Hate Crimes in Hungary

In Hungary, if you are homeless, you have to pay.  As much as 50,000 Hungarian forint, which is the equivalent of 185 EUR or 267 USD. According to a municipal law dated April 27, 2011, anybody found to conduct a “lifestyle of” living in the public areas of Hungary’s capital city Budapest, as well as anybody who stores possessions used in such a lifestyle in public areas may be fined up to 50,000 Hungarian forint. If the fine is not paid, the person found sleeping on the streets is punished by up to ten days of incarceration.

But if you are homeless in Hungary, now you will really, really have to pay. This is because, having withdrawn to secret hiding places in forests and thickly covered public parks, the homeless now fear retribution after a gruesome series of murders shocked the Hungarian public. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán now wants every homeless colony raided by the police.

At first, the tabloids told tall tales of “colonies of homeless” robbing and burying people alive in acts of Clockwork Orange-style cruelty and senselessness. As the police investigation is slowly unfolding, however, it turns out that, besides the one man who escaped a homeless gang and who indeed was buried up to his shoulders so that he would give up the pin code of his ATM card, every single corpse found by the police belongs to homeless victims.

This is the social policy of Hungary’s government: the criminalization of poverty. At least in this respect they are not far behind a neo-conservative global trend that has been seen resurfacing in other countries in Europe and North America as well. In Hungary, however, where poverty is such a devastatingly ubiquitous condition and where unfavorable exchange rates force more and more to default on their home mortgages, replacing social policies by jail sentences is especially absurd.

Signs of habitation in a remote area of Újpalota, a Budapest suburb. The shelters do not meet building code regulations - upon discovery, they are to be destroyed by the authorities.

In fact, the Hungarian law-makers are so uncompromising in their striving for comprehensiveness and systematicity that no aspect of the homeless lifestyle seems to escape their keen attention. In Budapest’s 8th district, for example, there is a law on the books against dumpster-diving. Whoever takes garbage out of a dumpster located in the district can be fined up to 50,000 Hungarian forint. Even pedantic legal distinctions such as “kukázás” (dumpster diving – or skipping for you UK folk), “folytatólagosan elkövetett kukázás” (continuous dumpster diving), and “kukázásra való bujtogatás” (incitement to dumpster diving) have found their way into Hungarian legal practice. Blame a protest against the edict for the last of these, during which at least nine individuals were arrested for purposefully reaching into garbage cans – or for suggesting that others do so as well.

Given the meticulousness with which Hungarian law-makers counter homelessness, one can only be surprised by what slips through the cracks of the country’s criminal code unpunished. Unlike inciting others to reach into a dumpster and retrieve objects therein found, certain acts – which to some might appear not only criminal but especially heinous at that – are not at all illegal in Hungary.

It is not illegal in Hungary to beat up a man because he is Roma. Three unidentified men had already assaulted a Roma man outside of south-Hungarian city Szeged’s JATE club, a university hang-out, when a fourth man joined in the fight. He told them he was a policeman (in truth, he is a corrections officer, at the rank of a staff sergeant). Asking the other three if “this rotten little gypsy” was too much for them to take, according to the victim, he pulled down his coat, shoved him to the ground, kicked him on his back, his stomach and his head, and sat on him, strangling him by his neck. The night after, the staff sergeant posted a status update on Facebook: I drank some whisky, he wrote, got into a fight, drank some more whisky and sat in a holding cell until 10:30, “and suffice it to say that I was kicking the head of a gypsy lying on the ground when three officers arrived in his defense.” The victim suffered injuries healing within 8 days. According to the prosecutor’s office, there is no evidence a crime has been committed. (Read the statement by the lawyers of the victim in Hungarian here, details of the story by origo.hu here.)

It is also not illegal in Hungary to chase a pregnant Roma woman down the streets and to intimidate her so much that she is induced to premature labor. The incident took place in Gyöngyöspata, a small north-eastern town where the Roma population was kept under siege for months this spring. The woman was followed by a group of men wearing face-masks and cracking whips (based on the description, likely the members of Betyársereg, the same group implicated in inciting to racist violence in a secret lecture that had since been leaked to the Hungarian press). The men got body-to-body with the woman; they spat on her and panted into her ears. In the eighth month of her pregnancy, she tried to run away from them, and gave birth almost subsequently in her living room. The EMTs called to her could not get through the police blockade around the town (which was originally designed to protect the Romas throughout the approximately two months long ordeal during which the town was virtually taken hostage by far-right paramilitaries). For a few days, the baby required treatment at the neonatal intensive care unit of the local hospital. Beyond a lesser charge of “defamation,” according to the authorities, no crime has been committed. (Read news report of the decision in Hungarian here.)

Volunteer militia made up of right-wing extremists "ensures public order" in Gyöngyöspata.

Finally, it is also not illegal in Hungary to publish discriminatory help-wanted ads. The following ad was placed in Expressz, a Hungarian publication specializing in classified ads:

Családiházunk felújításához, keresünk 1 szobafestő mázoló szakmunkást. Feltételek: -Nem iszik, picit sem!!!!!!!! -Eljönn, a pontos munkakezdésre!!!!!!! -Tisztán dolgozik, elmossa a kapott szerszámokat, tisztára!!!!!! -Felelőséget tudd vállalni a munkálya iránt!!!!!! -Nem vállalkozó. Nem a munkaügyi központ álltal lelopott hirdetésre jelentkezik. Nem cigány, román, zsidó, hanem BECSÜLETES Magyar ember!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The posting is full of spelling mistakes, some of which I try to keep in the English as well:

We are looking for 1 trained painter, for the renovation of our family house. Conditions: – Does not drink, not even a bit!!!!!!!! -Showws up, at the exact time work begins!!!!!!! -Works cleanly, washes the tools we provide, clean!!!!!! -Takes responsebility for his werk!!!!!! -Not a private entrepreneur. Not sent buy the unemployment agency that has stolen this post. Not a gypsy, not a romanian, not a jew, but an HONEST Hungarian person!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The ad was posted on the publication’s website for three days, until journalists contacted the publishing company to ask them to remove it from its listings.

There are no signs that this country lacks the resources required for drawing up a pedantic and exacting regulation of hate crimes. How else could they have succeeded in accomplishing such an exhaustive legal regulation, one that extends to every single infraction that could potentially arise from a “lifestyle of” homelessness, without the requisite talent, intelligence or legal expertise? Only the will seems to be missing in Hungary’s law-makers to deliver a hate crime legislation developed with the same thorough-going conscientiousness.

This entry was posted in Budapest 8th district, criminalization of poverty, Gyöngyöspata, hate crimes in Hungary, Hungarian far-right militias, Hungarian Roma, Hungary, Viktor Orbán and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Hate Crimes in Hungary

  1. EBE says:

    I truly enjoy this blog. I am very glad that there is an other (and I can count on one hand how many out there) exist that brings attention to the idiocracy of the current Hugarian government.

    Although I agree with you that that there is a “neo-conservative global trend that has been seen resurfacing in other countries in Europe and North America as well”, I must say that in many other countries there are also various efforts to help the homeless. Public housing projects are a continued trend in the West, and many of these houses are not in “segregated areas”, like what Hungary will be building, there are free job training versus the Hungarian forced-labour concept, programs to keep children in school longer for a better education versus the lowered minimum education requirements in Hungary, criminalization of any kind of hate crime (including hate graffiti) versus the Hungarian system of finding an excuse to not to punish the perpetrators, and the list goes on. Simply the Hungarian strategy is to install division in society between the “true Hungarians” and “Them”, the Jews, gypsies, leftist, etc. Current government policies and laws (including the most restrictive and most ridiculous law on religion) are all there to cater to those misinformed segment of Hungarian population who fit the very well known Hungarian “uber alle” symptoms. Current politicians are not in the business to cure but to make this sickness more acute in order to retain power (that pays off really well for politicians even in Global crises).

    • Anonymous says:

      As an American unfamiliar with the contemporary political and social climate in Hungary, I have been following your postings with interest and alarm. The growing power of right wing extremists recalls the rise of Nazism and the horrors of the second world war. While one should not assume the repetition of such a monstrosity in every ugly stirring, it is worth recalling that National Socialism in the “land of poets and philosophers” began as a splinter movement in the 1920’s. I also see disturbing parallels to current social and political forces in the U.S. People here are fearful of their economic security which has led to blame over-taking reason with rising anti-immigrant sentiment and failure to see the difference between members of a major religion and it’s most fanatical minority. The recent “debt ceiling crisis” demonstrated that real political power is now in the hands of right wing extremists who place their ideology before economic common sense. Moreover, we now have viable presidential candidates, whose ratched up rhetoric fan the flames of ignorance and intolerance (It is one thing to criticize the chairman of the federal reserve, it is quite another to accuse him of near treason), who only a short time ago would have remained on the margins of our political system.

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  3. So many themes here for new posts!
    @EBE: I completely agree with you that Hungary’s case seems to take the “global trend” to an entirely different order. What I find especially interesting about Hungary is the lack of solidarity for the poor. You are right to point out that, unlike in Hungary, there are society-based efforts to help those who are in “deep poverty.” But who tends to participate in the food drives, who volunteers at the soup kitchens, and who tends to give to the homeless? These are typically very working class, or middle class, things to do. Which makes a lot of sense: those who are only slightly better off than the homeless support the poorest in society _because_ they are only slightly better off. The Hungarian way of thinking about this really astounds me: there, it seems to me that the average person has no solidarity with the homeless because they are already a bit above them. This is why it pays for a politician like Tarlós (mayor of Budapest) to say things like the homeless are an eye-sore, a nuisance, etc. It is as if, through the homeless, these poorer Hungarians were able to hate their own (relative) poverty – and to expel it, to remove it from within their own selves, by ejecting the homeless from their society.
    @American: this is super-interesting! I thought a lot about your comment, because there are other developments in Hungarian politics fitting the pattern that only you, and none of us semi- or full-Hungarians, were able to spot. Here’s an example, something you mention too: the constitutional amendment of the debt ceiling. Hungary’s new constitution does in fact have provisions about the debt-ceiling, it is in fact one of the most atrocious parts of the new Hungarian constitution that critics fear might open up the way to extra-political means of governance in the future (in other words, to what is practically a coup by the government). Therefore I was stunned to find out this weekend that Germany and France is now of the opinion that every EU country should write a debt-ceiling into its constitution. Germany did in fact write one into its constitution in 2009. Would it then be fair to say that “Hungary” (in this case let’s have this name stand not for the actual country, but for the specific constellation of political problems that accumulated in this country’s politics) is what would happen if the worst of the Republican party were to take over the US? A real-life example in which what is only worrisome in the US has already realized itself? To be sure, this is a very unique perspective, one definitely worth following up on, especially because among the Hungarian intelligentsia, this comparison always goes in the other direction. Hungary usually underachieves compares to the standards of the West – in comparison to “normal” countries, it always lags behind. What if, for this decade at least, Hungary is in fact the “excess,” the negative to which all societies of the globe tend, but which only Hungary has achieved or approximated in a substantial way? What a neat twist this would be on e.g. PM Orbán’s boasting that Hungary has surpassed the countries of the West by virtue of its unique response to a worldwide crisis!

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  6. Mate Cziner says:

    About the second part of the article… this problem is not as simple as hungarians beat up defenseless roma all the time, and I can’t help feeling that the article implies this. I’m sorry if this wasn’t your intention.

    I’d be hard pressed to find anybody over twenty among my friends and associates who didn’t have a run-in (ranging from harassment, theft, mugging, and one assault) with the local roma population at some point in their lives, at least once. It’s really not all that surprising that is so easy for right wing elements to fan these flames, there was (is) a very real problem in the first place.

    Still, these are of course hideous hate crimes of which we should be ashamed of. But let’s mention the other side of the coin sometimes too.

  7. Pingback: A Hate Crime Case from Hungary, Retried and Revisited | The Contrarian Hungarian

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  9. Tony Clayton says:

    The pure ignorance of capitalism has been well presented in this argument. Viktor Orban. SOCIALISM FOR THE WIN. And better products.

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