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        Weeklies on the Roma school segregation verdict

        January 20th, 2020

        Left-liberal weeklies are outraged by the Prime Minister’s opinion that ‘something should be done’ about the court sentence which compels the Gyöngyöspata Council to pay compensation to Roma families whose children were segregated at school from 2004 to 2012. Conservative authors suggest that the verdict is doing more harm than good.

        In its regular weekly editorial Magyar Narancs dismisses the Prime Minister’s statement according to which the verdict offends the sense of justice of the local population. The editors remark that the court ruling dates back to September last year, when it did not provoke any unfavourable reactions from the government side. Therefore the liberal weekly characterises the Prime Minister’s statement as part of a premeditated political manoeuvre, aimed at recruiting anti-Roma voters left behind by Jobbik’s shift towards the centre over the past five years. In fact, it was Jobbik and its paramilitary allies that stirred up ethnic animosity at Gyöngyöspata in 2011 (see BudaPost, August 4, 2011). Since the court case is under revision by the Kúria (the Supreme Court), Magyar Narancs also accuses the Prime Minister of interfering with judicial procedures in a case pending a final verdict.

        In his Élet és Irodalom front-page editorial, István Váncsa warns that using the Roma issue in partisan propaganda may seriously backfire, because the proportion of Roma within the population is increasing and one day, they will make up the majority in Hungary. Increasing the tension between Gypsies and non-Gypsies, the liberal author argues, may prove suicidal in future. He doesn’t accuse the government of being responsible alone in halting the integration of Hungary’s Roma into the majority society. On the contrary, laudable reforms which began in the 18th century by Austrian emperors were foiled in the early 1800s. Meanwhile, the ‘Roma problem’ in other countries of the region, including the Czech Republic, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Bulgaria is sometimes even worse than in Hungary, with no improvement in sight.

        In Hetek, Sándor Szilágyi recalls that at the time when the segregation case started at Gyöngyöspata, Socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány launched a program called the Decade of Roma Integration in which hundreds of billions of Forints were spent with no tangible results achieved. Nor did efforts to impose integrated education bring any positive results, he writes, at least in schools with a high percentage of underprivileged Roma children. Such efforts only ended up increasing tensions within the schools and the community as a whole, he suggests. Watchdog organisations condemn and sue schools which segregate Roma children, but they never protest against ethnic minority schools set up by Roma organisations, he remarks, in an aside. Szilágyi suggests that segregation is not the cause but the outcome of the underprivileged position of Roma families. Therefore, putting it into the crosshairs will not promote either the integration of the Roma or their position in the housing or labour markets, he concludes.

        In his report from Gyöngyöspata itself, Mandiner’s István Joó quotes the non-Gypsy chairman of the parent organisation within the local school who tells him that pupils were not segregated on racial lines. At least there were non-Gypsies in the predominantly Gypsy classes, while the non-Gypsy classes also included Gypsy children. As for the complaint that Gypsy kids were not allowed to attend swimming classes, he said nobody was rejected on racial grounds. The problem was that bathing suits were required to attend the swimming pool. Joó discovered that in this settlement with 300 Roma out of a total population of just under 400, nearly 90% of the pupils at the local school are Roma. The reason is that an increasing number of non-Roma parents have taken their children to schools in other locations to spare them the conflicts within and around the Gyöngyöspata school.

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