Hope for the Roma

Jo2562_thumb3George Soros and James D. Wolfensohn in Project Syndicate:

Hated, alienated, and shunned as thieves and worse, the Roma have for too long been easy and defenseless targets for disgruntled racists in Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and other European countries.

The Roma, as a people, reaped next to nothing from the prosperity that the former East Bloc countries have enjoyed since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Nevertheless, even before the current economic downturn, right-wing political leaders in Eastern Europe resorted to Roma-bashing in order to win support on the cheap. The message of hate continues to appeal to many people, including a few who are ready to resort to violence.

In the past 14 months, nine Roma have been murdered during a killing spree in Hungary. In August, gunmen invaded the home of an impoverished Roma widow, Maria Balogh, shot her to death, and wounded her 13-year-old daughter. In April, killers gunned down a Roma factory worker as he was walking to his job. In February, a Roma father and his five-year-old son were killed in front of their home near Budapest. The house was burned to the ground.

Last November, a Roma couple was killed in northeastern Hungary. To their credit, Hungary’s police mounted an unprecedented manhunt and, in late August, arrested four suspects, including some who wore swastika tattoos. In the same month, two medical students in Romania killed and dismembered a 65-year-old Roma man and left his body in the trunk of a car.

Perhaps the rash of killings will dampen the racist rhetoric. Perhaps people will see that the underlying message being spun is one of criminal hatred, and perhaps the violence will subside. But it is safe to assume, however, that as long as the Roma are mired at the bottom of Europe’s socio-economic pecking order, it is only a matter of time before racist attacks on them begin again.