Anti-Roma sentiment is getting out of hand in Hungary

2009-02-13

Background

On 8 February 2009, Marian Cozma, the handball player of the club MKB Veszprem and of the Romanian national  handball team was stabbed to death and two other players were seriously injured in an attack at a nightclub in the town of Veszprem by three perpetrators (two of whom are of Roma origin). This murder and the recent statement of the Miskolc police chief (“We can say that all the muggings – which are violent robberies of that kind – were committed by people of Gypsy origin”) unprecedently have intensied the political and social debates on “Roma crime” in Hungary.

Short-term risks

  • The completely open anti-Roma sentiment can mobilize radicals more increasingly than ever. Anti-Roma demonstrations and violent actions are to be expected already in the short run in Veszprém, Enying and Budapest.
  • The radical right wing has not been able to organize demonstrations rallying considerable crowds and drawing media attention since the autumn of 2006. But the present situation offers a good opportunity for them. A similar situation to the one in the autumn of 2006 can evolve: the radical right wing may claim or suppose again a much bigger social backing than its existing supporters, which can increase its self-condence and determination.
  • Demonstrations organized not directly by the radical right wing but exploited by them are expectable, similarly to the last week’s demonstration for the Miskolc police chief. At the same time, certain Roma groups are expected to prepare demonstrative or violent counter-reactions; over the last few weeks, we have seen several signs of that and of the “Roma guards”. A considerable number of the Roma, just like far-right radicals, does not trust state organizations, so their need to organize their own self-defence may increase.

Mid-term and long-term risks

  • The Veszprém murder can become a reference point in the far-right similarly to the Olaszliszka lynching in 2006. With this case, the process that started after the Olaszliszka lynching seems to be completing its course: political discourse changes permanently, open anti-Roma rhetoric and attitudes become accepted, which will exacerbate the situation.
  • It has become clear that the campaign of “Roma crime”, the most important message of the far-right Jobbik, has been an efficient tool, the party’s interpretation is accepted by the considerable part of the society. Having said that, the starting point has not changed: the parliamentary parties are not able to step out of the frames of the debate on the Roma-issue set by Jobbik. Political opportunities for Jobbik will widen in line with the deepening social problems.
  • Leading political powers are losing control over the processes, they are only running after the ever-accelerating events. MSZP is extremely divided upon this question, while the government is desperately trying to strengthen the police force with the rearrangement of the resources, and to save the unfavourable political situation for the party. Fidesz has gone from one extreme to the other in no time; it started to speak (following the tone of the right-wing press) about increasing Roma crime when it detected increasing anti-Roma sentiment in the public and the extension of the opportunities of its rival Jobbik.
  • Jobbik is expected to put even more emphasis on order and public security, and on its campaign against Roma crime. What is more, these issues are going to dominate the political debates, which may further intensify current emotions. The demand to re-establish the death penalty can become an important issue, Jobbik can even build a kind of movement on it. The consequences of the Veszprém murder may give even more room to Hungarian Guard. The number of demonstrative processions is expected to rise, Hungarian Guard may transform into a kind of alternative civil guard. Should Hungarian Guard do so and become more visible, the risk of local clashes will increase.
  • Signicant recession is expected in the Hungarian economy, which will raise unemployment drastically. It may increase social tensions from two directions: lay-offs will mainly affect the lower-skilled workers, so the Roma population may get into a more difficult situation. On the other hand, the prospects of the majority of the society are deteriorating, too. Supporting the inactive will put more burdens on the active, which may trigger creation of scapegoats, which normally means the increase of anti-Roma sentiment based on the experience of the recent period.
  • Permanent political strengthening of the radical right wing with open declaration of anti-Roma sentiment is expected, which is favourable for Jobbik, provided it can keep the Hungarian Guard and the whole radical right wing under control. Certain groups may turn against Jobbik; new anti-Roma organizations can come into existence that will be more dangerous, and specically in favour of ethnic violence, which will obviously spark counter-reactions. Consequently, it is not the strengthening of Jobbik itself as a party that is dangerous, but the fact that its policy may generate social tensions that even Jobbik will not be able to control beyond a certain point.

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