Conditions for the integration of the Roma in Hungary have not been better for thirty years, and we must make the most of this opportunity, the departing Minister of Human Capacities stated on Friday in Pécs.

In his welcome address delivered at the 7th Romology Conference held in the Pécs Gandhi Secondary School, Zoltán Balog praised the government’s results achieved in the integration of the Roma community which also have a positive impact on public education, employment, culture and academic life.

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He highlighted that – uniquely in Europe – in Hungary every child from the age of three has the right and possibility to attend nursery school where the state provides three free meals a day for 85 per cent of them. Some 65 per cent of pupils in elementary schools have access to free meals and various other benefits, the Minister added, pointing out that textbooks are provided free of charge for all students in the first nine grades of school.

Eliminating school segregation, which Mr Balog described as an open issue that is yet to be resolved, “takes a central will and central direction”, he said in reference to the establishment of the Klebelsberg Centre and the need to find a way to harmonise the fight against segregation and parents’ freedom of choosing the school they wish to enrol their children in. The politician also stressed the role of Sure Start Children’s Houses and special needs schools in Roma integration.

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Regarding employment, he stressed: “In Hungary today there is a rate of economic growth that simply absorbs work force”. He said it is an enormous opportunity that a great many people who were previously involved in the public works schemes have been able to move on to the private labour market.

As part of the programme Better Opportunities for Women so far two thousand Roma women have been enrolled in various vocational training programmes upon the completion of which 75 per cent of attendees successfully stand their ground on the labour market. In the past three years HUF 45 billion has been made available for the so-called estate programme aimed at improving the living conditions of the Roma, and “mayors are competing fiercely for these funds”, he said.

“We wanted to show via the medium of culture that the Roma in Hungary have values which are also part of Hungarian culture and history, and at the same time they also enrich Europe.” The Roma community has every reason to be proud of them, he said.

In the context of the Roma educational and cultural centre named after the world renowned Roma pianist György Cziffra which will open next spring in Budapest’s 8th district, he said that the Roma in Hungary will be proud of this institution.

Addressing the attendees of the Pécs conference, Mr Balog described Hungary’s role in Roma studies as pioneering, and at the same time he praised the efforts of those researching this discipline. According to his information, 225 students have graduated from the Romology Department of the Humanities Faculty of the University of Pécs to date, including both Roma and non-Roma students.

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In his speech, making a distinction between the terms ‘integration’ and ‘assimilation’, Mr Balog argued: “I would like the Hungarian state to provide opportunities for young Roma people which enable them to integrate and to become a part of majority society if they so wish, as well as to foster their own culture and identity separately if that is their choice”.

The coming into being of a new Roma middle class, elite and intelligentsia which has a vested interest in cooperation, rather than in confrontation, is also in the best interests of majority society, he said.

Mr Balog announced, without mentioning specific details, that with the support of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his successor as minister Miklós Kásler, he will continue to take part in the supervision of the policy aimed at the integration of the Roma.

According to the information sent by the University of Pécs to the Hungarian news agency MTI, the Romology conference is a jubilee event in the lives of the attending organisations as in the 2017/2018 academic year they will celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the launch of Roma studies at the Pécs university, while the Wislocki Henrik College of Specialisation was established fifteen years ago.

Sixty-two academic lectures will be delivered at the Pécs conference which will last until Saturday afternoon.