Referendum proposed on autonomous Roma province in Hungary

In 2011, István Kamarás–formerly employed by the Christian Democratic People’s Party’s (KDNP) Barankovics Foundation–claimed refugee status in Canada, noting that he no longer wanted to “lend his name to the government’s actions that oppress Gypsies.” He added that he is “forced to emigrate from the country” and is “forced to accept in his heart the centuries-long hopelessness of the Gypsy people.” Since then, Mr. Kamarás and his family returned to Hungary and he established a new political party with a considerable following on social media. But what really propelled him into the spotlight was when he submitted a referendum proposal to the National Election Office this week on the creation of a autonomous Roma province in northeastern Hungary. Mr. Kamarás is calling for territorial autonomy and his proposal incorporates lands currently under the jurisdiction of four Hungarian counties.

István Kamarás on the left.

The logic behind the proposal and Mr. Kamarás’ political movement, the Opre Roma-Gypsy Democratic People’s Party, is that Roma political elites in Hungary have been both corrupt and incompetent, doing almost nothing to help raise the nation’s largest and growing minority out of abject poverty. Mr. Kamarás refers specifically to the way in which EU funds aimed at Roma integration were misappropriated. His second rationale for territorial autonomy has to do with the changing demographics in counties like Nógrád and Borsod. In both counties, the proportion of students who belong to the Roma minority exceeds 33%. The national average is 15%, although the highest proportion of Roma school children anywhere in the country is found in Budapest’s 8th District, where 48% of students are Roma. (The Mandiner site published a noteworthy interview on these demographic realities with researcher Attila Z. Papp of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, back in 2015.)

The proposed autonomous Roma territory would be called the…

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