This Article was translated from 168ora.hu by LMP. See bellow for citation.
-“It’s hard to fight against stereotypes when we are living in a society which supports the ideals of unfairness and leaving those in need to themselves” said Szombati Kristóf, LMP member, in our interview. As LMP’s coordinator for Roma Politics, he also told us that Politics Can Be Different (LMP) has finalized its “color blind” program, which applies to Roma and non-Roma the same; it puts poverty in the center of the program. Szombati Kristóf believes that the past’s liberals were completely blind to the problems of, and problems stemming from, poverty, thus the anger and disappointment felt by many is justified.
Commentators will claim that you are a liberal city boy, who has no inside perspective as to what life is like in, for example, a small Szabolcs town—towns where “the Roma are stealing the neighbors’ vegetation.” You will be especially hammered because of your responsibility for LMP’s Roma program.
It’s true that I live in Pasaret, and that that’s where I began my journey; however, in the past couple of years I have worked in the rural areas of Mezőcsáti as a community developer. This entails helping the local Roma community overcome some of their most difficult obstacles. I’ve been interested in those in poverty and the Roma for a quite a while now. I saw into their everyday problems, and into how Roma Hungarians and non-Roma Hungarians live together in one community. Not to mention the fact that my degree is in sociology, and thus I can look at these problems from a different perspective. These two legitimize my role in creating the Roma program for LMP. Of course I didn’t do it alone.
The program is probably about security for, and regulation of, the Roma problem…
Not really… The whole program is built on a basic view. In the past twenty years, our government, especially the socialist-liberal parties, have made an enormous mistake in separating those being treated with prejudice and discrimination and those in extreme poverty. Today, it has become clear that these two things are not independent of each other.
How should we interpret this?
If the situation with the minority stagnates, you cannot convince the majority to change its opinion of the minority. For example: if our fellow non-Roma citizens see that the Roma cannot advance from one step to the next, then they will refuse to change their attitude towards the Roma, which is infinitely important in bringing about equality and success for the Roma in our society. It’s hard to fight against stereotypes when we are living in a society which supports the ideals of unfairness and leaving those in need to themselves.
Let me go further; how are they being left to themselves, if they are given new houses, after they have ruined their last ones? If they continuously receive aid? If they continuously beg for aid?
Clearly, there are Roma like these as well. This is where the media has a negative effect—we don’t see “normal” Roma on our TV screens—as the Roma from Borsod have told me. “Normal” Roma do exist, and there are a lot of them. They encompass the majority of Roma. There are invisible walls that have been built around them. These walls are social and economic barriers; ones which we do not see, but ones that considerably hinder them from being properly accepted by our society. In the eastern part of the country, jobs are so scarce that even if someone wants to work, they rarely can. This is partially because of failed politics. In the past twenty years we haven’t had a government program that has thoroughly thought through or executed a development program that would take advantage of the large available labor force.
Many would say the Roma refuse to work…
They’d be wrong. In the 1970s the percentage of Roma men who worked was very similar to the percentage of non-Roma men; today this has dropped from 85% to under 30%. The reason is economical, and has nothing to do with them being Roma. It’s crucial that we understand the Roma’s past, and all of the experiences they have had. These experiences are invisible influences that are implanted in Roma—and non-Roma—who are in deep poverty. Today’s Roma’s parents are in the generation that grew up during the ’70s. They had some sort of expertise, and, usually, work. This world fell apart in ’89. Opportunity stopped knocking on doors for them, and all of the doors closed. Why would today’s Roma youth think that it’s worth it for them to study, if their fathers, who did study—or at least had a trade—lost their job and are incapable of finding work anywhere else? This is true for all those in mass poverty, not just the Roma.
Why should the majority help these people, when the average Hungarian has enough problems for him/her self?
If the situation worsens for the majority, it worsens for the minority. The economic recession is felt by the majority, but even more by the minority. This is universal. What happened? In the past ten years real wages barely grew, while many people had to work more hours for the same wage. Meanwhile, we didn’t address the issue of employee rights. The liberal elites, who had influence over these socio-economic processes, were completely blind to these problems. People are more and more frequently alienated. There is growing anger against these groups of elites. We can’t continue this.
What should these liberal elites have done to change everything?
The last administration did not deal with poverty, yet set an impression that they spent a considerable amount on the integration of the Roma. This is why to many people it seemed as if the government only cared about the Roma. This, especially to those who were in poverty themselves, was rather infuriating. We have to change.
With a program that provides equal opportunity to the Roma and non-Roma poor, and to the lower middle class. We’ve never tried anything like this. This requires a new economic system. We have to step beyond polarized politics; we need to get past the politics that acts as if it understands that we are all responsible for the future of the minority, yet abolishes the welfare system and discontinues public services. These two acts are hurting the poorest of the poor. We can’t pretend that they have a chance of pulling out of poverty. Our pretending leads to many blaming the poor on stereotypical intrinsic characteristics. We need a new socio-economic program.
Will this take away from the momentum of Jobbik?
The best way to fight against the radical right is to have parties that safeguard social equality and fair democracy. These parties do not exist today. LMP aspires to become one of those parties. We need to start a conversation with workers in the lower middle class; workers who believe that the current administration only helped the Roma and disregarded average Hungarians. This belief is actually completely false.
Really? It seems that every magazine and newspaper has a story on how much we are spending on integration.
Let’s look at reality. According to ÁSZ, we spend thirty billion forints (110 million Euros) a year on integration. Compare this to cultural grants, which alone cost the state more than 100 billion forints (380 million Euros).
And the aid?
Forty to fifty billion forints a year (~140 million Euros). This is merely 1% of the welfare spending. It’s incomparable to the total budget. It is true that a quarter of this is given to the Roma, but in contrast with the 160 billion forints (600 million Euros) given out in housing aid, which is mostly spent on the middle and upper classes, this amount is a joke. The puzzle pieces don’t fit. How are the Roma taking advantage of the welfare state?
Nevertheless, it’s easier to make it into the European Parliament, or, later, into the National Assembly playing the blame game. Why would it be in the interest of the majority? Why would they want to support such a program?
There are two paths. One path, Jobbik’s, is detrimental to everyone in the long run. I’ll put it in layman’s terms: it’s expensive in every way. What do we know about their program? Let’s take away the family aid, and family grants. Instead we should give these out with “tax breaks.” This would result in the poor getting poorer, which would force them to steal electricity or lumber to keep warm. Jobbik’s next proposal is to increase spending on security to combat crime. In other words, let’s make criminals out of the poor and then put them in jails.
Which are too densely occupied as it is…
That’s why it isn’t a solution. Taking care of one prisoner is many times more expensive than the aid program we have in place. Not only is this path more expensive, but it is also very dangerous. Someone who, in this situation, acts in a manner that increases tensions [between the two ethnicities] is incredibly irresponsible. It’s impossible to predict what would result.
Very few see it your way; if a Roma steals your crops or lumber, what other “path” can you consider?
We should put effort into creating color-blind opportunity building programs; ones which can be easily kept track of. Change is not only in the hands of the majority. The new Roma middle class and intellectuals will also have to take a responsible role. They have to help in pulling out other Roma from the prison cells of ethnic tension. For this to happen, they need to end their pessimistic and hopeless cultural attitude.
With so little money, how can we hope for any of this?
The type of socio-economic reform we are suggesting is vastly different from anything we have seen in the past twenty years. Our solution lies in a green revolution. For example, if the state put money into updating panel apartments, thousands of jobs would be created for those in poverty; the cost of heating would be lowered for many in the lower middle class; and the program will help push our economy back on track. Another project proposes building environmentally friendly ways of transportation, instead of highways. Instead of investing in cement, we could invest in people—their education. I won’t talk too much about this, but money is continuously being taken away from schools. Our goal should be to train with talented and intelligent instructors. We have to center our education system around an eco-smart, integrated system. We believe that even though there are fewer and fewer children, the same portion of the GDP should go towards education.
How do we explain this to the voters? Will LMP be capable against these odds?
We have to communicate to everyone that there’s no other solution. Hatred has a cost. Our program won’t hurt as much as people think. It doesn’t require tax hikes, rather, a tax reform. We want to put most of the burden on those who are most capable of helping. A lot of the cost will be absorbed by the European Union and grants we receive from them. As another source of funding, we have to stop excess accumulation of wealth, excess consumption, and excess waste.
Most people don’t want to hear any of this. Afterall, “we are living worse off than four years ago.”
Let me continue. Instead of spending on huge corporations, we should give breaks to small businesses. We have to do something anyways—there’s a huge gap between multinational corporations and small businesses. We don’t need to spend 180 billion forints (700 million Euros) on a prospective Mercedes factory in an area where our greatest problem is desertification. We also need to cut income taxes. Hopefully this will create jobs and speed up the economy. We aren’t saying we should ostracize these massive corporations; we just have to end the unfair competition and level the playing field. They aren’t providing us with nearly enough jobs; the profits are going outside of the country. Behind the opportunity-creating program—the one that will strive to end Roma and non-Roma poverty and tension—there’s a complete economic policy reform.
Article translated from 168ora.hu:
Csák, Gergely. “Nem áll össze a kép: hogy nyúlják le így a cigányok a jóléti államot?” 168 óra. Január 14,2010. http://www.168ora.hu/itthon/cigany- eloitelet-kisebbseg-lehet-mas-a-politika-jobbik-49612.html
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