Reports on public attitudes about Roma in Hungary

15 May 1998

Magyar Hírlap reported on March 28 that according to a recently published sociological study, one out of every ten police officers in Hungary is explicitly racist. The study, prepared by György Csepeli, Antal Örkény and Mária Székelyi, solicited the opinions of 1530 policemen. According to the findings of the study, 80% of policemen consider Roma violent. A basic feature of the Hungarian police officers' views is that they consider Roma as inclined to crime. 54% of the questioned believe that a criminal way of life is the key element of the Romani identity. Only 11% disagreed with this contention and 35% offered an equivocal response when presented with the statement. 78% of the police officers surveyed believe that there is a connection between crime and ethnicity. According to 89% of policemen surveyed, there are crimes which are typical for the Romani minority, such as theft (51%), disturbing the peace (27%), pick-pocketing (25%) and burglary (25%). 35% of police officers surveyed believe that resistance by Roma can be handled only by force. 28% stated that they accept slapping as a regular part of police procedure in dealing with a Romani suspect. 74% stated that the non-Romani population expected them to be tough with Roma.

69% of police officers surveyed rejected the idea that Roma are aggressive because they misunderstand public officials. Only 11% accepted this argument and 20% equivocated while answering. 43% of those questioned believe it is desirable to have Romani policemen, but they strongly reject the idea of Roma working in the judiciary. 82% are against Romani TV announcers.

The study also shows that policemen overestimate the size of the Romani population in Hungary. Instead of the realistic 5-6%, they believe that 18.5% of the Hungarian population is Romani. If true, this would mean that there were almost two million Roma in Hungary. Police officers also foresee that in twenty years, the Romani population will rise to 31%, approximately three million people.

Other reports on the situation of Roma in Hungary have also been published recently. The Legal Defence Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities (NEKI) of Budapest, Hungary, issued the fourth edition of its White Booklet on February 18, 1998, in which it describes its activities for 1997 concerning cases of human rights violations of Roma. The 1998 White Booklet presents 27 new cases and also provides follow-up on cases described in previous NEKI publications. The NEKI White Booklet appears in Hungarian and English.

According to Attorney Imre Furmann, director of NEKI, in 1997, instances of violations committed by the police were among the most common cases on which his office worked. There were, additionally, cases in which the right of Romani individuals to choose their place of residence was violated by municipal authorities. 1997 was the first year in which in two of the cases in which NEKI is involved, victims died as a result of the abuse they suffered. Mr Furmann stated that NEKI is already working on one case in 1998 which resulted in the death of a Romani individual. In the introduction of the White Booklet Attorney István Szikinger writes that the work of groups such as NEKI in holding authorities accountable is important because of „... authorities who, during their work, quite often act in violation of the law."

Finally, the Parliamentary Ombudsman for National and Ethnic Minorities, Mr Jenő Kaltenbach, submitted a report to parliament detailing 352 cases of abuse, „the majority of which concern Roma." The report will be made public following parliamentary ratification.

(Magyar Hírlap, NEKI, Roma Press Center)

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