Board and Staff
Council for Ethnic Accord
The Kona Statement
PER in the Balkans
Russia and the Baltics
PER in Hungary
PER in Slovakia
PER in Romania
Central European Series
PER and the Roma
PER and the Media
ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION OF GOVERNMENT POLICIES
ON THE ROMA IN ROMANIA
The Project on Ethnic Relations (PER), in cooperation with Rromani Criss (a Romani NGO) organized a roundtable discussion in Predeal, Romania, January 28-29, 1999. The purpose of the discussion was to evaluate a project of the Romanian government called "The Improvement of the Situation of Roma in Romania." This two-year project is supported financially by the PHARE program of the European Commission (EC). Participating were representatives of the Romanian government's Department for the Protection of National Minorities (DPNM), Department for European Integration, and Ministry of the Interior; the EC and the European Union (EU) delegation in Bucharest; and the Romani community in Romania. Among those present was the newly appointed minister for national minorities.
One week prior to this meeting, a number of Romani organizations had met separately to discuss issues of representation and cooperation with regard to the government project. It was decided to form a Working Group of Romani Associations, and eight persons were selected to present the views of the Roma at the Predeal roundtable.
As the president of PER pointed out at the discussion in Predeal, the roundtable was being held under favorable conditions:
This report begins with background information on the project, followed by a brief description of the Working Group of Roma Associations. The proceedings of the roundtable are then summarized under headings of its main themes: governmental perspectives; interministerial cooperation and public administration reform; Romani representation and strategic participation; policy approaches and design; Romani civil society and partnership with the government; accountability and responsibility; prejudice, political will, and leadership; migration; and the future of the government's policies toward the Roma.
Background of the project
A representative of the EU delegation in Bucharest referred to two documents that were relevant to this meeting: the "EC Agenda 2000 Opinion Concerning Romania" (1997) and the "Progress Report of Candidate Countries to EU Accession--Romanian Report" (1998). In both documents, the need to improve the situation of Roma in the country is mentioned, including problems related to discrimination. Subsequently, the EC appropriated the sum of two million euros for a project to be contracted with the DPNM. The project was to be aimed at improving the situation of the Roma by raising political and public consciousness about the group, elaborating a governmental strategy on Roma by the year 2000, and operationalizing partnerships between public institutions and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). At the time, there was no national policy on Roma in Romania.
Before signing the contract with the EC, the Romanian government was to take three specific steps: 1. Create an Interministerial Committee for National Minorities, with the administrative and logistical support necessary for its functioning. All seventeen ministries were to be represented. 2. Establish a Technical Support Unit in the Office for Romani Issues, whose responsibility it would be to ensure that the project was implemented according to EC rules and procedures. Such units usually involve external specialists or an external firm that is familiar with the financial and technical procedures of the EC. 3. Establish a Consultative Committee of Roma.
In addition to the Interministerial Committee on National Minorities, a smaller Subcommittee on Roma would be formed. Details of the functions of this subcommittee would be part of the Predeal discussion.
Funds for pilot projects aimed at improving the situation of the Roma in such areas as employment, health, and education were to be allocated by the year 2000. Roughly half of the two million euros granted by the EC were to be devoted to these pilot projects, which would provide for practical experiences informing the governmental strategy. A local NGO with experience in managing project funds was to be contracted to administer the pilot project grants. This NGO would be responsible for approving the grants to organizations that proposed various pilot activities; selecting possible partner organizations with experience in financial administration; and ensuring the participation of Roma in the selection of the projects.
The EC representative referred to experience with a similar fund in the Czech Republic. There, the Foundation for the Development of Civil Society was contracted to administer a fund for Roma. A special administrative council was created to ensure the participation of Roma in managing the fund, and it was suggested that a similar arrangement might be made in Romania--for example, with a seven-member council, four would be Roma.
It was mentioned that a number of procedural issues remained before the financing of the project could begin. These were:
The EC representative emphasized that this was an ambitious project, carrying high expectations both from the EU and from the Roma themselves.
The Working Group of Roma Associations (GLAR)
The meeting in Mangalia was organized in order to address the issue of Romani representation and participation in the coming Predeal roundtable and eventually in the proposed DPNM project. The costs of the meeting were borne by the DPNM. However, the procedure for funding such activities involve a reimbursement of costs incurred. Therefore, the Rom Center for Social Intervention and Studies (CRISS) advanced the funds for the meeting, while serving as a type of organizational secretariat.
Those attending the meeting decided to create a Working Group of Roma Associations (known as GLAR, from its initials in the Romani language). The mandate of this group was:
Following the Predeal meeting, another, larger meeting of Romani activists and organizational representatives met in Sibiu to discuss further the membership and operational details of GLAR. This meeting, with nearly one hundred participants, was again supported financially by the DPNM, where Romani CRISS advanced the costs of the meeting. The participants agreed to create two groups: one, representing different zones of the country and political groupings among Roma, which would be the body to negotiate with the government; and a second, larger group consisting of Romani consultants and specialists who could contribute their knowledge and experiences in specific domains. It was further agreed to organize such meetings periodically, to ensure widespread participation and the exchange of information.
The director of Romania's National Office for Roma welcomed the participants in the Predeal roundtable, suggesting at the same time that the meeting was in a sense premature, since neither the government nor the Romani associations had a clear idea of what needed to be done. Years of work lie ahead, he said, years of claims, negotiations, and compromises. He urged the participants to take into account not only the corporate interests of a minority group but also the interests of the majority and indeed the general good of the country.
He added that the resources of the National Office for Roma, and of the DPNM in general, were limited, but this was not the principal problem. Rather, what is crucial is better cooperation between governmental functionaries and representatives of Romani associations in the development of programs that would meet international standards. At the time of the meeting, there were only two persons in the National Office for Roma, but the project would allow for eight more to be hired. Finally, he stated that there was a need for an inventory of programs on Roma that would draw on experiences both in Romania and in other countries.
The future minister of national minorities called attention to the limits of the institutional competence of the DPNM. For example, in 1995 it had been unable to negotiate the respective memorandum. (i.e., there has been no official retraction of the memorandum, despite requests by Romani NGOs, and apparently the DPNM is unable to negotiate this.) However, the DPMN had been able to negotiate the project that was the subject of this meeting.
Interministerial cooperation and public administration reform
The director of the National Office for Roma pointed out that it was the need for specialists in the technical domains that led to the creation of the Interministerial Committee for National Minorities and the Subcommittee for Roma. Unfortunately, some ministries were impeding the work of the subcommittee, in particular the Ministry of External Affairs, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Department for the Protection of Children. Currently, he said, only the Ministry of National Education and the Ministry of Culture had formulated a strategy concerning Roma or had at least begun the process. He also expressed disappointment with the Department for European Integration for its lack of cooperation, especially in providing the logistical and technical support necessary for launching the project. Addressing the EU, the Council of Europe, and PER, he said: "We do not want bags of money, we want you to help us to understand the world we live in. There is a need for everyone to be trained in conflict prevention and the management of problems and crises."
The representative of the Department for European Integration argued that the majority of politicians did not understand that it was in their interest to deal with the problems confronting national minorities, for that is a barometer of democracy. In specific reference to the activities of his department, he said that the political class viewed Romania's accession to the EU as a "product for export," directed to international organizations. The goal of accession preceded the program of governance rather than being an integral part of it, even though the integration of Romania necessitated an internal transformation of public institutions. A lack of organization was one of the principal problems not only of political parties and groups but also of the state administration.
He also pointed out that changes in the way that the PHARE program finances projects in Eastern European countries has changed from being "demand driven" to being "accession driven," which involves a more substantial participation of the countries wishing to join the EU. In this context, we may better utilize the project for improving the situation of Roma: the two million euros open doors for us, and that may open other doors.
A Romani participant later pointed out that a key condition of the entire process should be to avoid bureaucracy. There is a need to take into account the specificity of Romanian politics, and the government should recognize its shortcomings and the hostility toward Roma among public officers. Indeed, one of the objectives of the Roma in supporting this project is to live in a society, which is truly governed well. For this purpose, the government must be efficient and must be strengthened by correct relations with citizens of the state--with civil society as a whole.
Romani representation and strategic participation
Several Roma at the meeting stressed that, even though the project had not yet been finalized, the current dialogue was useful for the sake of preventing future conflicts, which might otherwise erupt once the project is made public.
The main request from GLAR was the institutionalization of Romani participation in the process of elaborating, and eventually implementing, the policies toward the Roma. Toward this end, the following conditions were proposed:
A Romani participant working in the Ministry of Culture and the newly created interministerial committee stated that the help of Roma in the project was clearly necessary, because government officers do not know the problems confronting Roma. Indeed, many members of the interministerial committee are not even interested in solving the problems. If Roma are limited to a purely consultative role, they may well ask, "Whose consultants are we? Who wants to listen to us?" For Roma to have a substantial role in elaborating and implementing the DPNM-PHARE project, the department should sign a protocol with Romani associations, in which the precise competence, responsibilities, and means of action for Romani representatives be laid out.
Another Romani participant stressed that the development of a governmental policy was a unique, historical opportunity for Romani associations to cooperate with governmental institutions and with NGOs having expertise in this area. The Romani associations can offer working partners for any of the ministries. Indeed, it may be useful to have all the ministries represented in the Subcommittee on Roma, because there are problems in all their domains. Some ministries may need more than one representative where the problems are particularly complex.
In response to a question regarding the possible role of EU pressure in the creation of the interministerial committee and the development of policy toward the Roma, the representative of the EC described the political context of Romani issues and of Romania's integration into the EU. For Romania, improving the situation of Roma is one of the accession criteria formulated by the EC, to be realized in the medium term. However, this criterion was established together with Romanian authorities, and the EU does not "dictate" what must be done or how to do it. The Romanians, together with the Roma, must make those decisions. She expressed the opinion that the Roma should take part in decisions that concern them and that it would be difficult to accept a project that did not reflect the contribution of Roma in the design of programs aimed at improving their situation.
The future minister for national minorities declared that there was no legal impediment to the participation of Roma in the activities of the governmental agencies under discussion. The desire of the Romani associations to contribute decisively to the formulation of policies must be taken into account. How this political decision may be prepared, and what the related consequences will be, are matters for future consideration.
Policy approaches and design
A Romani participant stated that the approach of the government to its policies toward the Roma was based on the specific concerns of each ministry. For instance, in the Ministry of National Education, it was the lack of schooling; with the Ministry of Labor, it was poverty. For the Ministry of the Interior, the Roma raise the problem of infractions of law, and for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Roma are perceived as a problem in international migration. However, from the perspective of Romani associations, the principal need is to combat all forms of discrimination against all citizens of the country, including Roma. It is a different perspective, a different language, a different premise for elaborating a strategy to improve the situation of Roma.
Another Romani participant recalled that in a 1998 consultation regarding the situation of Roma in Romania, Romani associations had suggested that new policies be based on the principle of combating racial discrimination and creating equal opportunities for Roma in gaining access to resources for employment, housing, health, and education. In particular, there was a desire to avoid the language of "social integration." Roma are integrated as citizens of Romania. One fear expressed was that everyday prejudices would be ratified through state policies and promoted by state officers.
Along these lines, with this it was proposed that the DPNM consider changing the name of the National Office for Roma to the Office for Combating Discrimination against Roma. This would clarify its mandate and the political message concerning Roma. It would be a signal that the general norms concerning human rights and international recommendations concerning Roma are taken into consideration in the political process of reforming attitudes and institutions in Romania. (The first name of the office, when it was created in 1996, was Office for the Social Integration of Roma, but Romani associations objected to that name and so it was subsequently changed to National Office for Roma)
The need to have a more precise count of the actual number of Roma was also raised. A Romani participant expressed concern about the enumeration of Roma, referring to negative experiences in the past and possible difficulties in gathering such statistics. Mention was made to an ongoing project of the PER Roma Advisory Council concerning public policies on Roma, it was noted that in Slovakia the strategy had been elaborated according to the principle of equal opportunities. At the beginning of the process, background reports had been prepared which contain precise information regarding Roma, while the right to self-declaration of one's nationality is also respected.
Romani civil society and partnership with the government
On the subject of identifying a "legitimate" Romani partner for the government, one participant said that representatives of the DPNM have pointed to the multitude of Roma associations and the rivalries amongst them as the reason for a "lack of a Romani partner" for dialogue and cooperation. A Romani participant acknowledged the weaknesses related to the beginnings of their civic organization. However, he insisted that the diversity of Romani associations does not have to be interpreted solely in terms of disagreements among them and is not a justification for the lack of a Romani partner.
In preparation for the meetings in Mangalia and Predeal, an inventory of legally registered Romani associations from 1990 to 1999 was drawn up. This inventory showed that the majority of Romani associations are local community organizations. Some are based on specific segments of Romani communities, such as youth, women, students, and occupational groups and subgroups. There is but a small number of associations with activities at the national level. Only three participated in the general elections of 1996.
It seems likely that the large number of local organizations results in more community mobilization and the strengthening of the Roma's abilities to organize and manage their own resources for development. Perhaps the national strategy for Roma should include a further increase in these abilities, at both local and national levels. It is important, though, that such an effort not intensify factionalism or rivalries among Romani associations. The hope was also expressed that the DPNM-PHARE program would provide the institutional and financial means for improving relations between Romani associations and state agencies.
A participant from the National Office on Roma stressed that it was important to take into account such recent developments as a stronger Romani lobby and the improved capacity of Romani associations to form alliances and to exercise pressure on behalf of their interests. Until now, he said, the general opinion was that there were only divisions and rivalries among the Roma.
Accountability and responsibility
The director of the National Office for Roma stated that the government must take responsibility for the success of the DPNM-PHARE project and for the development of a policy toward the Roma, and, he added, this responsibility cannot be negotiated away. The members of GLAR are representatives of NGOs and are therefore unable to assume this responsibility. If the project is a failure, it will be the fault of the government, not of the Roma.
The chair of the PER Roma Advisory Council responded, saying that this is only partly the case. While it is clearly a governmental project, both in terms of financing and the responsibility to formulate a policy, the Romani minority has the right to be consulted. There are examples of policies in other countries in which NGOs, including those of Roma, bear some degree of responsibility and accountability. Moreover, Romani persons working in governmental agencies have the same responsibilities as governmental officials.
Prejudice, political will, and leadership
The director of the National Office for Roma observed that dealing with problems related to Roma is difficult, because the prejudices of the majority and, implicitly, of the political class mean that it is an activity that will not win votes. Many politicians are simply not interested in Romani-related issues. The director said that he had tried to make appeals in international meetings for support in breaking through this resistance. A related problem, he added, is that the press continues to nourish the stereotypes of Roma, leading to the belief that it is "foreign pressures" that are being exerted on Romanians to "clean up" this sector of their national life. He expressed skepticism that there would be a political decision in favor of Romani participation in the Interministerial Committee on National Minorities or the Subcommittee on Roma. Public opinion is resistant to recommendations coming from international organizations.
The executive director of PER pointed out that dealing with the problems of Roma could be perceived by politicians as a source of electoral gain, rather than of loss, if large numbers of Roma voted. It also depended on the way in which the policy toward Roma was presented. Instead of presenting it as a game in which some win and others lose, it should be presented as a process in which both politicians and the wider public win.
The president of PER also pointed out that the adoption of political measures does not depend exclusively on public opinion. It is also a matter of leadership and the willingness to assume responsibility. He referred to the decision of U. S. President Harry Truman to desegregate the nation's armed forces, despite a generally negative climate of public opinion. That action proved to be the first of many that later spread throughout other domains of state administration and eventually of civil society as a whole. Such decisions represent political courage rather than actions designed to win electoral support. Currently, there are opportunities in Romania for that kind of political courage in relation to the policy on Roma. Someone from the leadership of Romanian political parties or from the Romanian government must take the political initiative to seek out or to form a coalition that will be able to exercise political pressure on this issue.
In the discussion of questions of international migration, a representative of the Ministry of the Interior said that the Department on Borders, Foreigners, Migration, and Passports does not maintain evidence of the ethnicity of those who cross the borders. In addition, he asserted that there is no "secret agreement" between the Romanian and German governments for repatriation, although there are agreements related to the admission and re-admission of illegal residents. In 1992, a protocol on re-admission signed by the interior ministries of Germany and Romania was the first agreement of this type. Approximately 115.000 Romanian citizens were returned under this agreement.
He went on to say that the image of Romania had suffered a long time owing to the behavior of some Romanian citizens in other countries. As a result, a new law has been enacted that allows Romanian authorities to take measures to restrict the right of free movement of Romanian citizens who have been returned from other countries under the provisions of bilateral agreements.
One of the Romani participants noted that in the information accompanying the announcement of the DPNM-PHARE project concerning the situation of Roma in Romania, it was presumed that one goal is to control or reduce the international migration of Roma.
Another participant suggested that a study should be made of the evolution of West-East discussions concerning migration and border control in the eastern parts of the EU region.
Special thanks were extended to the leadership of the Ministry of the Interior for sending a representative to the roundtable, while regret was expressed that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had chosen not to send a representative.
The future of the government's policies toward the Roma
During the course of the roundtable, especially on the second day, a number of suggestions were made concerning the government's future policies toward the Roma. One Romani participant put forth these proposals:
The director of the DPNM's Department for Relations with Civil Society suggested that her department had the resources to act as a facilitator for Romani organizations, and she proposed that the DPNM hire some experts from the Romani community; that other Roma be regularly consulted, on a contractual basis; and that a group of technical experts drawn from Romani organizations be created to serve as a kind of "crisis committee," to give assistance to persons lacking such expertise. This group would have the advantages of representing the point of view of Romani associations and of being independent of the government payroll. It might also attract supplementary funds for projects on Roma.
She also suggested that each minister have his or her own expert on Roma, who would be a member of the Interministerial Committee for National Minorities. Such an arrangement, she noted, would make the work of the committee much more effective, since at present, most of the members lack knowledge about the problems confronting Roma.
Others suggested contributions that could be made by GLAR. One such contribution would be for GLAR to prepare an analytical report concerning the situation of Roma in Romania and outlining directions for future policies. This report could be presented to the Interministerial Committee on National Minorities for its use in the decision-making process. (One participant suggested, however, that such a report should be the task of the Subcommittee on Roma.) Finally, it was proposed that GLAR could serve as a "monitoring unit" for the DPNM-PHARE project.
Another suggestion was that a roundtable, including representatives of NGOs and institutions concerned with Roma, be organized to consider the specific problems of Roma as a minority and as a category with particular social problems.
The roundtable in Predeal provided an opportunity for representatives of the Romanian government and of the Romani community to discuss issues related to the proposed project, "The Improvement of the Situation of Roma in Romania."
The Romani participants, designated by the recently formed Working Group of Romani Associations, emphasized that they would like to have Roma enjoy decision-making powers, not merely consultative status, in the formulation of government policies. Much of the discussion was devoted to the possibilities for including Romani representatives in the Subcommittee on Roma. The Romani participants also expressed their belief that many government officials lacked knowledge of the situation and problems of Roma. Consequently, they said, special efforts should be made to include Roma in public offices in general. This may require cooperation with local as well as central government organs and special efforts in recruitment and training.
Another point stressed by the Romani representatives was that measures to combat anti-Romani discrimination and to create equitable access in areas such as employment, housing, education, and health care should have a central role. Legislation is needed to accomplish these purposes, but attention should also be given to the possibilities of strengthening the capacity of local Romani organization to manage and resolve problems in their communities.
Governmental representatives at the roundtable described some of the obstacles to including Romani representatives in the decision-making processes, arising, in part, from a lack of cooperation and political will among government officials. The need was repeatedly stressed for the reform of public administration and for training in the areas of conflict prevention and crisis management. Another need that was pointed out was for an inventory of projects and programs concerning Roma, both within Romania and elsewhere.
Finally, Romani and governmental representatives agreed that cooperation between them should be increased and that the proposed project provides a unique opportunity for both groups. The hope was expressed that this meeting was the beginning of a sustained dialogue that would evolve over time into a sustainable and effective partnership.
List of Participants
Peter Eckstein, Minister, Department for the Protection of National Minorities
Dan Oprescu, Director, Department for the Protection of National Minorities, Office for Roma
lulius Rostas, Expert, Department for the Protection of National Minorities, Office for Roma
Adelina Lozeanu, Department for the Protection of National Minorities
Nicolae Radageanu, General Department of Frontiers Police, Foreigners, Migration Problems and Passports
Cristian Diaconescu, General Director, General Judiciary and Consular Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Anton Niculescu, Secretary of State, Department for European Integration
Nicolae Paun, President, Roma Party
Nicolae Gheorghe, Coordinator, Rromani Criss
Vasile lonescu, Coordinator, Aven Amentza
Joan Griulet, Vice-President, Alliance for the Unity of the Roma
Maria Ionescu, Rromani Criss
Nicoleta Bitu, Rromani Criss
Catherine Magnant, Administrator, European Commission
Mariela Neagu, Task Manager, Delegation of the European Commission in Romania
Francoise Kempf, Assistant to the Coordinator of Activities on Roma/Gypsies, Council of Europe
Allen Kassof, President, PER USA
Livia Plaks, Executive Director, PER USA
Dan Pavel, Director, PER Bucharest
Andrzej Mirga, Chairman, PER Roma Advisory Council (PERRAC)
Elena Cruceru, PER Bucharest