A RomNet interview with Captain György Makula, Secretary General of the Fraternal Association of European Roma Law Enforcement Officers, about his organization's "Campaign for Roma Law Enforcement"

 

On November 10, 2008, the Fraternal Association of European Roma Law Enforcement Officers (FAERLEO) began a “Campaign for Roma Law Enforcement” with a press conference at the British Embassy in Budapest. The campaign aims to combat prejudices and encourage young Roma to pursue careers in law enforcement. In an interview with RomNet, Captain György Makula, FAERLEO’ s Secretary General, spoke about the goals of his organization and its campaign, which is supported by the British Embassy, the U.S. Embassy, the Open Society Institute, and the Training Department of the Hungarian Ministry of Justice and Law Enforcement.

“Gypsy Origins and a Police Career”—this is what it says on the billboards of a campaign initiated by the Fraternal Association of European Roma Law Enforcement Officers — both of these together, not excluding one another. At the same time, this statement could summarize the life path of the Association's Secretary General, Captain György Makula. 

RomNet: What does Roma law enforcement integration mean, in your reading?

György Makula: I think that it gives a very complex and extraordinarily important aspect to the whole integration process. Very complicated questions come up in connection with this, especially if we look at it from a broader perspective. Gypsies, police, law enforcement, crime—our campaign touches upon all of these areas.

The radical extremist movements that these days are growing in strength are constantly stressing that Gypsies are genetically criminals and that criminality is an organic part of them. Naturally, this is not true. In order for this viewpoint to change, it is necessary for more and more young Roma to demonstrate that they can graduate from any of the law enforcement and defense training institutions, be competent in their workplaces and become professionals. The African-Americans once did this. In the 1960s the situation was the same for them, and by today they have achieved enormous results. Now they are in a position where they have leaders in the police, in the navy, in the army. So they proved themselves, and whoever wanted to improve his fortune in life could do so. Our association is also especially counting upon those who really want to do something.

I think that if there are noticeably more Roma police officers people will see that it’s not true that most of the Gypsies are criminals, because they are also out there and they are also taking part in maintaining order. On the other hand, the mentality of police officers can also change a lot, because—beside their training—there’s no more efficient method than Roma and Hungarian colleagues working together—I can say this from my own experience. This is because if the non-Roma colleagues hold prejudices, willingly or unwillingly, it will change. This could have great significance. I think we will achieve success when it won’t be a curiosity or something unique that there are Roma police officers.
 
 
 

How do you feel about being one of those few who can call themselves Roma policemen?


I am one of the few, but more and more are admitting their origins. But it is really difficult to admit this and reveal all that comes with it. Maybe for me it’s easier, because this never caused any problem for me.

Besides presenting yourself as a role model, what can you do to make this career attractive to young Roma?

I use every opportunity to motivate these young people. For example, I am a mentor within the Roma Mentor Program of the Open Society Institute. Here I try to show children the path they can choose if they study. I present the profession of police officer as a career opportunity. Actually this is something with two sides, because when we orient youth toward this profession we also need to show them that it is not a simple profession to choose, and that because of prejudices it’s possible that it’s going to be a bit harder for them. Beside this, the police have a scholarship system which is advertised every year. I am also continuously looking for connections with Roma colleagues within our force. Once there was a case when I caused strong outrage from a colleague whom I presumed was Roma and asked about his origins. But most of the Roma officers have a positive approach to this, so we know about each other, and this is important.

What motivated you to choose this profession?

This is an interesting question. On one hand, I had a strong sense of calling for this and, on the other hand, it worked as a strong motivation inside of me that after graduating from high school I had no other possibility apart from a police or military career. At that time the support system already existed and with this help I did not have to depend on my parents, who lived in poor conditions. This way I was able to finish the university on my own.

Earlier did you have prejudices or perhaps have bad experiences with the police? If yes, how were you able to overcome these within yourself?

Yes, I had prejudices. No one is questioning the existence of mutual prejudices. But I grew up in a small village where our small community, Gypsies and Hungarians, had no problems. In the summer we did seasonal work together. Even now when I go home I am positively welcomed. Regarding the police, I never had any negative feelings. Of course, I later encountered negative expressions, even from my colleagues, but such cases need to be handled well, which is not easy because the appropriate methods have to be learned.
 
 

Please tell us about the Fraternal Association of European Roma Law Enforcement Officers.


The association was established in 2006 with the support of the Hungarian Ministry of Justice, the Open Society Institute and the British and American Black policemen’s associations. Six countries participated in its establishment, and hopefully member associations will open in the other European countries.

The organization, using the possibilities arising from its civil status, primarily supports the efforts of the Hungarian law enforcement agencies that touch upon equal opportunities for Roma. Our purpose is the creation of equal opportunities within the domestic law enforcement bodies, and later within those of the other states participating in the European Union as well. Another of our purposes is to diminish the mutual prejudices existing between law enforcement agencies and the Roma communities. We would like to improve the lives and professional conditions of Roma officers who are already in service. We try to help with overcoming identity problems. We are collaborating with international bodies. We can say that our purpose is to provide support for the European and domestic integration of Roma. Our association plans to establish a scholarship to support Roma youth.

What are the aims of the campaign?

The goal of the campaign is to refute the idea that all members of the Gypsy minority are criminals. As a Roma police officer I am a “living example” of this, along with my two colleagues who are the faces of the campaign: officers Ottó Rostás and András Németh. We don’t make a show of our origins, but in this context we must emphasize that we accept our Roma origins.

 
 Who are the target groups of the campaign?

The majority society and the police forces, since we are letting them know that there are Roma police officers. Beyond this, young Gypsies for whom the choice of this profession could mean a path in life. At the same time we are doing external and internal communications, informing the media, on the one hand, and law enforcement units, on the other. From the middle of this month, 20 billboards will be placed in busy pedestrian underpasses of the Budapest metro.

What is your message to young Roma?

It’s very important that inside every Gypsy person there is enough desire to prove himself and personally disprove the stereotypes. We must show that we are capable of studying, being competent and serving as examples to be followed by the upcoming generation — in such a way that we don’t forget who we really are.
 
- Anita Kissné Oláh
 
Translated and published with the permission of RomNet. The original interview in Hungarian ("Cigány származás és rendõri hivatás") is available on RomNet.hu.

  

Forrás: Romadecade.org