Roma in Hungary

Roma in Hungary
Magyar cigányok
Magyarországi romák
Total population
315,583 (census 2011)[1]
Estimates: 450,000 to 1,000,000[2][3][4]
Regions with significant populations
Northern Hungary, Northern Great Plain, Southern Transdanubia
mainly Hungarian (91–92% in 2001)[10]
Roman Catholicism and Calvinism[11]

Roma in Hungary (also known as Hungarian Roma or Romani Hungarians; Hungarian: magyarországi romák or magyar cigányok) are Hungarian citizens of Roma descent. According to the 2011 census, they comprise 3.16% of the total population, which makes them the largest minority in the country.[12] Various estimations put the number of Roma people between 5 and 10 percent of the total population.[6][8][13]

History and language

Main article: Romani language

The date of the arrival of the first Roma groups in Hungary cannot exactly be determined.[14][15] Sporadic references to persons named Cigan, Cygan or Chygan or to villages[15] Zygan can be found in charters from the 13th-14th centuries.[16][17] However, persons bearing these names were not Gypsies and Zygan was not inhabited by Roma people in the 14th century.[16] Accordingly, these names seem to have derrived from an Old Turkic[17] word for plain hair (sÿγan), instead of referring to Roma people in Hungary.[18]

Romani people first appeared in Hungary in the 14th and 15th centuries, fleeing from the conquering Turks in the Balkans.[Note 1] The Gypsies' presence in the territory of the medieval Kingdom of Hungary was first recorded in a chapter by Mircea the Old, prince of Wallachia who held the Fogaras (Făgăraș) region in fief as vassal to the Hungarian Crown between 1390 and 1406.[19][14] The charter makes mention of 17 "tent-dwelling Gypsies" (Ciganus tentoriatos) who were held by a local boyar Costea, lord of Alsó- and Felsővist and of Alsóárpás (now Viștea de Jos, Viștea de Sus and Arpașu de Jos in Romania).[19][14] Next the financial accounts of the town of Brassó (now Brașov in Romania) recorded a grant of food to "Lord Emaus the Egyptian" and his 120[17] followers in 1416.[14] Since Roma people were often mentioned as either "Egyptians" or "the Pharaoh's People" in this period, Lord Emaus and his people must have been Gypsies.[17]

In the mid-18th century Empress Maria Theresa (1740–1780) and Emperor Joseph II (1780–1790) dealt with the Romani question by the contradictory methods of enlightened absolutism. Maria Theresa enacted a decree prohibiting the use of the name "Zigány" (Hungarian) or "Zigeuner" (German) ("Gypsy") and requiring the terms 'new peasant" and 'new Hungarian' to be used instead. She later placed restrictions on Romani marriages, and ordered children to be taken away from Romani parents, so that they could be raised in 'bourgeois or peasant' families.

Joseph II prohibited use of the Romani language in 1783. The forced assimilation essentially proved successful - in the 19th and 20th centuries the vast majority of the Romani population, who had settled hundreds of years earlier and held onto their customs and culture for a long time, gave up, even forgetting their native language and assimilating in Hungarian society.


Since World War II, the number of Roma has increased rapidly, multiplying sevenfold in the last century. Today between 17 and 20% of newborns are of Roma descent. Estimates based on current demographic trends project that in 2050, around 14 to 15% of Hungary's population will be Roma.[20]

The Roma continue to be among the poorest in the country. Their birth rates are much higher and their average expected life span is significantly lower than the national average. Roma continue to be discriminated and live a harsh life in Hungary. They often face hardship and prejudice, and many live in poverty.

Hungarian discrimination against Roma

Discrimination against Roma appears to be part of a broad social pattern of discrimination and marginalization which seems likely to continue in Hungary well into the foreseeable future. There is evidence that this discrimination increases at times of economic hardship.[21]

Whereas almost half the Hungarian secondary school students enroll in vocational secondary schools or comprehensive grammar schools, which provide better chances, only one in five Romani children does so. Moreover, the drop-out rate in secondary schools is significant.[22] The Roma struggle to succeed in Hungary's educational system. Only 61% of Hungarian Roma aged 15 and above have completed primary education, and just 13% have completed secondary education.

This may be caused in part by the original culture of Romani people, which they carried with them from India, and which was reinforced during their centuries of nomadic existence; they could ignore or get around many of the laws of the nations through which they traveled. Even today, having been largely settled for much of the twentieth century, they have not managed to fully integrate.

Much of the Romani population are quite poor. They are not provided with fair and equal access to educational resources, resulting in high unemployment, and the perpetual cycle of poverty that keeps them from social mobility.[23] Currently, around 90% of Romani children complete primary education. A research of sample schools however suggests that the drop-out rate among Roma is still almost twice as high as among non-Roma.[24]

The share of Romani students entering secondary education has increased greatly, with the percentage of Romani children not pursuing any secondary education dropping from 49% to 15% between 1994 and 1999. But that increase is almost exclusively due to increased enrollment in the lowest levels of education, which provide only limited chances for employment.

During World War II, 28,000 Roma were killed in Hungary.[25]

Chinese merchants in Hungary often hire women such as Gypsies and Romani People, to do work since they do not require high pay. No taxes or social security are present in these arrangements.[26] Intermarriage sometimes occurs with the Chinese and their Hungarian, Gypsy, or Romanian workers. These marriages do not occur with Chinese and other peoples at the same rate as Hungarians, Gypsies, and Romanians[27]

Between 2008 and 2009 six Roma were killed in a string of attacks.[28] The group of men who are thought to committed the murders went on trial in 2011.[29]

On 22 April 2011 a vigilante group called Véderő organized a training camp in the town of Gyöngyöspata. This created fear in the local Roma residents, and Aladár Horváth, leader of the Roma Civil Rights Movement, called on the Red Cross to evacuate the women and children. Péter Szijjártó, spokesman of the Hungarian prime minister stated that the evacuation is clearly a lie as the departure of the people is an organized vacation. The Red Cross also denied that it was an evacuation, stating the trip was requested by the Roma community for the Easter holidays.[29] But, according to Radio Free Europe, Red Cross said in a statement that "This is the first time the Hungarian Red Cross has organized the evacuation of Hungarian civilians threatened by paramilitary activities since the Second World War."[30] The camp was eventually folded up yet on 22 April and the members of Véderő left the area. Four days later some of the members returned to Gyöngyöspata following the situation escalated and in the fight between the local Roma and the Véderő left four people injured.[31]

Parody of Roma

Sándor Fábry's RTL Klub TV program "Esti Showder", a popular talk show on Hungarian commercial TV, first broadcast a "Romani show" on November 6, 2006. The project was potentially very risky as it was only the previous spring that TV2 had run their highly controversial and damaging program "Big Romani Wedding", in which it had presented Romani men as criminals and thieves and the women as prostitutes. However, the ratings for the "Big Romani Wedding" were high, and the RTL Klub "Esti Showder" approached the Romani community directly. Fábry invited some Romani entrepreneurs, musicians, and artists to the studio for the production and, thus, made the parody of quite a different color. After the show had been aired, the RTL Klub issued a statement that "prominent Romani politicians had given their approval and appreciated that the show rectified the reputation of Romani community defamed by TV2". "Showder" is a pun merging the words `show` and 'sóder' - which means "gravel" in Hungarian but also means "talk" in obsolete Hungarian slang. The word "esti" could be translated as "tonight" or "evening".[32]

Other examples

Cooperation between Roma and non-Roma is also taking place around the Opre Roma ("Rise Up, Roma") community in eastern Hungary. Romani residents in the area were to be evicted from their homes, but they have found unlikely support from local citizens and church members.

There are problems related to the Romani minority in Hungary, and the very subject is a heated and disputed topic.

Objective problems:

  • Education/poor chances for work: slightly more than 80% of Romani children complete primary education, but only one third continue studies into the intermediate (secondary) level. This is far lower than the more than 90% proportion of children of non-Romani families who continue studies at an intermediate level. Less than 1% of Roma hold higher educational certificates.
  • Poverty: most of the Romani people live in significantly worse conditions than others.
  • Bad health conditions: life expectancy is about 10 years less compared to non-Roma
  • Lack of debate regarding the subject: academic researchers and members of the mainstream press disregard any critics and study the subject in the canonical viewpoint. Critics don't have the funds necessary to perform alternative studies.

Please note that this list below consists disputed issues.

  • Natural repugnance: there are differences in the social behavior of the host nation and the Romani people leading to a disinclination towards each other. This is slowly decreasing on the Hungarian side (36-38%[33]); as of 2007, there is no research made regarding the Romani side.
  • Integration problems on the host side: there's a significant prejudice towards Romani people in Hungary affecting the motivation for integration. Exact numbers are unknown as the research material available mixes prejudice with "post-judice".
  • Crime: "gypsy crime" ("cigánybűnözés" in Hungarian) is a phenomenon well disputed. Until the end of communism it was an official category used by police for crimes thought to be typical of Romani people.
  • School segregation: non-Romani people tend to choose schools with fewer Romani children (although in one case which got national attention and was officially investigated, it turned out that it was mostly due to Romani and non-Romani people living in different city parts and sending their children to the school closest to them). It's also believed that there were cases where healthy Romani children were assigned to classes for pupils with learning disabilities (although this might have been a financial issue).

Romani political representation

In Hungary, two Roma were elected to parliament as candidates of mainstream parties in 1990, but only one in 1994 and none in 1998. In any case, it has been questioned whether a minority MP who gets into the parliament as a member of a mainstream party can properly represent the interests of his or her minority. During the conference discussions, a Rom from the Czech Republic recounted that his party, the Romani Civic Initiative, instead of participating in the 1998 parliamentary elections on its own, accepted an offer from a majority party, the Union of Freedom, which promised to assist the Roma in the resolution of their problems. One Romani candidate of the Union of Freedom was elected, yet the Romani Civic Union found that it was unable to influence the Union of Freedom’s political program. Following the European elections, 2009, Livia Jaroka is the sole Romani representative of the 22 members of the European parliament from Hungary.

Political parties

Hungarian Roma are represented by a number of conventional political parties and organizations, including the Roma Social Coalition (an organization, consisting of 19 Romani organizations), the Independent Interest Association of Roma in Hungary (a new coalition, including the Lungo Drom, the Phralipe Independent Roma organization, and the Democratic Federation of Roma in Hungary) and others. The most recent addition is the Democratic Roma Coalition, established in December 2002 by three Romani organizations in time for 2003 local elections.

Political discrimination

In Hungary, 'only 0.3 per cent of Roma hold post-secondary school diplomas and only one in four complete primary school', says Professor Miklos Haraszti of the University of California's Study Centre in Budapest. Their jobless rate is over 60 per cent, more than six times the Hungarian average. And their life expectancy—a vital measure describing health, economic and social conditions—trails the national average by as much as ten years.

The gates of secondary schooling are at last wide open to Romani students, observes educational sociologist Istvan Kemeny, the author of pioneering fieldwork, in the January issue of the authoritative journal Hungarian Quarterly. But the educational gap between the Roma and the Hungarian ethnic majority 'has not narrowed over the past 40 years... And even today, only one in five Romani families could afford to send their children to secondary schools'.


Demographic change in Hungary is characterised by an ageing, falling population while the number of people of Romani origin is rising and the age composition of the Romani population is much younger than that of the overall population. Counties with the highest concentration of Romani minority are Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén and Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg (officially 45'525 and 25'612 people in 2001),[34] but there are other regions with a traditionally high Romani population like parts of Baranya and the middle reaches of the Tisza valley.

Although they were traditionally living in the countryside, under general urbanization trends from the second half of the 20th century many of them moved into the cities. There is a sizable Romani minority living in Budapest (12'273 people in 2001, officially). The real number of Roma in Hungary is a disputed question. In the 2001 census 205,720 people called themselves Roma, but experts and Romani organisations estimate that there are between 450,000 and 1,000,000 Roma living in Hungary.[35][36][37]

During World War II, 28,000 Roma were killed in Hungary.[25] Since then, the size of the Romani population has increased rapidly. Today every fifth or sixth newborn Hungarian child belongs to the Romani minority. Based on current demographic trends, a 2006 estimate by Central European Management Intelligence claims that the proportion of the romani population will double by 2050.[38]

Romani autonomy in Hungary

The separation of Romani children into segregated schools and classes is also a problem, and has been on the rise over the past 15 years. Segregated schools are partly the result of "white flight", with non-Romani parents sending their children to schools in neighbouring villages or towns when there are many Romani students in the local school. But Romani children are also frequently placed in segregated classes even within "mixed" schools.[39]

Many other Romani children are sent to classes for pupils with learning disabilities. The percentage of Romani children in special schools rose from about 25% in 1975 to 42% in 1992, with a 1997 survey showing little change - whereas a National Institute for Public Education report says that "most experts agree that a good number of Roma children attending special schools are not even slightly mentally disabled".[40]

National Gypsy Minority Self-Government (NGMS)

In Budapest, the district minority self-governing bodies established the Budapest Gypsy Minority Self-Government by means of indirect elections, and founded the National Gypsy Minority Self-Government (NGMS) with 53 representatives.

Act LXXIX of 1993

An important legal regulation directly affecting the position of the Romani population in Hungary is Act LXXIX of 1993 on Public Education, which was amended in 1996 and 2003 to provide the national and local minority self-governing bodies with the opportunity of founding and maintaining educational institutions, and which defined the fight against segregation in schools as an objective.

Notable people

  • Győző Gáspár [54]
  • László Gáspár [55]
  • József Holdosi
  • Aladár Rácz [69]
  • Jancsi Rigó [70]
  • Sándor Rostás [71]
  • György Rostás-Farkas [72]

See also




  • (Hungarian)
  • (Hungarian)
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