Challenges for the Roma in Hungary
By Agnés Hanulané Kurdi
Throughout Europe, members of each country’s major ethnic population are aging and declining in number, while the Roma population continues to grow. In Hungary, for example, the Roma are now a 700,000-person minority, making up almost 10 percent of the total Hungarian population. But because Roma families traditionally have more children than other European ethnic groups, their population numbers are on the rise.
Since the Soviet rule of Hungary ended, the Roma there have been forced into very difficult economic situations. Because most of them are uneducated, most are also unemployed or underemployed. Those who work in illegal jobs are especially vulnerable, being paid under the table. The hopelessness of the unemployed Roma men leads many of them to addiction, especially alcoholism, while the women bear the burden of caring for not only the children but the whole family, often relying on extremely low levels of income.
Living in Deepest Poverty
The Roma age quickly. To be “Gypsy” in Hungary usually means living in deepest poverty, without any hope that your life will ever improve, or even that life can improve for your children. It means that you will probably die at a relatively young age and that your family will endure many diseases without having access to medical attention.
The Roma live mostly in hidden places, often without electricity or clean water. They endure not only poverty but also the ever-increasing prejudice against them in mainstream Hungarian society, which has grown more intolerant. As a result, the Roma suffer both isolation and humiliation.
Strengths of Roma Culture
The Roma currently lack the means to enter the mainstream. For real integration into society, Roma children would need socialization in a positive environment that encourages their development and provides them with a good education.
Most Roma have strong family ties and relationships. They are used to thinking as a community rather than setting individual goals. They like to solve problems together. In a modern world where children already deal with a lot of stress, we can learn a lot from people who value togetherness and human contact more than individual accomplishment.
Roma families delight in a newborn. Their infants receive a lot of physical warmth and attention. There is always someone in the family who will care for the smallest family member.
The Methodist Commitment
The United Methodist Church in Hungary has been working with the Roma for decades. We have some congregations that consist almost exclusively of Roma. We consider our mission with them to be extremely important. But since the mission places a great financial burden on the church districts that undertake it, the whole Hungarian United Methodist Church will have to undergird it. We need both social workers and social programs if we are to achieve real and lasting change in the lives of our Roma brothers and sisters.
Agnés Hanulané Kurdi, a member of the United Methodist Church in Budapest, is a social worker whose work focuses on low-income children and their families. This article first appeared in the May-June 2013 issue of New World Outlook.
The Roma congregation in Alsózsolca first began in the 1950s, reaching out to children and gathering in families through its children's ministry.
Photo: Jan Snider
A Roma household in Alsózsolca, Hungary.
Photo: Jan Snider
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