Roma may have right to
use languages they hardly speak
Parliament will vote
later this year on a bill to employ speakers of Gypsy languages in state
institutions. According to the draft, speakers of Beás (Boyash), an archaic
version of Romanian, and Lovari, an Indo-Aryan language, will be employed at
institutions including local governments, schools, hospitals and care homes.
The plan outlined by
Ferenc Gémesi, state secretary of the Prime Minister’s Office, initially
envisages only employing Gypsy speakers where there is a demand, but within
five years most institutions should have staff who can work in these languages.
Some aspects of the draft
law are vague: it does not specify the number of Gypsy-speakers per institute
and no decision has been taken on whether more Gypsies will be employed or
whether staff already on the books will be taught the languages. The law as it
stands gives preference to speakers of local minority languages when it comes
to employment in public institutions.
Gypsy-language TV and
radio programmes are under consideration for the future, Gémesi added.
Development of primary school textbooks in both Gypsy languages, is due to
begin in the autumn. There is also a plan to use European Union money to
finance the production of teaching materials, accredit university courses and
The state secretary
advocated the measure as a question of equality and said that the overall aim
is to aid Gypsy integration and employment. He stressed that according to the
law every minority citizen has the right to use their mother tongue in the
course of public administration processes. This already works well in the case
of the minorities who speak Slovakian, Croatian, Serbian, Slovenian, German and
Romanian, Gémesi said.
He also said that it is
difficult to put a figure on the number of such institutions that might need
Gypsy-speaking employees, but put the estimated cost of the initial programme
at HUF 50 million (EUR 204,950).
The bill has met with
mixed reactions. Viktória Mohácsi, an MEP of Roma origin who represents the
liberal Alliance of Free Democrats, told Figyelőnet in an interview that there
are more important things to do in Hungary in connection with Gypsies.
“Only about 10% of Romany
people in Hungary speak the Beás or the Romany languages. Besides these they
speak Hungarian as well, so it is doubtful whether this gesture of the
government is really necessary,” she said. She added that the money would be
better spent combating segregation and discrimination.
Her scepticism appears to
be backed up by the 2003 national Gypsy sociological survey, which found that
there are 600,000 Roma in Hungary, but that only around 8% of them speak Lovari
and less than 5% know Beás.
Measures aimed at helping
Gypsies appear to be failing. The deputy director of State Audit Office, Gyula
Pulay, speaking in front of parliament’s minority committee meeting, was quoted
in the daily Magyar Hírlap as saying, “Since the change of the system the state
has spent HUF 120 billion [EUR 491.68 million at the current exchange rate] on
supporting the integration of Gypsies and improving their lot, but due to the
lack of data it can’t be known how much this vast amount of money served the
He also bemoaned the lack
of specific aims, transparency and real planning in policies aimed at improving
the plight of Gypsies. In a damning verdict he said that the overall position
of the Roma population has deteriorated.
Exam catches on
If the plan does go ahead
there will be no shortage, at least in theory, of Roma language speakers to
take up the posts.
state-recognised languages exams – a key requirement to graduate from
university or win bonuses in many jobs – is increasingly popular in Gypsy
languages. Lovari is now the fifth most popular language after English, German,
French and Spanish.
It also appears to have
replaced Esperanto as the perceived soft option. Language schools that
advertise getting students of English up to intermediate exam level in 500
lessons often advertise managing the same in Lovari in as few as 60 lessons.
Gyula Juhász, who works
at the Centre for Foreign Languages (ITK), an examining body, told the daily
Magyar Nemzet last year that most people taking the Roma language exams are not
of Roma origin. He added that most people entering for the exam were either
students or professionals, mainly teachers, social workers and police officers.
Native speakers of the
Gypsy languages might be harder to employ, as rates of secondary school
graduation, the minimum educational level for the civil service, remain
disastrously low among the Roma population. In 2003, 80% of all children
studied in either a grammar or vocational school. The figure for Gypsies was