Last week, POLITICO ran a misleading opinion piece from Amnesty International about the plight of Roma in Hungary. The editor's published my response, which I re-post here below.
In its recent opinion piece, “The Roma people’s Hungarian hell” (January 25 2017), Amnesty International misled readers and exploited Hungary’s most vulnerable ethnic group to advance its own agenda.
Since 2010, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has done more for the integration of the country’s Roma population than any of his predecessors. Previous, Socialist-led governments viewed the communities’ social issues as line items on the agenda but failed to counter anti-Roma sentiment.
Orbán’s administration has outlawed paramilitary organizations that intimidated Roma communities. In the new Fundamental Law, we banned hate speech against communities and individuals. The neo-Nazis who perpetrated the crimes referred to in the article were arrested and sentenced, and the victims’ relatives were given financial compensation under the current government.
To counter early drop-out rates, we introduced compulsory pre-school attendance, raising the enrollment rate of Roma children to 79 percent. Children from families that struggle to provide regular meals have access, free of charge, to the nutrition they need at nurseries, kindergartens and schools, and are given free textbooks. Classes on Roma history and culture are now part of the national curriculum.
The government’s public employment program, which also provides participants with Roma mentors, has succeeded in reintegrating many into the labor market, even in families where unemployment spans generations.
During Hungary’s presidency of the Council of the EU in 2011, this government elevated the issue of Roma communities to the European level by pushing member states to accept a joint European Roma Strategy.
Unfortunately, readers will not learn any of this from Amnesty’s article. The author quoted Orbán out of context when she cited him referring to Roma as “Hungary’s historical given.” The article also failed to note that the prime minister has said Roma integration issues must take priority over accepting migrants and neglected to mention that he referred to the Roma as Hungary’s “hidden potential.”
As a strident critic of this government’s firm stance against illegal immigration, Amnesty International is not interested in a balanced discussion. Their analysis begins with their conclusions then endeavors to find supporting facts.
As a former state secretary for social inclusion, I know well that Hungary’s Roma still face serious challenges. Decades-old problems cannot be solved in less than seven years of government. But we have already accomplished far more than any of the preceding governments in the past 30 years.