MINELRES: Romania: Ethnic Minority Briefs No. 78

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Wed Nov 12 17:01:14 2003

Original sender: Divers Buletin <edivers_buletin-admin@mediafax.ro>

No. 78 / November 10, 2003 
- reporting ethnic diversity - 


Relations with the Hungarian minority continued to be good and further
progress was made during the reporting period. The revised Constitution
enshrined the right of national minorities representing a “considerable
proportion” of a local community to use their own language when dealing
with local authorities. The constitutional revision also introduced the
right for Romanian citizens belonging to national minorities to use
their mother tongue in court proceedings. The law providing for
bilingual signs in localities where minorities represent over 20% of the
population has now been applied in the vast majority of cases. In the
same localities, implementation has also started of the legal
requirement for police officers to speak the mother tongue of the
respective minority.

Romania has a large Roma population – estimated at between 1 800 000 and
2 500 0005. Discrimination against the Roma minority continues to be
widespread in practice and the social inequalities to which the Roma
community is exposed remain considerable. Living conditions are poor and
access to social services is limited. Lack of access to housing of an
acceptable standard remains a very important problem for the Roma
population. Despite some positive local initiatives taken during the
reporting period, there is still no systematic approach to this issue.
County-level strategies for relations with the Roma have been developed
by the police. While cases of unjustified police violence against Roma
communities continued to be reported, there have also been cases of
police officers being sanctioned for such abuse (which is a significant
development). Roma have been able to benefit from the new framework for
anti-discrimination and are responsible for over half of all complaints
made to the National Council for Combating Discrimination. 

Over the reporting period the Government has continued with
implementation of the Roma Strategy (adopted in 2001), although the
results have been uneven. In the health sector, a major development has
been the official recognition of the post of “health mediator”, and 166
mediators have been hired and trained.
In the area of labor policy, the National Employment Agency and its
county offices have started active co-operation with the Roma County
Offices in order to improve access to the labor market (although to date
there has only been limited progress). Vocational training programmes
for Roma have also been initiated. However, further reforms are needed
to increase employment opportunities for the many Roma who have not
completed compulsory education.

In the education sector, legislation has been modified to provide
educational programmes for Roma who did not attend school. National
programmes also include reserved places in high school and university
for Roma students. Progress in the other areas covered by the Roma
Strategy has been limited due to a lack of clear policies and limited

As a part of the government reorganisation, responsibility for Roma
issues was moved to the Secretary General of the Government. This move
is likely to give Roma issues a higher political profile - although
these organisational changes have also delayed allocations from the
state budget for implementation of the Roma Strategy. The government’s
reliance on the Roma Party to implement and monitor the strategy is a
matter for concern, as it has led to the effective exclusion of other
Roma organisations.
As regards the use of minority languages, there was a very slight
decrease in the 2002- 2003 academic year in the number of mother-tongue
educational units and in the number of students being educated in their
mother tongue. The Department for Inter-Ethnic Relations financed the
publication of several secondary school textbooks in the German,
Hungarian and Serbian languages. The constitutional requirement for
education to be organised only in Romanian or in languages of
international circulation has been abrogated, opening up the possibility
of private universities teaching exclusively in minority languages. Two
private Hungarian universities continued to function well.

The situation for the Csango minority improved over the reporting
period. In the 2002- 2003 academic year classes were run in two villages
for members of the Csango community who wanted to study Hungarian as an
optional subject. According to Csango representatives, parents in a
further four villages have filed requests that their children be taught
Hungarian in the 2003-2004 academic year. 

SFINTU GHEORGHE - Covasna County Prefect Horia Grama on 4 November asked
the Brasov Appeals Court to determine the legality of the recently
established Szekler National Council, Radio Free Europe reported. Grama
said the council is sowing separatism and thereby provoking disorder,
and that as prefect he is in charge of ensuring order in the county. He
said that in his opinion, the establishment of the Szekler National
Council is in violation of the constitution and it should be outlawed.
In related news, the Greater Romania Party (PRM) on 31 October initiated
a judicial complaint against all members of the Szekler National
Council. The PRM is also demanding that Hungarian Democratic Federation
of Romania (UDMR) parliamentary deputy Zsolt Szilagy, a member of the
council, be expelled from the legislature for "undermining nationhood"
and that UDMR Targu-Mures Deputy Mayor Imre Fodor be investigated for
having allegedly called for "Romania's territorial dismemberment" on
posters displayed in that town. On 1 November, the National Liberal
Party's (PNL) leadership said it is firmly opposed to any attempt to
bring about "regionalization based on ethnic criteria." PNL Chairman
Theodor Stolojan said the attempt to establish an autonomous Szekler
region "will never be backed by the PNL" and is "an attack on Romania's

BUCHAREST - Romania has approximately 6,5 million poor, which is 29 per
cent of the country’s population, this category enclosing numerous Roma
ethnics, as indicates World Bank’s poverty evaluation report in Romania,
presented on Tuesday November 4 in Bucharest. According to the report,
Romania’s poverty level is decreasing, yet it is still high. Next to
Roma ethnics, poor population also consists of single- parent families,
low-educated families, the unemployed and most of the people living in
the countryside. The poverty level faced decrease against 2000, by five
per cents. Present at the event, the World Bank’s country Director Anand
Seth appreciated that "poverty graphics is linked to the experience
achieved during the transition period, the toughest impact is registered
among the unemployed, the Roma ethnics and the single-parent families".
In the same context, a high European official once again indicated last
week the issues affecting numerous Roma people. “Reality faced by this
minority is difficult, pointed out Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, deputy
secretary general of European Council (EC), after the visit paid in
Bucharest’s district Ferentari. Mrs. Boer-Buquicchio noticed lack of
electricity and of water supply in some dwellings, but also poverty and
the rubbish in the playground for children. (DIVERS) 

BUCHAREST – On November 3-7 it is taking place in Bucharest, part in
National Theatre Festival “Ion Luca Caragiale”, the second edition of
“Avram Goldfaden” Festival. Named after the man who organized in Iasi
the first Yiddish language-theater performance worldwide, this year’s
festival consisted of many performances of Jewish communities in Central
Europe, called as “Circulation of artists and ideas“. The festival was
attended by Lufteater troupe, France, by Workshop Theater from Sopot
(Poland), the Athenaeum European Center from Iasi and Public Jewish
Theater from Bucharest. The manager of the latter profiled institution,
Harry Eliad, stated that “because we are free, we, the Jewish, can
manifest as a nationality willing to speak up for itself and, at the
same time, to show indignation against everything related to
anti-Semitism, nationalism and chauvinism“. The festival of Jewish
Theatre was also part in “Unifest 2003“ programme, in which students
could assist free performances. As a result, the audience, mostly made
up of young people, applauded enthusiastically all the performances.
(George Radu - DIVERS) 

Mihaela Zatreanu sat in the last row of benches in elementary school and
was used to being pushed aside. Even after she began teaching pupils at
that same level, the discrimination continued. She recalls how another
teacher screamed at her in front of her class, accusing a Roma student
of stealing a pen.

Ilie Dinca, 45, recalls daily fights with a classmate in elementary
school because the classmate would call him "a crow". In high school,
even some teachers would call him "chocolate."

Mariana Buceanu, 27, an activist in Roma issues remembers high school
days when she powdered her cheeks to make her skin white because she was
ashamed of her dark skin.

All three successful Roma professionals graduated from special places
reserved for Roma ethnics at their universities. Their diplomas
empowered them to better care for their community, but it's the
experiences they endured that prepared them for their current positions.

Zatreanu's experiences as a pupil later helped her to cope with the
embarassing visit from her colleague. "I was having as a guest in my
class, a journalist from New York, and in the middle of the course there
was a big thumping in the door and the sports teacher came in telling me
I have to guard my gypsies and keep them in the classroom because they
do bad things," said Zatreanu, now an adviser in Roma issues at the
Ministry of Education. "I wanted to help Roma children to get pass the
difficult moments at this age in school," said Zatreanu, 27, who
finished the Department of Foreign Languages in 2002 studying Romani
language and English. She said Roma children need to start finding in
school the lessons valued in their own families: Roma culture,
tradition, history, music, costumes.

Zatreanu started collaborating as an author of Romani language manuals
since 2000 and she completed a series of four manuals for elementary
education and a guide for teachers. In this guide, Zatreanu advises
teachers to organize lessons and the classroom interior so Roma pupils
-- or any ethnic pupil -- would feel comfortable there. "The teachers
can say that our ancestors were the Dacians and the Romans, but there is
no pain if they say Roma's ancestors were the Indians," she said. Still,
she sees her greatest accomplishment as introducing Romani language as a
study language. "In these classes Roma kids can talk out about anything
related to their culture, music, history, traditions, little stories on
Roma people and they eventually learn much about themselves," she said. 

Roma students had 390 special places at Romanian universities through a
special "positive discrimination" program last year. The University of
Bucharest alone had 25 Roma students in special places in the
journalism, letters, foreign language, sociology - social assistance and
orthodox theology departments, according to university records.
Zatreanu, Buceanu and Dinca all said there is no other special care for
the Roma students in the university or after they finish their studies. 

Dinca, the general secretary in the Roma Party and an expert in public
administration on Roma issues, said being discriminated against in
childhood convinced him to join the party. He said nondicriminative
actions must now be taken inside Roma ethnic group as well. "The Roma
people have to stop thinking they are always discriminated by the
majority and also stop considering the majority as a mass with
xenophobic feelings," he said.

Dinca said graduating from National School of Political and
Administrative Studies in 2002 helped him perfect his theoretical
knowledge. "I need a basis to be able to combine the practical aspect of
my administrative work with theoretical information, because I was
working since 1994," he said. Dinca also ran for mayor of Ganeasa
village, in the Ilfov district, in 1996 and 2000. He brought water to
Roma towns, built roads, reconditioned schools, issued identity and
birth certificates to Roma people and assured them a guaranteed minimum
wage in 19 towns in the district.

Today, he is trying to renew the organizational structures of the Roma
Party and help educated and competent Roma people to advance contribute
to society. "We have to change the mentality and create leaders to work
for our needs and gain presence in higher forums so we can solve the
problems Romas are facing now," he said.
Mariana Buceanu said she became a policy maker in Roma non-governmental
organization Romani CRISS in 1996. She initiated the concepts of school
mediator and sanitary mediator for Roma people and she is now a
consultant in the Ministerial Commission for Roma People at the Ministry
of Health. 

She had six years experience in militating for Roma rights when she
graduated from the Department of Sociology and Social Assistance in the
summer of 2003. "The university helped me develop as a person and a
specialist," said Buceanu. "I had the chance to make an exchange with
the university, because I learned more about people and they way they
think of the Roma people and I always had discussions on personal
experiences with intellectuals preoccupied of Roma problems," she said.

Buceanu said she is a becoming professional and hopes to be given the
chance to work as a coordinator and continue to be a woman with
responsibilities in Roma programs. "I wished the Roma people could have
access to public sanitary services and now more than 30,000 Roma
families benefit from sanitary interceding, a family doctor, they take
vaccines", said Burceanu.

Gheorghe Sarau, councellor for Romani language and Romas at the ministry
of education said the government only obliges itself to give the Roma
students the chance to be educated. As for working for the community,
Mariana Buceanu said, "We have the moral duty to work for the Roma
people if we graduated from those special places in the University."
(Gabriela Vieru - DIVERS) 
DIVERS is a weekly news bulletin edited by the Mediafax News Agency 
with financial support from 
Ethnocultural Diversity Resource Center (EDRC) in Cluj.
For now, the full version of the bulletin is only available in Romanian 
and can be found at www.divers.ro
e-mail: divers@mediafax.ro