Hungary’s Roma population is so afraid of attacks by right-wing groups that they have started protecting their neighbourhoods through nighttime patrols. Their fear is justified: six Roma have been murdered in violent assaults since last November. After a huge police investigation, four men, alleged Roma haters who carefully planned their crimes, were detained for the deadly attacks in late August.
One of the worst attacks occurred in Tatárszentgyörgy last February. Erzsebet Csorba woke up to the sound of gunfire outside her house. She discovered her mortally wounded son not far from his firebombed house. Her grandson was nearby. “His whole small body was full with holes from the bullets,” she told Voice of America. The child soon died.
Many fear the violence directed at the nation’s 660,000 Roma will continue, despite the arrests. For the poor ethnic minority, segregation and discrimination increased after the fall of Communism when unskilled and unemployed Roma tended to concentrate in rural villages. Life was cheaper than the cities, but with little chance of work.
Tomás Polgár, a popular right-wing blogger, voices a common refrain among Hungarians: “They are criminals and they are a threat to us, the majority. They make more children, they’re taking over.” Ominously, he states, “It’s a war.” In June, Jobbik, a far-right party with a platform of getting tough on “Gypsy criminality,” captured 15 per cent of the vote in European elections.
The intimidation can be frightening. Viktória Mohácsi, a former Roma European politician, receives countless email threats. “I feel like I’m in a war,” she told a Dutch newspaper. While she isn’t sure if patrols of Roma areas are a good idea, she concedes there are few alternatives: “We can either set up an army or flee.”