This short history of segregation and its challengers shows that there is nothing incidental or accidental about the practices that perpetuate school segregation and inequality in Hungary. It is deliberate, knowing and systemic. And that is why it’s time for the EU to intervene to challenge ethnic discrimination in this illiberal democracy.
In the mid-nineteenth century in his Histoire de France, Jules Michelet wrote that France is “the moral ideal of the world” and ruminated that “no doubt every great nation represents an idea important to the human race. But great God! How much more true this is of France.” France’s long cherished self-image as the source of enlightenment, a republic where history is glorious and reason reigns supreme, has taken something of a thrashing since 2010, not least due to the publicity generated by its treatment of Roma.
In 2008, the declaration of a State of Emergency to combat the so-called ‘Roma menace’, prompted global media coverage and international criticism. The demonisation of Romani people in this overtly racist and populist get-tough approach served only to exacerbate communal tensions, legitimise human rights abuses, and seriously damage prospects for social inclusion. A quick perusal of ERRC’s archives between 1997 and 2000 reveals that all of this was foreseeable, preventable, and utterly unnecessary.