As a dual citizen with the US and Hungary, I am proud of both of my heritages. I am particularly proud to be a Hungarian since we are such a unique people. But I am not proud to be a Hungarian when it comes to the widespread discrimination by Hungarians against Roma (Gypsies).
Some years ago I conducted research on the situation of Roma in Hungary. In the course of my research, I was shocked by how widespread racism against Roma was. Educated liberals who professed their democratic and free-thinking ideals were quick to label all Roma as criminals and low-lifes. Moreover, I learned that in the rural areas of Hungary in particular, Roma children were frequently diagnosed as learning disabled and placed into special classes, creating a de facto segregated school system.
So it came as a shock and a disappointment but no surprise when I stumbled across an article yesterday describing the segregation of Roma children
in a Hungarian public school a mere 10 km from Budapest.
The details of this story are shocking - the school placed bars down a hallway segregating Roma children (who were placed in special ed classes) from the rest of the school, denying them access to the fire escape. The rationale? To limit truancy. The story is all the more shocking in that it took place so close to Budapest.
The disappointment? This is but one of countless instances of discrimination against Roma in Hungary - and while this one was stopped because of the proximity of the town in question to Budapest, many other schools continue with de facto segregation in areas of the country that remain far from Budapest's EU oriented influence.
Hungary is now part of the EU - and as such should abide by EU norms. Last time I checked, the EU wasn't wild on segregation and discrimination. In fact, the EU is pretty big on protecting human rights. The ongoing discrimination against Roma in Hungary serves to emphasize my personal feelings that the EU accession process was grossly accelerated for the former Communist countries in a bid to counterbalance US power with a stronger, bolder EU.
One argument, made by my mother among others, is that Hungary's EU membership is precisely why cases like this school's segregation are even coming to light - Hungarians are gradually moving towards abiding by international and EU human rights norms, and such cases wouldn't have been dealt with without EU membership.
But my argument is that such steps should have been a precondition to EU membership. Human rights are very important to the EU and by allowing countries who regularly violate human rights as blatantly as Hungary does into the EU, the EU's adherence to fundamental rights becomes more rhetoric and less reality. Cases of segregation in rural Hungary are likely to remain prevalent for years to come, due in part to lack of interest, lack of motivation, and lack of funding on the part of the Hungarian government. Doesn't the hypocrisy of having representatives from member states such as Hungary, Slovakia and others that regularly violate human rights sitting as judges on the ECJ bother anyone?
By allowing the former Communist countries to become members without first requiring them to meet certain criteria regarding human rights, the EU has cheapened itself and has demonstrated that despite the lofty goals it had been evolving towards, today it is more about power, politics, and economic growth than ever before. Instead of moving forwards, the EU has taken a step backwards - or maybe sideways - joining the ranks of countries like the US that speak idealistically about human rights, all the while violating them.