File this in the Department of New Perspectives: While bankers in the U.S. may be frightened by Congress´ populist attack on executive pay and bonuses, populism and the banking crisis are taking an even greater toll on communities in Europe.
Next week, one of the more far-flung effects of the financial crisis will gain a brief presence in Washington. Experts from Europe will gather to testify before the U.S. Helsinki Commission on Capitol Hill on the increase in violence against Gypsies. The Gypsy population, known as the Roma, faces segregation and high unemployment in several Eastern European countries; and since the banking crisis began, the number of violent attacks against Roma people and homes has increased. In Hungary, seven people from the Roma community have been murdered in drive-by shootings and firebombings of family homes.
Hungary´s banking system began to falter late last fall. Its currency, the forint, grew weak and ratings agencies downgraded its sovereign debt. According to Moody´s, much of the country´s lending growth had been fueled be wholesale funding, which dried up during the crisis. Furthermore, many borrowers had taken out foreign currency loans they could not repay with a weaker currency. Hungary secured a 20 billion euro loan from the Bretton Woods institutions and the European Union.
The witnesses say backlash from the financial crisis, including populist rhetoric from politicians, has inflamed the violence against Gypsies. "There is a serious concern that lately the governments are going toward a radical right, and populist statements from political parties are really feeding these radical parties and legitimizing instances of violence by private parties against the Roma," said Isabela Mihalache, who is traveling from the Open Society Institute´s Budapest office to testify at the hearing.
A commission staffer said the point of the hearing is to raise awareness. "First and foremost, we want to send the message that, when there is an escalation of racially motivated murders, and when a five-year-old child and his father are riddled with bullets to keep them from escaping their fire bombed home, that won´t go unnoticed." the staffer said.