perhaps inspired by this rhetoric, the municipal government appealed to the Kúria that instead of cash payments, it wished to provide educational and vocational training to the students to make up for the damage done.
However, the Kúria ruled there was no legal precedent for this. Non-monetary damage must be paid with monetary compensation, unless the two parties can agree to non-monetary compensation. Since the families of the Roma school children declined the non-monetary compensation, the only path forward was for the compensation to be paid. The local government also asked that the compensation be reduced, but the Kúria did not find any grounds for a reduction.
The Kúriás decision is a small victory in a country on a steep decline in rule of law. Indeed, according to some documents obtained by Népszava, Fidesz is considering amendments which would make future legal cases such as the one in Gyöngyöspata impossible.
Orbán commented on the issue on his weekly Friday interview on national radio, calling the ruling unfair and accusing the case of being “initiated by the Soros organizations”.
The full quote is worth reading:
This issue must be approached on the basis of the underlying principle, which is very simple. I approach the issue by asking whether Hungarians can feel at home in their own country. Meaning, in their cities and villages. The question is whether Hungary is a country where a minority group can build such a system or network with which it can regularly force its will on the majority. Or, do we want to live in a country where, although there are minorities and majorities and we have respect for each other, the majority is still the majority.
And this majority needs to feel at home. It cannot happen that in order for a minority to feel at home, the majority must feel like strangers in their own towns, villages, or homeland. This is not acceptable. And as long as I am the prime minister, nothing of the sort will happen. Because this is the country of the natives, our country, and I see that this whole [Roma court] case was initiated by the Soros organizations. Thus, this matter didn’t appear out of the blue. (translated by Hungarian Spectrum)
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!
Main photo credit: ATV