You Don’t Have to Live in the Shadow of Prejudices

Negative experiences and generalizations can build seemingly unbreakable walls around minorities. Social professionals who deal with Romani people on a daily basis talked about tearing down these walls, about the integration of the Roma and about a systematic change.

The seventh roundtable discussion was held between the framework of the Coffee To Go programs under the name About the Roma from First Hand. Those working on the settlements and for associations that help young Romani people tried to show way in one of the currently most important social issues, based on their own experiences and opinions.

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Miklós Vecsei, Kriszta Bódis, Emese Kürti, Krisztina Kovács and Dávid Kiss (Photo: Szabolcs Bánlaki)

While talking about their own involvement and their associations it turned out that the guests all come from different fields and started to deal with the Roma in various times. Kriszta Bódis studied social psychology at the university, and even then she was interested in the marginalized groups both theoretically and in practice. She carried this topic onto both her writings and documentary films. She’s working with much more emphasis on how can one escape from poverty in a way that destitution won’t be recreated. With the Van Helyed (‘You belong’) Foundation that works in the Hétes settlement in Ózd they are working on creating a support and service system with related programs that build on each other. With this system, they can get children living there from the age zero even to university.

Emese Erős is a qualified social pedagogue, she got to Tiszadob to a child protection institution as a first year college student, where she was touched by extreme poverty and decided to stay in this field. She is now the leader of the Kürti Erzsébet Self-Help Association where they are dealing with young people who were in the care of the protection system, are homeless and many of them Romani. In the institution they pay special attention to education, also, they are helping them get a job and treat their addictions too.

Krisztina Kovács studied for five years at the university to become a lawyer and she wanted the use this knowledge for a cause that otherwise would be really hard to materialize. BAGázs with their Legal Clinics and Debt Management program helps those living in the Settlement in Bag regarding debt management, reaching a legal lifestyle and integration. Currently 200 registered volunteers help their cause.

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Photo: bagazs.org

Dávid Kiss arrived at the interview with the family support service wearing a suit and tie: “The interviewer said that I should take these off and we’ll go out to a place where I’ll have to work. As we stepped out from the car, I stepped into a pool of mud and there were three gypsy women running towards me from the office with a huge smile and they hugged me and started giving me kisses. Of course I kept off, this atmosphere was unusual to me. It took me a week to know that this is my life, I like helping and working for an association where I have everything what I needed to help.” That’s how the Jelenlét program of the Hungarian Charity Service of the Order of Malta started at the Romani settlement in Monor.

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Young people playing football on the Romani settlement named Tabán, in Monor (Photo: MMSZ/András D. Hajdú)

After looking into the past, Miklós Vecsei, the Charity Service’s vice president and the moderator, directed the conversation towards the future. “What would you do if you were the ones who have the power and the appropriate resources?” he asked.

The participants agreed that there’s need for a systematic change, where surveying the needs is of high importance and where those who want to help should be treated as partners. “The first step is to establish the diagnosis on the spot, based on the needs” said Kriszta Bódis about the beginnings. “Sitting at a desk I can’t learn about usury, alcoholic mothers, prostituted children, women who want to escape from their husbands and returning to them again and again, about bands and drugs that surround these places. I faced the real challenges when I experienced that it’s not just statistical data that Romani people die 10% earlier, but that the place where I work with Pisti and Marika, that’s where people die faster than in my acquaintances.”

Dávid Kiss also highlighted the importance of presence: “If tomorrow I were the prime minister, then I’d know that after I become a decision maker, I don’t see what happens in the system. I’d accept that my eyes are the people working on the settlements, who are there every day and see what’s going on. We have to listen to them to make responsible decisions.”

Emese Kürt mentioned positive discrimination as a solution, because according to her the Roma are extremely falling behind the others in education, housing and employment. “I saw many young Romani people who enjoyed the support of positive discrimination during high school and it accompanied them to the university and after that it helped them find a job too. I think it doesn’t work any other way. If we want them to get from A to B then we’d have to give them twenty years with actions that can help them move forward. This way a generation would be formed that could move forward the others too” said the social professional with Romani origins.

According to Krisztina Kovács, there’s need for the communication to be reformed: “There are walls between the members of society. There’s a wall around the minority: this can be torn down from the inside, they can participate in various programs and finish elementary school, can get a profession, use electricity legally and pay their debts. But the minute it happens they face another wall, let’s call it the wall of prejudices: this could be torn down by the society. However, people rarely tend to take trouble to look over the wall.”

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Photo: MMSZ/András D. Hajdú

According to a definition, prejudice is an opinion without a proper experience. But what happens when there is a proper experience, but it is just awful? What can be done with this?

“Both sides have to look over the wall” Krisztina Kovács continued her thoughts while answering the question. At the settlement in Bag they talk a lot with the people living there, that, according to them, why do prejudices exist regarding the Roma in the village. They always say that the children on their way home from the school often step on their freshly planted flowers, climb into the houses, steal fruit from the trees and throw garbage away. As a response to the latest, they started to organize garbage collecting programs within the community. “It seems like a small step but it started a great progress: first the people living in the village experienced the positive change, but through them the news can reach a bigger audience too. We share the point of view that we should start thinking about not just what kind of detriments did we suffer in the past because it’d be a never ending list. We support the initiatives that are solution-orientated and bringing the point of views closer together. The mainstream society has to cede, but the settlement also has to do it.”

According to Dávid Kiss, the Roma need positive PR: “I’d start sharing reports in the news about Józsika winning a mathematics competition from one of the settlements, for which he received an award certificate from Japan. Then I’d show where he lives. This could help so that not only negative news, but positive aspirations and accomplishments can reach the audience too.”

Aside from showing examples of talented Romani people as a good example, Emese Kürti thinks that it is important to share proper experiences too. “Prejudices have already existed and will continue to exist but it is not obligatory to live in their shadow. You are not obligated to act the way prejudices work. You don’t even have to react if you don’t want to. Live your own life. I think strengthening identity is important. Certain impulses not only come from the outside world; it is a problem too, that we can’t necessarily live like a Romani, who proudly states its origins and identity” shares the difficulties Emese Kürti.

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Kriszta Bódis and Emese Kürti (Photo: Szabolcs Bánlaki)

According to Kriszta Bódis a strong ethnocentrism can be seen in young Hungarian people: my norm is acceptable and everything else falls into the ‘bad’ category. It is really hard to build from that. What is the task according to the people working in the settlement? “Socialization, education and teaching to think. For example, teaching what it means that people are born into different places, have had different experiences and created their world around them in a different way. We experience defeats day by day at the settlement, but we stand up and say that we want to live together and not just side by side.”

Réka Szakszon

Translated by: Orsolya Nagy