02 Oct 2017

Ethnic segregation often starts small

Building a 'leisure center' with a playground and sports facilities for disadvantaged kids seemed like a great idea. What eventually happened though was a masterpiece of hypocrisy.

Ivett Körösi
Ivett Körösi Nepszava, Hungary
Source: Nepszava
Ethnic segregation often starts small - NewsMavens
A seesaw. Photo: Tiia Monto/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Why this story matters:

UPDATE: Days after the article was published, the mayor denied that there was an entrance fee to the playground (contradicting his previous comment in which he said 500 HUF was a reasonable price). He said it had always been free of charge for everyone as long as people filled out a registry form. Locals, however, claim that this was never the case and that the mayor only made this up to avoid public scandal.

At first, it seemed like a dream come true: disadvantaged children finally got a playground in the Hungarian town of Hajduhadhaz. But after the playground was opened the dream turned into a farce: parents had to pay an entry fee of 500 HUF per child (almost 2 EUR).

Hajduhadhaz is located in northeastern Hungary. It is one of the country's poorest regions. Many of the Roma  ethnic minority who live in the town struggle to pay bills and put food on the table. To give you an idea -- one lady said that with 500 HUF she buys enough milk and bread for her family to fill their stomachs for a day.

Building a 'leisure center' with a playground and sports facilities for disadvantaged kids seemed like a great idea. What eventually happened though was a masterpiece of hypocrisy: Hajduhadhaz successfully applied for EU funds to build a center to "make sports and fun accessible to poor children" but now, Roma kids are practically banned from the facility. They are welcome in theory, but only as long as they pay the entry fee.

For these families, 500 HUF is a fortune. They can't afford to pay that much for their kid can play on a see-saw. What is happening in Hajduhadhaz is segregation.

The story sounds familiar: those who need help the most are ignored. Even worse, they are used. The only reason the town got the EU funds was that the city's authorities said the playground would make disadvantaged kids’ lives better. It did not. Most of the disadvantaged kids watch other children play from the other side of the fence.

Details from the story:

  • The ’leisure center’, which has sports fields and a playground, cost more than 100 million HUF. The European Union gave 85.3 million HUF and the city had to contribute some 30 million HUF. The EU subsidized the project because city authorities said it could bring joy and sport to the lives of disadvantaged children.
  • The slogan under which the city built the leisure center was "sports that make you equal". Given the circumstances, it sounds somewhat ironic. 
  • In the first days after the playground opened, it was free of charge. But then, city authorities started to ask for an entrance fee of 500 HUF/child. One-third of the population of Hajduhadhaz lives in poor areas of the city, many families live in extreme poverty.
  • Members of the Roma community in Hajduhadhaz claim the entry fee is meant to keep them away from the leisure center.
  • Disappointed children and their families started the Youth of Hajduhadhaz movement and collected signatures to put pressure on city authorities to stop asking for an entrance fee. They collected 259 signatures but they did not reach their goal.
  • The mayor of Hajduhadhaz, Denes Csafordi, did not want to talk to Nepszava about the issue but in a previous interview for local news site, haon.hu, he said that 500 HUF is an affordable and reasonable price.
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