28 Sep 2017

Young Roma intellectuals challenge stereotypes

In most cases, the Roma in Hungry are portrayed as delinquents, or just extremely poor, simple beings incapable of social mobility. We hardly hear about successful members of the community.

Ivett Körösi
Ivett Körösi Nepszava, Hungary
Source: Nepszava
Young Roma intellectuals challenge stereotypes - NewsMavens
Romani flag. AdiJapan/Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

Why this story matters:

The losers of the transition to democracy – that is how the Roma minority of Hungary has been referred to since 1990. Hungary’s biggest ethnic minority was somewhat better off in the communist era. After the regime changed, unemployment rose and many Roma people were sacked. The labour market went through a significant transformation and jobs that were previously mainly filled by members of the Roma community suddenly disappeared.

In the last 27 years, Hungarian governments have all borne the responsibility of tackling this phenomenon and integrating Roma into both the labor market and post-communist society. But they all failed.

Most politicians focused on short-term goals but the integration of an ethnic community cannot be done in a 4-year term. This is a long-term investment which none of the past governments were bothered to make. There have been several government programs but none of them were effective or comprehensive enough. At least that's how members of the Roma intellectual elite see it. They shared their views at a talk which focused on the state of their community and why we have not seen significant changes in the last nearly three decades.

It was great to see six successful Roma intellectuals on the podium and the reason I say this is because they are extremely underrepresented in the Hungarian media.

Role models, such as the guests at the talk, are rarely seen in mainstream media. The representation of the Roma in Hungary is very basic. In most cases, they are portrayed as delinquents, or just extremely poor, simple beings incapable of social mobility. We hardly hear about successful members of the community. The situation of Roma intellectuals is particularly challenging, as one of them said during the talk: they cannot go back to the slums but, despite their knowledge, they will never be an integral part of the Hungarian intelligentsia. 

Details from the story:

  • At a talk, Roma intellectuals shared what they thought was key to success: a supportive family, scholarships, mentors, financial help and strong will.
  • One of them, Jozsef Horvath, debunked the common stereotype that "laziness and theft are in the blood of Roma people”. The cancer researcher emphasized that behavioral attitudes are not genetically coded and cannot be inherited.
  • He said that it was a relief whenever Roma had the opportunity to work abroad because their ethnic background was never an issue in foreign countries: the only thing that mattered was their knowledge.
  • Horvath suggested that a mandatory quota in public offices for Roma people would help social mobility.
  • According to a 2011 census, only 1% of the Roma community had an academic degree.
  • Homelessness is also an issue which is rarely talked about in this context. The "3rd of February Workgroup" (F3) is an NGO which conducts annual surveys among homeless people. Their finding suggests that the risk of becoming homeless is five times higher for Roma people. Women are especially vulnerable.
  • 6 successful Roma intellectuals participated in the talk about the situation of Roma in Hungary: art historian Timea Junghaus, head nurse Timea Jonas, cancer researcher Jozsef Horvath, media researcher Maria Bogdan, firefighter and spokesperson for the National Directorate General for Disaster Management Attila Csampai and sociologist Angela Kocze.

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