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.