Surprising if not incredible findings were the result of a survey probing into the racist feelings harbored by Hungarian youth in 2010.
1000 teenagers, between the ages 12-19, were asked to fill out a questionnaire designed to measure their propensity for prejudiced and intolerant attitudes. The questionnaire reached 23 schools nationwide, including elementary schools as well as each of the three secondary school types. 72% of those surveyed had at least one negative response about the Roma. Based on their answers, 32% of them would be considered extremely racist.
The majority of those surveyed could not imagine having Roma friends and would find it disturbing if a Roma student sat with them at their desk [in Hungarian schools, school-desks are assigned to pairs of students]. 1 out of 4 showed willingness to sign a petition to prohibit the Roma from attending the same class as they do. The same number would agree with someone who expresses disparaging views of the Roma in public.
The author of the research, Luca Váradi, describes the encounter that set her out in search of measuring these attitudes. Five high school juniors, when asked about “foreigners,” associated immediately to the Roma [- at appr. 190,000 identifying as Roma during the last census, the Roma are the largest majority living in Hungary, as well as the most common target of the far-right]. The students were incredulous when told that the Roma held Hungarian citizenship. If so, they responded, they must at the very least be immigrants.
These conversations also indicated that Hungarian high school students think the Roma are foreigners, and that they prescribe to the view that that one cannot be both Roma and Hungarian (to be sure, with visibly apparent racial features, this not merely an issue of identification for persons of Roma descent).
While media outlets are full of negative stereotypes, and while the websites of the far-right openly incite hatred against minorities – and while their followers make it an obsession to attach racist commentary to news stories published on the internet– an anti-racist subculture in which Hungarian teenagers could find a means of socializing in the opposite attitudes is non-existent. Regulations in schools prohibit forums or class discussion on the topic. 80% of the students surveyed say that they do not have discussions of the topic in the family either. With traditional sources for instilling democratic values in the younger generations reluctant to intervene, some of the youth went as far as commending the far-right for speaking out about the Roma so openly.
Those familiar with the Hungarian far-right’s “open” outspokenness on the Roma makes this is a frightful finding. For example, media hubs of the extreme right habitually reproduce anti-semitic propaganda from Hungarian newspapers of the 1930s – usually openly racist opinion pieces arguing in favor of racial laws. One far-right news portal collects stories from all over the world in which domestic abuse (and even murder and rape) is committed by colored men on white women. In their entertainment sections, there is vivid discussion of the sexual organs of the Roma and of persons of colors, as well as of their supposedly abnormal desires and inferior ways of being a sexual partner. A Jew or Roma joke is published on these sites every day.
But even the mainstream media makes a considerable impact in reinforcing negative stereotypes of the Roma already commonly held. The wide-spread use of the term of “gypsy criminality” in the mainstream media (the notion that the Roma have criminal tendencies – which must be remedied by political means) is merely the tip of the iceberg. An even greater problem is that media outlets tend to restrict themselves to reporting in a matter-of-fact way about the far-right’s scapegoating of the Roma. The more “philosophical” aspects of the issue – e.g. opinions addressing the humanitarian or democratic values with which demonstrations of anti-Roma sentiment clash – almost never accompany these reports, on account of the fact that they are merely “opinions” of private individuals, which would remain “out of balance” without the “balance” of another private individual’s extreme views (Hungary’s new media law, which requires “factual and balanced” reporting could at least in part be held responsible for this journalistic practice).
In this sociological context, racism does not appear to be extreme at all. “Whoever is normal thinks like I do,” said one of the high school students who also agreed with the statement that being against the Roma is a society-wide norm in Hungary. In fact, the more prejudiced a young person is, the more “normal” these views appear to be to him or her.
Luca Váradi, the sociologist who devised the study, identified three factors that reliably predicted lesser tendencies to racism in Hungarian students. One of these is personal contact, especially in an egalitarian context, with the Roma. Knowing one member of an “outsider” group in a one-on-one relationship is likely to extend the experience to the entire group, and for this reason, integrated education is a key to reducing racism in Hungarian youth. Secondly, developing empathy in Hungarian students would allow them to imagine themselves in the place of others, and therefore to make them more critical of discriminatory views. High school forums do not only increase one’s empathy for racial minorities, but for other disadvantaged communities as well.
Thirdly, racism correlates with the view that social hierarchies are not only justified, but the more powerful a person is (perhaps because of a factor as arbitrary as nationality or skin color) the more they are entitled to treat the “lower beings” with arbitrariness, and even violence. In other words, there is nothing like an authoritarian political regime to encourage racism in the younger generations; and only a democratically organized society can immunize itself from wide-spread acceptance of these views.
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The author of the study published a synopsis of her sociological research in Magyar Narancs on September 1, 2011. The piece has just become available on the internet [in Hungarian] (or find it in Archivum –> 2011 –> XXIII. évf. 35. szám 2011.09.01. as Publicisztika –> Utánpótlás – Fölmérés a tizenévesek előítéletességéről).
Afterthought: After having written this post I happened upon a survey conducted by Tárki, one of the best-known [right-wing] social research institutes in Hungary, who have statistics confirming the same trends in Hungarians below 35. Their research found, for example, that more of those surveyed supported encouraging their child (real or imaginary) to become friends with an Arab, Chinese or African child than with a Roma child. They were also able to demonstrate that voters of Jobbik (the far-right party most closely associated with racism) take their information from the internet more often than voters of other parties. You can read more about their research [in Hungarian] here.