Burial of Robert Csorba and his son, in Tatarszentgyörgy, 3 march 2009 (AFP)

Dark secret of town's anti-Roma attacks

In the seemingly law abiding town of Tatarszentgyörgy, prejuduces against the Roma communinty have spilled over into violence. It would seem that even the local police are complicit in attacks on families, which has prompted the national government to collaborate with the FBI to catch the perpetrators. But this is not an isolated example, the political trend suggests that anti-Roma racism is on the increase.

Published on 18 August 2009 at 16:41
Burial of Robert Csorba and his son, in Tatarszentgyörgy, 3 march 2009 (AFP)

A passing tourist, might come away with quite a good impression of Tatarszentgyörgy. Like their fellow citizens in many other Hungarian towns and villages, the locals here have launched an extensive renovation programme, aided by grants from Brussels. It also appears to be a law-abiding place with a sign to remind visitors that a "citizens' watch" operates in the town, but the trouble in Tatarszentgyörgy stems from the fact that the community patrols are apparently unable to do anything to halt a tide of anti-Roma violence, nor were they capable of intervening on 23 February when an attack on a Roma family claimed the lives of two victims, a father and his five-year-old child.

"They always attack the poorest ones, who live on the outskirts of the village on the edge of the woods, " explains a spokesman for the Roma community in Budapest. In one street, where ethnic Hungarian and Roma families live side by side, a local man showed us the charred shell of a yellow-walled house — all that remains of the home of Robert Csorba, who lived there with his wife and three children. At one o'clock in the morning on 23 February, the Csorba's home went up in flames. The family fled from the house and tried escape into the woods, but they were shot down by bursts of gunfire. Robert, aged 27, and his son were killed instantly. His wife and two daughters suffered serious burns. An investigation conducted by the town's police concluded that the fire was caused by a short circuit, and that the victims had died from their burns. The government had to intervene, and turn the case over to a group of detectives from Budapest for an impartial investigation, which from the outset focused on extreme-right fanatics and "gypsy loan sharks".

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Why the increase in anti-Roma sentiment?

Over the past 12 months, Hungary has been swept by a wave of extreme anti-Roma violence, and eight people have been killed in organized attacks resembling the Tatarszentgyörgy murders. Frankfurter Rundschau reports that Hungary's police force, which has been accused of anti-Roma prejudice, initially denied the existence of a link between the murders, but now admits that the killings may be racially motivated. More than 100 investigators have been mobilized and authorities are offering a reward of 370,000 euros to anyone who can provide information on the perpetrators. Profilers from the American FBI, who are assisting in the case, believe the killers were professionally trained in the use of firearms and may be "ex-military or ex-police personnel, hunters, or former members of the French Foreign Legion." In the meantime, pressure is mounting on the 600,000 members of Hungary's Roma community. Rendered vulnerable by the economic crisis, they are a target for Jobbik and the Hungarian Guard's relentless "gypsy crime" propaganda, which aims to undermine their civil rights. The German daily reports that this campaign has begun to bear fruit — "according to polls, 50% of Hungarians believe that the Roma have a genetic predisposition to crime."

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