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RIGHTS-HUNGARY: Roma Find New Representation

Bela Ladanyi

BUDAPEST, May 19 2003 (IPS) - The domestic and international representation of Roma people in Hungary is expected to improve with the recent establishment of a new Hungarian government office overseeing Roma issues and the opening of the European Roma Information Office (ERIO) in Brussels.

The domestic and international representation of Roma people in Hungary is expected to improve with the recent establishment of a new Hungarian government office overseeing Roma issues and the opening of the European Roma Information Office (ERIO) in Brussels.

A gesture from Prime Minister Péter Medgyessy set the tone. After the signature of Hungary’s accession treaty with the European Union April 16 in Athens, Greece, he offered to auction the pen for the benefit of the debt-ridden public Roma radio station Radio C. Hungarian and EU (European Union) civil organisations said the offer indicated Hungary’s commitment to improving the representation of Roma rights.

Three weeks after that offer, Medgyessy announced the creation of a Government Office for Equal Opportunities to oversee minority issues, including questions affecting the Roma. Katalin Lévai, minister without portfolio, will head the office that will begin to function later this month.

“I expect the new office to become the government’s living conscience,” Medgyessy said in a statement announcing the formation of the new office. The new institution is also expected to help the government form better minority policies, he said.

The office will give much needed representation to an estimated half a million Roma in Hungary. The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), a Budapest-based non-governmental organisation, says Roma are often denied equal access to education, they may be separated from non-Roma children, and sent to schools for the mentally disabled.


ERRC says the unemployment rate among Roma people is somewhere between 60 percent and 80 percent for men and 35 percent and 40 percent for women, but that this may cross 90 percent in small settlements. The Roma minority face extreme discrimination at their workplace, the ERRC says.

The new steps come after the EU repeatedly criticised the institutional framework in Hungary for Roma policies. Despite some strengthening of the framework and creation of a new monitoring system, Roma policy is still not integrated into social development strategies, according to the EU’s 2002 country report.

The Prime Minister’s Office assumed direct responsibility for the minorities in June last year. Roma issues were separated from other minority affairs through the creation of a separate department, which will now be integrated into the new office for equal opportunities.

Lévai told the weekly Magyar Narancs that the new office will aim at cooperation with Roma-related institutions, and will centralise resources for Roma education and employment programmes.

The budget for Roma was raised to 49 million dollars last year from 18 million dollars in 1998, the EU’s country report noted.

Hungary’s accession to the EU due next year will put more pressure on the government to improve the situation of the Roma, Angéla Kóczé, executive director of the ERIO that opened in Brussels two weeks ago told IPS on phone from Brussels. ERIO is the first institution for Roma in Brussels. Kóczé, a Roma of Hungarian origin, says it will provide information and create a Roma lobby within the EU.

“The estimated Roma population in Europe is eight to 12 million, most of them in central and eastern Europe,” Kóczé said. “With the accession of the region’s countries, the Roma question will become a European issue.”

Employment and development of adult education will be the key policy issues for the Roma in Europe, she said. Another goal will be to encourage Roma representation in the European Parliament, she said, even though Roma do not have fair representation within the Hungarian parliament.

ERIO plans to work closely with the new government office in Hungary to set up programmes towards ending discrimination against Roma people, Kóczé said. Roma and EU representatives are coming together at a meeting in June to discuss the new policy towards the Roma.

“Our obvious aim is to intensify political and public discussion on the Roma at the European level,” she said. “But that requires a change in public attitude towards the Roma minorities in the first place.”

 
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RIGHTS-HUNGARY: Roma Find New Representation

Bela Ladanyi

BUDAPEST, May 19 2003 (IPS) - The domestic and international representation of Roma people in Hungary is expected to improve with the recent establishment of a new Hungarian government office overseeing Roma issues and the opening of the European Roma Information Office (ERIO) in Brussels.
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