Thousands of Roma and non-Roma marched in solidarity against the racism and hate-mongering of Viktor Orbán, calling for justice in the Gyöngyöspata case and insisting that the rule of law must prevail. The protest was sparked by Viktor Orbán’s decision to launch a ‘national consultation’ to challenge a court decision to award damages to the families of Romani children from the village of Gyöngyöspata who suffered a decade of racial segregation in school.

Behind large banners that read “Free Court! Free Gyöngyöspata!”, the crowd chanted “we are not afraid” and “no-one is above the law”. Members of Roma communities came from all over Hungary to take part in the largest anti-racist demonstration Budapest has seen in years. When the crowd reached the Parliament, protestors observed a minute’s silence to mark the 11th anniversary of the racist double murder in Tatarszentgyörgy, of Robert Csorba and his little boy Robika and remember the other Roma victims of the neo-Nazi serial killers.

The government called the protest a ploy to create a “Soros Network” to incite Hungarians and Roma against each other, and dismissed the main organiser Jenő Setét as a “Soros activist”. Setét, who was awarded the Raoul Wallenberg Prize in January in recognition of his civil rights work, condemned the Prime Minister’s divisive and exclusionary rhetoric, and repeatedly told the crowd that “no-one is above the law”, a refrain loudly chanted by the protesters who halted outside the Supreme court. 

Orbán plays the racist card again

In January, Prime Minister Orbán suddenly turned his attention to a four-month-old court decision by the Debrecen Court of Appeal, which awarded criminal damages to Romani families in Gyöngyöspata, whose children were forced to learn in segregated settings for a decade. The Romani children testified that they were educated in separate classes on a separate floor; they were not allowed to take part in celebrations or school trips; and they were denied IT and swimming lessons. The reality of segregation was that many Romani children Gyöngyöspata were unable to graduate, and so poor was the quality of education that many barely learned to read or write.

In a succession of provocative broadcasts to the nation, Orbán stated that the court’s decision “violated the people’s sense of justice”; and stigmatized the local Roma as workshy, their children as violent, unruly and un-educatable. In a radio broadcast, Orbán said,

“I am not from Gyöngyöspata, but if I were to live there, I would be asking how it is that, for some reason, members of an ethnically determined group living in a community with me, in a village, can receive significant sums of money without doing any work, while I work my butt off every day.”

The prime minister described the court’s ruling as deeply unfair and he stated:

 “I don’t yet know exactly what to do now but this cannot remain like this for sure. We need to give justice to the Gyöngyöspata people”.

On February 13th Orbán announced a new ‘national consultation’ on the Gyöngyöspata case, and declared “we take the side of the 80 percent who are decent, working Hungarians.” In a move favoured by white supremacists worldwide, Orbán portrayed the ethnic majority as the victims: “Non-Roma in Gyöngyöspata began to feel that they had to back down and apologize, despite being the majority. They feel like they are in a hostile environment in their own homeland.” 

Unsurprisingly this whole episode has been cast as the latest chapter in a wider elite conspiracy against decent Hungarians by globalists without a home, and lawyers in the pay of George Soros. Orbán stated that “there is a boundary that a Hungarian will never cross, or believes cannot be crossed. That boundary is giving people money for nothing.”

National consultations: a ‘robust social mandate’ for antigypsyism

Orbán’s announcement has prompted widespread protests across Hungary, including nearly 400 psychologists who condemned it as a stunt that will incite further hatred, reinforce discrimination, and send a message to the nation that segregation is acceptable. Over the last ten years, the regime has repeatedly resorted to national consultations as part of propaganda campaigns against imagined enemies of the nation, including migrants, refugees and George Soros. These consultations, with their leading and loaded questions, have triggered international criticism for fuelling anti-foreigner hatred; Prime Minister Orbán characterises them as “demonstrating the power of national consensus”.

The leading question on Gyöngyöspata will concern “whether it is helpful if the compensation awarded disturbs the peace of a given community.” Lest there be any doubt about the purpose of this exercise, the government stated that it already has clear answers to this and other contentious issues, “however, it needs a robust social mandate in order to represent them in the international arena as well as within Hungary.”

This blatant challenge to the rule of law has sparked widespread protests across Hungary, including almost 400 psychologists who have condemned the consultation as an act that will incite further hatred, reinforce discrimination, and send a message to the nation that segregation is acceptable. The protestors on Sunday were loud and clear that segregation can never be acceptable.

Europe still silent as Fidesz lurches further to the right

Since its defeat in the municipal elections, the subsequent dips in opinion polls, and the prospect of renewed rule of law scrutiny from Brussels, the Orbán regime has lurched dangerously further to the right. In its perpetual Schmittian search for an enemy in a state of exception, the regime has turned its fire on the Roma. The diminishing returns from demonising Muslims and migrants has prompted Orbán and his propagandists to revive an older hatred, and weaponize antigypsyism.

In a letter of protest to the European Union, the European Roma Rights Centre described the proposed consultation as an attempt to discredit the rule of law, polarise the nation and further stigmatise the Roma community: 

“We maintain that the prime minister’s statements display not only contempt for the rule of law, but amount to a drive to scapegoat Roma for political gain … Viktor Orbán has crossed yet another ‘red line’ with seeming impunity. We believe that there should be no room in the European Union for hate speech targeting ethnic minorities; and that the rule of law must prevail within member states.” 

The ERRC called for a prompt and proportionate response from Brussels that is consistent with ‘European Values’. In light of the Union’s dithering and failure to take resolute action against Orbán for his undermining of the rule of law, hate campaigns and authoritarian abuses of power, Romani citizens who now find themselves in the regime’s crosshairs are entitled to ask: “How long will Europe stand idly by?”