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Assessment for Roma in Hungary

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Roma in Hungary, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 24 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Hungary Facts
Area:    93,033 sq. km.
Capital:    Budapest
Total Population:    10,208,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

Roma in Hungary have virtually no risk of rebellion and only a very low risk of protest. Although their situation remains alarming (and in many cases has actually worsened since the end of the Communist era), the Hungarian government has adopted a number of policies designed to address the situation, including the new local and national self-government system, as well as several measures to reform the negative behavior of the police in relation to Roma. These policies have already produced positive results in terms of Roma representation in various layers of government.

Overall, it can be said that Hungarian Roma have equal rights and a level of legal protection greater than that of most Roma in Eastern Europe, and the national government is making attempts to improve their situation. At the same time, current policies are insufficient to adequately address the magnitude of popular discrimination and prejudice against Roma. Hungarian Roma continue to be discriminated against in employment and education, they face frequent violent attacks by right-wing groups, including skinheads, which is combined with an intentional lack of protection by police and the courts. It is hard to imagine that this situation will change any time soon.

Analytic Summary

Geographically dispersed throughout the country (REGIONAL = 0; GROUPCON = 0), Roma constitute the most disadvantaged and most discriminated against minority in Hungary. Highly distinct from the majority population in terms of culture, race, language, and customs (ETHNOG = 1; LANG = 2; CUSTOM = 1; RELIGS1 = 3; RACE = 3; ETHDIFXX = 7), the group has been historically a frequent target of various forms of official and unofficial discrimination and prejudice (ATRISK1 = 1, ATRISK2=1).

The first major wave of Roma appeared in Hungary in the late 14th and early 15th century (TRADITN=1). Most of them continued on to western Europe but, during the 15th century, as they were systematically expelled from the western lands, Roma began to settle in the Carpathian Basin, where they specialized in certain sedentary trades such as blacksmith work, weaponry horse trading, carpentry, etc.

During the Habsburg reign, Roma were subjected to an aggressive assimilation campaign, based on a mixture of rewards (such as residency and trade permits) and punishments (prohibition of a migratory lifestyle, ban on the use of Roma language and Roma names, and forced adoption of Roma children by non-Roma families). Another intense period of forced assimilation and settlement followed after Hungary's defeat in WWI and its loss of substantial territory in the Treaty of Versaille. Although the fate of Hungarian Roma during the Holocaust has not been well documented, it is believed that large numbers of Roma were deported and exterminated after Germany invaded Hungary in 1944.

In the aftermath of WWII, the new Communist regime embarked upon yet another mission of Roma resettlement. During the brief period of political thaw following Stalin's death in 1953, government policy gradually evolved to become more tolerant of minorities. The application of this policy to the Roma was mixed. In 1958, the government established an official Gypsy council, disbanded it in 1960, and reestablished again in 1974. In 1961 the government decreed that Hungary's Gypsies did not constitute a national minority but still had the same developmental and constitutional rights as other groups. In 1968, the government created a Gypsy Inter Ministerial Commission, but the commission was given little influence over policy. In 1986, the government allowed the creation of the Roma Cultural Association. In an effort to combat popular anti-Roma prejudice, the Communist government also adopted a number of affirmative action policies, primarily in the areas of housing and education. Though well intended, the policies were only partially successful at best.

The fall of Communism has had both positive and negative effects on Hungary's Roma population. On the positive side, Roma like the rest of Hungarian population, can now enjoy new political and economic freedoms. On the other hand, due to the new freedoms, prejudice against Roma is expressed more openly. This takes the form of graffiti on walls, racist literature and attacks by hate groups, including skinheads, and racist statements by political figures. Government efforts to address the situation are resented by other Hungarians due to their cost at a time when unemployment is high and government social programs are being cut back. In the economic sector, Roma suffer the highest rates of unemployment – they are generally the first to be fired and the last to be hired.

Similar to situation elsewhere in the region, the group suffers from various historical disadvantages, official discrimination, and popular prejudice. The Roma continue to be among the poorest in the country. Their birth rates are much higher (DMBIRT01-03 = 3) and their average expected life span is significantly lower than the national average (DEMSTR99 = 6). The current unemployment rate for the Roma is 60 to 70 percent and there are reports of discrimination in both hiring and firing; however, there are state remedial policies in place to advance the economic position of Roma (ECDIS03 = 1). There is open discrimination in education. Many villages populated by the Roma have no schools, health care or municipal services. The problem of poverty among the Roma is continuously growing at a time when the government is cutting back on programs for the poor. Their access to many private facilities (e.g. restaurants, bars), is restricted and there is discrimination in housing. Much of this discrimination is supported, or at least ignored, by local governments and, despite better anti-discrimination laws, the Roma have considerable difficulty achieving their rights in practice. The police have been known to ignore complaints by the Roma and stand by idly while they are being viciously attacked by skinheads, among others. In fact, Roma leaders complain that the police do not move against skinheads and, when they do, the skinheads are given preferential treatment. Also, they complain of harassment of the Roma by police up to and including severe beatings. While the government has made increased efforts to combat this type of behavior over the past few years, it is unclear what degree of success ahs been achieved.

In the light of these developments, physical protection from racially motivated attacks remains at the top of the group's demands (CULGR503 = 1). Other demands include greater economic opportunities, better education, access to higher status occupations, and improved living standards (ECOGR203, ECOGR303 = 1). Improved education and cultural opportunities for Roma are also frequently voiced as important demands (CULGR203 = 2).

Hungarian Roma are represented by a number of conventional political parties and organizations, including the Roma Social Coalition (an organization, consisting of 19 Roma organizations), the Independent Interest Association of Gypsies in Hungary (a new coalition, including the Lungo Drom, the Phralipe Independent Gypsy organization, and the Democratic Federation of Gypsies in Hungary) and others (GOJPA03 = 2). The most recent addition is the Democratic Roma Coalition, established in December 2002 by three Roma organizations in time for 2003 local elections. In addition, since 1993, Hungary has been experimenting with a very innovative minority self-government system. The 1993 "Rights of National Minorities Act" guarantees the 13 historic minorities living in Hungary the right to establish local and national self-governments. Under the law, these minorities could establish elected bodies that would represent their interests and serve as partners for the government at the local and national levels. The primary role and authority of these self-governments are in the fields of education and culture. Despite good intentions, there are numerous organizational and financial problems concerning the self-government system. Some Romani politicians complain that the present system does not reflect the diversity of Romani society because current election rules make it possible for one organization to form a politically homogeneous national self-government, excluding smaller yet influential organizations. In fact, some argue that the system has actually sharpened differences between broad-based Roma organizations and those organizations led by charismatic leaders but enjoying the support of only a small layer of intellectuals.

Finally, as is the case elsewhere in the region, Hungarian Roma have received ideological support from a number of non-governmental and regional organizations, including the EU, CE, OSCE, European Roma Rights Center, International Roma Union, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and several others.

There have been no incidents of protest or rebellion by the group during 1999-2003 (PROT 99-03 = 0, REBEL99-03 = 0).


Crowe, David & John Kolsti eds. The Gypsies of Eastern Europe, New York: M. E. Sharpe Inc., 1991.

Feher, Gregory Struggling for Ethnic Identity: The Gypsies of Hungary, New York: Human Rights Watch, 1993.

Human Rights Watch World ReporLexis/Nexis: All news files: 1990-2003.

US Department of State Human Rights Reports for 1990, 1991, 1993, 2001-2003.

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