We do not know exactly when Roma arrived in Hungary. In recent decades the historical literature has identified the earliest source relating to Roma as a document dating from 1416. The document indicates that Roma were already present in Transylvania around 1400. Roma arrived in the Balkan countries in the mid-14th century, moving on to Wallachia, where they are first mentioned in 1385. From Wallachia they migrated to Transylvania. In later centuries too, Roma came from the Romanian principalities to Transylvania and Hungary. Sporadic references to persons named Cigan, Cygan or Chygan or to villages named Zygan can be found in charters from the 13th–14th centuries. In the late 15th century and early 16th century, strengthening fortifications and manufacturing weapons were not the only forms of employment practiced by Roma, for some of them were musicians. By the late 16th century or the early 17th century, Roma had nevertheless reached all parts of Hungary.
Roma immigration started in 16th century and continued throughout 17th centuries and became even more significant in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Roma immigrants were Romani native speakers; they learnt Hungarian after their arrival in the country. Within several generations, their linguistic assimilation was complete and they no longer spoke Romani. Some smaller groups, however, preserved their knowledge of the language. In some counties some Roma continue to speak Romani (the Carpathian dialect) as well as Hungarian.
The Triumph of “Gypsy” Music
Roma musicians had been living in Hungary since the late 15th century. At first, there were only a few of them, but their numbers grew steadily. Still, “gypsy” bands and “gypsy” orchestras did not begin to form until the 18th century. The first gypsy band was founded by Panna Czinka. By the end of the century, a whole series of “gypsy” orchestras had been established. In the initial periods, they were founded by landowners for their own entertainment. Nonetheless, landowners were usually quite willing to support public performances, and they took their orchestras along with them to the national diets. Roma “gypsy” musicians also accompanied their masters into the war of independence of 1848. After the Hungarian defeat, it was time for plaintive merriment; and Roma musicians were in greater demand than ever before.
Following Hungarian independence in 1919, the Hungarian government carried out a series of anti-Roma policies. The Roma were prohibited by bureaucratic obstacles from practicing their traditional trades, and annual police raids on Roma communities were mandated by legislation. During World War II, 28,000 Hungarian Romani were murdered by the Nazis, who worked in conjunction with the Hungarian authorities led by Ferenc Szálasi of the Arrow Cross Party.
Following the establishment of the post-war administration, formal discrimination against the Roma was removed and conditions improved for the Roma population. However, they were still economically disadvantaged and did not benefit from the post-war land reform to the same degree as ethnic Hungarians.
During the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, several thousand Hungarian Roma took part in the uprising, estimated as around 5–8% of revolutionary forces. Among notable Romani figures of the Revolution was Gábor Dilinkó, who fought in the Battle of the Corvin Passage and later on became an artist.
The 1960s and 1970s saw a process of integration of the Roma into Hungarian society, with many Roma becoming more urbanised and leaving their traditional occupations to take industrial jobs. This formed part of a deliberate attempt to integrate the Roma into Hungarian society, by removing the economic and cultural particularities that differentiated them from the majority population. Despite this policy, the Roma still had lower incomes than non-Roma, which was believed to be connected to larger family sizes and their more rural residence pattern. Some Roma continued to participate in the non-state economy, especially music, crafts, horse-trading and commerce, their fortunes rising and falling throughout the Communist era depending on the degree of economic autonomy permitted by the regime. After the fall of Communism, Hungarian Roma suffered disproportionately from the country’s economic collapse, with high unemployment rates accompanied by an increase in anti-Roma racist sentiment.
Current demographic changes in Hungary are characterised by an aging, falling population while the number of people of Romani origin is rising and the age composition of the Romani population is much younger than that of the overall population. Counties with the highest concentration of Romani are Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén and Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg (officially 45,525 and 25,612 people in 2001, respectively), but there are other regions with a traditionally high Romani population like parts of Baranya and the middle reaches of the Tisza valley.
Although they traditionally lived in the countryside, under general urbanization trends from the second half of the 20th century many of them moved into the cities. There is a sizable Romani minority living in Budapest (officially 12,273 people in 2001). The real number of Romani in Hungary is a disputed question. In the 2001 census 205,720 people called themselves Romani, but experts and Romani organisations estimate that there are between 450,000 and 1,000,000 Romani living in Hungary.
Studies from the 1990s show that the majority of Romani in Hungary grow up with Hungarian as their mother tongue. Only about 5% spoke Romani and another 5% spoke Boyash as their mother tongue, with particularly Romani rapidly declining. Boyash is a language related to Romanian and apart from loan words not related to Romani.
During World War II, about 28,000 Romani were killed by the Nazis in Hungary. Since then, the size of the Romani population has increased rapidly. Today every fifth or sixth newborn Hungarian child belongs to the Romani minority. Based on current demographic trends, a 2006 estimate by Central European Management Intelligence claims that the proportion of the Romani population will double by 2050.
In the transition to a market economy, Roma workers were disproportionately likely to lose their jobs, leading to severe economic hardship and social exclusion. The Roma population of Hungary still suffer from an elevated rate of poverty which can only be partly explained by their larger family sizes. The unemployment rate for Roma in 2012 was at least 70%, three to four times that of non-Roma. The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights on Hungary has reported that Roma do not receive equal treatment in employment, while the UN Special Rapporteur on Racism states that, according to NGO’s, the high level of unemployment among Roma is the result of frequent discrimination in the labour market. More than 40% of Roma interviewed in 2012 stated they had suffered racial discrimination, and it is common for Roma who are invited for interview to be told the position has been filled when their ethnicity becomes apparent. Chinese merchants in Hungary often hire Romani women to do work since they do not require high pay. No taxes or social security are present in these arrangements.
The housing conditions of Hungarian Roma are considerably worse than those of non-Roma across a range of indicators of deprivation. Hungarian Roma frequently live in segregated districts of small isolated villages which lack basic services. NGOs, academics and religious organisations working with the Roma report that they are often denied access to public housing, and where government programmes to improve their living conditions exist, they can be impeded by local authorities.
Education of Roma
There is a positive attitude toward inclusive education among all important stakeholders and political structures in Hungary. There is also a history of initiatives and systemic provisions addressing the needs of Roma in education. Furthermore, the country has a strong, active, and well-developed Roma nongovernmental sector, as well as non-Roma human rights civil society organisations. These groups have been helping improve the educational situation of Roma for some time now. Meanwhile, the number of Roma occupying key governmental and county-level positions has increased significantly during the past years. In the last few years, there has been a serious transition in the field of education, which is becoming more and more of a public priority. Roma children in Hungary have full access to education.
The participation rate of Roma is also high, and drop outs only represent a problem at the secondary school level. There is free textbook provision, several social benefits, and scholarship and mentorship assistance available for Roma students. Furthermore, affirmative action is institutionally incorporated in Hungary’s tertiary education, and desegregation is financed from a budgetary provision that gives normative per-capita support for integration. Roma in Hungary are also assisted by EU social funds.
Nonetheless, there are still some systemic weaknesses of the Hungarian education system that need to be tackled, including: Children coming from poor families face serious enrollment barriers that originate from the selective education system, in which schools are encouraged to favor children of good economic standing in making admittance decisions.
This problem manifests itself in the following ways: Roma children’s enrollment in kindergartens and schools is hampered by many factors, such as a lack of available places in class, a lack of public transportation, non-welcoming school management and, in some cases, segregated schools and classes. Poverty constitutes a major obstacle. Roma families in poor rural communities or settlements live far from the good schools. They cannot pay for public transportation to get to the best schools, books, or other education expenses, and scholarships are usually insufficient to cover all costs.
The quality of education provided for Roma children is inadequate and insufficient to ensure their successful completion of higher levels of education. Therefore, Roma children’s educational achievement is low, and their class repetition and drop-out rates are high, especially at the secondary level. Many of them enroll in low-quality schools or vocational schools that do not give students the skills they need to have good prospects for employment.
Teachers’ education, especially at the initial level, does not prepare teachers for working in heterogeneous multicultural classes. The teachers’ education system is predominantly knowledge-oriented and not method-oriented. Although there is a wide range of in-service training available, teachers are free to choose which of these courses the will take. The most popular of these courses are English and information and communication technology, and fewer teachers take those courses that would enable them to work in multicultural environments. Another systemic weakness is the tendency of the different professional committees for assessing learning abilities to place disadvantaged children, in particular Roma children, in special education institutions.
Segregation, in different forms, represents another major issue Roma children have to face in today’s education system in Hungary.
The problem can manifest itself in the following ways: Segregation among schools can be caused by school maintainers who are in favor of keeping separate schools just for Roma children. Spontaneous migration of non-Roma out of an area results in the rise of the proportion of Roma students. Segregation within schools can emerge due to the per-student financing system of education. School administrators are interested in having as many students as possible. Therefore, to prevent the “emigration” of non-Roma children which usually happens as a consequence of the rising proportion of Roma students, some schools set up segregated classes for Roma students. These segregated classes can, in most cases, be found in separate and lower quality buildings.
Segregation occurs in special schools. In practice, special schools and special classes mean students face low expectations, low-level teaching and lower curricula. The proportion of Roma students in special schools is extremely high.
Segregation through exemption from school attendance is a relatively new method of separating Roma children. Many Roma children get classified as study-at-home students who are only obliged to take exams at the end of each semester. This is a common alternative for many Roma children who are at risk of dropping out, but students in such programmes have reduced chances of finishing school.
De facto segregation takes place when Roma children are pushed into short-term vocational schools. Many Hungarian and international reports point out the weaknesses of short-term vocational education. These schools are the last resort for socially and academically excluded young people, many of whom are Roma. The system is disconnected from employers’ needs, with few apprenticeship opportunities and high drop-out rates, i.e. around 20-25 percent in grades nine and 10.
Whereas almost half of Hungarian secondary school students enroll in vocational secondary schools or comprehensive grammar schools, which provide better opportunities, only one in five Romani children does. Moreover, the drop-out rate in secondary schools is significant. Slightly more than 80% of Romani children complete primary education, but only one-third continue studies into the intermediate (secondary) level. This is far lower than the more than 90% of children of non-Romani families who continue studies at an intermediate level. Less than 1% of Romani hold higher educational certificates.
The separation of Romani children into segregated schools and classes is also a problem, and has been on the rise over the past 15 years. Segregated schools are partly the result of «white flight», with non-Romani parents sending their children to schools in neighbouring villages or towns when there are many Romani students in the local school, but Romani children are also frequently placed in segregated classes even within «mixed» schools. In 2016, the European Commission launched infringement proceedings against Hungary for its segregation of Romani children, this followed six incidences in which the Supreme Court of Hungary ruled that school districts had enforced segregation in schools. That year, according to Amnesty International, 45% of Roma children attended segregated schools.
Many other Romani children are sent to classes for pupils with learning disabilities. The percentage of Romani children in special schools rose from about 25% in 1975 to 42% in 1992, with a 1997 survey showing little change; however, a National Institute for Public Education report says that «most experts agree that a good number of Roma children attending special schools are not even slightly mentally disabled».
Supported programmes for disadvantaged and multiply disadvantaged children/pupils -including of Roma children
In public and vocational education institutions and outside them, disadvantaged or multiply disadvantaged children/pupils are supported through the following targeted programmes. Compulsory kindergarten education from the age of three, introduced from September 1, 2015, plays a significant role in equalizing disadvantages.
Methods and programmes applied in institutions
- Integrational Pedagogical System
- Complex Instructions Programme
- Complex Core Programme
- Arany János Programmes
- ‘Útravaló’ (For the Road) Scholarship Programmes
- ‘Dobbantó’ (Springboard) Programme of vocational training schools
Support measures of social institutions
- Sure Start Children Centres
- ‘Tanoda’ programmes (extracurricular learning centres)
- Preventing early school leaving of romany girls
Helping to prevent social exclusion, supporting people with learning difficulties and social disadvantages is not limited within the confines of the public education system. At tertiary level, the benefits determined in public education continue to be provided to students with learning difficulties. Colleges and universities support people in need with scholarships. Support for those, who participates in adult education and training is provided through central institutions at the expense of central support.
Summary of Systemic Strengths and Weaknesses with Regard to Roma Education
In Hungary, there is a widely accepted positive attitude towards integration among all important stakeholders and political structures. There is also a history of initiatives and systemic provisions addressing the needs of Roma in education. Furthermore, a strong and well-developed civil society of Roma NGOs and non-Roma human rights organisations has been addressing Roma education issues for a longer period, and more and more Roma are working at key governmental or county-level positions.
As a result of this, Roma children in Hungary have full access to education. The participation rate of Roma is also high, and the tendency to drop out of the education system starts to surface as a problem only at the secondary school level. There is free textbook provision, several social benefits, and scholarship and mentorship assistance that can be used by Roma students. Furthermore, affirmative action is institutionally set in tertiary education in Hungary and desegregation is financed from a budgetary provision that gives normative per-capita support for integration. Roma in Hungary are also assisted by EU social funds.
Despite the positive aspects mentioned above, the education of Roma in Hungary still faces many systemic weaknesses. The major issues in Roma education in this respect can be summarized as follows:
There are still enrollment barriers for the Roma in Hungary:
- Roma children’s enrollment in kindergarten faces serious barriers, including a lack of places, a lack of public transportation, etc.; school enrollment is not fair due to a system supposedly giving parents free choice of schools, segregation in schools and classes, big differences in the quality of schools, discrimination in categorizing students, and other incidents of discrimination;
- parents and local Roma authorities are not well informed about their options, the existence of better schools, new policies, fellowships, and other vital information; poverty can be a barrier in many ways: Roma families often live far from secondary schools; public transportation, books, and other materials are expensive; scholarships are not enough to cover all of the costs; and the targeting of scholarships is not focused enough.
Many indicators show that the quality of education provided for Roma children is less than adequate – so it cannot ensure their sustained attainment and successful completion of higher levels of education. Factors affecting quality include:
- teachers with low pedagogical-methodological knowledge;
- low expectations;
- a high class repetition rate;
- a high drop-out rate in the secondary level;
- enrolment in poor performing, disadvantaged schools;
- enrolment in vocational schools that train for unattractive vocations for which there is no demand;
- inadequate coverage of after-school support for all students in need.
Most of the active teachers are not trained to teach in a culturally diverse setting, and they cannot overcome their prejudices and stereotypes toward Roma and migrant children. Initial training does not prepare teachers for teaching in heterogeneous classes. The teacher education system is predominantly knowledge-oriented and not method-oriented. This is not compensated by in-service training. Although there is a wide offer of in-service training for practicing teachers, the actual choice among training options is completely free; hence teachers most often choose English and information technology courses.
There are several incompatibilities in the system that hamper the education of Roma:
- Special schools and professional committees for assessing learning abilities, which together decide on placement of children in special education, are often at the same (county) level, thus combining incentives to place Roma children in special education. It is extremely difficult to get from special schools back to mainstream education.
- Evaluation of key elements of the system, such as the schools under the municipal and county education authorities, is undertaken at the municipal or county level. Often, the evaluating agency is paid by the entity being evaluated. Fair evaluation results are therefore hard to find, especially regarding treatment of marginalized groups. There is an urgent need for review of the work of school maintainers (like local government, county government, church, private, foundation, etc.) and evaluation of in-class activity of teachers.