Gov’t official says tension over Roma “stirred up” by American businessman

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 13th of October 2011   Source: mti

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Tensions between the Roma and non-Roma population in northeastern Hungary this spring escalated due to a “provocation”, the state secretary in charge of social inclusion said on Tuesday.


“It is clear that a provocation took place in the spring which several people in the media, and an American citizen who saw himself as a man of good intentions, tried to portray as some kind of evacuation or escape,” Zoltan Balog said, referring to American businessman Richard Field, who helped to bus almost 300 Roma women and children out of the town.


“It is entirely clear that Richard Field’s role was not simply to do with humanitarian aid but about stirring up passions,” the state secretary added.


Balog said, however, that at the root of the problem were ailments in the countryside which previous governments had failed to tackle.


The flammable situation was more easily sparked than extinguished, Balog said after a meeting of the ad-hoc committee set up to investigate the incident in the village of Gyongyospata.


It is up to the secret services to discover the main actors of the conflict as well as their role in it, he said.


Balog said the [paramilitary] Hungarian Guard and the For a Better Future Civil Guard Association had not caused the events but were symptoms of their underlying cause.


The town of Gyongyospata was the scene of clashes between radical nationalists and Roma. In March, activists of the For a Better Future Civil Guard Association staged patrols in the town in protest against what they said was a rising crime rate.


Jozsef Hatala, the national police chief, told the committee that a new unit capable of stationing 22 police officers will be set up in Gyongyospata shortly.


Mate Kocsis, the (Fidesz) head of parliament’s law-enforcement committee, said in April this year that the ad-hoc investigative committee should establish “where the lies about an evacuation came from”, how panic was created and who financed the radicals engaging in unauthorised law-enforcement activities.


The media widely reported at the time that the Roma had been “evacuated” by the Red Cross, which the organisation promptly denied.


Erik Selymes, managing director of the Hungarian Red Cross, said at the time that “taking mothers and children of Gyongyospata on a pre-planned camping trip cannot be interpreted as an evacuation; I deny these press rumours.”


Field, a Red Cross volunteer, told MTI on the day the Roma were bused out of the village, that “I have felt the Roma are afraid and they have reasons to be. [Militiamen] terrorised them throughout the night, knocked at their doors and pelted stones at their windows.”


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