The hallmark rhythms of Gypsy folk music waft in the background
as two employees at one of Europe's most innovative radio stations
take their seats on metal folding chairs in a closet-like, dimly
lit recording studio. It's the top of the hour, and time for
another news broadcast.
In a ramshackle apartment block in one of the poorest districts
of the Hungarian capital, Budapest, a dedicated corps is
broadcasting not only to inform, but uplift one of Europe's most
disadvantaged ethnic groups: the Roma, or Gypsies.
Radio C is one of the first independent Roma radio stations to
hit the airwaves in Central and Eastern Europe, where an estimated
10 million Roma live. The "c" stands for copyright, to underscore
its trailblazing status.
After an anxious 30-day trial period, Radio C was awarded a much
coveted seven-year license last week by the Hungarian national
television and radio board, beating out several other would-be
broadcasters, including an American evangelical Christian station.
"Right up to the last minute, it wasn't clear whether we would
get the license, because the government was coming under pressure
from right-wing groups in parliament who said, 'Why do Gypsies need
a radio station?' " says Livia Jaroka. Ms. Jaroka, an
anthropologist working on her doctorate, is one of 40 mainly Roma,
mainly unpaid, staff at the station. One of its aims, she says, is
to reawaken cultural pride among Budapest's 100,000 Roma, who make
up 6 to 8 percent of Hungary's population.
The hope is to bring about the Roma's "emancipation," according
to station manager Gyoergy Kerenyi. The struggle to get Radio C on
the air dates back to before the fall of Communist rule in 1989.
The former Communist system provided few opportunities, mainly
factory work. These jobs, in outdated industries, vanished
following the collapse of Communist rule. As elsewhere across the
region, Hungary's Roma still face widespread discrimination in
employment, education, and social services, according to a report
by the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance.
In February, a US State Department report singled out Hungary for
acute police brutality toward Roma and other dark-skinned ethnic
groups. Here and elsewhere, Roma face ingrained stereotypes as
petty criminals, beggars, or indolent slackers content to live on
In some ways, race relations between Hungarians and the Roma
community have worsened since the collapse of Communism, says
Jaroka. "People have the freedom now, to say, 'You dirty Gypsy' to
your face, and nothing happens. …