Rroma In Romania
Struggle For Self-Identification
by Jennifer Tanaka
In fact, the Rroma (Gypsies) are a diverse group of people, differing
in occupation, standard-of-living, historical experience of their home
country, education and levels of "integration." Contrary to the typical
stereotype, it has been estimated that only 5% of the entire Rroma population
in Europe (estimated between 7 - 8.5 million) lead an itinerant mode of
life. Though there are subtleties of different dialects, the Rroma share
a common language based on old Sanskrit.
In non-English speaking countries, the Rroma are usually referred to
as Zigeuner, Zingari, Tsiganes and other variants stemming from the Greek
word "Atsinganoi," which was actually a religious sect in the Byzantine
Empire, unrelated to the Rroma yet attributed to this "foreign" population.
For Rroma organizations and other human rights groups, the ethnic designation
as Rrom (pl. Rroma, adj. Rromani) is a matter of self-determination, self-identification.
A comparison may be made with the Inuit of North America who were formerly
referred to as "Eskimos" - an externally applied name. The principle of
self-identification involves public acknowledgment of the self-designated
name and the implementation of its use.
The Memorandum ascertains that the "ethnic Tigani" and other organizations,
especially in the last few years, have attempted to use and impose the
"new terms" Rom, Roma and Romani. The motivation behind the Memorandum
refers to the use of Gypsy or Tigani in official documents of the Council
of Europe and other international bodies and, "especially," the possible
identification of the Romanians, in general, with members of this ethnic
The government's decision was taken without consulting members of the
Rroma minority, though officially such means exist through the framework
and mandate of the Council for National Minorities and the Rroma representative
in the parliament.
The Rroma associations in Romania and other experts maintain that the
word "Tigani" has a pejorative connotation. The link is made with the centuries
of slavery, where the association of the ethnic designation "Tigani"- a
socially inferior status, has remained in the social-cultural memory, later
justified through racial and racist argumentation in the mid-twentieth
century. It has been estimated that 5 - 600,000 of the European Rroma died
in the Holocaust - a percentage of their total population comparable with
the statistics of the Jewish population. (Ian Hancock, "Land of Pain",
World Romani Union, pg. 72, 1986).
In general, the policies (few in number) addressing the Rroma in Romania
have been policies of assimilation, reflecting an intolerance toward Rromani
cultures and often defining all of the social characteristics, especially
those of a marginalized way of life, as something inherent in the "Rroma
nature." Today, the majority of Romanian society perceive the Rroma ("Tigani")
as a whole to be untrustworthy, lazy, uneducated and "rich" from illegal
businesses, conniving or thievery.
As Alina Mungiu explains in her book Romania after 1989, the common
attitude toward the Rroma, especially in relation to "Romania's reputation"
in the eyes of the world, is one of contempt and a sense of injustice.
This was demonstrated in the incident when a France Presse journalist,
not knowing the pejorative connotation of "Tsigan," made a comparison between
the virtuosity of the Romanian soccer team during the World Cup and the
music of the Lautara - "Tsigan" (a Rromani sub-group with traditions in
music). The reaction was one of shock and disgust that the "Occident sees
us as Tigani". As one Romanian journalist reported, "Gypsies are gypsies,
even those born in Romania, and Romanians are Romanians."
It is recommended that the use of all exonyms referring to the Rromani
people (Gypsies, Tsiganes) and their cognates - be permanently eradicated.
The process should be accomplished in stages, allowing enough time for
the non-Rromani public to become accustomed to the stem "Rrom". Of course,
changing everyday speech habits will take time, but references made in
the media and other international documents can begin immediately with
"Rroma (Gypsies)" and after a couple of years the reference to "Gypsies"
can be dropped.
In documents owing to works accumulated before 1990, the "Gypsies" designation
is usually applied or may be used in the title with the text referring
to the "Roma/Gypsies". (Council of Europe Recommendation 1203 and Resolution
249). Others use consistently, throughout the document, "Roma (Gypsies)"
(United Nations Resolution 1992/65 and many OSCE documents). Even in 1979,
the United Nations Sub-Commission for the Prevention of Discrimination
and Protection of Minorities Recommendation, used the terms "Gypsies (Roma)".
In 1994, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR)
of the Office for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) created the
Contact point for Roma and Sinti (The Sinti are a group of Rroma whose
vocabulary and grammer have been heavily influenced by German). Part of
the mandate of the Contact Point is to act as a clearinghouse for information
on Roma and Sinti issues, including information on the implementation of
commitments pertaining to Roma and Sinti.
It seems clear that the reference made in the Romanian government Memorandum
of the use of "Gypsies" in international documents, as a pretext for the
official designation as "Tigani" in Romania, is an interpretation ignoring
the fact that "Roma" is, more often than not, included in the name as well.
In May, Bucharest hosted the International Seminar on Tolerance organized
by the Council of Europe, OSCE/ODIHR, the Government of Romania, in cooperation
with UNESCO. The Memorandum was a running theme of the Seminar, as it was
discovered by Rroma associations in Romania only weeks before the Seminar
took place. The Romanian government statements maintained its position
on the official designation "Tigani," even though members of international
bodies stressed their concern with regard to discrimination and manifestations
of intolerance toward the "Roma" populations in Romania.
In response to the recommendations put forth by Rroma associations,
the Council of Europe recently approved the use of "Rroma (Gypsies)" in
its official documents (See CLRAE Recommendation 11 - June 1995). While
this is good news for those working for the Rroma right to self-identification,
there is still the obstacle of the Romanian government, paying lip service
to human rights commitments, while maintaining contradictory attitudes