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Opposition’s Roma Candidates Talk of Historic Opportunity

picture of Roma opposition candidates

Three candidates of Roma ethnic origin running for Parliament in the opposition’s United for Hungary coalition have sent a joint statement to news agency MTI.

If given the chance to serve in Parliament, “we will serve our homeland and the interests of the nearly one million-strong Roma community to the best of our knowledge and conscience.” They intend to act in unity if this “historic opportunity” is provided to them.

We will use all of our powers and opportunities to promote the betterment of the gypsy population, and thus further the real social integration of the Roma.

-write the three candidates, while adding:

Aware that we may win our mandates while each representing a different party, with different political values, and coming from different regions of the country, we feel it is our obligation to help build a community whose identity is strengthened by breaking down the divisions of the last three decades. By making the most of the parliamentary group framework and taking into account the rules governing groups, we will make heard all of the voices pushed to the periphery of society.

The candidates declared their support for “uplifting the poorest in the country, reducing all social disparities, and promoting an active role for Roma youth in community and public life.”

Towards this end, along with the members of our parties and their voters, we invite our fellow parliamentary candidates, all civil organizations, public figures, and our partners who identify as Roma to unite in partnership, listening to the voices of social groups, representing their interests, and helping each other on a new, common path towards the future.

-reads the joint letter from the Roma candidates.

The United for Hungary candidates of Roma origin are (pictured from left to right):

  • Lajos Lőcsei – Momentum
  • Sándor Berki – Dialogue
  • Ferenc Varga – Jobbik

It was originally the opposition’s prime ministerial candidate, Péter Márki-Zay, who advocated for ethnic Roma candidates on the opposition’s party list. Márki-Zay said last fall that at least three Roma politicians should be among the top 30 spots on the joint coalition’s list, “so that the gypsy population would have a real chance to improve their lot.”

In the end, the parties complied with Péter Márki-Zay’s request in the final composition of their joint party list, putting Sándor Berki from Dialogue in the 15th spot, Lajos Lőcsei from Momentum in 20th, and Ferenc Varga from Jobbik in 25th.

[Telex][Pictured: Lajos Lőcsei, Sándor Berki, and Ferenc Varga, Photo: Momentum Mozgalom / Facebook]

Márki-Zay’s Roma Affairs Expert Unhappy That Roma Shut Out of Joint Opposition List

picture of Béla Lakatos

The united opposition is in the final stages of putting together its joint party list for the election, and Béla Lakatos (pictured) spoke up about his dissatisfaction with Roma being mostly excluded from it.

Lakatos, chosen by opposition prime ministerial candidate Péter Márki-Zay as his cabinet leader for Roma affairs, expressed his disappointment on Facebook:

The candidate for prime minister asked you for something that, apart from Jobbik, you all publicly accepted during the debate for the prime ministerial candidate. Now, we Roma see no trace of this, and even Sándor Berki’s place among the first 45 spots is in danger, though we believed he would get into Parliament. I have to say that right now, apart from Péter Márki-Zay, this is not an important issue for any of the parties.

Berki is currently fourth on Dialogue’s party list, after Gergely Karácsony, Rebeka Szabó, and Olivio Kocsis-Cake. But since Karácsony will remain mayor of Budapest and not take a seat in Parliament, Berki will actually be third on the Dialogue list, which the party believes will guarantee him a parliamentary mandate.

Lakatos also pointed out that he had accepted that there would not be a seventh group in Parliament, but said that it would hurt the opposition’s credibility if they didn’t have Roma representation in Parliament.

Péter Márki-Zay stated last October that he wanted three Roma politicians in the top thirty spots on the joint opposition list. ATV has reported that a compromise is being put together on the issue to partially fulfil Márki-Zay’s request. Dialogue’s Bence Tordai left a comment on Lakatos’ post expressing his hope that the other parties in the coalition would also act responsibly in this matter.

The media has been reporting that the top 45 spots on the common party list will be split up accordingly:

  • DK – 14
  • Jobbik – 12
  • Momentum – 8
  • MSZP and Dialogue – 8 altogether
  • LMP: 3 or 4

[Telex][Photo: Béla Lakatos / Facebook]

Fidesz Has Betrayed Hungary’s Gypsy Population, Says Dialogue’s Tordai

picture of Bence Tordai

Fidesz has betrayed Hungarian Gypsies, as well as the majority of society, making it unworthy of any vote from an ethnic Roma, claims opposition party Dialogue.

Bence Tordai, deputy leader of the party’s parliamentary caucus (pictured), said at an online press conference on Facebook yesterday that Attila Sztojka, Government Commissioner for Roma Relations, had tried to both bribe and extort Roma politicians to support Fidesz. Tordai’s accusation was based on audio leaked to the press a few days ago of a meeting between the commissioner and Roma representatives in Budapest last month.

Tordai felt that the Sztojka’s statements were in fact an attack on democracy. As such, the party has addressed its concerns in writing to Interior Minister Sándor Pintér to determine which government contracts Attila Sztojka was referring to in the recording, and whether national Roma local government representatives were being wiretapped, which the government commissioner appeared to allude to. As Sztojka himself noted, he is the head of the Directorate General for Social Opportunities within the Ministry of the Interior, and as such, he claimed to “know a lot of things about everybody.”

Momentum politician Lajos Lőcsei believes that the leaked footage proves that the government is eavesdropping and intimidating public figures “who do not belong to their inner circle,” which is why “we have to say ‘no’ to the corrupt elite leadership of Fidesz.”

Sándor Berki, Dialogue’s ethnic and minority rapporteur, said that the recording shows Fidesz’s true position on Roma policy, and that current Roma public figures need to be replaced for any advancement on Roma-related issues.

[Magyar Hang]

EU Withdraws Aid After Hungarian City Tries to Solve Roma Segregation by Just Moving Them Around

picture of Roma settlement

The European Commission has withdrawn more than 1.7 billion Ft. (US $5.39 million) in EU aid because a social urban rehabilitation project proposed by the City of Nyíregyháza wanted to deal with its segregation problems by moving people from one Roma-majority settlement to another, writes 444.

The municipality of the northeastern Hungarian city won the grant in 2017, moving more than 200 families living in poor housing conditions from a segregated area called Eastern Settlement to another segregated area called Huszár Settlement. Apartments in Huszár were renovated for this purpose, allowing around 40-60 families to move there.

László Glonczi, vice-president of the local Roma self-government and president of the National Association of Disadvantaged Families, lodged a complaint with the EU body, which found after a review that the grant money was used to maintain a segregated situation at both residential and educational levels, and so was contrary to fundamental EU values and the intended use of the money.

The Huszár Settlement is also home to a parochial school that caused the European Commission to launch an infringement procedure against Hungary in 2016 due to its segregated nature. According to László Glonczi, this was important because many children who had attended integrated public schools before the move were unenrolled and had to attend a school in Huszár where Roma were a majority of the students.

The European Commission has asked the Hungarian authorities and the local municipality to remedy the problem. László Glonczi believes that the body’s current decision may set a precedent for similar cases.

[Telex][Photo: Nyíregyházi Televízió]

Interior Ministry Reponds to Leaked Audio of Government Commissioner Promising Favors

picture of Attila Szojka

A day after Népszava reported on an audio recording of Government Commissioner Attila Sztojka (pictured) alledgedly offering certain favors in return for “political results,” the Ministry of the Interior has responded to these claims, writes Telex.

The Interior Ministry (BM) stated that there had been several untrue allegtions published about the meeting held on December 29, 2021 between Attila Sztojka, government commissioner responsible for Roma relations, Roma nationality advocate Félix Farkas, and representatives of the National Roma Self-Government (ORÖ). The Office of the Government Commissioner within BM issued a statement to say that the meeting was held to discuss ORÖ’s precarious financial situation, and for the government commissioner to talk about setting up the Roma Public Life Academy.

However, the recording appears to tell a different story, as Attila Sztojka seemingly dangled contracts and subsidies for certain ORÖ members if they put the government’s preferred candidate at the top of the Roma nationality list. At stake is a seat in Parliament, which could be crucial for Fidesz in the event of a close election.

Stojka told the invited representatives on the recording that they could not go wrong if they voted for the right leader of the list. The government commissioner promised them, “I’ll bring you some opportunities, there’s no doubt about that.”

He also talked about one-off grants that would be paid in late January or early February. However, he also warned those present that “As someone in BM, I know a lot of things about everybody. I even know who spoke with whom, and in what way.”

The Directorate General for Social Opportunities, which Sztojka heads, is under the auspices of the Ministry of the Interior. The letter sent by the Office of the Government Commissioner at the Ministry of the Interior does not respond to the specific allegations mentioned above, but only writes that several untrue allegations had been published about the meeting held at the Benczúr Hotel in Budapest without saying what it disagreed with.

Separately, ORÖ President János Agócs wrote to Telex on Wednesday to state that several such meetings had been held, to which only certain members of ORÖ had attended. As president of the organization, he said he had not been invited to any of them.

The ORÖ President acknowledged that those who took part in the meeting “perform expected political activities in return for certain services.” The issue was also a topic at Wednesday’s ORÖ meeting, where Agócs maintained “a strong suspicion that a crime had been committed.”

The background behind all this is that for the first time, the list of Roma nationalities list did not turn out as favorably for the Fidesz-KDNP coalition as they had hoped. The government wanted to put Félix Farkas, a favorite of Fidesz-friendly Lungo Drom, at the top of the Roma nationality list, but the National Roma Self-Government chose President Agócs instead.

This decision was then annulled by the Constitutional Court, and ORÖ must now amend its rules of procedure and hold a new assembly to choose who will run in the 2022 parliamentary elections on its nationalities list.

[Telex]

Government Commissioner Caught on Audio Promising Favors, Expecting “Political Results”

picture of Attila Sztojka

Népszava obtained an audio recording which it claims was secretly recorded at a meeting held in a hotel in Budapest at the end of December. Attila Sztojka, Government Commissioner for Roma Relations and head of the Directorate General for Social Opportunities in the Ministry of the Interior (pictured), and members of the National Roma Self-Government (ORÖ) can be heard on the audio.

In the recording, Sztojka can be heard offering contracts to representatives “who are within this group” with the Roma Public Life Academy, in part through his leadership of the Directorate General for Social Opportunities. He added, “I’ll bring you some opportunities, there’s no doubt about that.”

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a purchase, I don’t want to buy anyone.

-said the government commissioner, adding that he would expect certain political and professional results in return for the above. However, he did not elaborate on what he meant by “political results” in this context.

At the end of the discussion, Stojka also mentioned that as a member of the Interior Ministry, he was aware of everone’s secrets.

I know a lot about everybody. I even know who spoke with whom, and in what way.

-Attila Sztojka is alleged to have said on the recording.

Stojka only told the Hungarian daily that he did not know about the audio recording, but that he did not agree to make it and was only willing to answer questions about it in writing. The paper also reached out to János Csóka, the leader of the Lungo Drom caucus, who said that ORÖ representatives met with the government commissioner in the second weekend of December.

Following Népszava’s report yesterday, independent Member of Parliament Ákos Hadházy wrote on Facebook that he would be reporting the government commissioner for suspected abuse of office and extortion. Hadházy added that there was nothing new about any of this.

[HVG]