Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 November 2014, 15:45 GMT

World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Romania : Overview

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 2007
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Romania : Overview, 2007, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4954ce2420.html [accessed 27 November 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Environment

Romania is bordered by Hungary and Serbia to the west, Ukraine and Moldova to the north, Bulgaria to the south and the coastline of the Black Sea to the east. The western portion of Romania, the historical area known as Transylvania, forms a part of the Carpathians and consists largely of a plateau ringed by mountains. Both Historical areas, Wallachia in the south and Moldavia in the north-east comprise fertile plains.


Peoples

Main languages: Romanian, Hungarian, German, Romani, Ukrainian/Ruthene, Lipovan (Russian)

Main religions: Eastern Orthodox Christianity (86.8 per cent, 2002 census), Roman Catholicism (4.5 per cent), Protestantism (Lutheran, Calvinist, Unitarian and other groups, 3.7 per cent), Greek Catholicism (Uniate, 0.9 per cent)

According to the 2002 census, minority groups include Hungarians 1,431,807 (6.6 per cent), Roma 535,140 (2.5 per cent), Ukrainians/Ruthenians 61,098 (0.3 per cent) and Germans 59,764 (0.3 per cent). Other estimates, such as the European Commission (2004), put the Roma population at between 1,800,000 and 2,500,000. The number of Germans fell considerably between 1992 (119,436) and 2002 (59,764), due to emigration to Germany.

Hungarians are officially the most numerous minority in Romania (although likely outnumbered by Roma) and are overwhelmingly settled in Transylvania. The most compact area of Hungarian population is eastern Transylvania, which has historically been the home of Seklers. Seklers, who entered Transylvania at the end of the first millennium, hold a special (and recent) place in Hungarian national mythology. They are regarded as speaking the purest form of the Hungarian language and as embodying such national virtues as orderliness, resilience and reliability. Most Seklers describe themselves, however, on official documents as Hungarians. An additional subgroup within the Hungarian ethnic community are Csangos of Moldavia (see below), who live in scattered rural communities near the Transylvanian border. Hungarians are either Roman Catholics, Calvinists or Unitarians and are thus confessionally different from ethnic Romanians, most of whom are Eastern Orthodox or Greek Catholic (Uniate).

The majority of Germans also live in Transylvania, where they comprise three separate groups: 'Saxons' who are the descendants of Germans who entered Transylvania in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries; 'Swabians' who are descended from southern Germans who settled mainly in the Banat in south-west Transylvania during the eighteenth century; and the small group of 'Landler' who are descended from Protestants who took refuge in northern Transylvania in the eighteenth century.

The Roma, who are believed to be the largest minority, are found throughout the territory of Romania. The majority of the Ukrainians/Ruthenes live in northern Transylvania in Maramures county. Until 2000 the Ruthenians were officially seen as belonging to the Ukrainian national minority but following parliamentary elections that year the Ruthenians were recognized as a separate national minority (as were the Macedonians who had similarly been previously unrecognized officially).

Smaller minorities

The 2002 census also recorded: 35,791 Russians/Lipovans (0.2 per cent); 32,098 Turks (0.2 per cent); 23,935 Tatars; 22,561 Serbs; 17,226 Slovaks; 8,025 Bulgarians; 6,807 Croats; 6,472,Greeks; 5,785 Jews; 3,941 Czechs; 3,559 Poles; 3,288 Italians; 2,243 Chinese; 1,780 Armenians. In addition the census recorded 1,266 Csangos, 16,850 'others' and 1,941 who chose not to declare any specific ethnic identity.

Serbs, Croats, Poles, Czechs and some Slovaks, Roman Catholic Bulgarians and Ukrainians live mainly in the Banat near the border with Serbia although many Serbs were forcibly resettled after 1948 in Wallachia. Another part of the Slovak community lives by the Hungarian border, whilst the Eastern Orthodox Bulgarians live in Dambovita county, in Southern Romania. Ukrainians also live in Maramures and South-Bukovina in the North and in the Danube estuary in the South. The Poles mainly live in the North of Moldova around the city of Suceava. The Turks and Tatars live mainly in the Dobrudja near the Danube estuary. The few Italians live mostly in the North of Moldova around the city of Iasi. Albanians and Armenians are mainly concentrated in the capital, Bucharest, but some Armenians live in Transylvania too.

The number of Jews has fallen considerably over the past 70 years as a result of the Nazi genocide and of state-sponsored emigration to Israel during the communist period.

The Csangos live in eastern Romania, traditionally speaking a form of early Hungarian. They are predominantly Roman Catholic. The community is split between those who differentiate themselves from the Eastern Orthodox majority (Romanian) population where they live solely by religion, and those who see themselves as belonging to a separate ethnic group, with the authorities apparently favouring the former. However, in practice members of the community have been able, if they so wish, to study Hungarian in public schools, and those choosing to do so have risen from 32 in 2001/2002 to 725 in 2005/2006.

In April 2005 an association of Aromanians officially requested the authorities to recognize them as a national minority. Aromanian is variously seen as a dialect of Romanian or a distinct language. Similarly, the community is split between those who see themselves as a sub-group of the Romanian people, and those who see themselves as a separate ethnic group. The authorities view them as ethnic Romanians and in the 2002 census the National Institute for Statistics included those who declared themselves to be Aromanians in the figure for ethnic Romanians.


History

Romanians claim descent from the indigenous population of the Carpathian region who were Romanized during the classical period. In the thirteenth century, independent Romanian principalities were founded in Wallachia and Moldavia that followed the Eastern Orthodox rite. These subsequently became vassal states of the Ottoman Empire. During the nineteenth century, Wallachia and Moldavia united to form a common Romanian state that gained recognition as a sovereign principality (later kingdom) in 1878. Transylvania was part of the Kingdom of Hungary from the 11th century, and in 1571 became an autonomous principality under Ottoman suzerainty. In 1711 it became part of the Habsburg Monarchy (Austria-Hungary after 1867) and was joined to Romania after World War I. Bessarabia, formerly a part of Russia, was awarded to Romania after 1918 but was taken by the Soviet Union in 1940. Since 1991 Bessarabia has been a part of the sovereign state of Moldova.

With the acquisition of Transylvania in 1918, Romania inherited an ethnically diverse territory, containing substantial Hungarian, German and other minorities. Hungarians have historically been the dominant social group in Transylvania. Although at the time of Transylvania's incorporation into Romania in 1918, self-government was promised for the region's minorities, no such concession was forthcoming. During the interwar period, the Romanian government neglected minorities. During the World War II the Axis powers awarded much of Transylvania to Hungary, but Romanian control was re-established after the war. During the war, Jews and Roma were systematically murdered.

The number of Germans has been in steady decline since the interwar period when they were recorded as 761,000-strong (1930 census). At the end of World War II, the new authorities seized German properties and transported 75,000 Germans to the Soviet Union as forced labour. The communists permitted many more to emigrate to the Federal Republic of Germany in exchange for hard currency remittances.

Communist rule in Romania was among the harshest in Central and Eastern Europe and resulted in widespread repression of the whole population, although the regime did make concessions to the country's diversity. In the 1950s, the communists provided an extensive network of minority-language schools, publications and cultural organizations. Between 1952 and 1968, a Hungarian Autonomous Province functioned in the most compacted area of Hungarian settlement in Transylvania, but its powers of self-rule were only nominal. After 1968, communist policy moved by degrees towards assimilation. The government merged and reduced minority-language schools into 'sections' within Romanian schools. The authorities also reduced the number of subjects which might be taught in minority languages and banned cultural organizations. Nevertheless, even in the late 1980s, Romanian television and radio continued daily transmissions in Hungarian and German.


Governance

The communist regime of Nicolae Ceauşescu was overthrown in 1989 and a democratic state proclaimed. In December 1991, Romanians approved a new constitution by referendum. The constitution defines Romania as 'a nation state, sovereign, unitary and indivisible'. It guarantees minorities the right 'to the preservation, development and expression' of identity, including education in the mother tongue, and affirms the equality of rights and freedom from discrimination. The constitution additionally provides for deputies appointed by national minorities to be represented in the parliament.

Since 1990, conditions for minorities have gradually improved despite some initial violent inter-ethnic incidents. After the revolution of 1989, Hungarians rapidly asserted their rights and aroused Romanian animosities and in March 1990, inter-ethnic fighting in the Transylvanian city of Targu-Mures left at least six people dead. Since then, however, relations between Romanians and Hungarians in Transylvania have been peaceful. Extremist statements and provocations from right-wing Romanian parties, including the threatened demolition of Hungarian cultural monuments and the publication of racist literature and speeches, have not escalated into violent conflict. However, tensions have persisted for several reasons. Among these are the continued denial of Hungarian demands for territorial autonomy in the two counties where Sekler Hungarians live in great majority in the centre of Romania. The refusal to reinstate the Bolyai University, a Hungarian language public university that was merged with the Romanian Babes University in 1959 has added to this tension. Around 30 organized attacks on Roma settlements by other groups were reported in the period between December 1989 and 1994 including an attack on Roma in the capital Bucharest by striking miners in March 1990. After 1989, more than 100,000 Germans migrated to Germany, with the consequence that a large number of Saxon and Swabian villages became deserted.

In May 1990 the government issued a regulation expanding minority-language education. With considerable financial support from foreign foundations and neighbouring states of national minorities, minority cultural facilities and publications operated freely, and minority-language television and radio broadcasts were extended. In 1993, the government set up a Council for National Minorities to monitor and advise on minority affairs. Increasingly, Romania viewed itself as a candidate for European Union membership, giving added impetus to minority rights reforms.

In 1991 and again in 1999, Romanian legislators caused an international furore when they observed a minute of silence to commemorate the execution for war crimes of Romania's Nazi-allied leader, Marshal Ion Antonescu. This was particularly distressing to Romania's small remaining Jewish population, which remained vulnerable to anti-Semitic incidents. A 2002 government decree prohibited racist, xenophobic and fascist organizations, and banned denial of the Holocaust, including denial of the participation of Romanian officials in its conduct. By 2004, Romanian President Ion Iliescu openly acknowledged in a speech before parliament the full participation of Romania's regime in perpetrating the Holocaust.

Voters approved a package of amendments to Romania's constitution in 2003 that included new legal guarantees for minority rights. Among the provisions, national minorities gained the right to engage government administrators and courts in their native languages. However, some local officials have been slow and grudging in accepting use of minority languages in their dealings with the public.

Minorities are represented at national and local levels. Since 2004 the main Hungarian political party, the Democratic Union of the Hungarians of Romania, has been part of the ruling coalition. Groups too small to meet the thresholds for broad popular support required to form a political party can opt to build minority organizations that can also field candidates for election. However, Romanian law also sets threshold requirements for their registration, and human rights organizations have criticized these as too stringent. Roma are under-represented at national and level, but recent special provisions have boosted Roma representation at local level.

Mother-tongue education for minorities is widely available at the primary and secondary school levels, especially for Hungarians. Where minority groups are highly concentrated, it is often also available at university. The government of Hungary established a private Hungarian-language university in 2001 that operates in Transylvania.

Print and broadcast media is likewise available in many minority languages, especially Hungarian and German. In regions where such other groups as Ukrainians, Armenians, Turks and Slovaks are concentrated, local broadcasts in their first languages are often available.


Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples

Conditions for minorities in Romania today have been significantly improved through reforms pushed through in the run-up to the country's accession to the EU. An accession treaty signed in early 2005 resulted in Romania's full membership in January 2007. The prospect and fulfilment of accession also helped to defuse grievances of the Hungarian minority by reducing the significance of the border between Romania and Hungary.

Minorities are currently represented in both chambers of parliament. The Democratic Union of the Hungarians of Romania have 32 seats and are partners in the current coalition government with four cabinet positions. Nineteen other minority groups are represented through their organizations in parliament with 18 seats (one represents Czechs and Slovaks together). Although on the whole minority groups are well represented, Roma would have considerably more seats in parliament if their representation were to reflect their proportion of Romanian society. Minorities are also well represented at local level, although again, Roma representation is not in proportion to their numbers.

In recent years the government has made an effort to improve police protection of minorities and establish mechanisms of accountability for complaints of police abuse, especially of Roma. In 2006 provisions were enacted to set aside positions for Hungarian and Romani speaking police recruits. Nevertheless, complaints persist of police abuse of minorities and the failure to adequately investigate alleged incidents of abuse.

Complaints of entrenched discrimination and judicial laxness in investigating allegations of discrimination against minority groups have prompted some reforms. A law passed in 2005 gives national minorities hiring preference, other qualifications being equal, in regions where they constitute over half of the population. The National Council for the Fight against Discrimination, established in 2002, has asserted itself. Following controversial remarks made by President Traian Basescu in September 2007, the Council announced that it would investigate to determine whether they were defamatory to the Armenian minority. Earlier in the year Basescu prompted an outcry for calling a reporter 'a stinky Gypsy'.

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