Romanian politicians and the racist speech against Roma

By • on November 12, 2010

The racist discourse of Romanian politicians continues to fuel hatred and reinforces the prevailing negative perception of the Roma. The tacit acceptance of such speeches is unacceptable for Roma communities. Roma organizations tried to draw the attention of politicians to such facts, but all to no avail.

November 3. Slovenia.

During an official visit to Slovenia, a Slovenian journalist asked the Romanian president Traian Basescu about the measures taken by the Romanian authorities concerning the Roma. Surprisingly enough, he declared:” We still have a problem that must be considered, which makes Roma integration difficult because very few of them are eager to work ‘. Many of them have preserved their traditional lifestyles. If we are not honest enough to acknowledge the problems that the Roma community is faced with, and the additional difficulties arising for our lack of insight into their ethnical particularities, we will not be able to  find solutions to this problem, said Basescu in an interview for  Agerpres. At the same time, the Romanian president also claimed “that the entire European Union must be involved in solving the Roma problem”, and the Romanian state cannot forbid Romanian citizens of Roma origins to travel freely in Europe. 

This racist statement made international headlines. Several local and international organizations began protesting, declaring that  ”associating crime with a particular ethnic group is a serious violation of national and international laws and is fueling a new wave of extremism and intolerance directed against Roma in many European countries. ” The protest has been signed by over 50 organizations from Romania, Slovakia, USA and Canada.

The political analyst Codrin Scutaru interprets the recent statements of President Basescu, according to whom very few Roma want to work because they prefer to live from what they steal, as liable to produce a new ethnical division in Romania in 2010. “The ethnical polarization revealed by president Basescu between the majority and the Roma minority is based on negative stereotypes, and is likely to stir the already existing interethnic conflicts. The president’s message is one that might amplify the violence and discontent that’s simmering in society”. “The Roma are a socially vulnerable category, with a poverty level 5.5 times higher than the national average – around 31.1%, in 2008, with prospects of ballooning to over 50% in 2010. In this context, the socially excluded become scapegoats, which increases the interethnic rift”, concluded Scutaru.

The ActiveWatch Organization – Media Monitoring Agency condemns the statements regarding the situation of nomadic Roma made by President Traian Basescu during his November 3rd official visit to Slovenia. “Such allegations, that many Roma traditionally earn their living through stealing, highlight another problem regarding the difficulty of integrating nomadic Roma, who, according to Basescu, are not very willing to work. With respect to the latter, the head of state doesn’t seem to promote a tolerant social climate in Romania”, according to the ActiveWatch report.

Racist discourses made by high-level politicians have a long history and have only been partially and inefficiently sanctioned by competent authorities. In 2007, Traian Basescu addressed sexist and racist remarks to a female journalist. But other Romanian politicians made similarly racist statements: the former Prime Minister of Romania Calin Popescu Tariceanu, and the MPs Vasile Dancu and Ludovic Orban, all members of Romanian Parliament, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs Adrian Cioroianu and even the current Minister of Foreign Affairs Teodor Baconski. Paradoxically enough, in September 2009 President Basescu and his wife attended the Costesti Roma Festival, where he chatted with the Roma that were taking part in it. His wife went further and even wore a traditional costume of the Roma, offered by one of the participants.

The Presidential Administration has not made any comment yet about the controversial statements made by Romanian president during his visit to Slovenia.