A Roma village without Roma people

By • on December 8, 2010

There are 300 souls living in the Prislop village, located in the Rasinari region of the Sibiu county in Romania. Only 15 of them are Romanians, while the remaining 95 percent are ethnic Roma. Despite that, according to the last census, there are no Roma in the Prislop village, because all of them declared themselves Romanians. They don’t consider themselves Roma people, but “silk gypsies”. “We are not Roma because we don’t speak the Romani language. We are “silk gipsy” because we speak only Romanian, and we don’t know other languages. So, why should we be called Roma? We have declared that we are Romanians”, said Vasile Hant, the 42 year- old leader of the Roma community in Prislop.

All four of Hant’s children declared themselves Romanians as well, for the same reasons. Another Roma from Prislop, Stefan Maruntelu, 32 years old, claims a  Romanian identity with fervor : “My identity papers say that I’m  a Romanian and I am feeling exactly like one. Roma people know the Romani language, whereas I know only the Romanian language.” Spiridon Husanu, 61 years old, is one of the 15 Romanians who lives in Prislop. He has been living here for many years and has also been committed to Predita Hant, the mother of the local Roma leader. “I got used to our life here. I live just like everybody else does. Besides my pension, I have a horse, a cart and so I get by pretty well”, said Spiridon Husanu.

The situation in Prislop is not singular

Iulian Preda, the adviser on Roma issues for the prefect of the Sibiu county, said that there are many villages in this area where the Roma people have declared themselves Romanian in the last census. “Officially, the Sibiu county has only 17.125 Roma people out of a total population of 421.000 inhabitants. The number is inaccurate, the real one being at least four times bigger. In the Rosia village, for example, only two persons have declared themselves as Roma,  these two being the mayor’s advisers on Roma issues. All the others have declared themselves Romanians”, said Iulian Preda.Although officially there are 535.250 Roma living in Romania, the leaders of this ethnic group declare that their number is actuallt three to four times bigger. The difference is represented by the “silk gipsy”, as those who belong to this group call themselves.

They lost the European money allotted for integration

The Roma from Prislop live in very poor conditions. Their only stable income is, in most cases, the social benefits received from the City Hall. Besides this income, they also sell handicrafts made of wood during winter, and cranberries, blackberries and mushrooms during summer. Another big issue for the villagers is the quality of the drinking water. Before the last elections, three drinking fountains were created. “The quality of the water is not very good and because of that my youngest son got hepatitis. They claimed to have introduced streets lightning as well, which means only six or seven bulbs in reality. The road has been paved and cemented, but just as far as the village entry. Where we live, our street is still muddy”, Vasile Hant told us. He also said that during the political campaign lots of promises have been made, “but everything remained at this stage”.

Dana Lupica, the head of the Service of Strategy and Programmes for the Sibiu County Council, said that the fact that the Roma from Prislop couldn’t be helped is their own fault. “The biggest issue is that they don’t officially appear as Roma in our records. Therefore, they couldn’t benefit from the European money allotted for the integration of Roma. In order to file a document asking for financing, you need a certain number of  beneficiaries. The road between Rasinari and Prislop was built using PHARE financing. The road does end at the entry in the village, and that is  because the programme was designed so”, Dana Lupica explained.

 “They consider themselves superior”, King Cioaba said

The King of the Roma (who is also the first vice president of the World Roma Organisation), Florin Cioaba, 55 years old, is saddened that Roma decided to declare themselves Romanians. “It is painful to see that they don’t recognize their true origins, and that they consider themselves superiors on such grounds.If they live in houses instead of tents, they see themselves as “silk gipsy”, which is unjustified, because we are all the same”, Florin Cioaba explained. He also said that there are other reasons why they wouldn’t recognize their ethnicity: “The elders have been traumatized by the Holocaust, when they had been deported to the Bug river. For others, their houses have been set on fire in 1995 and 1996. Still others feared that they might be considered criminals on stereotypical grounds. This is nonsense and I think that we shouldn’t be afraid of such things”. King Cioaba also has an explanation concerning the Roma who don’t speak Romani: “The majority of Roma have been slaves for more than 500 years, and during this time their masters forbade them to speak their native language. The ones who didn’t obey this rule were punished by having their tongue cut off. Only the traditional Roma managed to keep their language and customs. The sedentary Roma forgot their language because they were forced to. This doesn’t mean they are not Roma people.”

It wouldn’t be convenient for Romania to have a 20 percent Roma minority

King Cioaba claims that more than 20 percent of Romania’s population is represented by ethnic Roma. “If we all declared our true ethnic belonging, we would have a greater influence in the Government and in the decision-making process. When dealing with us, the Executive looks at official numbers, and it’s one thing to represent 2.5 percent, and another thing to represent 20 to 30 percent of the population. It wouldn’t be convenient for Romania to have an official Roma  minority of 20 percent”, Florin Cioaba said. He thinks that a big part of the blame lies with the leaders of this ethnic group: “We don’t know how to organize ourselves and to how to vote. Our votes depend on the electoral alms we receive. The Roma aren’t aware of the importance of having an official in a local council or in the Congress. The ethnic Hungarians are the exact opposite: they have always had 7 percent of all the seats in the Parliament”.

The deputy Nicolae Paun claims that 25 percent of the MPs are Roma

The deputy Nicolae Paun, the representative of Roma in the Romanian parliament, holds the opinion that those who haven’t recognized their true ethnicity do feel Romanian and that they did so because they couldn’t find any benefit in declaring themselves Roma. “The Roma have a very bad public image with which the majority of this ethnic group doesn’t want to be associated. The ones who do recognise it are very brave. Other reasons are represented by their tumultuous history which doesn’t give them any reasons for recognising their ethnicity”, said Nicolae Paun. He also says that this phenomenon of hiding your ethnicity also takes place in the Romanian Parliament: “At least 25 percent of the Congress members are Roma. If not entirely so, they do have Roma grandmothers or grandfathers. We could form a parliamentary group even tomorrow if they wouldn’t be ashamed to recognise that they are Roma”. Other than the Social Democrat MP Madalin Voicu, Nicolae Paun didn’t want to give other examples.

Admitting to be Roma in Romania doesn’t bring you any benefit, said David Mark

The leader of The Civic Alliance of Roma People from Romania, David Mark, said that “the stigma of being Roma is the main reason for people to hide their ethnicity”. “Admitting to be Roma in Romania doesn’t bring you any benefits, because there is a possibility of discrimination and exclusion. Reports made by different NGOs and surveys have proved that. The last survey of CURS shows that Roma are discriminated against and if they embrace their identity they risk losing their jobs”, David Mark explained. He claims that “those 50 years of communism and the forced assimilations have erased the Roma identity, and also lead to language loss, and the loss of their culture and traditions”. “The results of the census were also biased by the reviewers, whose intervention determined many of Roma people to declare themselves Romanians” said David Mark. Roma leaders, both in the public and non-governmental sector, encourage Roma to declare their true ethnicity in the next census, which will take place next year.