Poverty pushes Roma into crime in Hungary

Approximately a million Roma live in Hungary, a tenth of the country’s total population. Almost 90% of them are reported to be unemployed, making it one of the biggest social problems inside this eastern European state.

Just before the collapse of the socialist regime in Hungary, this statistic was the opposite in favor of the employed. Today the unemployment rate among Hungary’s Roma population has become alarming. Traditionally, large Roma families immediately felt the change, and most of them are now living far below the poverty line.

The Paks Roma village in southern Hungary, with a population of almost a thousand, serves as a good example to this. Local resident Ignas Yuhas says he’s ready to go to any lengths to earn a living.

“I take just about any job I manage to find: lawn mowing, carpentry, plumbing. But there’s very little work here for us,” Ignas complained. “Work funded by the state brings me only 200 euros a month. And that isn’t enough to feed my 11 children. I heard that the EU has created some programs to help, but we have not seen any results yet.”

In socialist Hungary, having three children in a family meant an almost unconditional mortgage loan. That’s why most of the Roma here managed to build their houses. But now, 20 years since the fall of the socialist system, the only privilege they get is less than $50 for each child in a family.

The Hungarian government says it has invested half a billion euros in the last decade into caring for the Roma. Brussels has also talked of a special EU program to help the Roma minority adapt. But Hungary’s Roma authorities say they barely feel its results.

“We haven’t seen a single cent from Brussels. To be fair, most of the unemployed Roma in Hungary are living on our government’s welfare, but this is causing unrest,” admited Orban Kolompar, chairman of the Hungarian Roma authority in Budapest. “Many working Hungarians are unhappy to receive the same money as the unemployed Romas, and this often leads to hate crimes. The Roma population is not lazy and wants to work, but we often see cases of discrimination in the distribution of jobs and we simply don’t get them.”

Economic desperation often puts the Romas on the path to crime, from illegal lumbering to assaults and killings. The recent murder of a handball player by a Roma gang caused massive public debate in Hungary, as well as sparked ultra-rightist marches. Budapest says the growing crime rate among the Roma people is becoming a threat.

“In northeastern Hungary, the Roma population is predominant and that’s why these regions experience lots of problems,” stated Andrashne Vintse, mayor of Hortobagy. “Unemployment spawns a high criminal rate among Romas. And many Hungarians are radical about it. That’s why the ultra-right party Jobbick had major success in the recent parliamentary vote, with more than 15%.”

Straight after getting into parliament, the Jobbick party promised a harsh stance in dealing with Roma crimes.