Leading Hungarian politicians deny Romani problems

03 October 2000

Social and Family Affairs Minister Péter Harrach said on August 5, 2000, regarding Roma from the central Hungarian village of Zámoly seeking refugee status in France, that "some were going abroad to discredit Hungary, not only demanding compensation but making groundless allegations against the state and government." On August 9, Hungarian Prime Minsiter Viktor Orbán backed Mr Harrach's statement in an interview on Hungarian Radio, suggesting that Hungarian Roma should "try to study and work more."

These comments followed the flight of several families of Hungarian Roma, totalling approximately 50 people, to France in mid-July. The families have been without a secure place to live and have repeatedly been forced to move since the local government destroyed their homes in Zámoly in 1997. While still in Zámoly, they received numerous oral and written death threats. From late 1999, they were housed in Budapest, where they lived until April 2000 in one very small flat, not capable of adequately housing the group. Following their move to Budapest, the mayor of Zámoly attempted unsuccessfully to have their official address removed from the Zámoly town records. In April 2000, the Zámoly Roma were again forced to move, this time to the village of Csór where, with the assistance only of a relative, they were sheltered in a basement garage, a coal cellar and a furnace room with no heat, lighting or warm water. Mr Dezső Csete, the mayor of Csór, was widely quoted in the Hungarian press after, in direct reference to the Zámoly Roma, he stated on national television on April 27, 2000, "At the present time, I believe that the Roma of Zámoly have no place among human beings. Just as in the animal world, parasites must be expelled." Mr Csete has to date suffered no negative consequences as a result of his statement. The village of Zámoly sanctioned the construction of substandard housing at the edge of town, in a low area plagued by flooding. On February 21, 2000, authorities issued an occupancy permit for the houses in Zámoly, despite the fact that the houses did not meet the habitability requirements established by law. As of August 31, 2000, the habitability requirements still had not been fulfilled. The ERRC has awarded a grant to an attorney to represent six Romani families from Zámoly in their complaint against the Mayor of Zámoly. A complaint was filed on June 15, 2000, with the Székesfehérvár Municipal Court, and was later removed to the Fejer Country Court. The first hearing in the case has been scheduled for October 31, 2000.

The ERRC held a press conference in Zámoly on August 31, 2000, (i) to clarify the facts and underlying legal bases for the compliant lodged by the Zámoly Roma, in response to the lack of accurate and objective information made available to the public on the case; and (ii) to express concern at the quality and tenor of public statements made by Hungarian officials, including high-ranking members of the government, about the Zámoly case, which may have exacerbated an already tense situation vis-a-vis Roma in Hungary.

(Agence France Press, ERRC, Radio Free Europe, Roma Press Center)


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