BUDAPEST – Intellectuals, broadcasters and cultural figures from Hungary's Roma community are using the airwaves to reframe narratives and elevate the voices of the country's largest minority group.
Radio Dikh — a Romani word that means “to see” — has broadcast since January on FM radio in Hungary's capital, Budapest. Its 11 programs focus on Roma music, culture and the issues faced by their community, and aim to recast the way the often disadvantaged minority group is perceived by broader society.
“Roma people in general don’t have enough representation in mainstream media … and even if they do, it’s oftentimes not showing the right picture or the picture that is true to the Roma community,” said Bettina Pocsai, co-host of a show that focuses on social issues.
Radio Dikh, she said, aims to "give voice to Roma people and make sure that our voice is also present in the media and that it shows a picture that we are satisfied with.”
Some estimates suggest that Roma in Hungary number nearly 1 million, or around 10% of the population. Like their counterparts throughout Europe, many of Hungary’s Roma are often the subjects of social and economic exclusion, and face discrimination, segregation and poverty.
Adding to their marginalization are stereotypes about Roma roles in society, where they are often associated with their traditional occupations as musicians, dancers, traders and craftspeople that go back centuries.
These expectations have limited the opportunities for Roma people — especially Roma women — to participate and develop their skills in other fields, said Szandi Minzari, host of a women's radio program.
“We are stereotyped by the majority because they tend to believe that we are very good at singing, dancing, speaking about girly subjects and raising the kids, and that’s us. But it’s much more,” Minzari said.
Programming specifically for women runs for two hours every day, and Minzari's show “Zsa Shej” — which means “Let’s go, girls” in the Romani language — focuses on current events and global topics like climate change and other social issues.
Many women in traditional Roma families are highly dependent on male family members, Minzari said, and including them in conversations about topics of public interest is meant to serve as an inspiration for them to engage with a different world.
“We find it very important to speak about heavy subjects … because we are much more than speaking about nail polish and hairdos and Botox," she said, adding that she would like female listeners to come to the conclusion that "The problem is not me. I want more from life and these girls are doing it, and I can do the same.”
Radio Dikh's motto, “About Roma, not just for Roma,” reflects the conviction of the hosts that the station can act as a bridge between Roma and non-Roma Hungarians, and can break narratives that tend to associate their community with poverty and other social problems.
In addition to co-hosting her own show, Pocsai in her free time guides informative tours in Budapest that aim to correct misconceptions about Roma people to both Hungarians and foreign tourists. In the city's 8th district, which has a high concentration of Roma residents, Pocsai gave a presentation to a group of visitors from the United States.
In introducing the Roma's more than 600-year history in Hungary and challenging preconceptions, Pocsai said she aimed to make sure that future generations of Hungarian Roma will not have to go through the challenges she faced as a child.
“I want to change how the Roma people are viewed in society," Pocsai said. "I want to make sure there is enough light on the values that the Roma community provided through history to the non-Roma society.”