Romanian president fined for anti-Roma slurs

By • on February 17, 2014

Romania’s president, Traian Basescu, has been fined 600 lei ($183) for making derogatory comments about Romani people, the BBC reports.

Basescu was fined by the National Council for Combating Discrimination for saying that “very few” Romani people “want to work’” and “traditionally many of them live off stealing” during a 2010 news conference in Slovenia, according to the BBC.

In January the president said, “Roma irritate people by begging” and are “perhaps more troublesome than a banker who makes tens of billions disappear from a bank,” the BBC reports.

National Council spokesman Istvan Haller told the AFP news agency that the president was fined because he has repeatedly made such discriminatory remarks.

More than 30 human rights organizations condemned the president’s comments in Slovenia as “racist,” AFP reports.

A Roma-rights activist told AFP this was the first time a fine has been levied against a Romanian president for such remarks.

“The fine is low but it sends a clear message: even if you are president, when you make discriminatory comments you will get a sanction,” Romani Crisis Executive Director Marian Mandache told the news agency.

Basescu has not yet responded to the fine. The council is an autonomous body that operates under the control of parliament, according to the BBC.

Romania’s 2011 census counted almost 623,000 Roma, or 3.3 percent of the population, but many Roma do not declare themselves as such in order to avoid the social stigma and discrimination that they would otherwise face. Roma in Romania and throughout Eastern Europe often live in ghettos with few or no public services and limited access to health care and employment.

Citing a report by the European Roma Rights Center, the Romania-Insider website says there has been a huge exodus of Roma from the country.