The Trial of Serial Killers of Roma in Hungary: A Missed Opportunity
On August 6 a court handed down three life sentences and one 13-year prison sentence to four men guilty of killing six people in nine racist attacks. Over a 14-month period, Roma (Gypsy) communities were pushed into a terrifying climate physical fear and psychological anxiety.
Among the victims were a 5-year old and his father, Robert Csorba, who were shot dead in February 2009 as they ran from their home in flames. In 2010 Human Rights First visited the Csorba family to pay respects and condolences.
The suspects were caught in August 2009 with the help of the FBI after an investigation beset by problems. In 2010, we reported how these deaths could have been averted and issued recommendations to the Hungarian government. Several errors had been made: the ambulance arrived much later than expected. Police and medical personnel were slow to recognize the motive of the crime. Also, the police concluded initially that the fire was caused by an electrical accident. They missed important clues that would have led them more quickly to the suspects.
The institutional negligence of the investigating police forces was formally recognized by a special committee in the Hungarian parliament in November 2009. A new parliamentary investigation will be launched in September 2013 to assess the role of Hungary’s military intelligence, which previously recruited one of the condemned suspects (Istvan Csontos). This investigation could help clarify whether the state bears acute responsibility for the murders. Did the killers receive external support? Did Hungarian state agencies support or help execute the attacks?
This trial did not fulfill its potential. Whereas it brought justice to the victims, it did not raise greater awareness within Hungarian society about racially motivated violence. Racial stereotyping has seeped into Hungary’s political and cultural landscape, and this case was a missed opportunity for Hungary to have an in-depth discussion of its failure to recognize the danger posed by extremists, and to acknowledge the rise of hateful discourse.
More worryingly, perhaps such a discussion is simply impossible in today’s Hungary, where the anti-Semitic and anti-Roma Jobbik Party is 17% of the Hungarian Parliament and stereotyping is widely present in the media. The situation has gotten worse since 2008. A CNN report written by Human Rights Watch researcher Lydia Gall summed up the climate in January 2013:
A prominent columnist calls for a “final solution” Hungary’s Roma population. A member of parliament calls for drawing up a list of Jewish people involved in Hungarian politics. Two-thirds of those asked in an opinion poll say they wouldn’t let their child be friends with a Romani child. Another poll suggests a similar number believe Jewish people have too much influence. One doesn’t have to be a student of history to be worried about the growing climate of intolerance in Hungary.
Let’s recall that in November 2012, Marton Gyongyosi, a Jobbik member and vice chairman of the parliament’s foreign affairs committee urged the government to draw up lists of Jews who pose a “national security risk,” reminiscent of fascist policies that led to the Holocaust. Then in January 2013, Zsolt Bayer, a journalist and member of the government’s Fidesz party, wrote that “Roma are animals” and “they should not be allowed to exist.” Prime Minister Viktor Orban remained deafeningly silent.
But the upcoming parliamentary investigation offers hope to spark a much-needed public debate on stereotyping, incitement and violence.