Hungarian Villagers Enforce Mob Justice Solution to Prevent Roma from Moving in
7 November 2002
on October 2, 2002 the ERRC visited three Romani families in Paks, a town in western Hungary, following massive protests by non-Romani villagers in the area against the moving in of these Romani families. Paks is one of the most prosperous towns in Hungary; its exceptional situation is based on the fact that Hungary's only nuclear power plant is located in the town. Despite the town's high economic status, however, the estimated two thousand Roma living in Paks have been faced with serious social and economic problems for years. According to Mr Pál Solt, a member of the Romani self-government for the town2, not more than twenty out of two thousand Roma are permanently employed. Unemployment and serious social problems, including among others an inadequate housing situation, is the background of the issues presented below.
Three Romani families, Kolompár, Balogh, and Csurán, lived in the buildings of Bedőtanya, a farm in the suburb of Paks.
According to Mr Pál Solt, in May 2002, the conditions of the buildings in Bedőtanya were established to be unsafe for habitation by the local authorities of Paks, but neither reconstruction nor the removal of its residents was initiated. On September 4, 2002, at around 10 p.m., one of the buildings in Bedőtanya, which had previously been damaged by a storm, collapsed. Mr Vince Kolompár informed the Romani self-government in Paks of the damage, and their representative, Mr Pál Solt, alerted the local government.
On September 5, 2002, at 2 p.m., the fire brigade visited Bedőtanya and examined the conditions of the partially collapsed building. They reportedly took the children out of the building and did not allow anybody to re-enter the buildings. According to the families, about five minutes later, a bulldozer arrived and demolished the buildings. The owners claim that they did not have time to rescue anything from the houses, even from those houses left undamaged by the storm. All of their furniture, clothes and private property remained in the buildings. The group of forty Roma were sheltered in tents for approximately three weeks in the area after the destruction of their houses.
One of the two emergency buildings provided by the Paks local self-government.
As soon as this issue appeared in the media, non-Romani residents of the nearby villages started to protest against the decision of the leadership of Paks to move the Romani families out of the town. At first, the non-Romani villagers claimed that they were not trying to prevent the Roma from moving in because of anti-Romani sentiment, but protesting against the decision of Paks to "export its social problems" to the villages.
Since the residents of these villages were determined not to sell their houses to the Romani families, the local government of Paks could not purchase the houses, except for one in the village of Németkér. Mr Károly Kolompár reportedly bought the house in Németkér for 2.5 million Hungarian forints (approximately 10,000 euros) on September 18, 2002, and was going to move in, together with his wife and sixteen-month-old daughter.
On September 19, 2002, the mayor of Németkér, Mrs Józsefné Mihályi, called an extraordinary meeting of the municipal council, which decided to persuade the former owner of the house bought by Mr Károly Kolompár to back out of the contract. According to Mrs Józsefné Mihályi, they even offered to pay damages incurred by the owner if the Kolompár family took him to court. Since their attempt failed because the payment had already been arranged, the residents of Németkér gathered in front of the house of the Kolompár family and protested against them moving in. When a journalist from the Hungarian daily Népszabadság asked the mayor of Németkér whether she and her colleagues on the local council tried to disperse the people there she responded: "There would have been no point in it. Several hundred villagers were protesting against the moving in of the Roma from Bedőtanya. They did not even care about the fact that the policemen surrounded the house together with commandos." The notary of Paks and the head of the administrative office visited the site with Mr Aladár Horváth, whose organisation, the Roma Civil Rights Foundation, intervened and tried to mediate as the tension in Németkér grew. They warned the Kolompár family, who were on their way to the village, to turn back. When the police force left the village at about 8:00 PM, several hundred villagers broke in through the gate of the house, damaging the roof and breaking the windows and doors.
The police force of Paks subsequently initiated investigation into the case against "unknown perpetrators" (allegedly, the villagers refused cooperation with the police in identifying the well-known perpetrators) for violation and damage to private property. The case was later re-assigned to the Tolna County Police Headquarters. Damage to private property is a criminal offense punishable in Hungary by a prison sentence of up to three years. If the perpetrators are found guilty of "violence against an ethnic group", the punishment indicated by the Hungarian Criminal Code is a prison sentence of up to eight years. According to the spokesperson of the Tolna County Police Headquarters, however, it would be difficult to prove that the villagers had tried to prevent the Roma moving in specifically because they were Roma.
On September 20, 2002, Mr Imre Bor and Mr Aladár Horváth informed the press that the local self-government of Paks had decided to find other solutions for the Roma of Bedőtanya within the town of Paks. According to the agreement between the local self-government of Paks and the Roma Civil Rights Foundation (which signed on behalf of the three families), the city committed to providing the three Romani families with two houses on the outskirts of Paks, in the Biritó-Halastó neighbourhood as a temporary solution (for 6-9 months), and agreed to help the Roma build houses on the site of the original farm.
|Room in the emergency flat in which the Balogh family is temporarily accommodated. Photo: ERRC|
More recently, the government of Paks has allegedly withdrawn its decision, stating that it is not possible to build the houses in Bedőtanya, because it is too close to the nuclear power plant, but will consider providing them with other land for their new homes.
ERRC field research established that the temporary houses occupied by the three Romani families in the Biritó-Halastó neighbourhood of the town of Paks were in a dilapidated condition: There were not enough stoves provided and there was only one toilet in the garden. The houses are about 6-8 km away from the schools the children attend. According to Mr Pál Solt, the local government of Paks allegedly promised to arrange transportation for the children, as well as the necessary repairs to the houses. However, at the time of the ERRC's visit, neither issue had been resolved. Mr Pál Solt was taking the 14 school-aged children to school in his own car at his own expense, as he did not want the children to be absent from school any longer. They had already missed three weeks of lessons while the families had lived in tents. As of October 2, 2002, the children were still not provided with school equipment, although all their belongings were under the demolished farm. Subsequently, the Hungarian government has reportedly issued a combination of grant and interest-free loan, in the total amount of one million Hungarian forints (approximately 4,000 euros) for, inter alia, transportation and school supplies for the children.
As of October 26, 2002, the police investigation into the case of the damaged house in Németkér was ongoing; no perpetrators had been identified.
- Orsolya Szendrei is Research and Policy Assistant at the ERRC.
- Romani self-governments" are advisory bodies to the local government provided under Hungary's 1993 Minorities Act.