Roma party enters battle to get EU parliament seat

4th June 2009, Comments 0 comments

The Roma community in Hungary is one of the biggest in Europe.

Budapest -- A 21-year-old university student heads the first ethnic Roma party in Hungary's European parliament elections this week as the community confronts growing hostility.

Zsolt Kis said the MCF Roma Unity party could get one or two seats in the 736 member EU assembly if the country's 500,000 to 600,000 Roma community banded together. In reality the party has only a slim chance of winning a seat.

There are between 10 and 12 million Roma in Europe and the group has been the target of repeated attacks in recent months in Italy, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Romania. Even EU surveys say that discrimination is widespread.

"Hungarian deputies tend to represent the case of the Roma only during election campaigns, while living conditions for the Roma remain poor all over the former Communist bloc," said Kis, whose candidate list brings together a coalition of gypsy organisations.

The Roma community in Hungary is one of the biggest in Europe and Kis said more could be done with available funds if more Roma were elected as members of the European parliament (MEPs).

Roma living conditions, life expectancy and chances for a proper education and job are significantly inferior to the rest of Hungary's 10 million strong population.

Kis, who speaks fluent English, needs 150,000 votes to get a European parliament seat.

Roma politicians who have entered the European parliament with mainstream parties have been criticised by fellow gypsies for doing too little. This frustration led to the creation of MCF Roma Unity.

"These Roma Euro deputies represent their parties first and not the Roma community. Had they been representing the Roma, we would have seen some results by now," Kis told AFP.

"Our chances now depend on whether the Hungarian Roma vote for us in unison. If they do, then we can grab one or even two EP seats of the 22 that Hungary has."

Tensions between the Roma and the rest of the population have worsened in recent years with five killed in attacks in 2008 and 2009.

The tactics of far right parties have also led to a dramatic increase in anti-Roma sentiment in recession-hit Hungary.

The extreme right wing Jobbik party, which introduced the term "Roma crimes" to describe activities it associates with the Roma, is set to win between five and seven percent of the vote which will be held on Sunday in Hungary.

Jobbik's paramilitary offshoot, the Hungarian Guard, has staged marches in villages with a high Roma population.

The party even has the head of a police trade union, Tettrekesz (Ready to Act), on its list for the European elections.

"We reject Jobbik's discriminating and prejudiced ideology," said Kis. "We deplore the Hungarian Guard, the spirit of which breeds violence," he adds.

Some 375 million voters across the 27-nation European Union cast ballots from Thursday to Sunday to elect 736 deputies for a five-year term.

The parliament is the only directly-elected EU institution. It has an important role passing pan-European legislation and the Commission's annual budget, which will be about 140 billion euros in 2010.

Eszter Balazs/AFP/Expatica

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