Academic journal article Romani Studies

Producing Prejudice: The Rhetoric of Discourses in and around Current Films on Roma-Hungarian Interethnic Relations

Academic journal article Romani Studies

Producing Prejudice: The Rhetoric of Discourses in and around Current Films on Roma-Hungarian Interethnic Relations

Article excerpt

The rhetoric of discourses in and around current films on Roma-Hungarian interethnic relations prevents audiences from positively engaging with Roma characters. My analysis reveals the ways in which the two documentaries broadcast on national Hungarian television on Roma people since 2009 block the channels of identification between viewers and filmic characters. Additionally, this essay examines the rhetoric of the press release issued by the Hungarian Ministry of Public Administration and Justice on the film Just the Wind at the Berlin Film Festival. In the press release the Ministry actively seeks to widen the gap between the racially motivated killing series in 2008 and 2009 against Roma and the filmic representation of the same events, which in fact enables audiences to identify with the victims. I argue that the seemingly different discourses overlap in their efforts to distance the viewer from Roma, thereby contributing to the strengthening of majority society's prejudices against them.

Keywords: Roma, Hungary, visual representation, identification, prejudice, stereotypes

With the strengthening of Hungarian right-extremist political forces and the widespread acceptance of racist language, the formation of audiovisual stereotypes about Roma (certainly not the only minority affected by these changes) needs to be investigated in order to create critical awareness about its proliferation. The reasons for the strengthening of this radical attitude within society are manifold, and I do not claim to propose an explanation for them. However, many researchers locate the origins of post-1989 anti-Roma sentiment in the forced assimilatory programs at the workplace under the Socialist regime, during which Roma were employed in unskilled positions of the lowest prestige and pay.1 With the faltering of the state-socialist economy, expendable Roma employees were fired in great numbers. The unemployed Roma, in turn, were perceived by an already prejudiced majority society as criminals and deviants. A 2006 study found that "almost two thirds (62 per cent) of the adult population in Hungary agreed fully or to some degree with the following statement: 'The tendency to commit crime is in the blood of the Roma'" (Balogh 2012: 242), revealing the widespread nature of this belief.

With the tightening of the economic crisis after 2008 and the worsening of the economic conditions in Hungary, the scapegoating of Roma intensified. Official and/or institutional voices circulating in the public sphere started to offer deeply problematic accounts of the minority. For example, in a 2009 interview, Máté Szabó, Parliamentary Commissioner for Fundamental Rights, stated that society needs to be warned about Gypsy crimes. After the outcry of NGOs and the President about this statement, the Commissioner did not resign.2 The leading right-extremist party Jobbik built central elements of its rhetoric on existing anti-Roma sentiments, and during the 2010 elections received more than 12 per cent of the popular vote. The party's links with the paramilitary Hungarian Guard, itself established in 2007, were entirely open. The Guardists, parading in quasi-Nazi uniforms, organised threatening marches across the country in various villages with a large Roma population, mostly without interference from the authorities. After the banning of the Guard the organisation regrouped as the Hungarian Guard Movement, and continued its inflammatory actions. According to a recent study "one of the most important sources of this shift [towards far-right radicalism] in the Hungarian political scene derives from the dynamics of local politics" (Zolnay 2012:26). The inability of national politics to develop a long-term strategy for the development of Roma's situation since 1989 has made itself felt on the local level. Thus, "aggressive racist terms (...) and statements of mayors have strongly shaped the topics of public political discussion in the last two or three years (. …

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