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Outcry over a conference on the Roma

April 15th, 2013

Left-wing pundits furiously condemn a sociologist who said that today’s Hungarian Gypsies are “a product of decomposition.” His colleague argues that rural poverty is not an exclusively Roma problem.

At a seminar organised by a right-leaning organization, sociologist György Németh called the Roma a “product of decomposition,” by which he meant that the traditional Roma society which used to exist almost in complete separation from the majority, has been dismantled by historical developments and nothing has replaced it. Liberal commentators interpreted his words as an expression of contempt (as did the representative of the government at the conference who declined to comment).

György Németh himself tells Magyar Nemzet he did not mean to provoke the audience with the term he used. He did want to warn “mainstream experts” however, that their views on the Hungarian Roma provide more information on the authors than on the subject. Nowadays, Roma people who want to be successful must turn their backs on their own identity. Which means the Roma lack a cultivated élite that could lead them out of their miserable position. For it is futile to expect the majority to do so. In other words, he says, Roma live in deep poverty not because they were left behind or fell through the net but because they are left without leaders. Those whom they do have, are “trying to construct Roma nationalism,” arm in arm with civil rights advocates, and therefore emphasize victimhood instead of facing the real problems of Roma culture. He sums up his message with the suggestion that the real enemy of the Roma is to be found among the Roma themselves.

In an interview with Népszava, sociologist Pál Juhász believes rural poverty does not have ethnic roots. He compares the situation in the poorest regions to that of the nineteen twenties when sharecroppers lived in abject poverty. What makes the situation of the Roma worse, is that traditional Roma trades – such as handmade nails and wooden spoons, are not in demand anymore, “the Roma have no place in the division of labour.” In implicit agreement with Németh, he notes that entrepreneurship is impossible in the large family groups where relatives are expected to share everything – for better or worse. As for the government’s emphasis on discipline, he says it is important to maintain certain norms, but the political elite must understand the mostly very short term concerns which keep parents from sending their children to school – such as the humiliation of not being able to provide them with fashionable gear.

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