Hungary's Gypsies fear post-election bad times

TATARSZENTGYORGY, Hungary (AP) — Robert Csorba and his son were murdered a year ago for being Gypsies. Now his relatives are using the bricks from his burned out house to wall off their home as they brace for more possible violence ahead.

The Csorba slayings were part of an unprecedented string of serial killings of gypsies that stopped after claiming six victims with arrests in August. But Gypsies fear that big gains made by an extreme-right party in national elections over the weekend could further feed the climate of hatred that spawned the murders.

The Jobbik party exploited anti-Semitic and anti Gypsy sentiment to surge from almost nowhere to 16.7 percent of the voting that ended Sunday. That makes Jobbik — which is linked to combat-booted paramilitaries that staged an anti-Gypsy march in this village three years ago — the third strongest party in parliament.

Compounding gypsy fears is the fact that Fidesz, the center-right party? that won the election, has linked its "law and order" pledge to keeping a closer eye on? on Hungary's estimated 500,000-800,000 Gypsies or Roma.

In postelection comments Monday, Fidesz leader Viktor Orban, who is set to be the country's next prime minister, promised a crackdown on petty crime in language clearly alluding to the Roma.

"The new government will have a new way of thinking about public security," he told reporters in Budapest, the capital 55 kilometers (31 miles) northwest of Tatarszentgyorgy. "Small crimes are also crimes."

"It's not possible that thefts of chickens are not even investigated any more," Orban told reporters in comments — evoking the widespread Hungarian stereotype of the Gypsy as a chicken thief.

Roma representatives do not deny that some of their community are often guilty of petty crime — but said the phenomenon is linked to chronic poverty rooted in age-old discrimination against Gypsies.

"Thefts of firewood, of chickens, are quite frequent," said Angela Zsigar, head of the local Roma self-government, which is struggling to improve the fate of the town's roughly 700 Roma. "There are many poor here."

While unemployment in Hungary stood at a record 11.4 percent in March, it was over 20 percent in some parts of northeast Hungary, where many Roma live. Additionally, says Zsigar, many Roma have never had an official job so they aren't included in the labor figures.

Orban also acknowledged that creating more jobs was also essential for reducing crime.

While state-owned industries — shut down as communism collapsed — once supplied plentiful low-skilled jobs, many Roma have since depended on welfare payments to survive.

Csorba, 27, and his 5-year-old son were shot to death just after midnight on Feb. 23, 2009, part of a series of slayings carried out mainly in small countryside villages predominantly settled by Roma.

His village had already gained notoriety 15 months before that, when several hundred black uniformed members of the Hungarian Guard, founded by Jobbik, held their first march there against "Gypsy criminality."

The Guard came back shortly before the elections to participate in a Jobbik election rally leading to heated exchanges between Roma attending the town hall meeting and Jobbik politicians.

Erzsebet Csorba, Robert's mother, still feels aggrieved.

"They came here, they upset the Gypsies and had the gall to come in their uniforms," she said indignantly.

The Guard still operates despite being ordered by the courts to disband last year, and Orban pledged to "do away" with such organizations Monday.

Fidesz has described the Guard as the "wrong answer to existing problems." Still, Orban indicated that the Guard's existence had some legitimacy, suggesting that they were filling a security vacuum left by the lack of adequate police forces.

Reflecting the strength of anti-Gypsy sentiment in Tatarszentgyorgy, Jobbik got over twice as many votes here as the second-place Socialists — but half as many as Fidesz.

Incoming Fidesz government leaders downplay Jobbik's significance.

Janos Martony, Hungary's next foreign minister, told The Associated Press that the focus of the outside world on that party is "slightly surprising," adding that if the Hungarian Guard continues defying the order to disband, "the rule of law will be fully implemented."

For the village's Gypsies, however, the return of the Guard just before the election has raised trepidation of the times ahead.

"They could showed some respect and not hold the meeting in uniform," said Erzsebet Csorba of the Guard's recent pre-election appearance. "What kind of Gypsy crimes are they talking about if it is the Gypsies who are being murdered?"


Jahn reported from Vienna.