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    Protests in Budapest against anti-Roma campaign

    Demonstration in Budapest, credit:Kinga Rethy

    People from across Hungary converged in Budapest on Sunday (23 February) calling for an independent judiciary and the respect of Roma rights. Protesters held up banners saying “No one is above the law” and “The future cannot be built on hatred”.

    Civil rights groups and Roma families are protesting against the government’s refusal to pay compensation to Roma children who had been unlawfully segregated in a school in eastern Hungary.

    Hungary’s prime minister Victor Orban said in January that he will refuse a court order demanding the government pay compensation and that Hungarians “will never accept giving money for nothing”. The lawsuit has been dragging on for years and the country’s supreme court is due to make a final ruling soon.

    The prime minister also recently announced plans to hold a national survey consultation to measure public opinion on the issue. When asked earlier about the Commission’s reaction, a spokesperson declined to comment on the plans but the Commission might react if the plan would be implemented.

    When the Hungarian government launched an anti-migration campaign on billboards and newspaper advertisements ahead of the European Parliament elections in May last year, the Commission decided to react and issued a point by point fact sheet against the Hungarian claims.

    “There have been consistent and intensive attacks on the media and threats to the organisers and communities. The fact that the protest is happening is already an achievement,” said Zeljko Jovanovic, Director of the Open Society Roma Initiatives Office.

    “There are two key concerns: The ruling party Fidesz is turning the country against the Roma because they aim to attract the votes of far-right in the next elections. Secondly, the government is blocking justice for the victims of segregation.”

    Hungary and other countries where the rule of law is undermined might face reductions in financial assistance under next multi-annual financial framework. The issue was reportedly included in European Council President Charles Michel’s proposal at last week’s summit in Brussels but member states were divided on the overall budget and will have to meet again to agree on a compromise.

    Reliable figures on the numbers of Roma in EU member states and candidate countries are missing. Official census figures, if they do exist, underestimate their numbers. Estimates based on the average of maximum and minimum figures imply that 5 – 10 % of the populations in Bulgaria, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, and Slovakia are Roma.

    EU and member states have a joint responsibility to improve the living conditions and integration of the Roma. In 2011, Commission introduced national strategies for Roma integration and started to issue annual reports, using information from every country.

    While early drop-out rates of Roma pupils have been reduced, the situation is still worring regarding segregation in the schools.

    According to the 2019 Commission report on the implementation of the national plans, 46 % of pupils aged 6 – 15 are attending schools with possibly lower standards where all or most of the pupils are Roma (2016). The problem was highlighted already in 2004 and 2007 when Hungary and other central-eastern European countries joined the EU.

    M.Apelblat
    The Brussels Times