Statement concerning adoption and entering into the force of the Decree on the Measures of Social Inclusion of the Beneficiaries of Financial Social Support
Panic breaks out in a Hungarian Roma community
Tiszavasvári, February 17, 2016 - Panic broke out on Tuesday in the eastern Hungarian town of Tiszavasvári, with parents storming into the local school and kindergarten to take home children, as news spread that the local municipal government, led by far-right mayor Erik Fülöp, was planning to take Roma children into state care. According to official statistics, 9% of the town’s population of 12,840 is of Roma origins. This data, stemming from the 2001 census, almost certainly underestimates the real proportion of Roma in Tiszavasvári, located in Hungary’s economically disadvantaged Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg county.
The situation in Tiszavasvári deteriorated when Mayor Fülöp, affiliated with the Jobbik party, decided to task an extremist group called the Association of the Legion of Honour (Becsület Légiója Egyesület) to serve as a municipal security force. The association is run by another prominent far-right mayor, Mihály Zoltán Orosz, from Érpatak. The contract, signed on Monday, stipulates that the Legion of Honour would have a role in child welfare and social service cases as well. Many local Roma, not without reason, took this to mean that local authorities were looking for ways to take Roma children away from their parents and put them under state care.
According to a report published by the Roma Press Center (Roma Sajtóközpont), parents stormed into local schools, with one teacher noting that absolutely nothing that the school said could calm them down and deter them from removing their kids from school. Several hundred people in the local Roma community also organized a spontaneous protest outside the town hall earlier today.
Much of Tiszavasvári’s Roma population lives in a dilapidated area of town along Széles Road. The term Széles in Hungarian means “wide”–an ironic name for a dirt road that barely accommodates cars in a single lane. The Roma settlement houses well over one thousand men, women and children and is infested with rats, littered with garbage and is a breeding ground for Hepatitis and other diseases. In 2014, 300 people in Tiszavasvári, mainly Roma, were diagnosed with Hepatitis and dozens were hospitalized. There is no municipal garbage collection in the Roma settlement and most homes do not have running water.
The liberal Magyar Narancs published a detailed report on the Roma ghetto two years ago and the reporter asked locals why everyone seemed to be carelessly littering.
“Listen, it’s easy to be smart over in Budapest and in government departments. Try living here for six months and then we’ll see. There is a single garbage container in the entire row,” said a local to Narancs’s journalists. One of the reporters observed that some of the rats are nearly as large as cats.
Jobbik Mayor Erik Fülöp was elected on a platform of “addressing” the problems in the Roma ghetto, including installing plumbing in all homes, the demolition of outhouses, and arranging for regular garbage collection. But the mayor’s long-term plan, already known in 2014, is for the settlement to be demolished and for child services to remove children from these homes. Upon taking office, Mr. Fülöp also attempted to crack down on loan sharks, who appear in the ghetto each month, the day that the postman arrives to deliver welfare payments.
The Széles Road ghetto is actually one of two Roma settlements in Tiszavasvári. Széles Road is inhabited by the so-called Oláh Gypsies (Oláhcigányok). This group is considered further down on the Roma hierarchy, and the term “Oláh” is usually a pejorative. Conditions in the town’s other Roma settlement are only marginally better, but the Roma here refer to themselves (and other Roma refer to them in this way as well) as Hungarian Gypsies (Magyar cigányok). In Hungary, Hungarian Gypsies form the majority of the Roma community and are seen as being more culturally integrated into the majority Magyar society and have always been prominent in the arts, especially in music. That having been said, even Hungarian Gypsies often live on the periphery of society, as can be seen so dramatically in Tiszavasvári.