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Controversies over the Roma in Miskolc and around the Roma Holocaust

August 11th, 2014

Liberal pundits criticize both Right and Left for not confronting policies which they see as targeting the Roma who live in poverty. A Minister is criticized for his “unfortunate” statement on the Roma Holocaust. A Dutch-Hungarian psychologist calls for the publication of Hungarian crime statistics by ethnicity.

In the city of Miskolc, the local council have started to evacuate a ghettoized slum without proper sanitation populated mostly by poor Roma, after 35,000 locals signed a petition calling for the cleaning up of the site. The local council is offering the evacuated families housing outside Miskolc. Former PM Bajnai’s Together 2014 claims that the Fidesz led local council is breaking the law. The MSZP in a press release called for a “humane solution” to social problems.

In Népszava, Róbert Friss contends that the Left has become cynical and lacks the courage to confront the evacuation of poor Roma families which, Friss suggest, is motivated by anti-Roma sentiments. The left-liberal columnist contends that the Left collaborates with the Fidesz led council in what Friss likens to “a sort of ethnic cleansing”. In an aside, Friss finds it particularly disappointing that Albert Pásztor, the Left’s candidate for Miskolc mayor (see BudaPost through July 5) commented on the evacuation by bluntly claiming that the council wants to get rid of the ghetto as part of a “real estate speculation” scheme, rather than criticizing the evictions on the grounds of their discriminatory nature.

We are world champions of complacency, Péter Pető comments in Népszabadság. The liberal pundit accuses the Left of tacitly agreeing with a Fidesz project which targets poor Roma. “The same left-wing politicians who pose in front of the cameras at the protests against the Nazi invasion memorial in Budapest (see BudaPost July 23) support Pásztor’s candidacy for mayor in Miskolc,” Pető complains. In conclusion, he notes that the Left cannot offer an alternative to the harsh and unfair policies of the Right. As a result, even if the Left won in Miskolc, there will be no U-turn in what Pető calls’ inhumane practices.’

The sad truth is that there is no difference in the content of Right and Left politics in Miskolc, Heti Világgazdaság maintains. The liberal weekly likens the Left’s reactions to the Miskolc evictions as a cynical “call for a more humane deportation” which tacitly acknowledges the legitimacy of the “collective punishment” of poor Roma.

Minister Balog on the Roma Holocaust

At the anniversary ceremony of the Roma Holocaust in 1944, Zoltán Balog, Minister of Human Resources said in a telephone interview that “no Roma were deported from Hungary. Hungarian Roma were deported from Austria, and thus Hungary was also involved.” Roma rights activists claim that Minister Balog’s formulation suggests that Hungary was not responsible for the murder of Roma in the Holocaust. He was also accused of relativizing the Holocaust by left-wing politicians. Minister Balog rejected the allegations that he wanted to deny Hungary’s responsibility in the persecution of the Roma. He recalled that he had for years been active in the commemoration of the Roma Holocaust and added that his words were utterly misinterpreted and falsified by his critics. Minister Balog said that he simply wanted to point out only that the deportation of the Hungarian Roma followed a different pattern than the deportation of Hungarian Jews.

Magyar Narancs in a front page editorial contends that Minister Balog wants to whitewash Hungary of its responsibility for the Roma Holocaust. The liberal weekly accuses the Minister of propagating anti-Roma policies while claiming that he wants to lift the Roma from poverty. Magyar Narancs contends that the anti-poverty policies of Minister Balog entrench segregation (see BudaPost April 23, 2013) and strengthen anti-Roma prejudice.

On the Magyar Narancs blogsite, Júlia Lévai finds the Minster”s sentence clumsy, but deems it unfair to accuse him of Holocaust relativization, as the Democratic Coalition did when they denounced him to the authorities. She thinks nevertheless that by indicating that the trains set out for the death camps from the territory of today’s Austria, the Minister intended to diminish the responsibility of the Hungarian authorities. “That is not a crime, she says, nor should it be one, and those who want to criminalize it, admit thereby that they have run out of political ammunition”.

On the salience of crime statistics by ethnicity

The publication of statistics on the ethnic background of criminals does not amount to racism,” Sjoukje Borbély writes in Népszabadság. The Dutch-Hungarian psychologist believes that liberals mistakenly accuse of prejudice those who openly talk about the overrepresentation of particular ethnic minorities in specific crimes. (That was precisely the “original sin” for which Albert Pásztor was reproached in Miskolc.) She recalls that in the Netherlands, crime statistics by ethnicity have been in use for a long time, and they were very helpful in tackling the different social challenges immigrant groups face.These data helped social workers and authorities to understand the situation of poor immigrants and work out schemes that offered immigrants effective alternatives to petty crime, Borbély contends. She holds that middle-class liberals and lefties move to well-off neighborhoods with no ethnic minorities, and then label as a racist anyone who suggests a correlation of ethnic background and criminality. Borbély maintains that the situation of the Hungarian Roma is unlikely to improve as long as middle-class elites are preoccupied with such symbolic disputes over words rather than working out meaningful social programs to lift the Roma out of poverty.

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