Independent Roma organizations protest eviction from Budapest District 8 offices

November 1, 2016

roma

“The illiberal Hungarian state (or rather, dictatorial mafia-state) is forcibly undoing the foundation of the Roma civil rights movement by colonizing our Roma cultural and intellectual heritage. Using their corporative system, they will build up their own Roma cultural center (on a small area, for lots of money), that will be defended and led by their own colonial Roma elite, who will serve the interests of the government. For now, we have utterly exhausted the means for the non-violent struggle for our civil rights. Our troops are divided, humiliated and outraged and we cannot send them into battle against state terror. We take as a fait accompli that the Roma Parliament has been physically annihilated.”

Hungarian NGOs Roma Parliament and Phralipe Independent Gypsy Organization were forcibly evicted from their Budapest District 8 headquarters last Sunday, reports mno.hu. Several police cars arrived along with removal trucks to evict the organizations from the building at Tavaszmező street 6, citing the dilapidated and “life-threatening” state of the property as well as arrears as the reason for the eviction.

The district claims that the organizations have unpaid debts to the district government, something both organizations deny. Phralipe has regularly paid its bills, has no outstanding debts and has a valid lease agreement with the district, Phralipe president Béla Babos told Népszava. He dismissed the district’s claims that the building is life-threatening as an “alibi”, claiming that his organization received no warning prior to the eviction.

The district claims that the Roma Parliament owes “several hundred-thousand forints,” and had refused earlier offers to move into a different property. However, the organization’s president Aladár Horváth denies this, citing a 2011 court decision that found they had no debts to the district or to utility providers.

The district has been pressuring the organizations to relocate for some time, reportedly offering them the choice of five properties which, according to Horváth, were “small and moldy.” Although willing to relocate in principle, the organization ultimately insisted on remaining in the Tavaszmező street property until the district offered them “a property of similar size and quality,” Horváth said, adding that the NGO had repeatedly requested that its current lease be extended. 

“I don’t know what’s going to happen to us,” said Babos, who claims that the organizations were current with their rent and utility bills.

The eviction comes after several years of attempts by local authorities to “drive away the sole surviving, system-critical, independent umbrella organization” for Roma, according to a statement issued by the Roma Parliament.  Withdrawing a lawsuit brought against the NGO for alleged arrears dating to 2011, the district refused to conclude a new lease contract, classifying the organization as occupying the building without title.  According to the statement, the lack of a valid lease precluded the organization from applying for grants, and forced it to substantially reduce its operating costs.

The day after the eviction, the Ministry of Human Resources announced that the former offices of Roma Parliament and Phralipe, which police claimed were “life-threatening”, were to house the Cziffra György Roma Education and Cultural Center, an organization founded and funded by the government. 

According to its statement, the Roma local government first heard of the government’s intention to install a new Roma organization in their headquarters last year, and initial negotiations took place with the “expert” input of House of Terror director Mária Schmidt (“To this day, it is not clear what she has to do with Roma culture,” reads the statement) and Budapest District 8 mayor Máté Kocsis (Fidesz).

According to the statement, Kocsis reneged on his promise to invite the Roma Parliament to subsequent negotiations, which allegedly took place without its involvement.  

The groups suspect the government of creating a “token gypsy” organization to “colonize the cultural and spiritual heritage” of the 25-year-old organization. “The corporatist system itself is building (on a small site for a lot of money) a pro-government cultural and public center where the servile Roma intellectuals, created in their own image, can take a place on the Board of Patrons,” Roma Parliament said in the statement.

According to its website, the Roma Parliament was founded in 1990 as “the first non-governmental umbrella organization for Roma” which works “for mass-scale changes to the situations of Hungarian Roma” through legal advocacy, cultural identity foundations, art and public life programs, among others. The group had been in its Tavaszmező street location since 1990.

Below is the  “Statement from the Hungarian Roma Parliament (non-governmental organization)” released on October 27, 2016:

“The Hungarian Roma Parliament has become a victim of state terror! On Wednesday November 2nd at 4 pm we will organize a protest against the closing of the Roma Parliament. It will be held in Jozsefváros (Budapest District 8), beginning with a performance held at Mátyâs Tér entitled “Cremation.” We will then walk together to Tavaszmező u. 6, the headquarters of the Roma Parliament, and then to our final stop at Wesley College, Danko u. 11.

“On October 23rd, the 60th anniversary of Hungary’s 1956 revolution, local officials of the Jozsefváros district government ordered the eviction of the Roma Parliament on the pretext that the building had become a death-trap. In collaboration with the police force, officials vacated the premises at Tavaszmező Street 6, which is the subject of an ongoing legal dispute.  This location had been the headquarters of our organization for over 25 years. On October 25th, by government degree the local authorities handed the building over to the state to create a ‘token-Gypsy’ center based on the ruins of the Roma Parliament, despite condemning the building as a ‘death-trap’. We have not been able to set foot into our headquarters since! They illegally seized our intellectual assets, cultural and fine art collections, as well as our administrative and financial documents that we have accumulated over the last 26 years. Everything has been taken to an unknown location.

“Yesterday, in an effort to protect our intellectual documents and collections, we attempted to negotiate with Máté Kocsis, the Mayor of Jozsefváros, but he did not respond to our questions. He is one of the leading politicians in the inflammatory campaign promoting hatred against refugees. This process seems unstoppable — the illiberal Hungarian state (or rather, dictatorial mafia-state) is forcibly undoing the foundation of the Roma civil rights movement by colonizing our Roma cultural and intellectual heritage. Using their corporative system, they will build up their own Roma cultural center (on a small area, for lots of money), that will be defended and led by their own colonial Roma elite, who will serve the interests of the government. For now, we have utterly exhausted the means for the non-violent struggle for our civil rights. Our troops are divided, humiliated and outraged and we cannot send them into battle against state terror. We take as a fait accompli that the Roma Parliament has been physically annihilated.

“We would like to inform the public in an open press conference about the forced eviction and occupation of the Roma Parliament on Wednesday, November 2nd. We respectfully invite all of our Romani and non-Romani allies, as well as representatives of the Hungarian and international media.

On behalf of the Presidency of the Roma Parliament,”

Horváth Aladár

Budapest, October 27th, 2016