Non-Romani death caps long housing crisis in Hungary

05 September 1999

On August 30, 1999, the Budapest-based Roma Press Center (RSK) reported that a group of Roma had killed one of three non-Roma who harassed them after coming to their temporary housing in the village of Zámoly, approximately sixty kilometres west of Budapest. According to RSK, three non-Romani men with shaved heads went to the temporary housing units of a Romani family sometime after midnight on August 29, reportedly looking for a non-Romani man. Witnesses state that the men were armed with baseball bats and police sources state that they later found a baseball bat near the scene. According to articles from September 1 in the Hungarian press, only women and children were in the houses at the time of the attack. Some of the Romani women chased the intruders out of the house and a fight broke out. In the end, one non-Romani man died after he had been beaten with a wooden plank.

The episode marks the latest turn in a series of events which include the forced homelessness of the Romani families. The skinheads attacked the weak not only because they were attacking women and children: they were attacking a socially weak group, deprived of the territory it could call its own. The history of homelessness of this Romani group shows that they have been perceived as 'weak' not only by skinheads, but also by local government officials. Six Romani families comprising approximately 25 individuals from Zámoly became homeless in October 1997. First, a storm damaged some of the houses. Then, Mayor József Takács decided that the city would not help repair the houses and instead would demolish them. The six families were moved into the village cultural centre. On March 26, 1999, the National Gypsy Self-Government (OCÖ), a state advisory body to the National Government, and the village reached an agreement that the Roma would be out of the cultural centre by July 31, 1999. Under the agreement, the OCÖ would build them new houses. On July 30, 1999, Mayor Takács reportedly said that if the families did not leave the cultural centre by August 2, he would employ the police to have them removed. He also reportedly told the families that if they did not leave, he would call social workers and have their children taken away. Hungarian mayors do not have the power to authorise remanding children into the state care and Mayor Takás evidently intended to frighten the families concerned.

On July 30, the families were moved from the village of Zámoly to the Budapest-based Romani Cultural Centre owned by the OCÖ. Mr Flórián Farkas, Head of the OCÖ, reportedly said that by assisting the homeless families, the OCÖ had undertaken a task that is the responsibility of local governments and the state. On August 5, the families moved back to Zámoly and took up residence in temporary wooden shelters. The construction of the permanent housing reportedly did not begin until August 6, among other things because of the poor quality of the ground allocated to the Romani families and the failure of the authorities to issue a building permit. The houses were originally slated to be near the centre of Zámoly, but following a petition against the Roma, construction began on a site at the edge of town. According to RSK, both before their move to Budapest and after their return to Zámoly, the Romani families were repeatedly harassed by locals.

In the August 30 incident, according to Mr Lajos Németh, spokesperson for the Fejér County Police, one Romani woman, Ms R.J., confessed to the killing and has been charged with murder. According to Mr Németh, the three non-Romani men are not locals, but are from the neighbouring town of Csákvár. During the attack, witnesses reportedly heard the men shouting "Dirty Gypsies, we will kill you all." Investigation is reportedly open into their actions. The OCÖ and the Budapest-based non-governmental organisation, Foundation for Romani Civil Rights have reportedly promised to provide the families with legal representation.

(Roma Press Center, Magyar Hírlap, MaNcs, Népszabadság)


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