Current internships and externships with the ERRC

05 December 2000

Romani young people from various countries in Europe are presently conducting internships in the ERRC offices in Budapest or taking part in externships facilitated by the ERRC. Here are some of the on-going projects:

Erzsébet Báder and Mária Varga are conducting an ERRC internship researching the situation of so-called "private students" in Hungary - primary school students no longer required to attend school regularly, by agreement of the school and the parents. Their aim is to create a written study by February 2001. The first practical part of the research consists of interviewing teachers, students, parents, and the principals of some primary schools of Hungary. During October, Mária and Erzsébet travelled to four different primary schools in the Hungarian countryside, in the towns of Csörög, ózd, Kál and Nagyesed. In some instances, research has been conducted together with members of the Budapest-based Legal Defence Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities (NEKI). In ózd, Kál and Nagyecsed, the ERRC interns found details supporting their hypothesis that schools abuse power by using the "private student" system to expel Romani pupils from integrated education.

László Fórika is a teacher of Hungarian language and history, and presently fifth-year student of law at the ELTE university in Budapest, Hungary. Since September 2000, he has been an ERRC extern at the Hungarian government's Office for National and Ethnic Minority Rights, where he has been studying various human rights cases. Mr Fórika wrote to the ERRC concerning his externship: "Work here in the Minorities Office is split between two departments: one deals primarily with legal cases, handles applications and prepares reports for the Parliamentary Ombudsman, while the other department deals with theoretical issues as well as works on legal projects and drafting legislation. Both departments, even when a case falls outside their competence, explain to the complainant the legal possibilities. The customer here finds him/herself in an office which radically differs from an average Hungarian office: the employees of the office spend time listening to the complainant and steps or measures are taken almost always within a month's time. To study half a dozen laws is in itself several days' work. I felt particularly honoured when I was invited to the discussion of a bill that was to be presented by the Ombudsman. I am particularly proud of the fact that several of my proposals regarding interpretation were accepted."

Ernő Kállai is currently conducting a research-oriented internship on the sensitive issue of Roma and criminality, as reflected in official discourse. In a preliminary report concerning his internship, Mr Kállai wrote, "Statistical data on ethnicity was collected in Hungary until 1988 about criminals of Romani ethnicity, disregarding personal data protection or the human rights. The notion of Gypsy criminals emerged and started to be used officially, which was only one step from reinfocing the notion Gypsies are criminals. At the beginning of 90s, due to protests by civil and human rights NGOs, the practice of emphasizing the ethnicity of Roma alone in newspaper articles describing criminal cases was halted. I still remember when, as a university student in the early 1990s in the framework of a subject called civic studies, I attended with other students a court session and the whole body of students murmured with approval when the judge stated, 'the Gypsies are not our race and we should do everything to put behind the bars as many of them as possible.' Such fossilized attitudes do not support efforts to change prejudice in society. Some researchers do not dare to write that there are criminals among Roma too, but this should be treated as no great surprise: each people has members who break laws. But this does not mean that the whole nation is criminal. We do have to face the fact that with the transition period, many Romani families were thrown into extreme poverty, and crime for basic survival re-emerged. In many poor regions of Hungary, social conflicts have become ethnicised. Among Roma - as in the case of any people - there are criminals, but there are even more victims. History shows that crime will never cease to exist, and its state depends on the state of society. It is unacceptable, though, that an ethnic group becomes victim of institutionalised discrimination. If we want to change this situation, we have to examine the issue with courage and without bias."

Lajos Puporka, a Romani journalist from Hungary, is presently conducting a research internship with the ERRC. Mr Puporka is examining the living and housing conditions of Roma with the intent of producing a report. According to his preliminary research, 25% of all Roma settlements are situated outside villages, towns and cities, in 9% of these the distance exceeds half a kilometre. Only 40% of these settlements have roads connecting the Romani settlements to the towns, and in 30% of the Romani settlements Roma have to walk half a kilometre to reach a road. 42% of settlements are situated more than a kilometre from the nearest telephone box. Only 58% of the settlements have access to drinking water. Eleven percent of Romani settlements were built on damp soil, 10% next to waste dumps, 17% close to waste-storing structures. Romani settlements and a wave of evictions characterises the living conditions of Roma in Hungary. Sixteen percent of the Romani population of Hungary still lives in deep poverty. The Hungarian Parliament amended the 2000 XLI Law on the Tenancy of Flats and other Premises as well as the 1993 LXXVIII Law on Alienation, which makes it possible for the authorities to evict squatters and non-rentpayers in three days without an order from a judge. In addition to that, tens of thousands of people have become unable to pay the raised interest of house-building loans, and this situation threatens them with becoming homeless. The overwhelming majority of recently reported evictions concern Roma.

Nicolae Radita was born in Baraboi, Republic of Moldova. He has a degree in Law from the State University of Moldova. After graduating, he began work as a volunteer for the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of Moldova and the Romani association Bahtalo Rom. Nicolae was an intern in the ERRC's Budapest office for over a month in late autumn 2000. The main focus of his internship was to improve his knowledge of rights issues and the European international legal framework as it pertains to Roma. In addition, he spent significant time using the ERRC library and studying historical material on Roma there.

Dušan Ristić was born in 1970, in Valjevo, Yugoslavia, and graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts in Belgrade in 1998. Dušan has exhibited his work in student exhibitions within and outside the Faculty of Fine Arts in Belgrade and Novi Sad. In August 2000, Dušan founded the non-governmental Romani Crisis Network, a group of concerned individuals and organisations ready to act when abuses of Romani rights occurs. Dušan began an internship at the ERRC in August 2000. His project centres on the use of art to raise awareness of the problems Roma face in Europe today, and to promote solutions to these problems. Through postcards, posters, and such visual messages, Dušan hopes to provoke reactions from the public. During his internship, Dušan has designed postcards promoting Roma rights, suitable for adaptation as large-scale posters.

Mate Velkey was born in 1981 in Debrecen, Hungary, and he presently attends the General Entrepreneurial College in Budapest, where he studies international relations. His internship with the ERRC centres on surveying the Hungarian press for a period of three months and reporting on the coverage of the Romani issue in the press. Preliminary results indicate a heavy focus in the major Hungarian dailies on the issue of Romani migration, as well as on several famous crimes allegedly committed by Roma.


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