The Hungarian Roma hero who has never received justice

After a long and undignified ordeal, Bela Puczi, the „Roma hero” who protected Hungarians during a pogrom was finally commemorated with a plaque. Although he is considered a hero, he has never been treated like one.

Ivett Körösi
Ivett Körösi Nepszava, Hungary
Source: Nepszava
The Hungarian Roma hero who has never received justice - NewsMavens
Roma people. Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

"Hungarians, don't be afraid. The gypsies are here to help you!" that is what Bela Puczi, a local leader, told the terrified Hungarians during the pogroms of Marosvasarhely.

In 1990, the Romanian city witnessed a tragic ethnic conflict. Hungarians who lived there protested the Romanian oppression. Soon they were attacked by nationalist Romanian groups. Bela Puczi, an ethnic Hungarian and Roma who lived nearby, hurried to help. He was soon captured and tortured. When the opportunity arose, he fled from prison to neighboring Hungary. But he was not received as a hero there -- in the eyes of the public and the government, he was just "another gipsy".

After the transition to democracy, in the early capitalist society of Hungary, many Romas lost their jobs. Their living conditions worsened and they became outcasts. Just like Bela Puczi who died homeless.

Would he have been treated differently, if he had not been a Roma?

The commemorative plaque was supposed to be revealed in October, on the wall of the Nyugati Railway Station. The organizers chose this particular spot because Puczi spent the last years of his life on the surrounding streets. The Hungarian State Railways (MAV), however, opposed the idea. According to the policy of the company, only former employees or individuals affiliated with MAV could have a plaque on the property, they claimed.

When Romas and non-Romas joined forces and signed a petition the state company gave in. The plaque was revealed on the international day of human rights. Although it sounds like a happy end, it does not feel like one. Bela Puczi was never treated like a hero. Neither alive, nor dead.

To read more about the circumstances of the inauguration, click on the article below.

Details from the story:

  • Around 100 people attended the commemoration organized last Sunday by the Roma Press Agency and the We Belong Here Association.
  • Interestingly, the National Roma Council was not represented by anyone.
  • The expenses of the plaque were covered by donations from the people.
  • “The heroic acts of Bela Puczi and his partners convey an important message for everyone, Romas and non-Romas alike. Despite all hardships, we belong together,” said the organizers of the event.
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