The Roma Strategy

NT: What have been the results of your first months in office?

ZB: The first result – and this is a very important one for Hungary, not just for me personally – has been the creation of the European Framework for Roma Integration. In our presidency of the EU last year we decided to give this the highest priority – to make a European framework for Roma strategy, because we think this is not only a problem for Hungary and its neighbours, but for Europe as a whole. More than 10 million Roma are European citizens, and they are in a very difficult situation. The majority has problems with this minority as well, so we declared this a problem facing the whole of Europe. The Commission in Brussels, as well as the member states were ready to accept this, and in June 2011 the European Council decided to make it an obligation for all member states to draw up a national inclusion strategy. This was in the first half of last year. The second half was taken up by the preparation and the management of our own national strategy – not only for Roma, but also for people in extreme poverty, and for children. Because children’s poverty, not only in Hungary but in Central and Eastern Europe is a huge problem for the children themselves and for the future of our society. We had a very good and very wide process of cooperation and consultation, with NGOs, with churches, with Roma organisations, not only in Hungary but in Germany and in the Western Balkans, which is a very important direction. I am proud of the fact that the Hungarian government accepted this without a single vote against a strategy of more than 300 pages. This is not only a strategy for the next 8 years, until 2020, but also an action plan for the next 2 and a half years, for the remaining term in office of our government, with concrete aims, concrete target groups, and concrete sums of money, a financial framework and responsibilities, and a concrete timetable.

NT: How will the strategy be monitored?

ZB: This will be done by Roma organisations, and European institutions. I think it is a very transparent and very clear message about what we want to do and how to measure success and failure. This is not simply another pile of papers, but a real analysis of the situation. Even opposition commentators and experts have acknowledged our work as the best analysis of extreme poverty in disadvantaged territories in the last twenty years

We have a map, for example, of deep poverty of Roma communities, a crisis map. This is an important step to localise the problem and the target groups for our programmes. At the same time we continued our programmes and collected recent programmes for Roma and non-Roma people living in disadvantaged situations. Our scholarship programme is the largest for children in elementary school and secondary school in the last 20 years. We have reached more than 20,000 pupils with this scholarship programme. It is a new method, because we want to see results from their side. So more activity in this scholarship programme, and also the employment, the official labour programmes of the government, the so-called Public Work Programmes, created by the state, also started last year.

NT: In your previous interview in the Hungarian Review in November 2010, you spoke about your hopes to create 100,000 jobs for the Roma. Could you point to a workplace for a Roma person in Hungary today which would not be there had it not been for your efforts?

ZB: Creating jobs is a difficult task, because as a state we cannot create workplaces in the private sector. Of course we can support the local economy and the social economy, and enterprises, but our task is to give possibilities to work to people who have no possibilities on the free labour market. And in these programmes we have a new line with Roma and non-Roma people alike, and in the last year this served as a model and an experimental programme. We involved between 8,000 and 10,000 Roma in the labour world in the last year. This year we want a figure of 20,000.

NT: You mean in the Government Work Programme?

ZB: Yes. The Government Work Programme is a very simple formulation, but it is a very differentiated project. We have these programmes in three different groups. One is for the local authorities, the municipalities planning to start programmes for their own local citizens who have no jobs. Community work at a local level, managed by the local councils is thus one type of so-called public work. Another is when the state, in the framework of state services has the possibility to use this labour power of the people. And the third area – where we have much to do – is when the state gives the possibility of projects to the private sector. This comes with an obligation – you get the contract, but 20 per cent of employees have to be Roma or people from disadvantaged situations.

NT: To what extent does the success of this Government Work Programme depend on the goodwill of the local municipal councils? If a local mayor does not like the Roma, can he make this programme either unworkable or unpleasant for the Roma there?

ZB: This is a real problem. But I think the majority of mayors are ready to cooperate, because this is in their interest. There are some mayors from the extreme Jobbik party who are not willing to cooperate in this programme, or do cooperate, but use the programme to humiliate Roma or simply as a tool to discipline them and insult their human dignity. But this is very short-term thinking. Perhaps they feel satisfied at the beginning that they are able to “discipline” the Roma in this way, but this is not cooperation, it is not a good start to working together over the coming weeks or months or year. But the majority of mayors and municipalities are very glad to have this possibility. The money comes from the state, they simply have to organise these programmes, and with this work they can manage some problems for which they would otherwise not have had the funds available. And the labour force is there and willing. We have both positive and negative experiences so far, but this is only one part of the whole programme. The other parts – work in state services or job opportunities in the private sector – are also very important.

NT: So it can work as a stepping stone to longer-term employment?

ZB: Yes, this is the next step. And the additional programme, the task of our office, is the training programme. Everybody who participates in this programme, who has not finished school, has the possibility to finish elementary school free of charge, and to receive additional training. This also means the chance to learn professional skills, for which they will receive a certificate. Thus, on the free labour market, they will have better chances after taking part in this programme. So this is not only a work but also a training programme. General education – to learn to read and write for those who cannot – but also a chance to learn professional skills.

NT: To what extent do all your plans depend on economic growth? How can a government at a time of threatening recession, fund ambitious programmes of social inclusion?

ZB: How to move the national economy in a positive direction is a real problem. But this is a problem which confronts not only Hungary, but the whole of Europe. We have the money for these Public Work Programmes, and these aim not so much to generate economic growth, but rather to involve people, and draw them out of this hopeless inactivity. These programmes aim to turn passive people into active people. That is the first result. And the influence of economic growth is not so high – this is more a question of mental socialisation.

NT: You have also said before that you are trying not only to change the attitude of the majority towards the Roma, but also to change the attitude of the Roma towards the majority. Do you see any sign of that happening, and what has been the feedback from the Roma communities to the different projects you have been pushing through?

ZB: The history of the co-habitation of Roma and non-Roma Hungarians is 500 years old in Europe. The last 300 years of living together and not living together are documented. And in the context of that, the last year and a half is a very short time. From my own experience as State Secretary, I witness better and better cooperation, for example with the National Roma Council. We have a new quality of cooperation. The Roma Council has representatives in all state programmes – work, education, housing, health-care programmes. In every kind of programme which the state offers to the Roma and non-Roma, we have a representative of the National Roma Council. This council is elected with the votes of more than 130,000 Roma, so this is a body with very strong legitimacy, a political body with which we have a real partnership. We work together, and we have learnt a lot in the Ministries – in each we have our Roma colleagues whose job is to coordinate programmes. That is why I speak about a new quality of cooperation in the state and in the government bodies. How to expand this into the country as a whole is more difficult. I hope nevertheless that this form of cooperation will spread a new image, a new face of Roma–non-Roma cooperation.

NT: And the churches?

ZB: Another important step which we spoke about one and a half years ago is the cooperation with the churches. I think the churches are more and more aware of their own job in this case. Because the churches are for humanity and for real partnership, and they can send good messages. We created a Roma Coordination Council, also to control our strategy and our action plan, to carry out monitoring and to consult our own programmes. The RCC has 27 members from different parts of society, from government and so on. The majority are Roma organisations, but the churches, the Academy of Sciences, the Employers’ Organisation, the organisations of the Alliance of Local Communities and the government are also represented there. The churches are represented at the highest level. Church leaders gave a clear indication that it is our job to learn together and to spend more time together, Roma and non-Roma in Hungary.

NT: You have also spoken beforehand about the past withdrawal of the state from certain areas of life, including caring for the Roma. To what extent is what you are doing now a “return of the state” to the poor villages where the majority of the Roma live in ghettos? Is the state, in your eyes, re-assuming responsibility for the Roma?

ZB: The most important actors in this game for the Roma are the state and the government. One of the most important steps was that the Prime Minister personally went to the Roma Council and signed an agreement. In the agreement there are clear targets, and clear figures about employment, about jobs, about education, about health-care, about community centres, about cultural activities with clear responsibilities – I think it was a very important message to the Roma population: you are important to us, we know what our responsibility is. And it was also a message to the majority – the Roma “problem” is not just a problem to us but also a chance, to have more employees, not only in Hungary but also at the European level – so it is an economic question. It is clear that integration is a positive thing, rather than playing with the negative attitudes of the Hungarian population against the Roma. This was a very important and clear message. And the cooperation with the Roma Council – not only on the national level but also on the regional level and local level is more and more intense. There are more than 6,000 representatives of local Roma councils, and they are our most important partners. It is their job to present to us the Roma in our mixed social and labour programmes. This is the classic question – only programmes for Roma, or mixed programmes for people who live on the same social level? And we have a mixed form of programmes, explicitly but not exclusively for the Roma. This is a good principle from the European Union, which means that all the programmes are open for everybody who lives in the same social situation, at the same level, but we give a guarantee that in these programmes a quota of Roma can be active. And concerning this quota, about who can be Roma, and who is a Roma, and how many Roma can be active in a concrete programme, and who represents the Roma – this role of the Roma communities and leaders is very important. So they represent their own people, they control their own people, and we give them the chance and the control of the cooperation.

NT: Jobbik based their success in the last election on an anti-Roma platform. In the countryside Fidesz is competing with Jobbik for votes. Alongside your social inclusion programme, your government also has a strong law and order message in those same villages. How do those two messages dovetail? And would you say you are appealing for the votes of Roma and non-Roma alike?

ZB: I think not only Fidesz has to fight for votes in the villages of Hungary against Jobbik. Every other party has this task and the voters who go to Jobbik used to vote for the Socialists. They voted for the Socialists for 20 years because they are young people without jobs in the villages in a hopeless situation, and they are afraid of falling to the same level of poverty as the Roma. So it is a rivalry in poverty, of victims, a rivalry between the losers of the past 20 years. This is the problem. And hate-crime and hate-speech and these negative attitudes came out of this hopeless situation. So I think we do not have a fight only against Jobbik, but we have a fi ght also against hopeless situations, against deep poverty, and to give a chance to these people to show a new reality to them – not only negative attitudes or hate-speech or hate-thinking. The question of law and order and giving positive chances to these people is not a contradiction for me. We also need even so-called negative instruments, to push these people from an inactive to an active situation, to have their own responsibility for their own lives. It is a very important step. You need also negative instruments. It is a classic formula – conditional money. Family support can be received if the children go to school. And if they don’t go to school the money is over. On the one side is this law and order, and on the other side, to give more chances – the scholarship programme with mentoring. We have extra services for children who live in deep poverty in disadvantaged situations, so that is the positive side of the same thing, which is social inclusion. For me as a theologian, this formulation from John Calvin who created the Reform Church, who spoke about “strong love”, is of utmost significance. To be strong and to be clear about the responsibility from the side of the state, and the responsibility from the side of the citizens is important. Also to give positive ideas and chances for these people. This public work programme is important in this case, and it is clear that Roma want to work, and they do work. It is also clear that we are waiting for real results from their side. And if we can present these real results from the Roma side, then it is a clear argument to show that integration has a chance, and only negative ideas have no chance. This is the second point. If Jobbik is going to radicalise their message more and more in the direction of violence, that will be too much for those people who have negative attitudes now. They do not want violence, they want law and order. Sometimes with private guards and paramilitary groups perhaps. But if they see that the state is strong and responsible for law and order, suppressing private paramilitary groups and party armies and so on, it becomes a clear argument for them not to vote for a party which is ready also to play with violence – even if they didn’t use it up to now.

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