Orban’s new opponent targets Hungary’s Roma in EU election race

PASZTO, Hungary – The man who hopes to challenge Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s 14-year iron hold on Hungarian politics actively woos Roma voters in advance of the European Parliament (EP), next weekend election. His message of change is striking a cord.

Peter Magyar is a political newcomer who has taken advantage of public discontent over Hungary’s economic woes. He took the rare move in May to visit a notoriously poor Roma community as part of a national campaign tour that visited nearly 200 towns and village.

“No politician in Hungary has ever done this before,” said Sandor Botos a Roma worker. He was referring to Magyar Magyar Magyar Magyar Magyar Magyar Magyar Magyar Magyar Magyar Magyarach’s visit to Hetes settlement, in the town Ozd, where hundreds still live without the basic necessities, such as running waters.

“He showed how poor these villages are, how many kids are starving and that they’re not in school,” said Botos (48), while attending a Magyar political rally in Paszto, northeast Hungary.

Botos smiled when his grandson Noel, who was only a few years old at the time, took a selfie after the speech with Magyar.

Magyars’ charm offensive in Ozd could worry Orban’s Fidesz nationalist party. Fidesz has enjoyed long-standing support from Roma and other rural Hungarians, who are often poorer.

The first visit by a mainstream Hungarian political figure to a Roma settlement in many years could be pivotal.

Robert Laszlo is an election analyst with the think tank Political Capital.

Fidesz is expected to win over 40% in the Sunday EP elections. Fidesz has been in power since 2010, and its hold on state media and some private ones helps it in this. The Tisza Party, led by Magyar since April, is in second place with around 20%.

Magyar is taking part in his first election. Magyar, a former government official, turned against Fidesz because of the corruption and propaganda he witnessed.

He is first on the Tisza list, but does not plan to sit in the European Parliament if he were to be elected. Instead, he would prefer to stay in Hungary to lay the foundations for defeating Orban at the next national elections due in 2026.

‘BIGGEST MINORITY’

Roma in Eastern Europe have suffered for a long time from poverty, unemployment and discrimination.

According to official data, just over 200,000 people in Hungary identify themselves as Roma. However, activists and sociologists estimate that their number is between half a milion and one million.

Magyar, speaking to Reuters at a campaign event in Dunakeszi, said: “They’re the largest minority and nobody cares about them since 34 years.” He was referring to the decades that have passed since 1989, when communism fell.

He said that there are some support programmes for them but they only reach a small number of towns. “But nobody has done anything truly to support them,” he added.

Magyar said repeatedly that education was key to helping Roma communities. He also promised to increase the monthly cash benefit for families.

The Orban government launched a workfare program in 2011, which offered employment to thousands of people who had been out of regular employment for many years. It also helped them to transition into the regular job market.

Laszlo stated that “the most vulnerable (social groups), which overlap often with the Roma populations, are an important vote bloc for Fidesz as they were able take a few step ahead with the help of the government.”

The recent economic downturn has shaken their confidence in the government.

Aladar HORVATH, the head of the Romani Civil Rights Movement and the Romani Parliament, said that the annual food price inflation would reach 50% by the year 2022. This will push some Roma into extreme poverty.

Horvath stated that the outreach of Magyars to Roma voters could be “significant” in time.

“Right away, he’s just getting to understand our world and we’re just beginning to get to know him.”

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