By Stefan J. Bos, Worthy News Europe Bureau Chief reporting from Tatárszentgyörgy, Hungary
TATARSZENTGYORGY, HUNGARY (Worthy News) -- Hungary has asked the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation, the FBI, to help solve a series of deadly attacks against the country's gypsies, who prefer to be known as Roma. At least seven people have died and many more injured in what rights groups describe as Hungary's worst anti-Roma violence in recent years and the most serious in Eastern Europe.
It comes as a journalist is wandering through the rubble of what was once the home of a Gypsy family, also known as Roma, in the Hungarian village of Tatárszentgyörgy 60 kilometers (37 miles) outside Budapest.
There is no roof and the windows are gone.
Family members say suspected anti-Roma extremists set the house ablaze with petrol bombs in February. Róbert Csorba, 27, tried to flee the flames with his five-year old son in his arms. But they were shot dead, outside the burning building.
Csorba's wife and two other small children miraculously survived. Witnesses say one of them, six-year-old Bianka, was shot in her hand, while other bullets scratched her back.
Lacking the resources for psychological care, a heavily-traumatized Bianka is often comforted by her young grand mother, Erzsébet Csorba. The 44-year old lives in an overcrowded house looking out onto an unpaved, muddy, road, next to the destroyed home, where she lost her son and grandchild.
"I woke up from hearing three shots outside in the garden. And I woke up my husband also because I wanted to go with him to see what happened," she tells Worthy News and its partner news agency BosNewsLife, her voice trembling. Csorba sits behind a table near a donated painting of Jesus' last supper with His disciples, before He also died, although three days later resurrected from death, according to the Bible. As she shows photo's of her child and grandson, Csorba says she will never forget that bloodstained Monday of February 23, 2009.
“When we came out here outside of the door, we saw immediately the burning house of my son. So I ran around the house and here on the side of the house there is a little forest and I found my son. “They shot me down, they shot me down,” were the last words that he said. And we found the little boy. His whole small body was full with holes. He was still breathing...”
He and his father soon stopped breathing as ambulances initially didn't bother to help these Roma, according to human rights investigators and family members.
The surviving mother and widow, Renáta Jákob, now lives further away in the village with her parents.
Jákob doesn't want to rebuild her own torched home, which she regards as an eternal monument of hatred against the Roma in Hungary and elsewhere in Eastern Europe.
“No I don't plan at all to rebuild this house. I can not imagine myself living there again after such a tragedy,” Jákob says, “There are too many bad memories. I can not even imagine someone would want to buy this house or rebuild it and live there. I think that's a waste of time, because after such a tragedy you can not live a normal life there.”
Yet, Jákob and even Roma children can't expect much social or moral support from Tatárszentgyörgy''s elected mayor Imréné Berente, although her village receives aid from the European Union.
Mayor Berente has refused to talk with Western reporters about the situation and appears angry when asked about the attacks against Roma in her village and her response.
“Thank you, thank you” her assistant says , before loudly closing the car door and speeding away with the visibly angry mayor. As Mayor Berente drives away, other residents reveal tensions with the Roma, who comprise some 40 percent of this village's nearly 2,000 people.
An elderly Hungarian woman refuses to give her name, but accuses the Roma anyway of anything, from stealing to damaging property and gardens. “We have to close everything, our houses and our cars because they steal. We have weekend houses here and they also break in and steal there,” she asserts.
“They all have horses but they don't have fields. So, where do their horses eat? On our fields? We also don't know how do they pay the taxes? For example I pay the taxes for my car. But the gypsies have cars and we aren't sure whether they pay the taxes.”
The woman's comments are no surprise to the European Roma Rights Center, or ERRC, a major advocacy group. Rights investigators suggest the already marginalized Roma are being used as scape goats for Hungary's current economic crisis.
The ERRC also says perceived neo-nazi groups such as the para-military Hungarian Guard, or Magyar Gárda of the far right party Movement for a Better Hungary (Jobbik) created an atmosphere of hatred towards Hungary's up to 800,000 Roma. The Hungarian Guard has even marched through several of their settlements.
Tatárszentgyörgy is is no exception. In April a 53-year-old Roma man was shot and killed in
another village when he was about to leave for work in a chemical factory. Roma are known to have died and injured in recent racial attacks across Hungary, explains ERRC Programmes Coordinator Tara Bedard.
“There's been 30 attacks in the last two years. And that we know off, I believe that seven people have died,” she says. “I think the most frequent type of attack that has been occurring in the past while is people showing up with Molotov cocktails and throwing them into or at the homes of Roma in several towns of the country. Looking to information that is publicly available, yes the situation in Hungary looks much more extreme than in other countries.”
She wants authorities to intensify the search for suspects. The ERRC also demands that officials reveal the outcome of an internal investigation against police officers who initially refused to treat the killings of Roma in Tatárszentgyörgy as a crime.
Police have now asked the FBI,to help find those responsible for the murders. And politicians? They have promised to improve the lives of Roma in Hungary and Eastern Europe, after centuries of neglect, locals say.
Yet, for now, the Roma in Tatárszentgyörgy are just trying to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.
“When television camera's were hear I could call the politicians, now they don't even pick up the phone anymore,” says Csorba. (This is another part in a series of stories on extremism in Hungary. Part of this news story also aired via Deutsche Welle, Germany's international broadcaster and affiliated networks).