Mr. President, as co-chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, I wanted to bring to the Senate’s attention that next week, February 23, will mark a tragic anniversary. Two years ago on that date, assassins gathered outside the home of Robert Csorba. They threw a Molotov cocktail into the house. Although some family members escaped the blaze, five-year-old Robert Csorba and his father did not: as they tried to flee the flames, their attackers riddled them with bullets. The murderers were prepared: if the bomb did not finish them off, their guns would. They were prepared to kill men, women, and children.
The Csorbas were just two of the victims in a wave of racially motivated attacks against Roma that has roiled Hungary. According to the European Roma Rights Center, between January 2008 and July 2010 there were at least two dozen cases where Molotov cocktails, hand grenades or sniper fire were used. The victims included nine fatalities, including two children, and others who were seriously injured.
Among them was the 13-year-old daughter of Maria Balogh. Ms. Balogh was murdered when snipers shot into her home in the middle of the night on August 3, 2009, killing her and leaving her daughter an orphan. Her daughter was also grievously wounded: she was shot in the face, blinded in one eye, and maimed for life. It is no wonder that these attacks led one Romani activist to declare that Roma would need to arm themselves or flee, and another asserted that if these attacks continued, Hungary would be headed toward civil war.
There are some positive developments. The fatal attacks have stopped. Hungary’s new government has reached out to the victims to provide support for rebuilding homes that were damaged or destroyed in arson attacks.
Hungary’s new Minister for Social Inclusion, Zolton Balog, has demonstrated a rare and welcome compassion for his Romani fellow citizens.
But the wounded and the dead still wait for justice in Hungary. Although four men have been arrested on suspicion of carrying out the serial killings of Roma that occurred in 2008 and 2009, there have been no trials and no convictions.
The Czech Republic has also seen a dramatic rise in anti-Roma rhetoric and violent actions in the past few years. Last October, I joined Helsinki Commission cochairman, Alcee Hastings in welcoming the lengthy sentences handed down in the Czech Republic to four neo-Nazis who firebombed a Romani home in 2009, an act which left an infant, widely known simply as “Baby Natalka,” with second and third degree burns over 80 percent of her body and a lifetime of painful rehabilitation ahead of her.
When that judgment was handed down against the four men who firebombed Baby Natalka, I was heartened. I also said I was watching another Czech case–one that is largely unknown.
On November 8, 2008, a roving mob attacked several Roma in the town of Havirov. One teenager was so savagely beaten, he was effectively left for dead. For a prolonged period of time afterwards, he was in a coma, and when he regained consciousness, he was unable to talk. Although he has learned to speak again, he has suffered permanent brain damage. He is paralyzed, was forced to end his studies, and may never be able to work.
A decision in the case is expected to be announced in the Ostrava regional court at 8:30 a.m. on February 24. Behind the high profile murder cases of Roma that make their way into the news, there is an even larger number of cases involving Roma who have been attacked, but not fatally; they do not die but are maimed, disabled, and traumatized for life by the racially motivated violence they have encountered. Their stories are often never told, but each of them stands as a living monument to everyone in their families and everyone in their communities, testifying to the government’s failure to protect them. Each of them deserves justice, including Jaroslav Horvath, the teenager attacked in Havirov.