MINELRES: Hungary: Selection of minority news, March-May, 2007

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Wed Jun 13 18:31:49 2007

Original sender: Katalin Deak <Katalin.Deak@MEH.HU>

Department for National and Ethnic Minorities
Prime Minister's Office
7 June, 2007. 

Selection of news on
national and ethnic minorities in Hungary

March - May 2007

Minister of the Prime Minister's Office and Speaker of the Parliament
met with the new presidents of the national minority self-governments    

Both Gyorgy Szilvasy, Minister of the Prime Minister's Office, and
Katalin Szili, Speaker of the Parliament received in their offices the
new presidents of the thirteen national minority self-governments,
elected in March 2007.      

In his speech on 17 April, Mr Szilvasy described the re-organisation of
the governmental structure with respect to minority policy as a positive
development. The Minister pointed out that from 1st of February 2007,
the Department for National and Ethnic Minorities (henceforth: the
Department) and the Department for Nation Policy work under the
supervision of Secretary of State, Mr Ferenc Gemesi, who is responsible
for International Relations and Nation Policy at the Prime Minsiter's
Office. As a sign of his commitment to the continuation of the
constructive dialogue between the government and the responsible bodies
of domestic minorities, Mr Szilvasy suggested to the presidents of the
national self-governments to compile a list of unresolved issues which
affect them in their capacity as national or ethnic minorities.  

Mr Szilvasy described what he called the 'dynamisation of minority
policy' and the strengthening of cultural autonomy as the most important
tasks of the government. The Minister also stressed the openness of the
government to discuss any matter raised by the minorities. In April Mr
Szilvasy suggested the establishment of three working committees. One
committee has been tasked with the elaboration of possible amendments of
minority related laws in the light of the minority elections held in
2006/2007. The committee shall also put the issue of parliamentary
representation of minorites on its agenda. It held its statutory meeting
on 6 June at a conference organised by the Department.  

Another working group is to evaluate the multi- channel minority
financial system; it will also outline the concept of a Government
Decree on the so - called task-based financing of minority
self-governments, and finally, the Committee of Finance will elaborate
proposals concerning the future possible role and status of the present
Public Foundation for National and Ethnic Minorties living in Hungary. A
third working group has been set up with the aim of making proposals in
order to improve the access of minorites to the media. The working group
was established at the media conference organised by the Department on
1-2 June in Pecs.    

Speaker of the Parliament, Ms Katalin Szili held a meeting with the
presidents of national minority self-governments on 31 May. She proposed
the founding of a forum of national and ethnic minorites living in
Hungary which, according to the hopes of Ms Szili, would hold regular
sessions in order to discuss strategic questions of minority policy.     

State President Laszlo Solyom introduced his nominees for Parliamentary
Commissioners for Civil Rights and for National and Ethnic Minority

Former Commissioner for Civil Rights, Mr Barnabas Lenkovics left his
office earlier this year to continue his professional carrier as member
of the Constitutional Court. His successor is to be elected by the
Parliament upon the proposal of the State President. Ad interim the
Commissioner's position was taken over by the Deputy Commissioner Mr
Albert Takacs until Mr Takacs was appointed as Minister of Justice and
Law Enforcement earlier in May. Consequently, the position of the
Parliamentary Commissioner for Civil Rights is vacant at the moment, the
Parliament is expected to vote on the nominee of the State President, Mr
Laszlo Majtenyi (former Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of
Information) later in June. 

The Commissioner for National and Ethnic Minory Rights, Mr Jeno
Kaltenbach's second term in office ends in June, 2007. Mr Kaltenbach was
first elected to the post of the Parliamentary Commissioner for National
and Ethnic Minority Rights in 1995, when the institution was
established. Dr Kaltenbach deserved international recognition in the
field of human and minority rights. Since 1997 he has been the
representative of Hungary in the European Commission against Racism and
Intolerance of the Council of Europe, in which he had fulfilled the duty
of first vice president for several years. Between 1997 and 2003 he was
a deputy member of the Management Board of the European Monitoring
Centre on Racism and Xenophobia of the European Union. In February 2005
he was elected vice-president of the European Ombudsman Institute. Apart
from the wide range of activities in public affairs, Dr Kaltenbach has
been pursuing a long academic career as a professor of law. He wrote
numerous studies on anti-discrimination and equal opportunities and
delivered a great number of presentations and public lectures at
different national and international conferences.

Pursuant to the relevant law, Parliamentary Commissioners can be
re-elected only once. Accordingly, the State President also named his
nominee for the Commissioner for National and Ethnic Minority Rights. Mr
Solyom proposed Mr Erno Kallai to the post. 

Mr Kallai was born in 1969. He studied history and music, and finally
acquired a law degree at the Law Faculty of the Eotvos Lorand University
in Budapest in 2002. 

Since 1998 he has been working as a researcher and the leader of the
Romology working group at the Research Institute of Ethnic and National
Minorities of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.  In 2006 Mr Kallai was
awarded the Prize for Minorities, and in 2007 he was appointed to member
of the Advisory Council of the Equal Treatment Authority. Mr Kallai
wrote numerous studies on the situation of the Roma in Hungary. 

The Council of Roma Integration held its statutory meeting in April,

On the occassion of the statutory meeting of the Council of Roma
Integration on 3 April 2007, Peter Kiss, Minister for Social Affairs and
Labour handed over the credentials to the Council members. The Minister
presented the National Action Plan of the 'Decade of Roma Inclusion'
Programme and he also put forward a proposal concerning the scholarship
programme for Roma students for the academic year 2007/2008.  The
members adopted the work schedule for 2007 and agreed to hold the next
session on 5 June, 2007. 

The Council of Roma Integration led by Peter Kiss, replaces two, earlier
existing bodies, namely the inter-ministerial committee on Roma issues,
as well as the Roma Council. 

The mandate of the Council of Roma Integration includes expressing
opinions on current issues, consultation rights, and the preparation of

The Council is composed of high - ranking government officials (e.g.
Secretaries of State of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of
Finance, the Ministry of Justice and Law Enforcement, the Ministry of
Agriculture and Rural Development, the Prime Minister's Office, and the
Head of Department for National and Ethnic Minorties at the Prime
Minister's Office) the President of the Roma National Self-government
and representatives of the Roma community. The prevailing minority
ombusdman and the Head of the Equal Treatment Authority are invited to
all sessions of the Council. 

Joint conference of the Roma Education Fund and the Hungarian government
- April, 2007

The Roma Education Fund in cooperation with the Hungarian Government
organised a conference on 2 April where Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany
expressed the government's commitment towards the elimination of the
disadvantaged situation of the Roma. The Prime Minister pointed out that
the first step in order to put to end the discrimination of the Roma
must be made in the area of education. As an illustration of the
government efforts in this key area, the Prime Minister referred to the
recent amendment of the Act on Public Education which bans segregation,
in other words, the separation of Roma children from their non-Roma
fellows. Furthermore, the geographical dictricts of schools have been
re-designed so that no schools can receive exclusively or mostly
disadvantaged students from the next academic year.   

The conference dealt with the following topics: how to find balance
between the effectiveness of educational reforms and equal
opportunities; good practices concerning the reduction of the number of
Roma children sent to special schools; legislation in favour of the
integration of the Roma.

The Roma Education Fund launched a new series titled 'The improvement of
Roma education'. It aims to examine the education reforms in the
participating countries of the Decade of Roma Inclusion. 

Brief history of the Roma Education Fund

In December, 2004 within the framework of the Decade of Roma Inclusion,
an international donors conference was held in Paris which marked the
establishment of the Fund. A total of approximately 34 million Euros was
pledged for the period 2005-2015 from 8 donors (Canada, Greece, Ireland,
Netherlands, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK), private
foundations and multilateral agencies such as the Central European Bank
and the World Bank. Approximately 8 million Euros were available in
2005.  On 12 May 2005, the Roma Education Fund was registered as a Swiss
Foundation and started operating with its office in Budapest. 

The National Action Plan of the 'Decade of Roma Inclusion' Programme is
currently under discussion in the Parliament

On 29 May the Parliament held a general debate on the National Strategy
of the 'Decade of Roma Inclusion' Programme and it will likely adopt a
resolution on this matter during its spring session. The draft
resolution states that on the basis of the National Strategy an Action
Plan by the governmental shall be elaborated by 31 August 2007 at the

Hungary will take over the Presidency of the Decade of Roma Inclusion
from Bulgaria between July 2007 - June 2008.     

The next meeting of the International Steering Committee of the Decade
of Roma Inclusion to be organised by the Bulgarian Ministry of Labour
and Social Policy will take place in Sofia on 12-13 June.  This will be
the 10th meeting of the International Steering Committee of the Decade
of Roma Inclusion.  

Events recently organised by the Department for National and Ethnic
Minorities, PM's Office
21-22 April 2007, Baja: conference on the present situation of minority

For the second time in two years, the Department brought together
representatives of the thirty six educational and cultural institutions
administered by national minority self-governments with delegates from
the government in order to assess the current situation of minority
institutions. The meeting was opened by Secretary of State, Mr Ferenc

The participants deliberated inter alia the effects of the amendment of
minority related laws (2005) on the foundation and on the take over
institutions and the possible role of the newly elected regional
minority self-governments in the process of institutionalisation.   

The plenary session was held on the first day of the conference, where
representatives of the Prime Minister's Office, the Ministry of
Education and Culture, the Ministry of Local Government and Regional
Development, and the National Development Agency informed the
participants about the future financial sources of minority
institutions. In the second part of the plenary session the floor was
given to the representatives of minority institutions. They outlined
their strategy for the maintenance and the further foundation of
minority educational and cultural institutions.         

The second day of the conference was dedicated to different workshop
meetings with the aim of drawing attention to specific aspects of the
process of institutionalisation.     

1-2 June 2007, Pecs: conference on minority media 

The purpose of the conference was to overview the ongoing legislatory
work concerning the digitalisation of the radio and television and to
discuss its relation to the rights of minorities in the field of media.
The Department invited the presidents of the national minority
self-governments, professionals of minority editorial offices and
politicians specialised in media. In the course of the conference, the
National Board of Radio and Television, the representatives of the
public - service radio and television informed the audience about their
minority media policy.  The participants also raised some issues, such
as state subvention for the minority written press, the freedom of
expression, and finally the issue of unbiased and pluralistic media. 

6 June 2007, Budapest: conference on the experiences of the amendment of
minority related laws in 2005 - a need to develop laws further

At the plenary session of the conference outgoing minority ombusdman Mr.
Jeno Kaltenbach, Secretary of State at the Department of Justice and Law
Enforcement, Mr. Imre Papp and President of the National Election Office
Mrs. Emilia Rytko shared with the audience their views and experiences
about how the amended minority legislation was put into practice at the
elections in 2006-2007. They also draw attention to some shortcommings
of the relevant laws such as the fact that the names of those registered
in the minortiy voters' register is secret which, they argued, makes it
impossible for the elected members of the local minority self -
governments to identify whom they represent. The personal scope of the
regulations concerning the election of minority self-governments is also
a controversial issue: regulations in this field are not in conformity
with regulations governing the election of municipal governments where,
according to the Constitution, migrants and refugees have the right to
vote, whereas only those Hungarian citizens are entitled vote at local
minority elections who have registered in the minority voters'register.
The introduction of the regional level of minority self-governments also
remains debated. 

In the course of the conference a working committee was established by
Mr Ferenc Gemesi. The committee was tasked with looking into possible
solutions of some unresolved issues of minority legislation and reach
consensus as to their resolution.    

Information days about EU funds - what can minority communities do to
benefit from them?  

In February the Department launched a series of six information days to
be organised at six different venues throughout the country for members
of minority communities. The aim of the initiative is to provide the
widest possible information about EU funds, how to apply for them, how
to find partners, etc. In the course of these meetings colleagues from
the Department present general information on the matter and they invite
experts from the National Development Agency and the competent regional
development councils. The last information day is to be held in
Pilisvorosvar on 15-16 June,

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