Orbán under fire over school segregation comments

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Viktor Orbán is facing criticism from rights groups | Attila Kisbenedek/AFP via Getty Images

Hungarian PM ‘crossed every moral line,’ says rights activist.

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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is facing criticism from rights groups, after publicly opposing court-ordered compensation for school segregation.

A court has ruled that Hungarian Roma children in the village of Gyöngyöspata, who experienced years of ethnically-based school segregation, need to be financially compensated.

Speaking at his annual international press conference in Budapest on Thursday, Orbán said: “I’m not from Gyöngyöspata, but if I lived there, I would after all ask, how is it possible that members of an ethnic group who live with me in the same community, same village for some reason will receive a significant amount [of money] without doing any work.”

The prime minister also questioned what counts as segregation.

Rights groups and members of the Roma community expressed shock at the comments.

Orbán’s description of compensation for segregation as free money is “unacceptable and outrageous,” the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union wrote in a statement. “The money goes to those Gyöngyöspata children, who a school run by the local government and then the Hungarian state deliberately, illegally taught in a segregated manner.”

This is not the first time members of the Hungarian government have come under fire for comments on the Roma minority.

During the 2018 Hungarian election campaign, the prime minister’s then-chief of staff was criticized for saying that the country’s Roma minority hasn’t been integrated for 600 years, which showed that migrants couldn’t be integrated either.

But some longtime activists say that the prime minister’s press conference this week marked a change in the government’s approach to minorities.

“It looks like instead of the migrant card he’s now playing the gypsy card,” said Aladár Horváth, a Roma rights activist and former member of the Hungarian parliament.

Orbán “crossed every moral line,” Horváth said, adding that the prime minister’s comments were an appeal to far-right voters and an attempt to influence the courts, as the Curia — Hungary’s Supreme Court — has yet to make a final decision on the segregation case.

The prime minister’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

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