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World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Romania : Roma

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 2008
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Romania : Roma, 2008, available at: [accessed 25 November 2017]
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.


The 2002 census recorded 535,140 Roma (2.5 per cent of the total population) but other estimates such as the European Commission (2004) and UNHCR (2004) both put the Roma as numbering between 1,800,000 and 2,500,000. Sixty per cent of Roma speak Romani and/or Romanian, the remainder Hungarian, German, Turkish or Bulgarian. Most Roma in Romania are Orthodox Christians, but some are Catholic or Protestant.

Historical context

Shortly after their arrival in the territory of today's Romania during the Middle Ages, most Roma were enslaved, and the institution of Roma slavery was abolished only in the nineteenth century. Throughout the twentieth century, Roma continued to be targeted for discrimination. In the interwar years, however, the General Association of Roma in Romania published several journals, and in 1933, hosted the Gypsy World Congress. During the World War II about 25,000 Roma were deported to Transnistria by the pro-fascist authorities. Altogether, an estimated 40,000 Romanian Roma were killed in the Holocaust during the period 1940-1944.

Following the war, Roma continued to suffer strong disadvantages and discrimination. The communist regime pursued aggressive policies of assimilation. Roma were forcibly settled, made to abandon such traditional trades as metalworking, jewellery making and carpentry, and largely put to work on agricultural collectives. As the regime was in its final years and decay gripped the country, policies of assimilation gradually gave way to simple neglect. Many Roma lost their jobs, housing and state benefits.

In the 1990s, around half of the active adult Roma population was unemployed; 27 per cent of children below the age of 14 were illiterate; and as many as 40 per cent failed to attend the first years of school. Roma sources indicated continued violence against Roma and alleged more than one hundred attacks on settlements, including arson, in the period 1990-94. According to one opinion poll commissioned in 1991, almost 70 per cent of Romanians registered strong antipathy towards Roma. There was reliable evidence that some police harassed Roma and failed to respond promptly to Roma calls for assistance.

Few facilities were available for Roma mother-tongue instruction and in 1994 only 55 children were reported as attending Roma-language classes. Government sources claimed, however, that interest among Roma for mother-tongue education was negligible.

Although serious problems persisted, under the new political system, a large number of Roma political organizations were established, including the Democratic and Free Union of Roma of Romania, the Fiddlers' and Woodcarvers' Party, the Christian Democratic Party of Roma and the Tinsmith Roma Progressive Party. Leadership of the Roma community was contested between self-appointed emperors and kings. The numerous divisions within the community as a whole severely hampered the formulation of a clear programme of action, as well as being able to translate their population numbers into effective political and social action to improve the general situation of Roma.

Increasingly motivated by the prospect of accession to the European Union, in 2001 the government of Romania adopted a Strategy for the Improvement of the Situation of the Roma Population, which set out a ten year plan to tackle the problem of Roma marginalization in cooperation with Roma organizations. The plan, supported by the government, EU, UN, and World Bank, includes programs in the areas of healthcare and education. Around 200 Roma women were recruited to implement a community education initiative to raise awareness about access to healthcare. With implementation of the 2001 plan, Roma children's access to Romani language education and adequate textbooks subsequently increased. To address the ongoing problem of Roma children being shunted into inferior classrooms separate from other children, in 2004 the government issued a notice on the banning of school segregation. Despite some progress following adoption of the 2001 strategy, Roma organizations criticized the approach for its sluggishness and lack of sufficient resources; this prompted the government to create a National Agency for Roma in 2005, which theoretically has greater executive powers.

In response to ongoing problems of police abuse of Roma, in 2002 the government launched an initiative to recruit Roma into the police, as well as improve human rights training for the entire force.

Current issues

Roma remain under-represented at national and local levels, but EU integration and the engagement of domestic and international civil society organizations have kept their problems on the Romanian agenda. An important development remains the Decade of Roma Inclusion, initiated by the World Bank, the Open Society Institute and the Hungarian government in summer 2003, to which the Romanian government has signed up. It is set to run from 2005 to 2015 and has four priority areas: education, employment, health and housing, and two cross-cutting areas, gender and non-discrimination. To date, however, the record been mixed. In 2005 the government estimated that around 50,000 Roma lacked identity documents, which made efforts to tackle such problems as inadequate housing and unemployment that much more difficult. A new National Employment Plan, approved in August 2006, provided targeted action for minorities, including Roma, and the administrative capacity of the National Agency for Roma improved in 2006 as regional offices were being developed. However, implementation is slow and the social inclusion of the Roma remains a problem; overall living conditions are still inadequate; unemployment of Roma remains high; police abuse against Roma is a persistent problem; many Roma children still face de facto segregation at school, and forced evictions continue.

In 2007, Romania's most senior officials offered reminders of the deep hostility towards Roma that still permeates much of Romanian society. In May 2007, President Traian Basescu called a reporter 'a stinky Gypsy', a comment judged defamatory by the National Council for the Fight against Discrimination. Then in July, Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu was reported to have made remarks generalizing Roma as criminals.

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