Barion Pixel TASZ | They have a dream

They have a dream

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” – On the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s speech the news portal investigated what it is like for African-Americans to live in the United States today. We decided to show, using statistical data and the findings of international and domestic research projects and studies, what Romani people’s lives are like in present day Hungary.

We are looking at the following parameters: poverty indexes, levels and patterns of segregation, employment ratio, health care access and housing figures. In the course of our work we regularly see the mutually strengthening correlation between these conditions and society’s prejudices, discriminative practices and the limits of Romani people’s exercising their rights; building invisible, almost insurmountable obstacles in their way towards living as citizens with equal dignity. Instead of compiling an exhaustive list of all the issues, which could fill volumes using the available data, we aim to demonstrate the problem below.

We are ahead

In 2008, the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) surveyed the extent of prejudice and negative discrimination in the countries of the Eastern European region. According to the results, 62 percent (approximately 500 persons) of the Romani people interviewed in Hungary claimed to have incurred negative discrimination in certain areas of life in the previous 12 months. With this figure we became runners-up among the participating countries, ‘losing’ by a mere two percentage points to the Czech Republic (64%). 90 percent of the Romani interviewees said that ethnic prejudices are widespread in Hungary. With this figure, we beat the Czech Republic by 7 percentage points, earning us the dubious honour of first place.

In the area of Animosity against foreigners and discrimination in today’s Hungary, the TÁRKI Social Research Inc. investigated among other topics the level of Hungarian society’s prejudices against specific ethnic groups. Of the ethnic groups included in the survey, people’s opinions are the lowest about Romani people: almost half of the people interviewed (close to 3000 people) would not accept a person of Roma origin as their neighbour, colleague or family member. They are followed by Arabic people whom 43 percent of the respondents would not accept in any relation, and Chinese people are the third with 33 percent.

Most cannot even afford bread

According to KSH (Central Statistical Office) data, in 2005 more than 50% of Romani households lived in permanent poverty, while this figure for the whole population was less than 8%. Seven years later in 2012, 70% of Romani people lived on less than the living wage. The average living wage in Hungary was HUF 85,960 per capita in 2012. The European Commission’s working document assessing Hungary reports that child poverty is 50% higher in the country than the European average. Half of the children living in poverty are of Roma origin. [1]

According to surveys, the risk of poverty is determined primarily by four factors: education and labour market position, demographic factors, geographic location and type of dwelling, and Roma origins. The UN’s Development Program, the World Bank and the European Commission conducted a study of the employment rates of Romani people living in Hungary, and found that in 2011 only 23% of Romani people between 15 and 64 years of age had a registered job in 2011 [2]. Research showed, however, that most of the inactive or unemployed people were actually working, albeit illegally or in grey economy – doing seasonal work and construction jobs.

A large part of the Roma population is employed seasonally in the framework of the public work scheme, which typically does not provide permanent and continuous work. Furthermore, he scheme unfortunately does not provide mobility towards the labour market where uncertain seasonal work could be traded for permanent and stable employment.

Special schools for Romani children

Vera Messing’s essay shows that the chances of finding a job are largely dependent on education – for everyone. The chances that a Romani person who has finished high school and passed the graduation exam will find work are twenty-seven times higher than someone of Romani origin who has not been schooled. Therefore segregation in schools or access to low-quality education and dropping out are especially severe issues: all doors may close for good for these people. Two phenomena should be highlighted in relation to this.

Several – mostly Romani – children who are not mentally disabled but have low social status go to schools for the mentally disabled. These pupils are categorized as having “mild intellectual disabilities” by expert committees. Directing Romani children to special schools is an institutionalized form of the practice of segregation.[3] The analysis of Policy Solutions reveals that the ratio of Romani children in special needs education is approximately 85%, and they are eight times as likely to be home-schooled as other pupils.

In the case of Horváth and Kiss v. Hungary, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (ECHR) found in February of this year that Hungary violated articles of the European Convention of Human Rights by misdiagnosing Romani children and forcing them into segregated schools. Two Romani children were declared mentally disabled because of their ethnicity and placed in a special school for the mentally disabled. According to the Court’s ruling, misdiagnosing children and segregating them on the basis of this false diagnosis constitutes discrimination, and the Court held that Hungary should pay EUR 4,500 to the two applicants.

The quality of education in the school is also important, and it depends greatly on the practice of integrated education. The term ‘segregation’ is most often used in connection to institutional separation – in Hungary, most typically in education – arising from differences due to geographic location and living conditions. Children of Roma origin going to segregated schools often receive lower quality education and less modern teaching equipment than their non-Romani peers.

According to the latest research of sociologists Gábor Kertesi and Gábor Kézdi, in a study of 100 municipalities in Hungary, segregation in elementary schools increased significantly between 1992 and 2006. The authors drew the conclusion that segregated education is caused by a combination of poverty and ethnicity. Although the Hungarian state and local governments lost several court cases over segregation, few changed their segregating practices.

Worrying health issues

According to the status assessment of the expert concept called the Semmelweis Plan of the Secretariat of State for Health Affairs of the Ministry of National Resources: in terms of health statues and its decisive factors, there are significant regional and social-economic inequalities in Hungary. The Romani population is a multiply disadvantaged group, and its health status is especially dire.

It is public knowledge that in Hungary’s mortality statistics, death by cardiovascular disease is number one. According to published data of the UN’s Development Program of 2011, 39% of non-Romani men and 40% of non-Romani women go to heart screening tests, while these figures are 25% for Romani men and 29% of Romani women. Forty-six percent of Romani men and 49% of Romani women do not have access to essential medicines, whereas 22% of non-Romani men and 23% of non-Romani women have this problem.[4]

According to the National Health Council’s report of March 2011, the general health of Romani people living in Hungary is worrying. Furthermore, the report claims that Romani people are often faced with negative discrimination in healthcare procedures.

We don’t want to live in ghettoes

According to a survey conducted in 2010, a total of 280–315 thousand people (3% of the country’s population) live in ghettoes. Most of these segregated living environments [5] are on the margins of municipalities. 16% of ghettoes have no water pipeline, 77 ghettoes have no public water fountains, and 118 segregated areas lack public lighting.[6]

According to a 2011 survey of the UN’s Development Program, 29% of Romani people live in low-quality apartments or ghettoes (as opposed to 8% of the non-Romani population); 30% of them have no access to quality drinking water, and one-third of Romani people live without plumbing. This figure is around 8–12% for the non-Romani population.

The majority of interviewed Romani people would prefer living in integrated living districts to segregated dwelling.[7]

Integration or exclusion?

While’s look into the past concluded that the civil rights movement was successful in eliminating open, legislative discrimination, and the wealth differences between black and white Americans have been gradually diminishing for decades, the two groups are still in very different positions. In Hungary, as shown by the above data, the social difference between Romani and non-Romani Hungarians is enormous. This difference goes hand in hand with discriminatory tendencies: although there is no open discrimination on the level of laws, the way they are applied often shows discriminative practices, which we have been reporting on our own sites. Ever-deepening poverty, increasing anti-Roma sentiments in society and discriminative practices that continue to live on strengthen one another. Even though the heirs of the civil rights movement feel that equality is far from achieved in the United States, while there the President and the Attorney General are both black, in Hungary last week’s breaking news was that a Romani person was shown in a TV ad.

Anita Vodál, TASZ

[1] National Social Report 2012, Hungary, p. 2

[2] Civil Society Monitoring Report on the implementation of the National Roma Integration Strategy and Decade Action Plan in 2012 in Hungary

[3] Diszkrimináció az oktatásban – UNESCO Nemzeti Jelentés Magyarország, OFI Budapest, 2008

[4] Civil Society Monitoring Report on the Implementation of the National Roma Integration Strategy and Decade Action Plan in 2012 in Hungary

[5] A KSH a 2001-ben végzett népszámlálás adatainak alapján azokat a területeket minősíti szegregátumnak, ahol az aktív korú népességen belül a legfeljebb általános iskolai végzettséggel rendelkezők és a rendszeres munkajövedelemmel nem rendelkezők aránya mindkét mutató esetében magasabb, mint 50%.

[6] Civil Society Monitoring Report on the Implementation of the National Roma Integration Strategy and Decade Action Plan in 2012 in Hungary

[7] Civil Society Monitoring Report on the Implementation of the National Roma Integration Strategy and Decade Action Plan in 2012 in Hungary


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