MINELRES: Minority news from Hungary

MINELRES moderator minelres@lists.delfi.lv
Thu Nov 6 18:06:02 2003

Original sender: Judit Solymosi <solymosij@mail.datanet.hu>

Office for National and Ethnic Minorities
Budapest, Hungary

Selection of news on
national and ethnic minorities in Hungary

July - October 2003

Hungarian Prime Minister's Proposal at the session of the Parliamentary
Assembly of the Council of Europe

At the beginning of October Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy
delivered a speech at the session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the
Council of Europe, in which he announced the planned setting-up of the
European Centre of National and Ethnic Minorities in Budapest. He asked
the support of the Council of Europe for the project. The envisaged
research centre would deal not only with traditional national minorities
but also with "new" minorities, that is to say, with communities of
immigrants. The Prime Minister also emphasized in his speech that the
Hungarian government would propose that the protection of the rights of
national and ethnic minorities be included in the future constitution of
the European Union.

Prime Ministers sign bilateral agreement 

On the occasion of the visit of Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic in
Budapest in mid-October, the Serbian and Hungarian prime ministers
signed the bilateral agreement between Serbia-Montenegro and Hungary on
the mutual protection of the respective national minorities. In the
document, the parties state that the support of national minorities on
behalf of the kin-States is a legitimate aspiration within the limits
stipulated by international law. The parties bind themselves to restrain
from assimilation policies and from adopting measures that would modify
the proportional composition of the population living in a given region
or that would hinder the exercise of minority rights.

Conference on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the adoption of
the Minority Act

A two-day conference with international and Hungarian lecturers
organised in Budapest at the beginning of October commemorated the 10th
anniversary of the adoption of the Hungarian act on the rights of
national and ethnic minorities. Speakers underlined the importance and
the innovative character of this act, which was among the first legal
regulations in Europe allowing the election of minority
self-governments. They stressed that the act had provided a suitable
legal framework for the strengthening of national minority communities.
However, the amendment of this act and other minority-related
regulations is becoming urgent. Political State Secretary Vilmos Szabo
confirmed that, in conformity with the parliamentary decree adopted, the
government would make its best to submit the bills to Parliament before
the end of this year. President of the Office for National and Ethnic
Minorities Antal Heizer emphasized the obligation of the government to
promote genuine cultural autonomy and the strengthening of minority
identity and languages. He thinks that the number of institutions
maintained by minority communities is still too low. The stable and
long-term operation of these institutions requires further legal

New Prize for Minority Youngsters

The Board of Trustees of the Public Foundation for National and Ethnic
Minorities decided at its October session that the Minority Youth Prize
will from now on replace scholarships distributed earlier to youngsters
belonging to national and ethnic minorities. A maximum of 100 prizes in
a value of HUF 200,000 each will be given out yearly to young people
aged between 14-30. The precondition for being awarded is that the young
should play an active role in minority public life and in preserving and
developing the minority language. The former scholarship system will be
maintained only in the case of the Roma minority.

News on the Slovak minority 

On 1 October, a new Slovak community centre started operating in
Totkomlos. The centre is part of the institution called Slovak Cultural
Centre, which is composed of seven regional centres, three of which
operate in Bekes County. The Vertigo Slovak Theatre has been transferred
in the maintenance of the Slovak National Self-government, and Slovak
theatre activities to start within the framework of the Szarvas Regional
Theatre constitute also a new initiative. The reconstruction works of
the Slovak language Primary School of Szarvas ended in mid-September.
These works constituted the biggest state investment of the past years
(mounting to HUF 721M) in the area of minority institutions. Three new
researcher positions were recently opened in the Research Institute of
the Slovaks of Hungary in Bekescsaba. Some other institutions started
operating also in the near past, including the Slovak Kindergarten
Methodological Centre in Bekescsaba and the Slovak Documentation Centre
in Budapest. All these institutions offer new job opportunities to young
Slovaks living in Hungary.

Agreement on the conveyance of a holiday home to the Croatian community
of Hungary

In July 2003, Croatia conveyed to the Croatian community living in
Hungary a holiday home situated on the Adriatic island Pag for a 20-year
free use. The related agreement was signed by Croatian Deputy Prime
Minister Goran Granic and the President of the Croatian National
Self-Government Mihaly Karagics in Zagreb. To be used as a centre for
further training, a youth camp and a holiday home, this institution will
serve the educational and cultural activities of Croatians of Hungary
and will promote the preservation of their national identity, mother
tongue and traditions in a native language linguistic environment. The
two Governments will contribute to the expenses of the renovation work
of the holiday home that will be maintained in the future by the
Croatian National Self-Government.
Surveys on prejudices 

 A recent survey conducted by the Institute GfK Hungaria among young
people aged 14-24 has shown that this generation is less biased against
minorities than that of their parents. It has been found that there is
practically no difference between young skilled workers and university
students or between teenagers and the twenty-something. The most
significant difference in the level of tolerance could be discovered
between provincials and the inhabitants of the capital city: the
Budapest youth are more tolerant. 

For ten years, the Hungarian Gallup Institute has been conducting a
survey on prejudices against the Jews and the Roma within the Hungarian
population. The questions asked and the methods used were identical
every year, which guaranteed the comparability of the data. The survey
could only cover openly admitted prejudices since the more complex
socio-psychological assessment of hidden prejudices would have been much
more expensive. According to the Gallup survey, during the past ten
years openly admitted anti-Semitic feelings decreased from 14-15 to 6-7
per cent, and anti-Semitic attitude is becoming less and less
acceptable. On the other hand, anti-Roma feelings have also
significantly decreased (from 42% to 37%). Altogether 1012 adult
citizens from 69 settlements were involved in the survey; their
composition (gender, age groups, types of settlements) exactly followed
the composition of the adult population of Hungary.

EU Commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou meets Minister Katalin Levai

At the beginning of October, Hungarian Minister for Equal Opportunities
Katalin Levai reported in Brussels to European Commissioner responsible
for Employment and Social Affairs Anna Diamantopoulou about Hungarian
programmes launched with the aim of promoting equal opportunities and
social inclusion. The commissioner greeted the efforts of the Hungarian
government in this field. Katalin Levai informed the commissioner about
the work of her Office and about the philosophy that constitutes the
basis of these activities. She reported about the joint initiative of
the Office and the Ministry of Education aimed at eliminating the
practice of placing Roma children in special schools or classes
maintained for slightly mentally handicapped children, and she spoke
also about the programme called "digital secondary school" in the
framework of which youngsters who dropped out of secondary education are
enabled to catch up thanks to distance learning and the network of

Equal treatment bill presented to Parliament

After its approval by the Government in September 2003, Hungarian
Parliament started to debate the bill on equal treatment and equal
opportunities presented by the Ministry of Justice. The bill aims at
providing a more accurate regulation of the prohibition of direct and
indirect discrimination, and institutionalises the enforcement of this
prohibition. The bill also contains the reversal of the burden of proof.
A public body should be set up to consider and sanction cases of

Conference on equal employment opportunities
On 13-14 October, the Ministry of Labour and Employment and the
Governmental Office for Equal Opportunities organised a two-day
conference in Budapest on Hungary's participation in the EQUAL European
Community Initiative. Since 2000, more than 1,300 projects have been
launched in the framework of the EQUAL Programme in the 15 EU member
countries, most of them are characterized by an innovative approach.
Thanks to Phare financing, Hungary can take part in the programme on an
experimental basis. The aim of the conference was to prepare Hungarian
organisations for submitting applications and to help them to draft
successful project proposals. 

Affirmative action proposed in higher education

According to a conception of the Ministry of Education published in the
September dailies, from 2005 on, socially disadvantaged students may get
admitted to universities and colleges with a lowered (80%) threshold.
The Ministry has proposed the amendment of the Government Decree related
to admission in higher education. The amendment would concern only a
small number of youngsters: those who were brought up in state care,
whose parents completed only primary education and whose families were
entitled to regular child protection allowance. The proportion of
students admitted to universities in this way should not be higher than
20%. The conception makes no difference between youngsters of different
ethnic origin, but representatives of the Ministry of Education have not
denied that this measure would be primarily meant to improve the chances
of Roma youth. Both experts and politicians agree that helping socially
disadvantaged students is a priority, but several of them do not
consider the proposal as the ideal solution to reach this goal.
University rectors were divided about the proposal: some expressed the
view that helping disadvantaged students should begin at a much earlier
phase and such a step would only bring about their stigmatisation, some
others told that inequality of chances has become such a serious problem
that any initiative that might reduce it has to be welcomed. An expert
of the Institute of Educational Research stated that the facilitation of
the start of university education does not guarantee anything in itself
since the dropout rate is precisely the highest among those who have an
unfavourable background. The National Conference of Student
Self-governments is also concerned about the proposal. They think that
students admitted to universities with lower points will anyway have to
cope with the same examinations, or, if not, this will sink the level of
education. The problem raised will probably launch a lengthy debate on
this kind of affirmative action.

Training courses in Romology and Romani language

In October 2003 on, a course of romology was launched at the
Philological Faculty of the Szeged University. The one-year course for
graduates is meant for top officials in state administration, police
leaders and guardianship experts who have to deal with the everyday
problems of the Roma in their work. The course will devote particular
attention to the elimination of prejudices. Another training course of
romology will be soon launched at the Police Academy. 

240 police officers and investigators of Pest County are being trained
in romology and in Romani language at a training course financed by
PHARE and the Ministry of Education from September 2003. At the end of
the course they will pass a language exam at beginners' or intermediate
level. The course comprises a 30-hour conflict management training as
well. The course lasts until May 2004. Language and romology lessons are
taught by Roma lecturers. 

Telework opportunity for Roma

In August 2003, a data recording centre employing 15 Roma started
functioning in Batonyterenye (North-East Hungary). The planning of the
centre began in February, when  the Batonyterenye municipal council
provided the rooms free of charge and the Roma minority Centre of the
town started selecting the most suitable persons from among the 35
candidates. Most of the newly employed are women between 20-40, only two
of them are men. Six persons only attended primary school, five have
completed industrial schools of vocational training and four graduated
from a secondary grammar school. All of them had been unemployed (more
than 25 % of them had been unemployed for more than two years); their
first task now is to record and digitalize the data of the National
Pension Fund.