Gypsies, the Work Ethic and Hungarian Socialism

In his work Socialism; Ideals, Ideologies and Local Practice, Chris Hann includes the text in which Michael Steward analyses the Gypsy responses to Hungarian social policy providing the image of the sources of popular resistance to the massive experiment in social engineering undertaken by the socialist governments of the Soviet bloc. The text focuses on the twenty five years period in which the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party led a vigorous campaign to assimilate the near half-million Gypsy population into the Magyar working class by trying to eliminate all traces of Gypsy lifestyle and behavior.

In the author’s view there was there was an important plank formed in the social policy of the Hungarian regime. This happened due to several reasons: the largest minority in Hungary lived shocking poverty conditions, the state was looking to renew its socialist pledge by modernization under social equality and the economic, social and cultural distinctiveness of the Gypsies.

The result of this campaign was not the one intended because Gypsies were in 1985 as prominent in the Hungarian society as they were in 1960. Moreover, the state had managed to create conditions in which, in popular imagination at least, being a Gypsy seemed the most viable way to survive the privations and humiliations of a planned economy. The campaign to assimilate Gypsies in socialist Hungary

The campaign lasted from 1961 to 1985 and it began with the decision that Gypsies were neither an ethnic group nor a nation. Cultural factors did not play a significant role in the reproduction of Gypsies and the attempts to turn them into a nation had been misguided. Gypsy nationalists programs slowed down the process of assimilation and their self-organization and expression were to be discouraged.

The author states the Gypsies were characterized by a way of life marked out behavioral traits such as scavenging, begging, hustling, dealing and laziness, all being products of their exclusion from the society and the economy of the past. Gypsies had been sustained by the feudal division of labour in which they had played an important role but lost their social importance as capitalist industrialization displayed their skills as redundant. The Hungarian social government thought in the early 1960s that “the Gypsy problem” could be solved once and for all.

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