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Assessment for Roma in Romania

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Roma in Romania, 31 December 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/469f3ac41e.html [accessed 23 December 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.
Romania Facts
Area:    237,500 sq. km.
Capital:    Bucharest
Total Population:    22,400,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

The Roma in Romania have not been active protesters against the government in the past, though there has been a slight increase in verbal opposition in recent years. Romanian Roma are poorly organized and territorially dispersed. The repression they face is less government based and more coming as an informal practice of the society. Consequently, there is practically no risk of rebellion, especially due to the impulse for cooperation supported by the international organizations such as OSCE.

Based on the poor social living conditions, the lack of cultural and educational support from the government, and the existence of a strong popular prejudice against them, one could assume the Roma would lead more protests. However, their lack of cohesion and the initiation of some rehabilitative policies counteract the forces driving protests.

Analytic Summary

The Roma in Romania live dispersed in all the regions of the country, although they are primarily concentrated in the south. Roma dwell in both in urban and rural areas (GROUPCON = 0). In many cases, they form separate communities, at the edge of towns and villages; few of them are nomadic, most being settled during the communist regime. Reports from journalists and human rights activists signal that the living conditions of the Roma are below the acceptable level, lacking at times basic utilities such as electricity and running water. Typically described as dark-skinned, dark-eyed people, in reality the Roma in Romania are no longer easily identified based on racial features; what separates them from the rest of the population is their way of life and their appearance (TRADITN = 1). They share a common language, Romani (LANG = 1), but not all Roma communities have the same level of ability in every day use. Most of them are using a combination of Romanian (a romance language) and Romani in contacts with each other. Religiously, the Roma are not distinguished from the Romanian population, the majority being Christian Orthodox. However, other branches of Christianity are present, as well as few animists. The first Roma that came to Romania were brought as slaves, mainly by the Ottomans. They served at the courts of Romanian princes and in the mansions of the aristocracy as cooks, blacksmiths and silversmiths, as well as court musicians. Some of them were also horse traders or bear tamers, especially those living in Transylvania. At the end of the 19th century, the prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza decreed their liberation from slavery and gave them partial and then full citizenship in the newly formed Romanian state. There is a history of discrimination against the Roma (seen as second-class citizens), which was masked by the communist regime who tried to assimilate them into the society by forced settlement and confiscation of property.

The Roma have a high birth rate but their exact number is subject to speculation. In the past census only 500,000 people identified themselves as Roma, but it is argued that many more rejected the social stigma associated with this ethnic minority and described themselves as Romanians instead. Roma organizations suggest a number as high as 2 million but independent estimations place the Roma population around 1 or 1.2 million people. The Roma are gravely affected by poverty, and their living conditions are worse than those of the majority of the population since many live in shantytowns. Most Roma are unemployed or working in low-skill low-paid jobs and sometimes seek to emigrate to Western Europe looking for better opportunities (ECDIS03 = 3). A 2001 Government Report states that only 27% of Roma have steady jobs; only half of these jobs are deemed "skilled labor". The Romanian majority and the other ethnic groups living in Romania ostracize the Roma based on their appearance. The government took steps in providing instruction in Romani but the number of schools that offer this alternative is small, not taking into account a lack of educators. Politically, the Roma are organized in a multitude of organizations, most of them grouped under the name of Democratic Union of Romanies in Romania. By law, all ethnic minorities have one representative in the Romanian parliament, and therefore the Roma have their voices heard. At the local level there are few to none official representatives of the Roma parties, even where the Roma population is significant. The Roma are underrepresented in the military and the police and are generally politically discriminated against (POLDIS03 = 3).

The Roma contend that they are discriminated against in terms of economic advantages (few reach leadership positions in business for example), and would like to see better social security programs from the government (ECONGR303 = 1). In many cases, the anti-Roma sentiments come less from the government and more from the informal social practices of the majority population. The Roma would like to feel more secure against persecution and prejudice by other groups (POLGR403 = 1), including the police, who are known to use illegal means (including torture according to Amnesty International) when dealing with suspects of Roma origin. In terms of cultural demands, the Roma are asking for more opportunities to study and publish in Romani (CULGR203 = 1, CULGR303 = 1).

The Roma in Romania are loosely organized in a plethora of cultural and political associations. These associations have not succeeded in speaking a common voice and as a consequence they are fragmented and weakened. The Democratic Union of Romanies in Romania is the most powerful of these political organizations but faces competition from within and from without. There are some international and regional organizations that support the demands of the Roma. The European Roma Rights Center, an international NGO based in Budapest, Hungary, provides financial and expert assistance to Roma all over Europe. ERRC sent letters in support of local Roma advocates in Romania,\ and paid for the lawyers of several Roma in order to ensure proper defense. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe - Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights has developed a "Contact Point for Roma and Sinti" and is working on several projects to enhance the cultural activities of Roma in Romania.

Currently the government is trying to promote programs that would provide the Roma with more opportunities to promote their traditions and language. However, poverty and social exclusion remain the major two problems of this ethnoclass and the government seems to do little in this respect. Moreover, the discrimination often resides at the social level, with many cases of villages chasing the Roma population out, at times burning their property and injuring them (COMCON01 = 3, COMCON02-03 = 1). The police proved to be one-sided and did not defend the rights of the Roma victims. The reaction of the Roma has not been effective, with sporadic verbal opposition. One possible reason for this could be the distrust the Roma population has in a justice system that proved to be biased against them. There is no legitimate threat of rebellion against the government.

References

Barany, Zoltan D. "Living on the Edge: The Eastern European Roma in Postcommunist Politics and Societies" Slavic Review, Summer 1994, 53 (1), pp. 321-44.

Barany, Zoltan D. "Democratic Changes Bring Mixed Blessings for Gypsies" RFE/RL Research Report, 15 May 1992, 1 (20), pp. 40-7.

Crowe, David & John Kolsti eds. The Gypsies of Eastern Europe, New York: M. E. Sharpe Inc. 1991.

Kenrick, Donald "On the Move Once More" Index on Censorship, 1994, 23 (3), pp. 67-70.

Lexis-Nexis news reports, 1990-2003.

U.S. Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Romania, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1993, 2000-2003 (all published the February following the year which they cover.)

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