Local governments of Bélapátfalva and Szilvásvárad, two small settlements in Hungary, protested against disabled people who were going to move into their community. The rejected are the former residents of the social care home in Bélapátfalva, an institution that housed more than 300 disabled and elderly people who lived in exclusion.
Deinstitutionalization is one of the most important disability related projects in the developed world which aims to eliminate the old-fashioned system of exclusion, particluary the institutional setting that is responsible for the phyisical segregation of the disabled. In the seventies, several developled countries like Canada, the Netherlands and Sweden closed their institutions, while most post-socialist countries have been dealing with it since the turn of the millennium. From 2007, the European Union has supported the new member states in order to close institutions and promote community-based settings. Hungary has just started its own project.
The project is in line with the European Disability Strategy, which promotes the transition from institutional to community-based care by using Structural Funds. Last year, the Hungarian government decided to close social care homes in Szakoly, Bélapátfalva, Szentes, Mérk, Kalocsa and Berzence and moved residents into community-based care. The program is financed fully by the European Union from an overall budget that exceeds 23 billion EUR.
While most in the project are embedded in friendly environments, residents and their families in Bélapátfalva and Szilvásvárad faced strong oppostion. The inhabitans of the settlements are afraid turism will decline and real estate prices will fall.
In 2012, residents of Bélapátfalva succeeded in preventing the relocation. Following strong protests from locals, the local government prevented the relocation of the disabled to residential communities.
This year, a similar story took place in Szilvásvárad. Due to strong public opposition, the local government and László Horváth, member of the Hungarian Parliament, asked the owner of the institutions publicly to review the project and to find another place for community-based care.
(Film made by the HCLU on the board meeting of the local government of Szilvásvárad.)
The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) recorded the board meeting of the local government when representatives decided about supporting the protest. Mayor László Szaniszló said that the village wants to be free from the problem of integrating the disabled. It has been said that Szilvásvárad could accept people with disability, but cannot allow them to settle in the village. One of the members said that disabled people are not a pleasant sight. Finally, the local government decided that it does not support the establishment of group-homes in Szilvásvárad.
After the HCLU published a movie on the board meeting of the local government, online media and online communities put them under pressure to withdraw their statements. A day later, László Horváth published his own movie.
(László Horváth, member of the parliament made this film
after HCLU published the movie above.)
He strongly distanced himself from the local government and portrayed himself as one of the most important proponents of deinstitutionalization of care in Bélapátfalva. His press release stressed that deinstitutionalization would contribute to the welfare of the whole of society. Finally, he stated that Bélapátfalva and Szilvásvárad should let disabled people settle in their community.
Protest against the immigration of the disabled is a disadvantageous, but not a surprising issue. Similar cases took place in Canada and the Netherlands in the seventies when deinstitutionalization was initiated. If leaders and magistrates do not support the protest, but fight against prejudice, fears disappear soon.
"Despite far-reaching changes in some countries institutions are still the dominant form of service-provison in many countries in Europe" - Mental Health Europe's new report 'Mapping Exclusion' starts with this synthetic observation, which is documented with 32 state-reports.
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"No country for civil society - What strategies can human rights organizations follow under increasingly authoritarian regimes?" is the title of the international conference organized by INCLO on 30 May that, thanks to HCLU, you can follow live online.