I spent much of last year in Hungary, leaving just before the IMF cobbled together a rescue package to prevent the nation's economy from imploding. A full-scale implosion has been averted, at least for now, but Hungary is still in dire shape. Its economy is projected to shrink by 6 percent this year, unemployment is rising, and the country's disgraced socialist leader, Ferenc Gyrunscany, recently had to step down after several years of feckless rule that boosted the popularity of the Hungarian right.
This is bad news for all Hungarians, but especially for the country's Roma gypsies, a favorite scapegoat of the Hungarian Guard, a fascist group that has also seen its popularity grow in recent years. A number of gypsies have been killed recently in unsolved murders presumed to be the work of right-wing vigilantes, and the level of anti-Roma sentiment in Hungarian society has apparently increased dramatically. "You now hear anti-gypsy sentiment at every level of society," a prominent politician recently told the Financial Times.
I found this statement alarming in part because, frankly, I heard anti-gypsy sentiment at every level of society a year ago, including from young people in Budapest who thought of themselves as open-minded. In fairness, I also met Hungarians who marched in demonstrations against racism and intolerance. The current economic upheaval has not yet brought the far-right, much less the fascists, to power in Hungary. But it has made expressions of hatred more frequent and more casually permissible, an ominous development in a place where insecurity is rising.