The Roma nuclear watchmen

By • on February 21, 2011

According to a real-time scenario of the SAMÖ-KKÖ (the Swedish nuclear crisis management exercise), the largest-ever nuclear disaster had started with a nuclear power emergency: due to the frozen see, two out of the three nuclear reactors suddenly stopped in February of 2011 at a Swedish Nuclear Power Plant OKG in Oskarshamn. The extensive problems induced by this emergency situation affected Sweden and a lot of other European countries. The Hungarian Atomic Energy Authority also participated in the exercise. István Oláh has been working for the Department of Strategy of Nuclear Safety Directorate since the spring of 2010.

He lives in Szolnok, and he works in Budapest, which means that he has to commute 200 kilometres every day. He has to wake up 3.50 AM to reach the 5.05 train, and he usually arrives home around 6.10 PM. He can spend only 9 hours per day at home on weekdays. When I asked him about his wife thinks about that, he answered with a joke: „She wanted a nice man, so she has to suffer for that.”

István Oláh was born in Jászberény in 1964, and spent his childhood in a little village, Jánoshida. After finishing a military high school, he started his military career. His Romungro origins were not an impediment to his career advancement: “This is probably due to the fact that I am not as dark-skinned as the average Roma. The colour of their skin has been causing problems to many friends of mine.” After finishing the Military College and the University of Technology, he started his military service as a professional soldier at themilitary airbase inTaszár. After leaving the army in 2001, he started his civil career.

In 2009, he decided to apply for the program “A Hungarian Obama – Roma in the public administration”.  Around 400 applicants had taken part in the initial phase, and only half of them managed to pass all the exams at the end of the course. However, the 5-module competition-exam was difficult for István Oláh too, since an expertise in administration requires very different skills from those needed in technical sciences. He and his fellows had to memorize a 440-page book, go through hundreds of practice exams, and so on. The program proved very time-consuming.

The requirements for participation were not easy to meet: a valid diploma and fluency in foreign languages. “After the successful exam, my resume and CV were sent to different administrative offices, and I was invited for interviews by nine of them. I first went to the one with the OAH; I liked it, so I stayed here, without going for interviews at the other offices.”

Not every participant was as lucky as István Oláh. Many of them, despite having passed the exams with flying colours, were not invited for interviews at all. Some of them were interviewed, but did not meet the expectations of the employers. According to Oláh, he got lucky thanks to his technical education, while for others who held degrees in arts, the demand was less from the side of the administration.

Although not every participant managed to find a job via this program, a lot of them did. For the purposes of the organization, the program was endowed with 100 million HUF (370000 Euro), while 1 billion HUF (3700000 Euro) were allotted for the costs of the first full year in labour. After an examination of the program, Ernő Kállai, the ombudsman for Minorities, disclosed several problems. Some participants did not have Roma origins, and the dropout rate was high, due to the long-distance learning method, and the employees offered positions could withdraw without any penalties.

This program, however, had a great advantage that other Roma employment programs didn’t. It emphasised that the offices were not looking for Roma minority administrators or equal opportunity specialists, but that they wanted Roma who were qualified in their own area of expertise.

“This is a good thing”, comments Oláh. “There had previously been a widespread misbelief that Roma people could be at most Roma coordinators in the administrative body. Now, we are offered real positions, instead of the previous ones that were offered only in Roma-related issues. It was as if someone had finally heard our wishes: to give us a chance, so that we could be employed at a time when everything seemed frozen in the public sector.”

For the subject of my interview, and for other 100 Roma people, the program “For a Hungarian Obama” was a success: working as a nuclear safety supervisor specialised for standards in the Department of Strategy of Nuclear Safety Directorate Hungarian Atomic Energy Authority is a highbrow job.