Why Hungary's Roma fear for their lives
TATARSZENTGYORGY, HUNGARY – I am standing in a graveyard in central Hungary, surrounded by hundreds of Roma. They are said to be Europe’s most persecuted minority, and today they feel it. For they have gathered to mourn at the freshly dug graveside of a father and his son, burned alive in what is believed to have been a racially motivated attack.
The Roma are here in all their finery. Hundreds of them at a standstill, the surrounding villages bussing them in for this silent display of defiance. The swarthy, moustachioed men in their pinstripe suits and shiny wide-boy shoes. The women in black clustering together among the gravestones, burying their noses in their handkerchiefs or fingering the single white flowers they will leave behind.
An orchestra stumbles through them towards the grave; violinists out in front, clarinets in the middle, the giant double basses lagging at the back. And suddenly the air, ripe with birdsong and the possibility of spring, is filled with a gypsy lament. The violins shimmering with emotion, the double basses murmuring deeply amongst themselves, the clarinets swooping up and down in crazy arpeggios which remind me of the jazz elegies of black New Orleans.
The shared casket is lowered into the grave: Reuters
From the back of the crowd, I can see the occasional tip of a spade as it moves up before emptying its earth down on top of the coffin the man and his son are sharing.
As the crowd wonders whether to drift away now the music has stopped, I ask them whether they fear more such attacks. And when my words are translated, all who can hear them gravely nod their heads.
For Hungary’s Roma are the scapegoats of an economic downturn which has some reminiscing fondly about the bad old days of Communism. And racist incidents are on the rise in a country where unemployment has hit a 10-year high.
“They’ve always hated us,” says one man, “but now there are no jobs, it is even worse. Not as bad as the holocaust, when we were rounded up with the Jews, but the worst we can remember.”
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A few handshakes and brief exchanges of family news perhaps, and the crowd departs. The roads are clogged with their coaches, returning them to remote country villages where life can have changed little in centuries. I stay behind, watching the faces of the family of the dead, confused and wet with tears.
The dark side of this plunge into economic chaos is not merely the city folk walking away from the wreckage with millions they have not earned. It is the Roma, those who never had very much, now fearing for their lives under dull grey central European skies.
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