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Posts Tagged ‘hungary’

Art: Valentiny János.
János depicts Romani people in Hungary in the old days. Today a new radio show in Hungary highlights the many sides of of these people, especially Roma women.

Revisiting the notion that no group is a monolith, I take a look today at Hungarian Roma women. Persecuted throughout history in the many countries where they traveled, Roma (“travelers,” “gypsies”) have an especially tough time in Hungary, according to many observers. That’s why a new radio show featuring Roma women has been especially important for sharing Roma lives with non-Roma listeners.

Orla Barry writes about it for Public Radio International (PRI): “Szandi Minzari knows she’s different from most Roma women in Hungary. The divorced, single mother is one of the leading broadcasters on Radio Dikh, a radio station in Budapest, whose presenters are all Roma. 

“The station began broadcasting in February 2022 with the aim of raising the profile of Hungary’s large Roma community, as well as upending some of the negative stereotypes that still exist about the group.

“[In September], the European Parliament issued a statement saying that Hungary is no longer a fully functioning democracy. EU lawmakers laid out a long list of fundamental rights they believe are under threat, including the electoral system, judiciary independence and the protection of minorities. The Roma are Hungary’s largest ethnic minority.

“Minzari’s weekly radio show ‘Zsa Shej,’ which means ‘Let’s go, girls,’ in the Romani language, tries to cover subjects that are usually taboo in the Roma community, including those pertaining to relationships, menstruation and family issues. …

“Her co-host, Melanie Nagy, is also a divorcee and a single mother. Divorce is really uncommon among Roma, Minzari said, adding that many Roma women often stay in abusive relationships out of fear of poverty or shame. 

“One of Minzari’s friends, who was recently divorced, has now been ostracized by her family, she said. …

“Listeners of Radio Dikh, which is the Romani word ‘to see,’ are both Roma and non-Roma. The station’s motto is ‘about Roma, not just for Roma.’ The shows feature music and literature by Roma artists.

“Minzari’s father comes from a long line of traditional musicians, although he doesn’t play an instrument. He runs his own construction company, employing mainly Roma workers.

“Minzari describes herself as half-Roma, half-Hungarian because her mother is not Roma. When her parents first got together more than 35 years ago, there was a lot of hand wringing in her father’s family, Minzari said. …

“Minzari is proud of her Roma roots, but she still remembers being singled out in school by her teacher and labeled cigány, meaning ‘gypsy.’

“That was 23 years ago. Segregation of Roma children continues in Hungarian schools to this day. 

“In 2020, the country’s Supreme Court ordered an elementary school in Gyongyospata to pay compensation to Roma families for ‘unlawful segregation and substandard education.’ Before the ruling, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán suggested the school should refuse to pay out any money if ordered. Instead, he suggested it was the Roma children who had created a threatening environment in the school, which led non-Roma parents to take their children to a school in a neighboring town.

“Bernard Rorke, the advocacy and research manager with the European Roma Rights Center in Budapest, has been campaigning against school segregation in Hungary since 2000. 

“Conditions for Roma have deteriorated since Viktor Orbán returned to power in 2010, Rorke said. 

“ ‘The European Commission initiated infringement proceedings against Hungary for school segregation more than five years ago and more recent EU reports have noted that segregation in Hungarian schools has actually worsened,’ he said. ‘But the Orbán government has done nothing to address it.’

“But not everyone agrees. István Forgács, who is Roma and a regular commentator on Hungarian TV, believes that segregation in schools comes down to demographics. 

“ ‘The Roma have more children than non-Roma,’ he said, ‘and the high number of Roma kids in certain schools is mostly because of this difference.’

“Forgács said he believes Orbán has been doing a good job as prime minister over the last 12 years and has ‘helped the Roma socially integrate.’

“ ‘This government has helped people to have more income, both Roma and non-Roma. It has helped Roma to have more jobs and also to get closer to the non-Roma community,’ Forgács said.

“But Rorke, with the European Roma Rights Center, said unemployment remains a big issue among Roma in Hungary, and those who have a job are often paid far less than the minimum wage. …

“During the migrant crisis in 2015, when over 1 million people fled to Europe, mainly from Syria and Afghanistan, Hungary refused most asylum requests. Hungary’s Justice Minister László Trócsányi said the country was unable to take in migrants because it already had its hands full dealing with its own Roma population. …

“Roma commentator Forgács said he wasn’t offended by the remarks and that the Orbán government just wanted to point out that it has its own challenges providing for its own people. 

“Orbán’s name is rarely heard on Radio Dikh — Minzari said she shies away from politics. In Hungary, the majority of the country’s news media is government-controlled or owned by Orbán allies. 

“Péter Erdélyi, director of the independent news outlet 444.hu in Budapest said … ‘There are lots of very difficult issues that people need to talk about in Hungarian media, but they won’t because they know that, as soon as there is even a remote whiff of criticism of government policies, there could be all sorts of problems around funding and licenses and whatnot. There’s an understanding that you are allowed to keep doing what you do, if you do not engage in politics,’ Erdélyi said.

“Minzari said the only criticism she has received about her show, so far, has come from members of the Roma community who disagree with her views. Non-Roma listeners have been hugely supportive, she said. ‘And even if people do complain, at least we’ve got them talking,’ Minzari said.”

More at the World, here. The World is on at 3 pm weekdays where I live, but you can get it anywhere and at different times. You are going to hear stories there that you are unlikely to hear anywhere else. It really does connect you with the world.

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A US student studying in Hungary was stunned by the refugee crisis at his doorstep and felt compelled to do something.

David Karas wrote in early November at the Christian Science Monitor, “Among those struck by the extreme hardships confronting the refugees is a graduate student from Mobile, Ala., who had been traveling in Europe. Motivated to find a way to help, he used his background in information technology and software to help provide something in high demand but extremely scarce: information.

“David Altmayer has launched the Refugee Help Map – an interactive mapping platform using Google tools that provides details on where refugees are traveling and what needs they have – to assist volunteers in best providing aid.

“ ‘At the beginning, it was just to get more information out there,’ Mr. Altmayer says. ‘I started helping in the first place because I couldn’t just sit by and not help. And then I just tried to find ways that I could best use my skill set to help.’

“Altmayer had worked in Seattle on IT and software projects, and is currently pursuing an MBA and master’s degree in global management through the Thunderbird Graduate School of Global Management and the University of Indiana, Bloomington. In order to finish his degree, he had to select a couple of courses that would be held abroad. …

“ ‘I live about one kilometer [0.6 miles] from the main railway station here in Budapest,’ he says, By mid-August, migrants had begun to flock to the station to take shelter. ‘Every day there were more and more people basically living there – camping, setting up tents, sleeping on cardboard,’ he says.

“Some of Altmayer’s friends had been providing support to refugees, mainly by bringing them meals. Altmayer noticed other volunteer groups were providing assistance. Wanting to learn more, he began to explore online – only to discover a need that he and his computer-literate colleagues could help to address.

“ ‘More and more people had been asking where they could get information in English,’ he says. Most efforts to provide information were in Hungarian. Before he knew it, he had become part of a group that launched an English website, making details about locations and needs accessible to English-speaking refugees and volunteers. …

“In the first six weeks the map was online, it received more than 80,000 views. It is constantly updated with markers indicating the location and urgency of needs, as well as comments about conditions facing refugees.

“ ‘There are so many people using it and counting on it,’ Altmayer says.”

More here. I do love stories about people working to solve a problem by offering the skills they have.

Photo: Andrea Giuliano
US college student David Altmayer created the online Refugee Help Map while living in Budapest, Hungary. Here he is shopping for supplies to help  migrants in Serbia.

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Photograph: James Montague for The New York Times
Outside the Vakar Lajos rink, where the Hungarian name of the Romanian ice hockey team, Hoki Sport Club Csikszereda, is printed on the ice.

I don’t follow ice hockey, but a recent article on ethnic Hungarians playing for the Romanian ice hockey team caught my eye.

I already knew that a chunk of Romania is like a little Hungary because my church and a church in Transylvania (20 percent ethnic Hungarian) have a longstanding relationship. Exchanges back and forth occur nearly every year.

So in flipping past the sports section the other day, I couldn’t ignore an article by James Montague on the irony of Romania, a country that under communism repressed ethnic Hungarians, having so many of them on their national ice hockey team. A feeder team in Miercurea Ciuc, Romania, calls itself Szekely Land, after a former province of the Kingdom of Hungary.

“The Szekely Land, named for a warrior tribe that dates to the Middle Ages, is a Hungarian-dominated area of Romania, covering three counties in the center of the country. The roughly 1.2 million Hungarians represent Romania’s largest ethnic minority, about 6 percent of the country’s population. The fall of the Austro-Hungarian empire after World War I marooned millions of Hungarians in what is now Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine and Serbia. The Szekely found themselves cut off and subject to a policy of assimilation, including heavy restrictions on the use of their language, under the former communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu.”

Sometimes having so many ethnic Hungarians on the Romania team can lead to unhockeylike situations. The “anomaly reached a critical point during a 2011 game between Romania and Hungary in Miercurea Ciuc,” writes Montague. “After the game, almost all of Romania’s players joined with their opponents to sing the Hungarian anthem.

“ ‘Some of the paparazzi caught it, and it was a big scandal,’ said Attila Goga … who has played for the Romanian national team for a decade but holds dual Romanian-Hungarian citizenship. ‘It’s a little bit strange, but I can see that, too. They don’t understand our situation here.’ ” More.

My advice to autocrats: Don’t try to change people’s language. It always ends badly.

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