1 February 2012
Elderly Roma men sit and chat together in the main square in the town of Hodasz, 240 miles east of Budapest, Hungary. (photo: Balazs Gardi/VII Network)
In 2008, we visited a village in Hungary with an unusual blend of cultures:
Hodász is different,“ said Father Tibor Egri, a Greek Catholic priest in this village of some 3,500 people in northeastern Hungary.
What makes Hodász exceptional is not its assorted parishes — Greek and Roman Catholic and Evangelical Protestant — or its mixed population of ethnic Hungarians and Roma, commonly called Gypsies. Rather, it is how these distinct groups have forged a cohesive community.
“People here get along easily,” Father Egri continued. “Many Hungarians associate the Roma with criminal activities. And the media reinforce the stereotypes and feed the prejudices.
“Roma here,” he added, “tend to be more ‘Hungarian,’ which makes it easier.“
With up to 800,000 Roma now living in the country — between 5 and 10 percent of the overall population — Hungary typifies the Romany experience as a disenfranchised minority and yet offers hope for greater Romany social and political inclusion.
For generations, Hungary’s Roma have endured institutionalized discrimination in education, housing and employment. Societal prejudices run deep as well; hate crimes against Roma remain relatively common. But this central European nation’s Roma enjoy better legal protection and greater representation in government than most Romany populations in other European nations of the former Communist bloc.
Roma, who now make up nearly half the village population, have lived in Hodász at least since 1820, when local authorities recorded the first Romany baptism.
As in the rest of Europe, Roma now constitute the fastest-growing ethnic group in Hungary; one out of every five or six newborns is Roma. In Hodász, however, all villagers tend to have small families, which usually include no more than two children.
Read more in the story Our Town.
Tags: Hungary Central Europe