Bogdan: “Every day another Hungarian should believe that Gypsies are good people.”
20 km west of the university city of Pécs lies the village of Cserdi (pop. 411). As is often the case in Baranya county, a majority of the villagers are gypsies. There is an important difference, however. The mayor of Cserdi, a gypsy, is determined to prove that his people are capable of earning an honest living tilling the land.
Elected mayor of Cserdi in 2006, Laszlo Bogdan first came to national prominence in May 2013 as the author of the so-called “köcsögmentesités” (@sshole elimination) program. Following the adoption of the new criminal code by which 14 year-olds may be tried as adults, the program was intended to keep the people of Cserdi on the straight and narrow. Bogdan arranged for Cserdi families to visit adult and juvenile correction facilities to see for themselves what prison conditions are like.
“Unfortunately, over the years the gypsy community has developed the idea that being sent to prison is somehow ‘cool’, Bogdan told daily on-line newspaper index.hu.
Field trips to prisons may help deter crime, but it is the public work opportunities created by Bogdan in the field of organic farming that have virtually eliminated crime and fostered good relations between ethnic Hungarians and gypsies in this village of 411 people.
Before Bogdan was elected mayor Cserdi had one of the highest crime rates in the country, with some 200 burglaries in 2005 alone. Today crime is virtually unknown because anyone willing to work hard may work for the local government cultivating potatoes, onions, garlic, tomatoes, and green peppers. The village owns 15 hectares of agricultural ground which the villagers cultivate for a living. A 3000 sqm plot has been enclosed in canvas so that tomatoes, green peppers, and seedlings can be grown year round.
“The objective of the program is simple,” Bogdan told hirtv.hu earlier this year. “Every day another Hungarian should believe that Gypsies are good people.”
When not laboring side by side in the fields, Hungarians and gypsies work together repairing one another’s homes. National and EU grants have enabled the village to greatly improve its physical appearance, with most of the work being done by local craftsmen and laborers. Bogdan is especially proud of a new wooden footbridge connecting the poorer “gypsy” part of the settlement with the Hungarian part, both for its physical and symbolic importance.
One thing distinguishing Bogdan from other village mayors is his willingness to lead through example, be it demonstrating with his bare hands the correct technique for digging up potatoes and watering greenhouse seedlings or helping the townspeople build a stone wall. A first among equals, he is indefatigable and completely dedicated to the idea that Hungarians and gypsies can live together in peace and harmony. In addition to being hard working and a natural leader, Bogdan is extraordinarily articulate. Soft-spoken when talking to members of the press, Bogdan is quick to adopt a different tone of voice when rebuking those who do not live up to his expectations.
A region known for the fertility of its soil, bountiful harvests have enabled the people of Cserdi to donate two tons of vegetables to the City of Pécs for distribution to the poor in September. On boxing day Bogdan and four other villagers (pictured above) personally delivered one ton of potatoes, onions, and garlic to Budapest’s 8th district for distribution to poor families with children.
With a flair for the dramatic, Bogdan dressed his four assistants in matching white capes featuring the Cserdi coat of arms and bearing the words “spiritual knight”. The potatoes were distributed in white bags with labels saying “I’m a human being, not a gypsy” and “Hungary is neither black nor white: it’s the many colors that make it nice.”
Editor: We congratulate Mayor Laszlo Bogdan on being selected Man of the Year by the readers of Bama.hu, an on-line newspaper covering western Hungary.
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