7 April, 2016

8 April: Hate speech against Roma, and its assimilation into political discourse in Europe by Orsolya Szabó

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Category: Human Rights, Political hate speech, Racism, Roma
Menno Ettema
2 pm

Hate speech against Roma and its assimilation into political discourse in Europe

Even though hate speech is frequently present in our lives due to the widespread use of media, the concept and the gravity of it is widely misunderstood and underestimated. Hate speech is criminalized under European law, but still, many cases remain unreacted, unreported and unpunished. It is not recognized by the general public, but the effects of hate speech can be as severe as the series of Roma killings between 2008 and 2009 in Hungary, or the violent incidents against Roma people in Turin in 2011. Therefore, the subject certainly deserves and needs more attention.

Firstly, we have to make it clear what falls under hate speech. The legal definition differs from country to country, which makes the reporting and prosecuting complicated. In this paper we refer to the Council of Europe’s definition, as it serves as a reference point to many national legislations in Europe. Accordingly, hate speech covers “all forms of expression which spread, incite, promote or justify racial hatred, xenophobia, anti-Semitism or other forms of hatred based on intolerance, including: intolerance expressed by aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism, discrimination and hostility against minorities, migrants and people of immigrant origin.”[1] This broad, open-ended definition does not limit targets or victims of hate speech. People can be and are often attacked by homophobic and sexist speech as well.

Logically, those individuals and groups who face discrimination the most are the ones who suffer the most from hate speech. Despite legal and institutional efforts, Roma people are one of the most discriminated groups in Europe, who are targeted frequently by hate speech as well. Even though the number of hate speech reports and prosecutions are under the actual cases and therefore cannot fully reflect on the truth, the available data highlight that Roma people are the primary targets of hate speech in Europe. For example, according to the Media Democracy and the Centre for Political Modernisation, 93% of reported hate speech cases in Bulgaria are targeted against Roma people.[2] This tendency derives from well-ingrained stereotypes and prejudices in societies. Individuals are put in boxes with stigmas of a “criminal”, “liar”, “poor” or “lazy”, which hinders their efforts in every aspect of their lives. These stigmas have become part of the everyday discourse, often without the slightest effort to question them. This procedure, the blind assimilation of prejudices into everyday language is an unequivocal way to the spread of hate speech.

Indifference to hate speech is unfortunately not only common among dominant groups but also among the target groups. As László Földi, Online Community Manager of the Council of Europe’s No Hate Speech Movement said[3], Roma youth activism is very low in the European level of the No Hate Speech Movement, which he explained by the complexity of the tasks and the special skills needed. Interestingly, the Serbian organization Minority Voice has a different experience, naming their local No Hate Speech Campaign as one of their most successful youth projects, where many young Roma take part. “No Hate Speech Campaign is something that we are actually doing for a long time, for two years. Young people find it very interesting because it’s not so hard to do it, doesn’t require so much resources from them, and the activities are youth-friendly. It’s nice, you meet other people, you have nice conversations, you have fun doing that and many of the young Roma would like to join that campaign in Serbia”, said Dragan Radosavljevic, Director of Minority Voice.[4] The lack of Roma activism on the European level, as Földi explained, shows that that certain skills and knowledge that are needed for international work are difficult to gain for many young Roma. However, it would be essential that they are aware of human rights violations targeting them and that they are able to stand up against such.

Racist, hateful content can be found in Facebook comments, in video content, in tweets, blogposts, and news websites but also in speeches of high level politicians and media representatives. This is not uncommon in the European context that ministers or journalists are comfortably spreading their hateful ideologies, because they remain unpunished in most cases. As some example show below, hate speech from high level authorities is especially harmful because they rationalize discrimination, segregation, exclusion and hate crimes eventually.

Consider for example the case of the Romanian Secretary of State for Minorities within the Ministry of Education, András György Király. Mr.  Király, who is responsible for eliminating barriers of children from minorities in the school system, said in 2013 that he would not allow his child to a school where there was a significant number of Roma. He supported his view by the following thought: “We must also understand the fact that parents want school units where there is order, where there is discipline and where one may also do some learning. It is a general problem, and in relation to those schools where the number of Roma is significant, if there is indifference, if there is disarray, of course I would not allow my child to attend that school.”[5] Even though the European Roma Rights Centre and its local Romanian partners called the Romanian authorities to act against such discriminatory speech, Mr. Király still sits in his position. A similarly hateful ideology was almost managed to be presented nicely by Mr. Zoltán Balog, the Hungarian Minister of Human Capacities. During the long battle between the Greek Catholic Church and the Chance for Children Foundation (CFCF), Balog stood up for the segregation of Roma children by religious schools, because in his vision, integration is a two-step procedure that starts with a separated education, where disadvantaged children can “catch up”. In this ideology, after this first step, Roma children would be ready to integrate among majority society. Balog was so convinced about this view that he testified at the court during the trial on school segregation of Nyíregyháza. Even though CFCF won the trial in two instances, the Church appealed again and surprisingly, the Kúria (the highest level court in Hungary) overturned the case. Balog claimed that this case opens up a way to institutionalize procedures that aim to make disadvantaged children to “catch up”.[6]

Zsolt Bayer, writer, publicist and one of the founders of the Hungarian ruling party, Fidesz did not even try to hide his antigypsyist ideas by comparing Roma people with animals in one of his articles in 2013. According to Bayer’s view: “A significant part of the Roma is unfit for coexistence. They are not fit to live among people. These Roma are animals, and they behave like animals. These animals shouldn’t be allowed to exist. That needs to be solved – immediately and regardless of the method.”[7] His words, which echo Nazi ideology, was published in one of the most widely circulated right-wing newspaper, Magyar Hírlap. The article had caused a lot for the newspaper since it had to pay a financial penalty and several advertisers withdrew from the newspaper. Still, Bayer continues to write in a radical style on his blog and in other online media platforms. Attention turned towards him again after posting an article about sending refugees back to their homelands by words that should rather not be repeated.[8]

In 2013 in Ukraine, Secretary of Yalta City Council Sergei Ilash stated that “all Roma women who are fortune-tellers and do not have passports should be either detained or evicted from the city and no one is going to cry over them”. Moreover, in a similar style as Mr. Bayer, but during an election campaign, Ilash was openly offending Roma people, calling them and homeless people “animals”. [9] The punishment for such speech was forgotten, but instead of that Ilash was elected as the Mayor of Yalta.

Hate speech is not difficult to find in the media, on online portals, and even in speeches of politicians in the current European discourse. As the cases above aimed to exemplify, even if there is a public outcry for some time, in the end they mostly remain unpunished. The effect of such impunity has to be understood: if hate speech becomes normal, then the acceptance of intimidation, hate crimes, and violent attacks is just one small step further away.

Expressing disagreement with hate speech does not have to be something complicated and it does not require commitment with an organization or a specific ideology. Standing up against it is crucial because every time hate speech content remains unreacted, racist, xenophobic ideologies ingrain into society’s common thinking. It can be enough to react to hate speech in a comment. As much as hate speech can spread easily, anti-hate speech comments can expand easily as well and can create a strong opposition movement. One person who is standing up against hate speech is able to create a chain reaction, which in the long run weakens stereotypes and bias.


Orsolya Szabó, Phiren Amenca

[1] Recommendation No. R (97) 20 of The Committee of Ministers to Member States on “Hate Speech”, Appendix, Scope

[2] Bulgaria: Hate Speech ‘Thriving’ in Media. Available at: http://www.inach.net/news.php#Bulgaria: Hate Speech ‘Thriving’ in Media

[3] The interview with László Földi was conducted on 02.12.2015. by Orsolya Szabó as part of a Research of Phiren Amenca about “Volunteering – Citizens’ tools for Roma Participation”

[4] The interview with Dragan Radosavljevic was conducted on 21.10.2015 by Orsolya Szabó.

[5] European Roma Information Office: Human rights abuses and discrimination against Roma, July-Sept 2013. Available at: http://www.cornelia-ernst.de/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Human-rights-abuses-and-discrimination-against-Roma_Jul-Sep-2013.pdf pp. 8-9

[6] -Ónody Molnár Dóra: Balog igenis elkötelezett a szegregáció felszámolása mellett. Népszabadság, 12.11.2014. Available at: http://nol.hu/belfold/balog-igenis-elkotelezett-a-szegregacio-felszamolasa-mellett-1503967

-Hungarian Supreme Court decided: Segregation is lawful in parochial schools. Hungarian Spectrum. Available at: http://hungarianspectrum.org/2015/04/28/hungarian-supreme-court-decided-segregation-is-lawful-in-parochial-schools/

[7] Gianluca Mezzofiore: Final Solution’ Urged for Hungary’s Roma ‘Animals’ by Ruling Party Founder Zsolt Bayer. International Business Times, 01.11.2013. Available at:  http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/roma-hungary-animals-viktor-orban-gypsy-jew-423266

[8] Bádog – Zsolt Bayer blogja. 10.05.2015. Available at: http://badog.blogstar.hu/2015/10/05/hirek-34-/21459/

[9] Written Comments of the European Roma Rights Centre and Chiricli, Concerning Ukraine For Consideration by the Human Rights Committee at its 108th Session, 8-26 July 2013. Available at: http://www.errc.org/cms/upload/file/ukraine-iccpr-june-2013.pdf p. 6.

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