By Paul Ciocoiu
A nationwide campaign is under way in Romania to encourage Roma people to declare their ethnicity in the 2011 census, which ends on Monday (October 31st).
Under the slogan “I am a Roma”, campaigners are calling on Roma not to deny their ethnic origin, and to take pride in their cultural heritage.
The campaign was prompted by the results of the last census held in 2002 when only 534,000 people declared their Roma origins — far less than the 1.5 to 2.5 million estimated to make up the community.
“They shrink from declaring they belong to this ethnicity because of fears of discrimination, repercussions and social marginalisation,” Roma Civic Alliance of Romania (ACCR) Executive-Director David Mark told SETimes.
Ordinary Roma are divided over their ethnic background and willingness to declare it.
“I have friends that refuse to admit publicly they are Roma and we had many arguments on this topic. But I won’t do the same for a very simple reason: I have been and will always be a Roma,” Mircea Dumitrache, a 60-year-old plumber from Bucharest, told SETimes.
“I mean, look at me. I have the typical Roma physiognomy. Then, all my friends and neighbours know I am a Roma. Would there be any difference if I said I was not one? No. I would only lie to myself. And how can we fight prejudice if we hide behind our real ethnic roots? And one more thing: in the end, it won’t be written in any official document, ID or passport, whether I am a Roma or not,” he added.
He urges others to be proud they are Roma and to accept the benefits.
“If they give us places in schools, why not take advantage of that? Education is vital for this community. At least this argument should carry some weight when someone has a second thought about declaring his ethnic roots,” Dumitrache said.
The campaign envisions several goals, Mark notes.
“First, this is an awareness raising campaign through which we want to promote the Roma values and identity in the entire community and, [second], a fight against prejudice.”
The more Roma that are declared, the more benefits they will have at the local and national level, Mark adds.