roma, gypsies, Europe, Italy
Vadim Ghirda/AP
A Romanian Roma child wipes her face during celebrations on April 8, 2008, of
the International Roma Day in Bucharest, Romania.

FBI to Investigate Anti-Roma Crimes in Hungary

May 06, 2009 11:30 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Hungarian officials have asked the FBI for help solving a recent spate of murders and violent attacks directed against the Roma minority.

FBI Agrees to Help Hungarian Law Enforcement

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has agreed to aid Hungarian law enforcement in investigating violence against the Roma people, Hungary Police Chief Jozsef Bencze, announced Monday on Hungarian public television.

Hungarian officials have been investigating 17-18 related cases of anti-Roma violence in the past 18 months, including five murders since November. They believe that the murders were committed by the same group and have offered a reward of 50 million forints ($235,000) for the identity of the murderers.

Following the latest attack, the murder of a 54-year-old Roma man shot outside his home on April 22, law enforcement officials speculated that the perpetrators may have a military background because they “have been suspiciously good shots.”

The Roma people, also known as gypsies, have historically been targets for violence and discrimination in many Eastern and Central European countries. “Denied their rights to housing, employment, healthcare and education, Roma are often victims of forced evictions, racist attacks and police ill-treatment,” writes the Dzeno Association, a Roma advocacy group. “Living predominantly on the margins of society, Roma are among the most deprived communities in Europe.”

In Hungary, where the Roma make up approximately 6 percent of national population, there has been a rise in anti-Roma violence as the economy has declined. The Roma have been targeted as scapegoats for the country’s problems and attacked by far right wing organizations such as the Hungarian Guard, a paramilitary group.

Roma leaders say that if police cannot stop the attacks on the Roma community, it is likely that some Roma men may retaliate. “It is important to know that it is hard for us to keep holding our people back,” said Mihaly Balogh, local leader of the National Roma Council in Tiszalok. “I tell everyone that we have a police force that is there to protect us … But if the murders are not solved soon, it will be very difficult to stop people from acting.”

Hungarian Justice Minister Tibor Draskovics declared Monday that the police, who already have 100 people working on the case, were committed to finding the perpetrators with the help of the FBI. According to Agence France-Presse, he said that “no means and resources are too expensive to investigate this crime series.”

Background: The Roma people

While genetic evidence points to the Roma originating from the north of India centuries ago, they have been present across Europe since the 14th century, with a concentration in what is now known as Eastern Europe.

Although no written history of the Roma exists, linguistic and genetic evidence suggest that the Roma emerged from the Punjab peoples of Northern India, but were forced out of the area for unknown reasons.

In the centuries since, the Roma people have moved west across Europe, often adapting their language and religion to accommodate the local region, while retaining a shared level of tradition.

This time has also been marked by long periods of exclusion and persecution including institutional efforts to eradicate or enslave the Roma population or separate them from society. These latter efforts have left many living in “apartheid-like” communities without electricity, running water or education.

More extreme measures came in the form of forced sterilization programs and a systematic effort to remove the Roma population from Nazi-controlled lands during World War II, resulting in the deaths of 1.6 million people.

Today, the official population of Roma in Europe stands around 7 million, though estimates put it closer to 15 million with reports that many Roma avoid reporting their ethnicity for fear of discrimination.

Living conditions and access to basic public services, such as education, have been cited as being beyond a point of crisis.

This most recent spate of anti-Roma activity comes halfway through the Decade for Roma Inclusion—a multinational effort to improve the living conditions and increase opportunities for Romani across the continent.

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