The interconnected web of political interest and inability ties the Hungarian population of Galambfalva to the Roma living in the settlement in its vicinity. Two thirds of the Roma population of Galambfalva is preschooler or attends elementary school, often the parents themselves are not older than fourteen or fifteen. Within the next ten-twenty years the unhealthy environment and the lack of education and unemployment will lead to unpredictable consequences. The situation in Galambfalva is true for the whole Szekler region: how to involve the Roma community?
The unbridgeable distance between the ongoing and intense rural development programs and the thriving cultural life of Galambfalva and the Roma settlement, the so called Wasteland is striking. Galambfalva (Municipality of Porumbeni) is an exemplary municipality at 10 kms from Székelykeresztúr (both Kisgalambfalva/Porumbenii Mici and Nagygalambfalva/Porumbenii Mari belong to its administration). Rural development projects were and are ongoing as the renovated and well kept buildings, the asphalted roads, paved sidewalks, the flowers hanging from the electricity pylons, the sports complex, and the summer camps organized for the children who had moved from the village prove it, together with the 500.000 euros dedicated for school development.
There is no running water nor electricity in the Roma settlement. Inside the adobe houses improvised stoves are used for cooking, the roofs are in a bad shape and rarely have a chimney. Before the road towards the settlement was covered with asphalt, which occurred only a couple of years ago, those who lived in the settlement had beaten a path to the village.
„I really went for the overall development of our municipality. Up to now it was all a success. We are constantly full of ideas, of plans. The Roma issue is one of the biggest problems of our municipality. We are still managing with them, but we are close to failing” – said Levente Gyerkó, the mayor of Galambfalva, when he summed up the situation in the village.
According to the last census data, only 9 Roma people live in Galambfalva. No official land registry document confirms that the Wasteland, this no man’s land exists, where 230-270 people live in an isolated community which is the only unaddressed issue awaiting solution. In the two villages that belong to the same administration other hundred Roma people live, who, contrary to the Roma living in the settlement are not day laborers and traditionally are traders, some of them trade with horses.
For them the only service is burial
The Wasteland is not an actual no man’s land. It is the property of seventeen owners who live in Galambfalva. The people who live on the Wasteland didn’t occupy it in order to build illegal houses, what happened was that prior the regime change, they were steadily moved further and further away from the village. According to the local protestant priest, György Kányádi in 1862 several Roma families lived already in the area, as shown on the photo taken at the parish meeting where the Roma people were sitting in the back rows.
In the ’60s and ’70s another three families were sent to settle further away from the edges of the village, then Samu Sándor, the party secretary was responsible for it – the priest informed us. The Roma community living here was growing with the years.
Wild wild Galambfalva/Municipality of Porumbeni?
„How is this written, I donno. I can’t read it. Middle Kisgalambfalva, this is how we refer to it” – says one Roma person living in the settlement. But the man, nonetheless refers to the settlement as „in there”. But it’s not only the settlement which stands without an official name, those who live there are often referred to with „these”.
András Béni who lives on his own property a bit further from the settlement tells us outraged that a couple of years ago the mayor had called the Wasteland the Wild Wild Galamfalva. According to the name, the colony between Kisgalambfalva and Nagygalambfalva is a wilding and those who live there live excluded from civilization. Wasteland is a less denigrating name.
The villagers do not recommend us going to the settlement unaccompanied and they offer to take and guide us among the adobe houses and tell us about the history of the settlement. Our guides (the protestant priest, a teacher and a local councilor) know the locals well, they are familiar with what they are dealing with, the difficulties they are facing. The members of the Roma community are not bothered by their presence while enumerating their grievances.
„And you will upload my picture on the internet, so that everyone sees how poor we are”– a couple of them say, and they agree to have their photos taken.
„I was watching on the internet what the mayor and his office were saying about the Roma. We are as we are, but we don’t want the world to laugh at us. The villagers also upload it on the internet, instead of giving us a hand.” – explains András.
The weight of freedom
In 1856 the Romanian principality abolished the Roma slavery. Since 2011, the 20th of February has become the National Day for the Commemoration of the Abolition of Roma Slavery. Its aftermath is felt even today as the Roma are still not registered at the administrative institutions. All this adds up and leads to the situation we experience in Galambfalva.
„From my childhood – I call it the colony – I remember three families: Gyula Sándor used to be the dogcatcher. He really appreciated his profession. One of his ancestors was Hungarian. Just saying. This old Gypsy was always wearing traditional Szekler trousers, he was also able to behave as a serious person. My father was a carpenter, and didn’t allow anyone to sit on the table »where he was earning his bread, he thought no one should put his/her rear side on it«. The only exception was Gyula Sándor: he was in the II. World War, was a war prisoner. Also Ruzsa Béla and Vak Berci. At the end of the ’60s, beginning of ’70s many new houses were built in a bee by volunteer villagers. These Gypsies were making the bricks”–the priest, György Kányádi recalls previous relations with a hint of nostalgia.
The three Roma families were part of village life and were doing an useful work that the Hungarian Szekler community needed. Based on what we were told, the loss of appreciation for the professions and skills the Roma had together with the growing spatial distance and the lack of any sense of responsibility of the institutions lead to the creation of the settlement.
Those who drink the water of the Küküllő river, their heart…
The Wasteland is made up of approximately twenty seven adobe houses of one or two rooms. „They have IDs, and birth certificates. The houses have numbers: these are not houses made of brick, but they made the authorities number them. The adobe houses received a number so that it’s understood that they are numbered, registered, regulated”– Tibor László, a local of the Wasteland tells us before heading to Kisgalambfalva, whose trustworthiness owned him a constant job assignment from an owner, a „patrón” as he calls him.
A recurrent topic of what the Hungarian community members tell us is that the wastelanders „at the end are all the same”. The way how Roma families living in the village behave is barely different from the behavior of the Roma living in the settlement – we are told, even though they are sending their children to school more rigorously).
We go to work in Germany: we work with rope. Travel, papers, contract – it all costs money, we leave in a week’s time. I’ve sold a horse, this is how I cover my expenses. Some of my animals are outside, with the shepherds, sheep and four horses. My wife is dealing with the stuff in the house” – one Roma man, getting ready to leave with his son to Germany for seasonal work starts enumerating all that needs to be taken care of. It is not the first time they go to work in Germany.
What catches our attention at the settlement is that there are more orderly houses surrounded by fences and there are some that stand despite the laws of physics. Some people living on the Wasteland are trying their luck with jobs abroad, and there are some who are breeding pigs, trading with horses or selling vegetables.
„We have a very good president, we cannot complain, because he made good road. He arranged everything in the village, and with time, we hope, he will also make some arrangements here” – a local woman tells us, full of hope, praising the mayor. On the settlement there is no drinking water, no electricity. Many drink water from the Küküllő river, and some bring water from the village. During the summer the Küküllő provides water for bathing and for washing the clothes and dishes.
„Electricity can’t be provided,
because for that to happen, these houses need to prove that they have a building permit and a land registry number. But a community house could be a solution. I haven’t given up on this plan. I am also thinking that thirty of forty years ago these people were making bricks and they belong here. I thought about making them make 2-3 thousand bricks while on welfare, that might as well sell. And step by step we would be able to make enough for a house for each and everyone of them. But if we start doing it, they will start becoming envious of each other. You cannot talk with these people” – Levente Gyerkó tells us in his office, who considers that building a community house next to the settlement would also solve the issue of running water and electricity.
The only problem is that the owners are not selling their lots: „I know all of them and also the people who live where. The owners said they would rather not sell if it was for the Gypsies. This is something to be dealt with at an individual level.
Development at the Wasteland: there used to be a well, well, not anymore
After having covered the road with asphalt, another development goal was digging a well. With time the well deteriorated, up to the point of becoming unusable and thus became the perfect argument for proving how careless the people who lived there were: they do not appreciate the help they are getting, given that the children filled the well.
It was difficult to understand the whole picture, because it made no sense for them to fill it with the soil that was once unearthed from there. But we were missing an important clue: the well was in use, it was filled only after it had dried out.
„They were pouring water from buckets into plastic bottles, as it poured down the fingers, it was soaked by the soil. At that time I felt I had to do something, so we dug the well. After the bridge was built, the water was gone. We talked about drilling deeper. It is possible to drill deeper? They put the unearthed soil back in the well” – the priest tells us the history of the settlement well, which also revealed that the villagers didn’t want the Roma to use the village wells together with the intention to solve the supply of drinking water.
As we were talking at the Wasteland, the history of the well came about several times, while a man, probably due to our presence started digging a well in the vicinity of the river.
Among the measures taken to improve the living conditions of the settlement population, besides asphalting the road, was building fifteen outdoor toilets with the help of community members. The toilets outdoor toilets are long gone: during wintertime it was more important to heat the house with its wood, even if only for a day. The different attempts at improving living conditions are not sustainable without long term projects.
„I haven’t seen a Gypsy who would love to work”
„I work where the mayor sends me to: cleaning the moat, cutting the bushes. It is not easy to get along with the mayor. They are telling us what to do at half past eight. When we said that the eight hours of work were gone, he said we should carry on. I don’t know how long our working day should rightfully be, I cannot write nor read. I cannot verify how many hours we should be working. I have no idea. We are many, I am talking about all of us at the settlement. We also had to work on paving the streets and had to lay the bricks for a house that is privately owned” –Tibor László tells us when talking about the circumstances of community work.
You can benefit of health insurance if you have an ID and are enlisted for welfare. Fifty tree families benefit of social welfare and twenty two families receive family allowance. The amount of the welfare („guaranteed minimum income”) together with the number of hours of community work are calculated based on the number of family members, on the kind of property they are owning, we learn from the village’s social rapporteur. The amount of family allowance is determined by the number of children: in case of a single child, the amount is 142 lei, the highest amount – in case of thirteen children or above– is of 637 lei. Social welfare and family allowance can be withdrawn if the solicitants do not fulfill the community working hours requirement and also, if a child misses more than twenty one classes in a semester. Child allowance cannot be taken away. State subsidies allow for the survival of those living in the settlement, but do not improve their current situation.
The relation between the Roma and the Hungarian population is dual. Nothing proves it better than the state aid packages together with the stolen agricultural products that are being taken at sale. The food pack which is an integral part of the social welfare is sold to the villagers at a lower price, as the people are unable to make plans on the long run. And there is a similar interest when stolen corn or other produce is bought from the Roma. The villagers condemn stealing, but gain by benefiting from the lower prices, thus, they become accomplices.
„The father is at work: gathers the hay, the wood and puts it on the carriage, scythes, also. The Roma men stand in front of the shop so that the people can ask them to work for them on that day. They go in front of the village shop so that someone gives them work and the kids could eat”– Tibor’s wife, Kati is telling this to us, while she is taking care of five kids at home. This is how it’s done here: every morning they gather in the center to find jobs as day laborers. A job placement is out of the question.
„It would be better to live in the village, but we also need money for that. It would be better to have a steady job, because if you are a day laborer and it starts raining, there is no job for you that day, and you have to be aware that if it rains for ten days, there will be no money” – says Tibor László when talking about the unforeseeable circumstances and the uncertain life of a day laborer.
Community work and day labor connects the villagers with the people of the settlement. Locals need the work force and for the Roma this is the only possibility for work. Locals consider the 50-60 lei fee of a day laborer besides food, cigarettes and drinks to be too high of a price. („This is approximately the price if they are to work the whole day. They also come from other villages and are taken away by cars. At around 8 o’clock in the morning show they show up in the village and go wherever they are taken to, those who get no work, go home. A lot depends on who finds a job and where, there are some who already made the promise of working in a given place for three days in a row” – György Sándor (local teacher and local council member) says, answering one of my questions related to how much a day laborer’s fee is.
What György Kányádi tells us might make us worried. According to him in the next 10-15 years there won’t be any small farms where they wouldn’t be using machines, and thus, there will be no need for hoes and scythes. The local Roma will not have any work anymore.
The apparent freedom of those living on the settlement actually equals boundedness and vulnerability: as they are unable to write, they are unable to understand how paper based administrative institutions work.
Thank God, I still have authority in their eyes
„They called for me after the Gyergyószentmiklós/Gheorgheni and Homoródalmás/Almas story. The called me to find out whether we also have these tensions here. But here we don’t have that, because int the eyes of the Roma I have authority, they know where they receive social welfare from. And if they don’t behave as they should, they will receive none” – the mayor says. According to him, the Roma are aware of his role, this is why there are no significant clashes in the village. If the situation gets out of hand, and the police is also unable to deal with it, then he is the one they would send for.
„If they ask for a slap in the face, that’s what they get, if they ask for work, they will get that, and if they ask for money to help them out, I give them money. If someone looks for me saying that he/she needs to buy his/her medicine, I will give him/her money, even if I don’t get it back” – Gyerkó reveals his method, while being very proud that in contrast to Gyergyószentmiklós/Gheorgheni or Homoródalmás/Almas, the Roma here are not causing problems.
„…there is an ongoing police investigation, because I made them work in exchange for social welfare in the vicinity of the village. Not for someone. I just didn’t like how the fields looked. I really love the fields and the farmers and I am really keen on providing them with what they need” – the mayor said. At the police he was told that he made them work on state money at the outskirts of the village. His case even got to the DNA, the National Anticorruption Directorate, and they have sent the case back to the police. We are pending on a decision.
„The situation is really bad. I mean, we are really trying. We became municipality thirteen years ago, since 2004. During these thirteen years you always try to do things in the village and the municipality that would improve the situation, still, sometimes it makes me wonder whether it is really worthwhile. But if in a couple of decades some Hungarian families will still be here and will be still able to still enjoy it, then I would say it was worth it” – says Gyerkó.
He considers that the situation of the Roma cannot be solved on a local level. This is not only true for Galambfalva, but for the whole Szekler region.
If the bus goes to Kisgalambfalva, it could get here as well
The Roma community doesn’t only live isolated from the village, they are also dependent on the inhabitants of the nearby villages for day labor, who benefit from the produce sold to them for a low price. But this situation is most strikingly present in the state educational system.
The village elementary school is a properly equipped rural educational facility where the children from nearby villages are brought in by vans. The courtyard is very orderly, and the corridors as very friendly as well. The school also hosts a smaller village museum. For me the words of the school principal, Hajnal Bálint make total sense. She considers that a rural school can also provide quality education.
The future of the Roma community depends largely on their participation in the educational system.
„Kindergarden is not seen as compulsory education. Few children are attending on a regular basis since the launch of the Ovidiu-program (Each child should attend kindergarten/Fiecare copil in grădiniță / Minden gyermek óvodában) at the price of 50 lei per month. Since then three girls attend regularly, and they benefit of this financial support. In Kisgalambfalva there are also two children that attend. The preparatory year is not something they consider compulsory. First grade is when school starts. (…) Half of the enrolled children are Roma, but their number changes from generation to generation. All elementary schoolers are attending, they drop out in fifth grade” – the school principal tells us when asked about school leavers, a situation which is not only typical for Galambfalva/the Municipality of Porumbeni.
Approximately (in Kisgalambfalva and Nagygalambfalva) hundred and thirty children attend school. In the case of the Roma children, the attendance rate for elementary schoolers can be indicative, given that very few will start the fifth grade. According to György Sándor, the teacher of the second graders, on paper about 60% of elementary schoolers are Roma, and 40% of them live in the settlement.
„The children are going to school, still, they have social welfare taken away”
– a Roma head of family complains to us. In these cases „going to school” means that the child is attending school, only that he/she is missing more classes than allowed (family allowance is suspended after having missed 22 classes – approximately 4-5 days). For the Roma community attending school has a different meaning compared to how the institutional regulations allow it, which, if respected, would ensure continuous educational progress.
The situation is contradictory because the principal and the teacher both have told us about several experiments targeting the settlement children, still, the school bus does not go to the Wasteland.
„The teachers want the children at school, and the road is made so that the school bus can pick them up all, regardless if they are Roma or Hungarian. But the bus only brings the Hungarian kids. If the bus came here as well, then the kids would go, the distance to the village is 2 kms” – András Béni, the former leader, the bulibasha of the settlement tells us.
András gave up on this task, because according to him, it was too much responsibility: „There’s nothing the police would do, nor the council. It’s not worth investing in those who live in the settlement, they don’t know how to write, they are stupid. Should I turn to the police every day so that people would laugh at me? There were fights, some stole from the Hungarians, then they wanted me to unearth the truth. Then the problem was that sometimes someone was sent to jail.”
According to the teacher „all attempts fail after a while. They say they don’t come because there is no school bus, before that they blamed it on the lack of road or on the dogs. They wouldn’t come even if there was a bus.”
Before they tried taking the kids to the village by chariot. This went on approximately for a year, the children were coming, but eventually the unmanageable conflict between the parents made it impossible to carry on like this.
„There are approximately 10 children who are coming to school, but the rest of the parents don’t agree with them coming, or they are unable to dress them up. They would send their children, but we just cannot agree about it: sometimes they are drunk, sometimes they are sober. They are day laborers, they don’t care about their kids, the older ones take care of the smaller ones, they are left to take care of each other” – a member of the Roma community points out the complexity of the situation. Tibor has five kids, the oldest is 7 years old, and in autumn they have sent them to school. Even the oldest skips school, because for two months the family went out to the „president” (the mayor) lot to watch the sheep on the hills.
„We would need a project similar to the recently finalized Pata Project. There was an exchange of experience with places where there are educational centers and day centers and they managed to gain the trust of the public” – the principal said about the project for involving the children of disadvantaged areas.
She also said that participation in the inclusive program might be hindered because according to the census data there is no Roma community in this municipality. In the official school report for the year 2014-2015 (ARACIP) – contrary to the census data – they are already mentioning the ratio of Roma children and also that disadvantaged groups live in the region.
Starting from autumn, the school launches a 2 year program of afternoon schooling, which targets the poor and socially disadvantaged children. The selected children are Hungarian and Roma at a fifty-fifty percent. The outreach targeting the children of the settlement was not successful, they stopped coming.
According to the principal, the reason behind their drop out might be that the afternoon program, due to technical reasons was launched in March, a time by which the settlement children had already dropped out of school. They will try again next autumn.
It’s a real concern that the Hungarian children would be sent to school somewhere else
„If half of the class is Roma, it’s a real fear that the Hungarian children will be sent to school to the city, this has been the case in the neighboring villages ” – said György Sándor, the teacher, also a county council member regarding the risk of losing school prestige.
On the one hand it is challenging to keep the Roma children in school, on the other hand, due to the low number of children it would be everybody’s interest for Roma children to attend classes and become incorporated in the educational system.
„Those who attend school since first grade are accepted– said Hajnal Bálint about the attitude of the villagers towards the Roma. If he/she attends school and behaves well, Hungarians accept them. But when in September we brought in a group and when they saw the clothes they had on and how they behaved, panic erupted. If it happens gradually, they become accepting. In the neighboring villages the proportion of Roma children is higher, that’s when the parents start sending their children to the schools in the city.”
We also had to learn a lot
„The villagers dislike us a lot. Soon it will be ten years since the Roma missionary groups was launched. We hold entertaining talks on biblical topics, on the last evening, on Friday we screen a movie. The whole Wasteland is sitting outside, watching it. We also had to learn a lot. We have a huge tent, we took all the tools we needed in there. They have to get used to not stealing. I think it’s a progress that they are not touching it anymore” – that is how the protestant priest evaluated the situation, who with German help is organizing every summer an Interethnic Camp for the Roma youngsters.
The dislike was so strong that the full day program had to be reduced to only half a day, and we had to organize activities for the Hungarian children also. This was how we managed to make peace with the locals.
The volunteer work of the local Hungarian youth in Germany and the volunteer work of the German youngsters is connected. Our goal is that the village youngsters become involved in the camp activity: „There are a couple of Hungarian children who are helping– those who are getting ready to do volunteer work in Germany have to come and try themselves out first. It is very difficult to overcome prejudice.”
The protestant priest is pessimistic, but he also sees the fruit of their work: „I gave up on believing that they can be persuaded about the importance of school. Many say that what we are doing is pointless: I can prove to you, that the children who do not attend school, learn nothing else than what we teach them here, once a year. This work should be continued by the state.”
Many possibilities and ideas are born regarding the future of the Roma living on the Wasteland and in the two neighboring villages. Apparently everyone is concerned about this issue, even if they do not manage to find a solution to it. Overcoming prejudice could be the first step towards incorporating them into the life of the village, especially now that the asphalt road reaches their settlement. It would be crucial that both sides understand that only consistent and long term efforts could bring results.
Villő Hanga Jakab