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Missouri State Professor Discusses Increase in Violence in His Home Country

This year, there’s been a wave of violence against the Roma minority, also known as Gypsies in Eastern Europe. For one Missouri State University professor, this issue strikes close to home. KSMU’s Missy Shelton reports.

Dr. Bela Bodo is an assistant professor of history at Missouri State University. He is Hungarian and is following what’s happening in Eastern Europe.

Bodo says, “Sporadic attacks on Gypsies have taken place in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania. It’s always sad to see discrimination against minorities. When I was a child, I had quite a few Gypsy friends. The person who sat beside me for eight years is still a good friend of mine. It’s a very sad state of affairs.”

In August, National Public Radio reported that a single Roma mother was killed and her 13-year-old daughter was critically injured when armed men broke into their home in Hungary while they slept. To begin to understand the conflict between Hungarians and Gypsies, it helps to know a bit of history. Bodo explains.

Bodo says, “Gypsies or Romas came from India. Their history is complex and interesting. They left India sometime in the 6th or 7th century AD. They ended up in the Balkans and Central Europe in the Middle Ages. They ended up in Spain and France sometime in the 15th and 16th centuries. They have always been marginalized and discriminated against.”

There were multiple efforts to settle the Gypsies. Today, most are settled but they have a hard time finding work. Bodo says their traditional crafts and trades are not so useful anymore. So, they’re settled but not integrated into society.

Bodo says, “People do not see them as first class citizens. They still consider them as a separate ethnic group even though Gypsies do not possess all the characteristics usually associated with ethnicity.”

The increase in crime against Gypsies is the culmination of economic and social problems that have been simmering for years. Bodo says the older generation of Hungarians has a different view of Gypsies than the younger generation.

Bodo says, “In our household for example, my father was the godfather of at least 4 Gypsy children and they used to wear my used clothes. They came to our household to ask for work. So, there was contact between Hungarian and Gypsy families. Before the 1980’s and 1990’s, this contact had been cut. People became less communal oriented and definitely more prejudiced against the poor in general and the marginalized. Modern day Hungarians are very middle class. They take great pride in cleanliness, order, typical middle class values. Gypsies are seen as somehow incapable or unwilling to live up to these expectations…not respectable.”

Bodo says crime rates in Hungary are well below crime rates in the U.S. but have been rising the last 15 years. He says some violent crimes against Hungarians, in some cases committed by Romas have been highly publicized and sensationalized…that has fomented anti-Gypsy feelings. Bodo says a complicating factor is the police force.

Bodo says, “The police are under-funded and undermanned. Second, and I don’t want to speak ill of the average police officer in Hungary or anywhere else but they often share the prejudices of the rest of the population. I have a childhood friend, for example, who I know is sympathetic to and may even be a member of this vigilante group. He has served in the police force for over 20 years.”

And Bodo says there’s a serious political conflict in the Hungarian government where some mainstream politicians have become allies with extremist groups that are openly anti-Gypsy. Neither the left nor the right is willing to address the problem for fear of losing the public’s support.

NPR's Story on the Wave of Violence Against Eastern European Gypsies