Roma activists planning to place a plaque commemorating Roma leader Béla Puczi on Roma Pride Day on October 7 were disappointed when Hungarian State Railways (MÁV) wouldn’t allow the plaque on a wall of Budapest’s Nyugati railway station, hvg.hu reports.
Béla Puczi was a Roma leader in Marosvásárhely (Târgu Mureș), a Romanian city in Transylvania which had a slight majority ethnic Hungarian population in 1990. It was in that year that Romanians attacked a peaceful assembly of demonstrating ethnic Hungarians, leading to a violent pogrom. The ethnic conflict set off by a radical right-wing movement could have led to deaths if an armed group of Roma, led by Puczi, hadn’t appeared to protect the Hungarians, after which the attackers ran away and the pogrom came to an end.
Puczi was later imprisoned along with five others for their role in the conflict. When Puczi was released from prison, the former bricklayer sought asylum in Hungary. But he encountered many difficulties, first in acquiring refugee status, and then financial troubles, and he died in poverty in 2009. The planned plaque at Nyugati railway station is a symbolic reference to his last years when he was living there as a homeless person.
The idea for the plaque was introduced on Facebook last year by activist Jenő Setét, who called for crowdsourcing and fundraising for the memorial. The stated goal was not only to remember Puczi, but to remember all Roma people who are excluded from the Hungarian history books, and give them the voice they deserve for their participation in historical events.
The money was collected quickly and the plaque was produced, but MÁV refused permission for the Roma Pride Day demonstrators to place it because Puczi did not work for the railway. Activists have written a formal request to MÁV to reconsider.
Setét told the Budapest Beacon that “we thought that if many of us turn to MÁV together, they will realize that saving Hungarian lives in Marosvásárhely is an act heroic enough that it cannot be hindered by internal regulations.”
Minister of Human Resources Zoltán Balog, after talking with the minister overseeing the state-owned railway company, offered to place the plaque instead on the wall of the planned Cziffra-palota, a prospective Roma Education and Culture Center named after pianist György Cziffra. The government decided to create the center last October and will found it in cooperation with Roma artists and cultural organizations in Józsefváros, Budapest District VIII.
But Setét remains firm. “We offer a György Cziffra commemorative plaque for the Cziffra Center,” he said, “but the Béla Puczi plaque has to be at Nyugati.”
He thanked Minister Balog for his attempts at mediation, but claimed that as a representative of the state, he could help their case by convincing MÁV’s leader.
“We don’t think that a plaque commemorating a Roma hero – who we see as a hero of all Hungarians – should get hidden in a Roma Center.” Setét also asked Balog to help in designating a public place around the railway station which would bear Béla Puczi’s name.