The Romani community remained the largest ethnic minority. According to the Central Statistics Office, in 2007 the Romani community accounted for 2 percent of the population, or approximately 200,000 persons. However, unofficial estimates varied widely and suggested the actual figure was much higher, ranging between 500,000 and 800,000 persons. Human rights NGOs reported that Roma were discriminated against in almost all fields of life, particularly in employment, education, housing, penal institutions, and access to public places, such as restaurants and bars.
During the year, right-wing extremist groups continued to incite violence against Roma and held marches around the country aimed at intimidating local
Romani communities. Beginning on March 6, far-right activists of the For a Better Future Civil Guard Association donned uniforms and patrolled the town of Gyongyospata with the aim of intimidating the local Roma population. On April 22-24, the paramilitary group Vedero (Defense Force) organized a three-day training camp near the village's Roma neighborhood. On the morning on April 22, some 267 Romani women and children were bussed out of the
village in a move that some individuals claimed was an "evacuation," but which the organizer, Red Cross Hungary, asserted was a prearranged camping trip. On April 22, Interior Minister Sandor Pinter visited Gyongyospata, ordered increased police presence in the town, and instructed the police to expel the extremists. The same day, police arrested eight far-right activists and charged them with disorderly conduct. On April 25, the court acquitted five defendants. On April 26, four of the far-right activists who remained in Gyongyospata provoked a fight with the Romani residents. One of the provocateurs suffered serious injuries, while the three others and two local Romani residents suffered minor injuries. The police opened an investigation in the case and pressed charges against two Roma for disorderly conduct committed in a group and in an armed manner.
NGOs accused far-right groups of intentionally provoking ethnic tension in Gyongyospata and asserted that the government failed to protect the local Roma minority against racist provocation. However, the government responded vigorously, adopting legislation in April and May to halt the "uniformed criminal activity" of far-right groups (see section1.d.).
On March 25, the trial of four persons charged in connection with the 2008-09 serial killings of six Roma, including a father and child who were shot fleeing
their burning home, began at the Pest County Court. Three of the defendants were charged with multiple homicides, and the fourth was charged as an accomplice in the killings. The case remained pending at year's end.
According to the HCLU, members of the Romani community were regularly sentenced for minor offenses, such as collecting firewood or minor traffic violations, that were usually ignored when committed by non-Roma. The HCLU asserted that police and municipalities selectively applied laws against the
Roma to keep them segregated and restrict their freedom of movement. The Ministry of Public Administration and Justice operated an antidiscrimination legal service network that provided free legal aid to Roma in cases where they encountered ethnic discrimination. However, human rights NGOs complained that the legal offices were located in the larger cities and were inaccessible to Roma living in deep poverty in small villages. The HCLU received reports that the network's lawyers rejected some Roma cases.
During the year NGOs complained that courts increasingly used the provision of the criminal code on racism to convict Roma, whereas the law was designed to protect members of minority groups. On March 3, the Pest Central District Court convicted seven young Roma for what the court ruled was a racist attack on a non-Romani individual by applying the criminal code provision of violence against a member of a community. On October 24, the Budapest Metropolitan Court of Appeal upheld the charge of racist motivation in one case and reduced the charges in the case of six other men to "armed hooliganism," a change that significantly mitigated the legal penalties. The appeals court emphasized in its ruling that lawmakers criminalized violence against member of an ethnic community in order to expand protection of minority groups, not the majority group.
According to the government, approximately 85 percent of working-age Roma were unemployed, and in many underdeveloped regions of the country, the
number exceeded 90 percent. On July 11, parliament amended the law on public work stipulating that the unemployed who want to continue to receive benefits cannot reject public work opportunities unless they have small children, need to care for a sick family member, or would require more than three hours to commute to and from work. The new law, effective September 1, also reduced the period for which unemployment benefits are granted from 270 to 90 days and authorized local governments to set up their own preconditions for granting social subsidies. The new National Public Employment Program, launched on September 1 and estimated to cost 60 billion forints ($249 million), provided part-time employment opportunities for 250,000 registered unemployed persons living on social welfare for two to four months. The public works program typically involves cleaning public spaces or work
on agricultural or water projects. During the year approximately 302,152 individuals were involved in the various forms of public employment programs, including those run by local governments.
The public education system continued to provide inadequate instruction for minorities in their own languages. Romani language schoolbooks and qualified teachers were in short supply. According to the national survey published by the National Family and Social Policy Institute on June 7, Roma were significantly less educated than other citizens.
During the fall school season, four Christian churches opened Roma Specialist Colleges in Budapest, Miskolc, Debrecen and Nyiregyhaza providing housing and tutoring for Romani students enrolled in higher educational institutions. During the year 75 Romani students participated in the network of special colleges.
Inadequate housing continued to be a problem for Roma, whose overall living conditions remained significantly worse than those of the general population. According to Romani interest groups, municipalities used a variety of techniques to prevent Roma from living in more desirable urban neighborhoods. In order to apply for EU and government funds for urban rehabilitation and public education projects, municipal authorities must attach to their proposal a desegregation plan outlining planned actions to eradicate segregation in housing and public education. According to a 2010 survey by the Ministry of National Resources, approximately 100,000 seriously disadvantaged persons, mainly Roma, lived in approximately 500 settlements that lacked basic
infrastructure and were often located on the outskirts of cities. During the year, the government launched a new program worth 3.5 billion forints ($14.5 million) to rehabilitate these settlements aimed at improving the living conditions of the residents. The government program involved four segregated settlements, accommodating approximately 5,000 people.
During the year the state secretary for social integration at the Ministry of Public Administration and Justice, Zoltán Balog, continued to play a critical role in advancing Roma affairs within the government. The office harmonized the government's inclusion policy as well as that governing Roma-related
government programs (e.g., scholarships, Decade of Roma Inclusion Program). The Ministry of National Resources continued to offer financial incentives to encourage schools to integrate Romani and non-Romani children in the same classrooms and to reintegrate Roma inappropriately placed in remedial programs. On September 26, the government established the 27-member Roma Coordination Council, chaired by the minister for public administration and justice and co-chaired by the head of national Roma self-government, Florian Farkas, who was elected on January 20. The new council includes
representatives of local Roma self-governments, NGOs, and churches. Most ministries and county labor affairs centers had special officers for Romani affairs focused on the needs of the Romani community. On November 30, the cabinet approved the National Social Inclusion Strategy. The national strategy identifies specific actions the government aims to take to reduce the percentage of the population living under the poverty line, integrate Roma into the labor market, and increase the level of education of Roma.
On December 13, the cabinet adopted the Governmental Action Plan for the implementation of the National Social Inclusion Strategy for 2012-2014. The action plan determines specific tasks, identifies responsible members of the cabinet, and sets deadlines in the areas of child welfare, education, employment, health care, housing, raising awareness, and fighting discrimination against Roma.
On December 19, parliament passed a new law on "nationalities," scheduled to enter into force in January 2012. The new law defines the cultural autonomy of the nationalities and recognizes as collective rights the fostering and enrichment of historic traditions, language, culture, educational rights, as well as establishing and operating institutions and maintaining international contacts.
Roma and the other 12 official minorities are entitled to elect their own minority self-governments to organize minority activities and handle cultural, educational, and linguistic affairs. The president of each minority self-government has the right to attend and speak at local government assemblies.