Roma rights organisation accuses Hungary of racist policy and calls for boycotting the Hungarian EU Presidency

European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC)
On April 11, 2024, the ERRC and the National Association of Disadvantaged Families took legal action to address concerns about the safety and equal access to education for Romani children in the Bűd district of Tiszavasvári. Due to the cancellation of their bus service, they now have to walk about seven kilometers to reach their local school.

On 1st July, Hungary will take the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union. This perspective found a wide range of opponents, including democratic parties, human rights organisations and members of the European Parliament (MEPs). Under Viktor Orbán‘s rule, Hungary became a grave problem for the EU. The autocratic prime minister applied a racist agenda targeting the vulnerable groups of the Hungarian society, mainly the Roma population, homelessness, and LGBTI people. The regime acts as an agent of Russia, supporting Vladimir Putin in his aggression against Ukraine and China, signing anticonstitutional agreements with China, including the right for Chinese police officers to patrol Hungarian (and EU) territory, and a dangerous ally of Serbian nationalists in Balkans.    

The way Viktor Orbán’s government will eventually treat the Roma population raises concerns. He will have a corresponding role in organising the European Platform for Roma Inclusion. While the Platform’s general weakening in recent years is detrimental to the movement for Romani equality, a Platform organised by the Hungarian government represents an altogether more disturbing proposition for those who defend human rights. 

In protest of decades of racist policy, denial of fundamental human rights, and democratic backsliding at the hands of the Fidesz regime in Budapest, the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) will boycott the upcoming Hungarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Orbán’s attempts against human rights 

In April of this year, the European Parliament drew attention to a development concerning democratic backsliding in Hungary. This development is the creation of the Sovereignty Protection Office, established by a law passed at the end of last year, which is said to have been influenced by Putin’s 2012 foreign agent law. 

The newly created office has been granted extensive powers of surveillance, financial audit, and even criminal prosecution over individuals, political parties, or civil society organisations with foreign funding that it believes to influence public discourse. Its mandate is vague and its reach undefined, effectively giving the government free rein to use the intelligence services against those it perceives as threats to Hungarian sovereignty. This law poses a direct and immediate threat to the Roma population, human rights activists, lawyers, and opposition politicians in the country.

In 2021, Hungary introduced anti-LGBTQI+ legislation that restricts freedom of speech and children’s rights by banning the promotion of LGBTQI+ positive content in educational materials or public broadcast media for minors. The European Parliament noted that, far from being an isolated incident, this “constitutes another intentional and premeditated example of the gradual dismantling of fundamental rights in Hungary, where state-sponsored homophobia and disinformation campaigns have become tools for political censorship.” 

In 2022, the European Parliament declared that it no longer considered Hungary a full democracy and labelled Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s regime an “electoral autocracy.” 

Another European Parliament Resolution in January this year condemned Hungary’s systemic discriminatory practices against academia, journalists, political parties, and Roma civil society activists. MEPs overwhelmingly voted to condemn practices of manipulated public procurement procedures, takeover bids by the government and entities with ties to the Prime Minister, and using EU funds to enrich the government’s political allies. The resolution specifically questioned the competency and suitability of the Hungarian government to fulfil its role in holding the Council Presidency credibly, considering its severe and persistent breaches of EU values.

Thus, the Commission unblocking €10.2 billion in previously frozen EU funds against the will of the Parliament was an unacceptable overstepping of their role as an unelected body and constituted a major breach of their duties as guardians of the Treaties, emphasises ERRC. The European Parliament described this as an “incomprehensible decision” and is exploring legal action to remedy this democratic breach.

Orbán’s broad range of discrimination against Roma

Viktor Orbán methodically discriminates against the Roma population in Hungary, promoting a social exclusion agenda.

The European Roma Rights Centre highlights several cases of discrimination in Hungary.

Widespread serial corruption of EU funding for Roma inclusion, including direct use of EU funds to evict Roma and construct a newly segregated community in Nyíregyháza, drives the Roma population to social isolation. Hungary lacks progress towards desegregating its education system, despite a European Commission infringement procedure now in its 8th year without notable improvement. 

Orbán used his power to interfere in a Supreme Court ruling which found in favour of schoolchildren who were illegally segregated in Gyöngyöspata. Following the judgment, the government amended laws regarding the placement of security guards in Roma-majority schools and removed the compensation mechanism in civil litigation against educational institutions. Thus, parents who sue schools for segregation can no longer claim financial compensation, only training provided by the same institution that violated their children’s rights in the first place. 

The government avoids any action or condemnation of the once again growing threat of far-right street movements focussing on ‘gypsy crime’ in Hungary. The last time such movements arose resulted in a wave of far-right terror that included neo-Nazi firebombing of Romani homes, vigilante street patrols of Romani neighbourhoods, assassinations of Romani individuals by sniper rifle, and the murder of Romani children by automatic weapons as they fled their burning house. 

Boycott of the upcoming Hungarian Presidency

The European Platform for Roma Inclusion and the European Roma Summits bring together influential figures such as elected representatives, presidents of member states, and civil society activists to address widespread human rights violations in the EU. Although the Platform’s influence on Roma rights policy has waned recently, it still reflects the European Commission’s commitment to addressing policy issues affecting over 6 million Romani citizens in the EU and many more in Eastern European accession countries.

The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) said it “will not vindicate these serial rights abuses and destruction of democratic institutions in Hungary by participating in the European Platform for Roma Inclusion, nor any other event hosted by the Hungarian EU Presidency”. 

The ERRC explains that “as human rights activists, participation would betray our values and our friends and colleagues in Hungary. We urge other civil society organisations and activists to do the same”.

“The ERRC cannot condone the actions of a far-right Hungarian Government and be complicit by participating in the 17th European Platform for Roma Inclusion. Participation in an event where the agenda is set by those who promote an “illiberal democracy” and flirt with far-right authoritarianism would be tacit approval of their actions against basic human rights,” highlights the Roma rights organisation.

ERRC urges other activists and organisations to do the same and boycott the Platform and other events organised by the Hungarian Presidency. 

“We ask you to consider the message that your participation in these events sends regarding our collective respect for fundamental rights, as well as what it says about our role as active citizens of Europe if we appear to reconcile with a regime so contrary to our values as Europeans,” ERRC says.

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