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Valentin Negoi and Ciprian Necula

The Roma Movement in Romania

Introduction

From a historical perspective, the presence of Roma in the Romanian area can be divided into several periods; slavery (1385–1856)1, emancipation (1856–1900)2, the first ethnic-based movement (1900–1938)3, racial persecution and deportations (1938–1945)4, the post-war communist and national communist regimes (1946–1989)5 and the post-communist period (1990–2017).

The first documentary evidence of the Roma in the territories of Wallachia and Moldavia, dates back to 13856, in a royal edict issued by the Wallachian ruler, Dan I Voivode (1383 to 1386, son of Radu I Voivoda of Wallachia, 1377-1383, and the step-brother brother of Mircea I, by whom he was succeeded), by which he confirms a deed of transfer through donation, of ‘40 families of Tsigans (atsingani, in the text)’, from the St Anthony monastery at Voditza to the monastery of the Virgin Mary, Tismana, ordered by his uncle, Vladislav I of Wallachia (1364–1377).7

Further evidence from the Rumanian principalities (in Slavic and Latin), gives a detailed picture of the bondage suffered by Roma, through donation, inheritance, sale and purchase, in Wallachia and Moldavia, from this time until 1856, regulated by ‘customary law’, royal edicts and rulings of the royal courts.8 One exception to this picture was, however, the short reign (April to August, 1595) of the ruler of Moldovia, Voivode Ștefan Răzvan, of mixed origins (a Romani father of Ottoman, Muslim origins9 and Moldavian mother, a peasant woman), who deposed the previous ruler, but was defeated by the armies of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, at the Battle of Suceava, 3rd December 1595. The Poles ensured that their client, Ieremia Movila was appointed Voivode.

The abolition of Roma slavery and their emancipation in the two Romanian principalities (Moldovia and Walachia), took place under the rule of Grigore Ghica in Moldavia, 1855, and Barbu Știrbei in Wallachia, 1856.10 After the abolition of Roma slavery (in the same period as the abolition of slavery in the rest of the world11), there was no recompense or any other measure supporting the former slaves. Most Roma tried to forge a new path, by relying on old resources, many through emigration.12 Whether nomads or those settled on the outskirts of the localities where they had been slaves, the Roma continued to practice the crafts that allowed them to make a living whilst they were slaves.13

Interwar period

The interwar period (1918–1939), represents the time at which Roma people started to make their voices heard, through political organisation and activism. Similarly to other minorities in Transylvania, Roma organized themselves at large gatherings, in which they expressed their support for and affiliation to the idea of the creation of a ‘Greater Rumania’. The first event took place on 16th January 1919, at Rupea, in Tarnava Mare County, followed by ten such events organized by Roma, both expressing their support for this project and demanding specific rights, such as equal rights with the majority of Romanian people, the settlement of Roma nomads, representation in the municipal meetings, the government’s care of invalids and widows, and land allocations.14

The General Association of Romanian Țigani was founded in 1933, with its main objective being Roma emancipation, through various projects15, including, the

  • setting up a Roma university;
  • building a Roma museum;
  • publishing of a book about Roma history;
  • creation of workshops where Roma craftsmen could carry out their work;
  • settlement of nomadic Roma;
  • the establishment of a legislative council, to solve litigation issues between the Roma.16

During this period, Florica Constantinescu, a Roma woman activist, established the first kindergarten for Romani children in 1933, to prepare them for school, as a reaction to the low participation of Romani children in the education processes, their social segregation and lack of socialization, and their weakness in the Romanian language. In the first year, 68 children were registered, but due to the lack of funds the kindergarten closed.

On 8th of October 1933, G. A. Lăzărescu-Lăzărică was elected as president of the General Union of Romanian Roma. A year later, three newspapers were published; The Voice of Roma in Bucharest, O Rom in Craiova, and The Gypsy People in Fagaras. Also at this time, several Roma personalities contributed to the Roma movement, including Archimandrite Calinic I. Popp Şerboianu (co-founder of the General Association of Romanian Țigani, and writer), Gheorghe Niculescu (president of the General Association of Romanian Țigani), Nicolae Niculescu (Glasul Romilor, the manager of the Voice of the Roma newspaper), Aurel Manolescu (editor-in-chief of the newspaper Timpul [Time]), George Molnar (Roma leader at the Rupea meeting in 1919), George Criţeanu (Roma leader at Rupea meeting in 1919), Gheorghe Humangiu (president of the national meeting in Dumbrăveni, 27th April 1919), Naftalină Lazăr (editor-in-chief of newspaper Neamul Ţigănesc [Roma Nation]), Râpa Marinelu (journalist at the Neamul Ţigănesc newspaper), Andrei Zima (journalist at Neamul Ţigănesc), Haralambie Luca (journalist at Neamul Ţigănesc), Gheorghe Predescu (a veterinary doctor), Radu al Rupicii (journalist), N. ST. Ionescu (lawyer, editor-in-chief at newspaper O Rom), Marian I. Simion – Curteanca (journalist at O Rom), and many others.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Poșta Română (Romanian Post, external link), issued a series of postcards of images of Roma, under the title ‘Greetings from Rumania’. For a short period of time, some of the Roma leaders cooperated with Romanian politicians, but Romanian nationalism at the time didn’t exclude anti-Roma feelings and manifestations. Nationalist theories targeted Roma directly17, considering them to be a racially inferior population and a danger to Romanians, as concerns with miscegenation and racial purity started to appear, in Romanian politics.

In the midst of the Second World War (1939-1945), mass extermination policies were implemented by the government of Mareșal Ion Antonescu, president of the Council of Ministers, based on a census dated May 25th 194218, when some 90,000 Roma19 were deported to Transnistria, about half of whom died on the road, from hunger or from typhus and malnutrition.20 Two categories of Roma were deported: the first were the nomadic Roma, whose deportation began on 1st July 194221; the second category was that of sedentary Roma, considered undesirable from a eugenics perspective.22

The communist and national communism period

In 1945, under the ‘Land Reform’ initiated by the Groza Government, about 20,000 ethnically Roma people became land owners, due to their participation as partisans in WWII.23 On the other hand, nomadic Roma resumed their crafts-production; nomadism, however, an institution difficult to manage and to control by the authorities became, in time, subject to several measures aimed at limiting this way of life and restricting free movement of Roma.24 Romanian communist authorities, in this early stage, prepared a public policy targeting ‘cohabiting nationalities’25, cultural rights and, for biggest national minorities, even some regional autonomy, for a brief period of time.

The phrase, ‘cohabiting nationalities’ was officially used for the first time in Law no.68/1945 on the Status of Minority Nationalities, and became the label used by the Communist regime for its national minority concept. The Roma did not succeed in obtaining the status of a ‘cohabiting nationality’, although Roma leaders tried to initiate a dialogue with the Communist representatives and made steps towards acquiring this status26, in the context of the radical restructuring of Romanian society, following the Soviet model. That is why the Roma remained a marginal social group, disadvantaged by previous regimes, with no chance of becoming part of the labouring class, because

“...in 1949, in the USSR, Tsigans were no longer ...[considered] a national minority, in the true meaning of the term. Roma were not in line with Stalin’s definition of national minority... the authorities could not recognize a Roma minority when the Soviet Union had not done so.”27

The Roma didn’t exist officially, their specificity being associated to an inferior social status. Their traditional activities were at the boundaries of legality; many of them fell under the provisions of Decree no 153/1970, which punished ‘social parasitism’, ‘anarchism’ and any other ‘deviant behaviour’, with imprisonment and forced labour. Many Roma were forced to give up their traditional trades and seek work in factories.

In February 1982, the Roma sociologist Nicolae Gheorghe, under the pseudonym of ‘Alexandru Danciu’, sent a letter to Radio Free Europe, condemning the Communist regime for its abuses against the Roma. A further letter followed, by Roma sociologist Vasile Burtea, under pseudonym ‘Cosmina Cosmin’ addressed again to Radio Free Europe, in May 1982, citing similar abuse.28 Nicolae Gheoghe, using research as a sociologist as a pretext, then associated himself with the traditional leader of the Roma from Sibiu, Ion Cioabă, by taking the role of his personal secretary and started a process of reorganizing the Roma movement, from that period of time. They organized the first Roma festival under Communism, in 1983, in Tg. Jiu, mediating conflicts between Roma communities and the authorities, establishing contacts with Roma activists from other countries, researchers, and embassies. Along with his activities for Roma mobilization, Gheorghe, as member of the Institute of Sociology, elaborated a series of studies that generated, as well, the policy paper of the Romanian Communist regime, in 1977.

Other Roma personalities who contributed to Roma mobilization during the Communist period are Alexandru Țitruș, Vasile Burtea, Gheorghe Barbu, Gabor Iancu, Rădița Petre, Rad Gavrilă, Sucsz Petrică, Eva Zagorean, Stănescu Ceanghiri, Ion Mirescu and Florin Cioabă. Most of them became founders of Roma organizations and the Roma movement, following the Communist fall.29

The Roma Movement in the post-Communist period

Nicolae Gheorghe become the expert on national minorities30, in the National Unity Government (1990-1992). In the provisional parliament, Roma were represented by three MPs – Ion Cioabă, Mircea Zomants and, Nicolae Bobu. Roma were officially recognized as national minority, together with eighteen other national minorities.31 After 1990, various Roma organizations appeared, when the first two organizations of Roma were established, the Democratic Union of the Roma and the Roma Society, Bucharest. However, the conflicting visions of these two political structures led to the dissolution of the Democratic Union of the Roma in 1992, and to the fracture of the Roma movement.

Ion Onoriu, Gheorghe Răducanu and Gheorghe Ivan, transformed the Societatea Romilor din București (Roma Society Bucharest), into the Partida Romilor (Roma Party), to contend elections, and Gheorghe created the Federaţia Etnică a Romilor (Roma Ethnic Federation), as a civic organisation. Later, in 1993, Gheorghe formed Romani CRISS, the Centrul Romilor pentru Intervenţie Socială şi Studii (Roma Centre for Social Intervention and Studies), Vasile Ionescu established the Fundaţia Culturală pentru Emanciparea Romilor “Aven Amentza” (the Cultural Foundation for the Emancipation of Roma “Aven Amentza”), and Nicolae Bobuand, Dumitru Ion Bidia, founded the Uniunea Generală a Romilor din Romania (General Union of Roma from Rumania).32

Other political organizations were established across the country, with the purpose of running for elections and to represent Roma, institutionally. At the first democratic election that Roma candidates stood, in 1990, the votes were rather modest. Most probably, the high number of Roma organizations that put forward candidates for the Parliamentary elections, split the vote; the United Party of Roma, Rudari and Lautari (musicians), the Gypsies’ Party, Christian-Democratic Party of Roma and the Free Democratic Union of Roma. The highest score was obtained by the Democratic Union of Roma from Romania (almost 30.000). According to electoral law, the recognized national minorities benefit from having one reserve candidate sitting and, as the Democratic Union... received the most votes, the first person on the list for the Deputy Chamber entered the Parliament, Gheorghe Raducanu (1990-1992).33

The Roma civil society movement, led by Nicolae Gheorghe, concentrated on the mediation and resolution to inter-ethnic conflicts between Roma and other ethnic groups. Gheorghe promoted the idea that each Roma community should organize for their own development, imagining 1,000 Roma NGOs in the country.34 In 1997, the main organizations from Bucharest, the Roma Party (political representation), Romani CRISS (human rights and civil society participation), and Aven Amentza (promoting cultural rights), signed a framework convention, to cooperate and support each other.

In 1998, Romani CRISS was awarded funds by the European Union (EU) and United States of America (USA), for their work around promoting democracy and civil society. The funds received from EU/USA award by Romani CRISS were used to form the Grupul de Lucru al Asociațiilor Romilor din România – GLAR (Working Group of Roma Associations), as the first platform of Roma NGOs, with the purpose of developing a policy paper for the government. The platform worked for two years and developed, together with the government, the first Roma strategy, adopted in 2001. A result of the this strategy was that the National Agency for Roma (NAR) was established, a public institution that has as role in evaluating and monitoring the implementation and outcomes stipulated in the strategy. The leadership of NAR was ensured by Roma – Ilie Dincă, Bumbu Gruia, Maria Ionescu, Laurențiu Ipornicu, Daniel Vasile and currently Daniel Radulescu.

Current Roma Movement in Romania

The immediate period after the fall of Communism, represented a crucial moment for the birth of political and social rights applicable to Rumanian citizens. For the first time in the history of modern Romania, the Roma gained the right to direct political representation, in its own name in 1990, and to be recognized as a national minority.35 The collapse of the Communist regime in Romania opened-up the opportunity for Roma to articulate their historical demands, to fight discrimination of the Roma, to be recognized as a national minority, to organize Roma communities, to claim ethnic protections (to which Romania, as an EU member state, is signatory), and to demand socio-economic measures reducing the poverty gap with others in the population.

According to official statistics, public policies created after 1989, for Roma social inclusion in areas such as employment, education, health, and housing have been a failure. Roma people were the most negatively impacted by the transition to the market economy, because massive layoffs have led to a high unemployment rate among the population. Roma people who worked in state farms no longer had an assured job, because the land on which they worked was returned to the former owners. Even though the Land Law of 199136 stipulated that each family had the right to a certain cultivated area, the majority of Roma who worked in agriculture did not receive any land.

As far as education is concerned, in the early 1990s, only 51% of Romani children followed any type of education, whilst 14% dropped-out of school, 16% only attended with sporadic frequency, and 19% of Romani children were not enrolled by their parents at any school.37 Unfortunately, this lack of education directly reflects on the way Roma manage to ensure their daily living. According to the 1992 census, about 80% of Roma had no qualifications at all and almost half did not have a stable job.38 According to a study conducted by the Life Quality Research Institute, in 1998, only 37% of Roma had a form of qualification in accordance with the requirements of the labour market.39 Compared to the majority population, the number of Roma who have a stable job is significantly lower and because of this low level of education, many families don’t succeed in having a reliable income. The latest national census of 2011 shows that 22% of Romani children are not enrolled in any pre-university education program. As far as the adult population is concerned, 24% did not attend any form of education.40

In 2003, the Romanian Government established the National Center for Roma Culture, first under the Ministry of Culture, then under the administration of National Agency for Roma. Directorate was ensured by the Romanian actor Doru Tufiș, followed by Roma activists Mihaela Zătreanu and Mihai Neacșu. Roma mainstreaming strategies generated new opportunities for Roma intellectuals, activists and politicians from 2015, when Ciprian Necula, an independent, non-party member, was appointed as State Secretary. For the first time a Roma official occupied a non-Roma-related position, at the European Funds Ministry. However, Necula decided to take the lead in the National Contact Point for Roma and coordinating the Ministerial Working Group for Roma Strategy. Some months later, Valeriu Nicolae, another non-party member, was appointed as State Secretary at the Ministry of Labour. Dana Varga, from the Alliance of Democrat Liberals, occupied the position of State Councillor on Roma to the Prime Minister, in two governments. Madălin Voicu, member of Social Democratic Party, was appointed a State Secretary at the Ministry of Culture.

From 2004, the EU pre-accession funds (PHARE), and EU strategic funds (IPA), transformed most Roma NGOs into service providers. Political representation remained, with a small number of votes for the Roma Party (being represented by one MP) up to present. Other MPs representing Roma in the Parliament were Gheorghe Raducanu (1990-1992; 1992-1996), Mădălin Voicu (1996-2000), Nicolae Păun (2000-2004; 2004-2008, 2008-2012, 2012-2016) and Daniel Vasile (2016 - present). On other party lists, Roma were represented by Mădălin Voicu (Social Democratic Party, 2000-2004; 2004-2008, 2008-2012, 2012-2016, Deputy Chamber), Damian Drăghici (UNPR, 2012-2014, Senate), Damian Drăghici (UNPR, 2012- present, European Parliament), Florin Manole (PSD, 2016 – present).

At local level, Roma are represented by over 250 local councillors and three municipal mayors. An organization was established to represent their interest, the Association of Local Elected Roma, whilst in the public institutions, according to an analysis41 of the National Contact Point, there are over 1,200 persons working as County Experts for Roma, Roma experts at local level and Roma education and health mediators. The Roma mediation programme began as a project of Romani CRISS, with the purpose of including Roma women at the local level, in community organization.

The University of Bucharest launched a faculty of Romani Language, under the coordination of Dr Gheorghe Sarău and Dr Delia Grigore (initially, as a elective class in 1993). In 2015, the first Romani Master Program at SNSPA University in Bucharest was established, led by Professor Vintilă Mihăilescu and Dr Ciprian Necula. The master’s programme engages additional Roma professors Dr Delia Grigore, Dr Gelu Duminică, Dr Nicoleta Bițu and Dr Daniel Rădulescu. Romanian Roma students have benefited, since 1992, from affirmative action in the universities and later, in high-schools, a policy that has generated thousands of Roma bachelor degree holders.

Dr Nicoleta Bitu is the president of the Democratic Federation of Roma from Romania (a federation of the most active Romani organization in …

After 2015, the Roma civil society movement started a process of reorganization. Five organizations from Bucharest created a federation (the Democratic Federation of Roma), with the purpose of empowering Roma political representation and the wider civic movement. The Roma movement is composed of some hundreds NGOs, researchers, journalists, independent activists, artists, politicians (some members of the Roma parties, some members of mainstream parties), and professors, members of the Protestant church, with student and youths. Currently, the leaders of the civil society are Costel Bercus, Nicoleta Bițu, Vasile Ionescu, Delia Grgore, Carmen Gheorghe, Ciprian Necula, Mihai Neacsu, Mihaela Zatreanu, Mihaela Gheorghe, Crina Mureșean, Florin Botonogu, Semiramida Balan, Daniel Grebeldinger, Daniel Caraivan, Gelu Duminică, Daniel Rădulescu, Mariana Buceanu, Mariana Sandu, Marian Mandache, Bumbu Gruia, Nora Costache, Florin Nasture, and many others.

Chad Evans Wyatt | Carmen Gheorghe | photography | Czech Republic | 1990 - 2017 | pho_00273 Rights held by: Chad Evans Wyatt | Licensed by: Chad Evans Wyatt | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Chad Evans Wyatt – Private Archive | More at: RomaRising
Chad Evans Wyatt | Norica Costache | photography | Czech Republic | 1990 - 2017 | pho_00271 Rights held by: Chad Evans Wyatt Licensed by: Chad Evans Wyatt | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Chad Evans Wyatt & Mary Evelyn Porter – Private Archive | More at: RomaRising