Tolerance and Cultural Diversity Discourses in Hungary

Publication Type: 
CPS Policy Research Reports
The paper presents an overview of questions related to the most pressing issues of (in)tolerance in today’s Hungary by focusing on the development of the concept of the nation as well as the history of minority groups and their political, social and cultural accommodation in the country. Social scientific research shows that the Roma are the primary target of the most intense prejudice and racism in Hungary. Anti-Roma prejudices can and also should be understood more generally as a ‘cultural code’ shared to varying degrees in all political discourse and indeed more generally at a societal level as well, regardless of ideological orientation. Immigrants in Hungary, although very small in number, are also typically viewed with a combination of fear and distrust. Hungarians from the neighbouring countries constitute an important part of the national ‘self’, however, they have been pictured, somewhat ironically, a national ‘other’. Other immigrant groups in contrast have been less visible simply due to their small numbers. But when these groups do appear in the media, they too are often presented as either threatening (e.g. the Chinese mafia) or at the very least exotic. Other minorities in Hungary are not viewed as a challenge to the hegemony of the Hungarian nation. In contrast, anti-Semitism has been (and continues to be) an essential and formative element of Hungarian national self-understandings, with ‘the Jew’ having fill the role of ‘internal other’ for centuries. The paper also accounts for the recent resurgence in Hungarian nationalism on discourses and practices of tolerance and explains how the question of Hungary’s internal minorities (and the Roma in particular) has taken a backseat to the question of the transborder Hungarians. For years, Hungary’s policies toward its minorities were driven, at least in part, by concern for (and a preoccupation with) the transborder Hungarians. In addition the policies devised for Hungary’s minorities and the Roma in particular did not always correspond to the needs or demands of these minorities. Legislative changes in education, the welfare system, and economic structures have often had the effect of further marginalizing the Roma. This continued socio-economic marginalization of the Roma has been further exacerbated by racialized understandings of difference (particularly evident vis-à-vis the Roma) that preclude possibilities for socio-cultural integration and/or accommodation. The paper concludes that the major tolerance issues in Hungary today are overwhelmingly related to the situation of the Roma.