Hungary: Romani radio starts broadcasting
Radio C, Hungary's first ever Roma radio station, started broadcasting in Budapest on 11 February. According to the BBC, the new station offers a range of documentaries and news programmes. A Radio C staff member explained, "There is an increasing number of gypsies who do not want to be a parasite on society. They want to do something for their prosperity."
Radio C had been applying for a broadcasting licence for a long time. In December 2000, the National Radio and Television Council (ORTT) finally granted Radio C temporary use of the 88.8 MHz FM radio band in the Budapest area for a period of one month. The Radio C crew consists of 40 people, most of whom are Roma.
According to Editor-in-Chief György Kerényi, the core broadcast will consist of news, educational and entertainment programs. ORTT are expected to reach a decision regarding Radio C's application for a seven-year broadcasting licence in the coming weeks.
The BBC further reported that Radio C has been set up with the help of the European Union's Eastern European reconstruction fund; likewise, the Hungarian Independent Media Centre and the Roma Press Centre have offered free journalism courses for young Roma. Radio C is only one of several initiatives by the Roma community aimed at establishing its own social and cultural institutions.
Hungary: Brutal police attack in bag
About 80 policemen raided the Bag Romani neighbourhood (in Pest county, 40 km from Budapest) at 02:00 on Friday 9 February. The policemen interrupted a family's ritual vigil prior to the funeral. The mourners, including women and children, were badly assaulted. Edit Lakatos, a young woman, was drawn by her hair into the police car, taken to the police station and detained handcuffed for four hours together with seven other Roma. They were all later released without an apology.
"They put a bag over my head and kicked me all over," said Sándor Lakatos, whose HUF (Hungarian forints) 40,000 (approximately USD 137) saved for the funeral costs also disappeared during the police raid. Lakatos allegedly recognised István Nemes, the Aszód (a nearby city) police captain who is the subject of an ongoing investigation for a similar attack. Sixteen-year-old Béla Vidák was reportedly forced to crush a glass and injured his hands, while a seven-year old boy was hit in the head with a truncheon.
The chief of the Gödöllő police station, György Papp, admitted ordering the raid. The police action was meant as a reaction to an increasing number of complaints against the Romani residents. Papp denied that the police would break laws: "I am sure that the policemen in question observed the regulations while taking action." Five Roma filed complaints with the Pest County Prosecution Criminal Investigation Department.
Slovakia: Children stopped begging in streets
Children begging in the streets used to be a common sight in the town of Stará Ľubovnia. This is partly because some of the Roma families could not afford to pay rent and have had no electricity for the past three years. According to the administration officer from the municipality office in Stará Ľubovnia, the begging stopped and the children's school attendance improved immediately after the special distribution system of social benefits for the local Roma community was introduced.
Under the new system, Roma receive their social benefits in the form of tokens. Tokens are issued for seven types of goods (excluding cigarettes and alcohol) and can be exchanged in local shops for food and other basic products.
In addition, the municipality can place the social benefits in a special account and pay for expenses such as rent, school fees, etc. Mrs J Tokarčíková, who works for the local municipality, explains that this system is of great help to Roma mothers who tend to have, on average, between five and eight children. There are several large families in Stará Ľubovnia, and their standard of living is expected to improve as a result of the new social benefits distribution system.
Slovakia: Romani settlements increasing
The housing situation of Roma is deteriorating, especially in the eastern part of the Slovak Republic. Officials from Prešov reported that ten new Romani settlements were build in the Prešov administrative district in the past year, bringing the total number of such settlements to 262. According to Mr Baca, the Romani advisor working in the Prešov municipality office, however, most of these settlements have no running water, electricity or gas.
He also said that mayors who have Romani settlements under their jurisdiction should make better use of the existing government programme for regional development of municipality flats. Under this scheme, 80 per cent of the total building costs would be covered from government sources, with only 20 per cent to come from the budget of the respective locality in each case.
On the other hand, Baca observes, everyone knows that the budgets of villages have been insufficient for years. It also remains unclear who is to cover the costs of building a utilities infrastructure that is often missing in areas of Romani settlements.
Eva Sobotka, 16 February 2001
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