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Romania Declines to Turn Roma Into ‘Gypsies’

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By Marian Chiriac

Romanian plans to rename the country’s Roma as “Gypsies” have taken a knock after the upper house of parliament rejected a proposed law to this effect.

The upper house, the Senate, on Wednesday rejected the proposal by 51 votes to 27, few days after the chamber’s committees for human rights and equal opportunities had endorsed it.

“The official name of an ethnic minority cannot be imposed by law as long as people have a right to self-identification,” one of the opponents of the law, MP Toni Grebla, said.

“Romania has to comply with European standards, which recommend use of the term ‘Roma’,” the deputy added.

The draft law still has to go to parliament’s other chamber, the house of deputies, but it is most likely to be rejected there also.

Silviu Prigoana, the MP who initiated the law, argued that the term “Roma” is often confused internationally with the word “Romanian”.

The prestigious Romanian Academy as well as the government of Emil Boc both backed changing “Roma” to “Gypsy”, saying that this was the term most used by people in Europe.

But officials were divided. The Ministry of Culture, the Foreign Ministry, and the National Council Against Discrimination, CNCD, expressed disapproval of the bill. So did the country’s President.

In December, President Traian Basescu said he would never sign the bill into law, adding that it would be seen as a gesture of rejection for the large Roma community.

Ironically, in 2007, the CNCD issued a complaint after Basescu called a journalist a “stinking Gypsy” during a conversation recorded on the reporter’s cell phone and then broadcast on television.

Ambivalence over the Roma/Gypsy issue prevails in Romanian public discourse, too.

While TV stations and the print media almost exclusively use the term “Roma”, they allow comments on their websites which refer in highly discriminatory and even offensive terms to “Gypsies”.

Polls show that over two-thirds of Romanians prefer to use “Gypsy”, mainly because – like the MP sponsoring the bill – they worry that “Roma” sounds like “Romanian”.

International Roma rights organizations insist that “Gypsy” is a pejorative and discriminatory terms.

“Romanian officials should be more interested in finding ways to protect Roma rights instead of promoting a law imposing a name on us, which is not ours”, David Mark, from the Roma Civic Alliance organisation, said.

Romania is officially home to some 550,000 Roma, although it is widely believed that their real number is at least twice as high. Many people of Roma origin do not declare their ethnicity on account of the widespread prejudice they face in Romania.

Balkan Insight

Balkan Insight

The Balkan Insight (fornerkt the Balkin Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN) is a close group of editors and trainers that enables journalists in the region to produce in-depth analytical and investigative journalism on complex political, economic and social themes. BIRN emerged from the Balkan programme of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, IWPR, in 2005. The original IWPR Balkans team was mandated to localise that programme and make it sustainable, in light of changing realities in the region and the maturity of the IWPR intervention. Since then, its work in publishing, media training and public debate activities has become synonymous with quality, reliability and impartiality. A fully-independent and local network, it is now developing as an efficient and self-sustainable regional institution to enhance the capacity for journalism that pushes for public debate on European-oriented political and economic reform.

One thought on “Romania Declines to Turn Roma Into ‘Gypsies’

  • Avatar
    February 11, 2011 at 3:24 pm
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    I t is so rare when you find something about Romania in news, and almost never for something of good.I personally have never read good news about Romania-into international media.Maybe there is, but you need a microscope to find.
    On the other hand, I am against the term ” roma ” to be used for Gypsy.I don’t find any connection between the two terms: historically,linguistic.The “roma” term was concocted by some politicians no so long time ago,just to appease the Gypsy, giving up anything else good,they could do for this people .Themselves call Gypsy,I speak of the common man, the man on the streets.Who gave them the bad name ? Themselves,that is cristal clear.Then…….why not they take it back.
    What about President Traian Basescu refusing to support the bill, that is no surprise at all.The President ceased to do something good for Romania, long time ago, and anyhow he is used to messing up the things.

    Reply

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