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Roma murder series in Hungary

Keno Verseck / re
February 21, 2014

A series of Roma murders shocked Hungary five years ago. Right-wing extremists have been sentenced to long prison terms. But the survivors haven't yet received any help from the government.

Ungarn Roma Morde Grabstein Csorba
Image: DW/K. Verseck

When Erzsebet Csorba looks out of her kitchen window, she sees the site where her son and her grandson were murdered. There is a ruin just a few steps away. She remembers how she found her son Robert. He was lying in the snow and bleeding.

And she remembers how she was holding her grandson, little Robi, in her arms. He was just four and a half years old, and he was dead, riddled with shot pellets. "I wake up with my memories and I fall asleep with my memories," said the 49-year old.

Tatarszentgyörgy is a remote village 55 kilometers south of the Hungarian capital Budapest. Several Roma families live in humble houses at the outskirts of the village. Csorba's house is the one nearest to the forest.

Five years ago, in the night of February 22-23, right wing extremists set fire to Csorba's house and shot at the fleeing family with shotguns. The father and the son died, one daughter survived heavily injured and the mother survived with minor injuries.

Serious investigative errors

It was the second murder attack of a series that saw right-wing extremists kill six Roma and injure 55 people, most of them Roma. Several of them were heavily injured. Tatarszentgyörgy was the turning point in the series - the investigators started to believe that the offenders had racist motives.

A woman stands in front of a house (Foto: Keno Verseck/DW)
Erzsebet Csorba and her family are poorImage: DW/K. Verseck

They were caught six months later at the end of August 2009. They were four fanatical and right-wing extremists known to the authorities. Until shortly before the attacks, they had been under surveillance by the intelligence services.

Last year, three of them were convicted to life in prison and one accomplice was convicted to 13 years in prison.

In September 2009 the then-Intelligence Services Minister Ádám Ficsor admitted serious investigative errors. He also said that the offenders could have been caught earlier and that the last two attacks could perhaps have been prevented.

Despite this admission, the families of the victims didn't get any compensation. No high-ranking representative of the state publicly expressed any sympathy or apologized for the investigative errors, either from the socialist-liberal coalition - the murders happened while it was in power - nor from the conservative government of Viktor Orban.

Roma poverty adds to woes

It wasn't until the end of the trial that the Orban government promised the survivors and the relatives of the victims quick compensation. Previously, civil rights campaigners and lawyers called attention to the situation with dramatic appeals.

Nearly all of them live in abject poverty and in rundown houses. "They are continuously confronted with gruelling financial worries and often they are not able to pay their bills," said Jozsef Gulyas, a liberal politician who initiated the parliamentarian committee of inquiry in 2009.

Gulyas takes care of some of the survivors and families of the victims. He continually collects donations from friends. For example, at the end of last year he collected money for the Csorba family to buy firewood for the winter.

Pillows on a clothesline in front of tow houses (Foto: Keno Verseck/DW)
The Roma houses in Tatarszentgyörgy are at the edge of the villageImage: DW/K. Verseck

There are eleven members of the Csorba family, five adults and six children, who all share the three rooms. The family lives on 500 euros a month. The house desperately needs repairs, says Erzsebet Csorba. Several water pipes are broken and water seeps through the walls. But there is no money for repairs.

The survivors and the relatives not only have financial worries, they also suffer from physical and psychological consequences of the attacks and murder. They are unable to work and can't afford the appropriate medical treatment. Erzsebet's husband died a year ago - also from grief about the murders of his son and grandson, says Erzsebet.

Compensation expected - someday

Originally the government planned to hand out compensation by October 2013. But nothing has happened since then. At the beginning of February the ministry responsible for social affairs and minorities assigned the Hungarian office of the victim support organization 'White Ring Public Benefit Association' to find out about the living situation of all those affected by the Roma murder series.

The representatives of the organization have now visited all of the affected Roma. By the end of February the organization wants to present the ministry with a final report including suggestions for help, said Laszlo Fügedi, the chairman of the White Ring organization, told DW.

It is still not clear how long it will take until the victims get help. The undersecretary in charge, Zoltan Kovacs, cited "legal difficulties" for the delays, insisting that it is impossible to pay compensation, as the state can only grant what he called "damage limitation."

Ungarn Roma Morde Ruine
This is where Robert and Robi Csorba were killedImage: DW/K. Verseck

Csorba wants her family eventually to move away from the site of the murders. She, her children and her grandchildren still live in fear in their house at the edge of the forest. She would like to build a high fence around her property, but she doesn't have the money for it. Sometimes her sons and her little grandchildren wake up in the middle of the night because they hear noises. Then Csorba calms them down. But she can't help wondering herself if there are more murderers lurking outside the house.

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