Roma and access to water: More bad news from Miskolc

17 October 2019

By Bernard Rorke 

Hungarian journalist, Illés Szurovecz asked his readers to imagine living in a settlement where access to clean water is dependent upon you being accepted as a member of a Horticultural Society? Imagine access to clean water being dependent upon those worthy horticulturalists deciding whether or not you are ‘socially acceptable’?  And imagine if you’re lucky enough to get water, you don’t get monthly water bills, but someone from the association comes collecting cash. 

Hungarian news portal 444.hu has revealed a shocking situation on the outskirts of Miskolc, where Roma in the Lyukóvölgy settlement are systematically denied access to clean water, and the municipal authority simply washed its hands of any responsibility. It’s a bizarre situation, as if democracy had simply passed by and forgot to stop in this hole in the valley.

As one local mum told the reporter, “The kids come home from school and go down for water with pails and containers. That shouldn't happen in the 21st century!" as many of the houses don’t have tap water residents have to trudge a distance through mud in all seasons to carry water from a public tap. 

Who decides who ‘deserves’ water?

To use irrigation water supplied to yards, residents must apply to join a regionally supplied garden cooperative and pay a fee of a few thousand forints a year. The water is not supplied by a public water company, but three associations of metallurgical gardeners and ‘water-using horticulturalists’. As the 444.hu reporter explains, this set-up dates back decades, to when the Lyukóvölgy was a cottage holiday resort for miners and factory workers, and the associations created their own water network to irrigate their gardens. 

Now that jobs and miners have vanished, this hole in the valley is no rural idyll but home to many poor people, including many who were forced out of the Numbered Streets neighbourhood to make way for the gleaming Diósgyőr football stadium. As the reporter puts it, nowadays the water is needed not for irrigating vegetables but for bathing kids.

The article describes an alarming situation where decisions on who gets, or does not get water, depends on the whims of one bitter individual, who leads two of the associations. She decides who gets to become a member, and has made membership regulations stricter since people in ‘deep need’ have moved in to the area. 

She would not divulge to the reporter how many people had been refused membership recently: “It does not matter if it is Gypsies or Hungarians who do not follow the rules, we are not obliged to provide water to them.” She added that "If these individuals learn to live normal lives and not take the garbage to the street and loot everything, then we'll think."

In response to questions, the local municipality claimed those residents living in outlying properties are not part of the urban drinking water core network, and at the time of moving out, “were aware that the service provider is not in a contractual relationship with them, but with the garden cooperative."  

Miskolc: no stranger to anti-Roma racism

Miskolc is no stranger to controversy concerning anti-Roma racism. The authorities and local politicians have been big on mobilising anti-Roma hate for electoral gain. In the 2013 controversy over Roma seeking asylum, then Fidesz mayor Ákos Kriza, told the Canadians that failed claimants could not return to Miskolc. Not only would he do anything to prevent “these criminals from settling in the city”, but would “drive out those criminals currently residing in Miskolc.” He further threatened returning Roma parents that the authorities would take their children away and place them in state institutions.

A year and a half later Kriza came up with a plan “for the liquidation of ghettos and slums”, which was Fidesz-speak for pushing the Roma out of town. The infamous decisions concerning the evictions and demolitions of the houses in the Numbered Streets neighbourhood on ‘enhancement of public order’ grounds, and the need to build a parking lot and a football stadium, attracted much negative international media attention, criticism in 2015 from international human rights bodies, and censure from the Hungarian Supreme Court and the Equal Treatment Authority. 

And, of course in 2018, there was Viktor Orbán’s incendiary Miskolc hate speech on the campaign trail. Taking his standard swipes at Soros stooges and Muslim migrants, Orbán then targeted the Roma, warning the good citizens of Miskolc about ghettos, no-go zones and public menace: 

“There was a time when people from outside migrated en masse into this city. And you remember what happened. The people of Miskolc experienced what happened then. … Yet those people who moved to Miskolc came from the territory of Hungary. Now you imagine what will happen when people who in their culture, customs, and views are completely different from us arrive from outside of the country.” Orbán knew his audience well, and nobody was in doubt who ‘those people’ were.

After Fidesz: what prospects for access to clean water in the hole down in the valley-o?

Opposition triumphs in last Sunday’s municipal elections included Miskolc, and the newly-elected Pál Veres, who defeated Fidesz vowed in his victory speech, to work together with “everyone who represents the interests of the city ... with all of Miskolc’s residents”.  The opposition forces have promised a politics beyond hate and fear, and there is a need for this city to deal with its history of anti-Roma racism if Veres is to realise his ambition “to build a new, beautiful city, to create a great Miskolc”. 

Even more urgent is the need to ensure that all residents have direct access to clean water and sanitation via public authority provision; and that this fundamental right no longer remains a matter left to the discretion of cranky horticultural, metallurgical or gardeners’ associations. 

The Roma Civil Monitoring Reports, ERRC field research and FRA surveys reveal shocking disparities and discrimination faced by Roma when it comes to clean water across the EU. Even where safe water supply and sanitation services are available to almost every non-Roma household, many Roma populations cannot access these basic and very essential services. 

The UN Sustainable Development Goal Six (SDG 6) calls for universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water, sanitation and hygiene facilities for all by 2030. It should be Europe’s shame that in this prosperous continent, SDG 6 will not be met by 2020. The absence of shame in Miskolc and elsewhere, gives measure to the depth of anti-Roma racism that pisses all over so-called European values.

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