A Hungarian court yesterday found four men guilty of killing Roma families in a spree of racist violence in 2008 and 2009 that shocked the country and led to accusations that police had failed to protect an historically persecuted minority.
Six Roma were killed and several wounded in the attacks, which created a climate of fear for members of Hungary’s largest ethnic minority. Roma, who make up about 7 percent of the population of 10 million, face widespread discrimination and often live in dire poverty.
The attacks were carefully planned and carried out over a 13-month period across the country, leaving the nation’s Roma terrified while the perpetrators remained on the loose.
In one of the attacks, several men set fire to a house at the edge of the dusty village of Tatarszentgyorgy, near a forest 30 minutes from Budapest, late at night on Feb. 22, 2009.
When the inhabitants fled the burning building, the attackers shot dead Robert Csorba, a 29-year-old Roma man, and his four-year-old son Robert Jr. A girl was also seriously wounded. The assailants fled.
Robert’s mother, Erzsebet Csorba, said on the verdict that she looked forward to the closing of a chapter, but had no faith it would deliver full justice, bring safety or ease tension between Roma and other Hungarians.
She said that strangers still come through the woods late at night and stalk her house.
According to Roma advocates, police documents show that the authorities dragged their feet in investigating the attack, which was part of a series of killings that had already unleashed fear throughout the Roma community for months.
The last attack in the spree occurred six months later when a young Roma woman was killed in eastern Hungary, after which the perpetrators were finally caught.
Back in 2009, the funeral of the Csorbas was seen as an opportunity to encourage understanding between Roma and other Hungarians. Celebrities attended the service, but their presence did little to change attitudes, said Szilvia Varro, an activist who helped organize the funeral.
“We failed to make the case part of our shared history,” she said. “Hungary typically suffers from a ghetto-like mentality in this way; there are our dead and their dead, and it’s very hard to bridge that divide.”
With another parliamentary election due next year, the Roma issue is becoming hot again, Varro said.
Her advocacy group, Communication Centre X released a series of video clips last month with well-known Hungarian actors reciting excerpts from the trial testimony, describing the killings while blood stains are shown spreading over them.
“The ruling is a good opportunity to reintroduce the issue,” Varro said. “We filmed emotionally charged scenes because we wanted Hungarian viewers to feel it could have been their kids.”