The Roma Press Center (RPC) is the first Roma news agency in Hungary with the goal of reducing prejudice against the Roma. Their profile has been changed throughout the years, since the technological developments of the media and the political and economic changes of the country challenged their way of effectiveness. Until recently, the RPC was always about reacting to the negative stories about the Roma and balancing this image in the media. Yet in the last three years, RPC changed their attitude by becoming a proactive media organisation which directly participates in shaping the public discourse about the Roma with their work. We interviewed one of their current editors and former directors, Gabór Bernáth.
“The reason why the Roma Press Center was founded, is to give a broader, more objective and better image of the Roma population to the mainstream society.”
“The Roma Press Center is a twenty years old non-governmental organisation. We used to work like a press agency, but these days, we are not only writing articles for the mainstream media. We also make social campaigns, because we think it creates a bigger impact. In the last three to four years we’ve made a few campaigns. Another thing we do is making short films, but only in the last three to four years. The reason why the Roma Press Center was founded, is to give a broader, more objective and better image of the Roma population to the mainstream society.
I think we are sincerely objective in the articles we write, but we also make some distinctively positive campaigns, for example ‘The every day Roma heroes’. This is a campaign where we show everyday people – it can be a doctor, a bus driver, a builder… – and we show that Roma people live among us but it’s not written on their faces. You may not know them as Roma.
We also made a big campaign about inclusive education, because we have issues with segregation in Hungary. This was not a positive campaign. Instead we made a campaign about the misbehaviour of the Hungarian police, because they are unjust in their fines against Roma people in the countryside. For example, you are riding a bike and the brakes don’t fully work, then only the gipsy people get stopped and fined. First, we collected stories with 150 volunteers in the countryside and then we made films with a hidden camera. Our white volunteers weren’t charged, but the gipsy volunteers got a fine at the first minute for the exact same offense. We made a lot of articles and videos. After a year, we chose six stories from the 100 and contemporary writers made short stories about this. With contemporary actors we also made films, so we produced a lot of literature, film and articles.
“In the first twenty years, we thought the best way to reach more people was to sell articles [to mainstream media outlets], now this has changed.”
So from the beginning in 1995, we produced for the mainstream. That’s why ten thousand people or more read our articles. The Hungarian media collapsed and changed because the government owns them now. So in the future, we want to work through a big website and not sell articles anymore. In the first twenty years, we thought the best way to reach more people was to sell articles, now this has changed.
Different kind of groups of Roma arrived in Europe and for centuries they lived together in a much more peaceful way. Then, 100 or 200 years ago this changed. That change happened when it became really important to be an individual country in the 19th century. The Roma were always poor. After WWII, they lived like the poorest farmers without land. There are several important problems in their communities: housing, school, work and health. In the middle of the 60s most of the gipsies didn’t attend school. During communism some of the Roma could work in factories, but they got the worst jobs, so they were not equal with other Hungarian people. The communist government used to say that there were no poor people during communism, but that was not true. Most of the gipsies were living in very poor settlements, separated from society. The government even prohibited to make settlements near the villages.
After the change everybody got hope that the Roma would live in better conditions, but that didn’t happen as well, because the change gave us capitalism and technology. Ten thousands of Roma lost their jobs. There was a time between 2002 and 2009 when there was a big reform in the schools to get the Roma children more included. My colleague and I were working for the Ministry of Education and we organised this program, but after a round of governmental savings it stopped. Even the socialist party hated this program.
“Sometimes politicians say that Roma people are not Hungarian, but most Roma people have double identities. Personally, I am Roma and I am also Hungarian.”
In the 90s a big extreme right-wing party started to evolve and peaked in 2002. That was a very bad time for the Roma communities, because there were several paramilitary groups who targeted them. These groups disappeared two or three years ago because the federal police did not want to have any competition. For all these reasons, Roma have a hard existence in the countryside. In Budapest it is easier, but 99% of the Roma people live in the countryside. But at the same time Roma people are more integrated in Hungary than any other gipsy group in Europe, because 200 years ago, the queen of the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy took the language from the Roma people in that area. That’s why only 10% of the Hungarian Roma speak their own mother language and these are very separated groups who have no contact with each other. That’s a very important thing. I think it is a loss from one side, but it’s luck from the other side, because that’s why they are more integrated since centuries. So Roma people in the Balkan are more separated. If a Hungarian Roma child goes to school, he speaks Hungarian and reads Hungarian literature. Sometimes politicians say that Roma people are not Hungarian, but most Roma people have double identities. Personally, I am Roma and I am also Hungarian. My grandfather was in the WWII and a freedom fighter. He was a proud man, Hungarian Roma are a proud people.
Yesterday it was the national holiday celebrating the revolution. Last year we made a campaign about it: we did some research and found some Hungarian Roma heroes during the revolution. We pushed it to the mainstream media. This is very popular with the Roma people, but also with other people.
Nowadays you don’t find any anti-Roma articles anymore in the media. During the last years a lot of things changed. For example, there is a Roma man who runs the biggest newspaper in Hungary right now. Twenty years ago that would have been impossible.
In Hungary there are two left sides – at least they call themselves left – and right. The newspapers and the media are connected somewhere: sometimes to the left, sometimes to the right. The Roma Press Center has always been independent. When a politician makes a mistake or says something wrong, we always write about it. We never care what side he’s from. Everybody thinks we are liberal left, but it is not true. We feel free to write whatever we want because we don’t have a boss. We get subsidised by the Open Society Foundations of George Soros, but nor he, nor other people can say what we should write. Soros is the only open society left since the economical crisis in 2008. We also received money from a Norwegian fund once. Hungary is a small country. There is no middle class.
“Right now we are with only three people in the Roma Press Center. We’re very small. We want to grow, but we don’t even know yet how we are going to earn a living in January or February.”
For the moment I only work for Roma Press Center, but most of the time I need another job, because I don’t earn enough to live here. Originally, I was a teacher, but the situation for teachers is catastrophic. My sister is a teacher as well. I see what she has to go through. I’ve studied literature and grammar. My father was a journalist. But after getting my teaching degree, I started working at Roma NGOs, not as a journalist, but as a teacher. Right now we are with only three people in the Roma Press Center. We’re very small. We want to grow, but we don’t even know yet how we are going to earn a living in January or February, because our money reaches only until December.”
Interview and photo by Sonderland
Note from the editors: the brief introduction on this interview is a quotation of the abstract of Maria Bogdan’s interview.