Distortion and Desperation: Roma Leader Defends Hungarian PM

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Florian Farkas, president of ORO

A letter from the leader of the Hungarian Roma Self-Government, Florian Farkas, to the European Commission has defended the widely criticized recent reforms of the Hungarian government.

Addressing the President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso, the Roma government head stood up for Hungarian President Viktor Orban, who has been under serious pressure lately after controversial reforms were adopted at the turn of the year.

The president of ORÖ voiced the growing concern of several hundreds of thousands of Roma “due to the persistent attacks against our country (Hungary) and its prime-minister, Viktor Orbán. It concerns me also because in the recent years the European Union and our country handled the European Roma Convergence as a high priority strategy which now can be jeopardized.”

The apparent concern of Farkas is that recent tension between the EU and Hungary could damage the European Roma Strategy which was deployed last year.

Farkas insisted that, despite widespread indifference towards the Hungarian leadership, Orban was playing a key role in the integration of minorities, including the Roma: “There is a common-decision mechanism, co-created by the Self-Government and the Hungarian Government, between the ORÖ and the Prime-minister to help the integration of the disadvantaged groups which is motivated by Hungarian government support for democratic values”

The bold Farkas, ignoring popular belief among the Roma population that the government is negatively influencing the situation, claimed “The Hungarian Government has a clear goal to stop the social segregation, and to start the process of integration between Hungarians, Roma and all minorities in the country.”

The letter continued in a similar vain, continuously supporting the Hungarian authorities of whom Farkas did not ask a single public question during the entirety of 2011.

Defending Hungarian reforms   

Speaking of the recent reforms in various areas of Hungarian law including media and the courts, Farkas wrote of his full confidence in the Hungarian leadership: “It was unusual, efficient and an exemplary democratic move that be a model for EU Member States as well, especially because it carries the objectives of the European value system”.

Defending the criticism of Hungary like a badly beaten boxer on the ropes, Farkas accused foreign detractors of “seeming to forget the new democratic achievements (of Hungary) celebrated together a few months ago.”

No doubt anticipating a cold response from the Hungarian Roma he claims to represent and defend, Farkas began his conclusion by navigating his way precariously along the moral high ground.

He stated: “To more than 10 million Roma living within the EU, the European Commission and you as chairman of the committee have a human and moral responsibility and task. Therefore, I ask that with the prestige of the institution represented by yourself, during the negotiations the terms of the preventive financial assistance don’t jeopardize the new mechanism for the elimination of social differences.”

Farkas saved the most desperate pleading until the end: “I ask you to call the attention of the international public opinion that we have a Democrat Prime Minister of Hungary, in support of disadvantaged social groups, including the rise of Roma.”

The reaction to the Self-Government leader’s letter has been one of serious discontent. To even the remotely well informed spectator, this was a statement made not with the interests of the people Farkas is bound to represent, but rather to safeguard his own personal political position. 

Perhaps this is the result of a growing culture of fear among Hungarian organizations, whether they are political, media or otherwise, that speaking out against the government will have dire consequences.

The recent mass cull of staff at Hungarian TV stations and the closing down of the main opposition radio station are examples of the dangers of speaking against the authorities.

International opposition

Farkas’ letter is in stark contrast to that of Amnesty International (AI) who, on January 16, released an open letter to EU Commissioners expressing concern about the situation in Hungary.

AI demanded that the European Commission should act urgently to press the Hungarian Government to make sure that its new constitution and national laws are in accordance with human rights standards in the EU.

The letter went on to criticize restrictive media laws which it considers a potential threat to freedom of expression in Hungary.

The Commission must finally get serious with the Hungarian Government and insist on respect for the fundamental rights which are the basis for EU membership,” said Nicolas Beger, Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office. “It’s time the EU delivered a human rights assessment of the Hungarian constitution and took the necessary steps under Article 7 of the Treaty of the EU.”

Hungary adopted new media laws in September and December 2010, which were amended by Parliament in March 2011. These codified the formation of a new solitary body which regulates all media sectors.

This development worried the AI who yesterday warned: “Serious concerns were expressed immediately after the legislation was adopted, warning that concentrating powers over all types of media into a single body may have an adverse affect on the exercise of freedom of expression. These concerns grew during 2011.”

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Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, was critical of level of freedoms in Hungary

 

International criticism of the Hungarian reforms has been growing with US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe both publicly raising doubts about democratic freedoms within the EU state.

Meanwhile, the leader of the far-right Jobbik party, Gabor Vona, predictably insisted that Hungary is being unfairly attacked by the EU: “What the Hungarians got from the European Commission is a kick in the head, while we are on the ground.”

The question now is: who should the Hungarian Roma trust with the defending of their safety, rights and interests?

Farkas’ latest action casts serious doubt on his suitability for the role, particularly having neglected to consult the Roma population for whom he speaks at a time when it is especially crucial for someone in his position to conduct his duties with the utmost integrity.

Shortly before this article was posted, the European Commission announced its plans to take measures against Hungary on three matters: Data Protection, Retirement Age of Judges and the Independence of the National Central Bank. See the full announcement below: 

http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/videoplayer.cfm?ref=82123