ERRC Letter to the Hungarian Minister of Education

On August 27, 1999, the ERRC sent a letter to Dr Zoltan Pokorni, the Hungarian Minister of Education, to express concern at the fact that the Director Dr. Földi Janos Primary and Art school was recently presented with a state award. The school was the scene of a nationally publicised attack early in the 1998/1999 school year, in which a teacher attacked and wounded Romani pupils with a knife. The text of the letter follows:

Dear Minister of Education,

The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) has learnt with indignation that on 20 August, 1999, you granted a Trefort Agoston award to the headmaster of the Hajdúhadház Dr. Földi Janos Primary and Art school.

The ERRC notes that you have rewarded the headmaster of a school in which Romani children have been receiving their education in separate classes.

We are convinced that the headmaster of a school where separating Romani children has been institutionalized and where Romani children have little hope for further studies does not deserve recognition, especially with a state award.

Less than a year ago, in September 1998, the headmaster of the Hajdúhadház school, risking his own physical safety, prevented a mentally unstable teacher from stabbing children who were queuing for lunch. The ERRC appreciates his brave and self-sacrificing act. On the occasion of that incident, you paid a visit to Hajdúhadház and also had the chance to meet with Romani parents who complained that their children were receiving lower quality education in segregated classes. Based on the same complaints, an inquiry into the school conditions was launched by the minorities ombudsman. Among others, the findings of the inquiry state the following:

"The primary school consists of several buildings. [... Not a single Romani pupil attends the central building which is best equipped, and the proportion of Romani pupils in the mixed classes is only 33%. [...] The central building was recently reconstructed and has two gymnasiums. There is no gymnasium, however, in the gymnasiums on Szabo Gabor street which is attended by Roma in homogeneous lower classes, thus these pupils have to walk 1500 meters each time they have a physical education lesson. [...] In this gymnasium the facilities and equipment are the poorest, and according to the pupils they study from old textbooks which they are not allowed to take home. [...]

In 1998, the municipality of Hajdúhadház received 12,186,000 forints from the central state budget as a minority complementary aid which without parents' consent is continuously used for creating segregated classes. [...] Without parents' consent, teachers themselves decide what is good for the pupils. It is dangerous also because thus it is only the teacher who decides who is a Gypsy. This solution grossly violates Article 7 of the 1993 LXXVII law on the national and ethnic minority rights.

Segregated education remains part of the school's practice. According to a 1998 survey by the foundation for Romani Civil Rights, as a result of efforts made by education authorities of the Hajdú-Bihar County, in ten years, from 1976 through 1986, the number of Roma classes in the county considerably dropped (from 37 to 23), while the number of Roma children has risen. Hajdúhadház has shown the most resistance to integrated schooling, despite the fact that the town has received the most help from the county to solve the issue of mixed kindergartens. A report from this period by the head of the County Council regarding the issue states the following: "There still are 23 segregated Gypsy classes in the county out of which 15 are in Hadhazteglas." In the second half of the 1980s the town maintained twice as many Gypsy classes as the rest of the county's settlements altogether. Since 1994, without parents' consent, Hajdúhadház has not only maintained Gypsy classes, but also has expanded these to upper classes.

Based on the above facts, the ERRC views the award you have granted as inappropriate. We request Mr Minister to explain on what grounds you gave such a high award to the headmaster of the Dr. Földi Janos Primary and Art school.

The ERRC is convinced that a person who is the headmaster of a school in which dozens of pupils suffer disadvantage because of their origin should not receive such an award from the state. Also it is advisable to avoid any sign showing that practices which cause a feeling of humiliation in a part of the population are acknowledged by the state.

The ERRC respectfully requests an early explanation of the grounds for the award.

Sincerely yours,

Dimitrina Petrova
Executive Director

Persons wishing to express similar concern are urged to contact Dr. Zoltán Pokorni, Minister of Education at the fax number: (36 1) 269 2437

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