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The Roma in Romanian History

Viorel Achim

Chapter IV. The gypsies in inter-war Romania

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  • 1 We recall the fact that an assembly of the representatives of the Gypsies of Transylvania, gathere (...)

1In 1918, when the Romanian unitary national state was created, the Gypsies of Bessarabia, Bukovina and Transylvania (together with the Banat, Crişana and Maramures,) became citizens of Greater Romania.1 The partly differing historical experiences and the cultural specificity of the Gypsies in the new provinces meant that the tableau of the Gypsy population in Romania became rather complex in nature.

  • 2 For the figures from the 1930 census of the Gypsies, see Recensămantul general al populat,iei Roma (...)

2In the general population census of 1930, 262,501 persons declared themselves to be of Gypsy origin, equivalent to 1.5 per cent of the population of Romania.2 At the time, Gypsies were found to be living in varying numbers in almost half of all the country’s settlements. 221,726 Gypsies (or 84.5 per cent of the total) lived in villages, while 40,775 (15.5 per cent) lived in towns. In rural areas, the Gypsies accounted for 1.5 per cent of the population, while in the towns they accounted for 1.1 per cent. The distribution of the Gypsies between the country’s different provinces was not even: the largest number of Gypsies was recorded in Transylvania: in the province lived 75,342 Gypsies, who represented 2.3 per cent of the population. In Muntenia there were 71,784 Gypsies (1.8 per cent of the population), in Moldavia 32,194 (1.3 per cent), in Oltenia 22,239 (1.5 per cent), in the Banat 17,919 (1.9 per cent), in Crişana-Maramures, 15,895 (1.3 per cent), in Bukovina 2164 (0.3 per cent), in Bessarabia 13,518 (0.3 per cent) and in Dobrogea 11,446 (1.4 per cent). The counties with the largest Gypsy populations were: Ilfov (which also included Bucharest) 17,230, Mures, 11,305, Dolj 8065, Cluj 7869, Târnava Mică 7573, Prahova 7348, Ialomiţa 7228. The largest proportion of Gypsies among the population as a whole was in the Transylvanian counties of Târnava Mică (5.1 per cent), Năsăud (4.1 per cent), Mures, (3.9 per cent) and Făgăras, (2.9 per cent).

3The differences between the provinces also refer to the proportion of the Gypsies taken against the population of individual localities. In Transylvania, Gypsies lived in almost all settlements, but in a smaller number in each of them, while in the Old Kingdom of Romania they lived in rather more concentrated groups. In many localities in Muntenia, Oltenia and Moldavia, the proportion of Gypsies was high, with tens of villages composed exclusively or mostly by Gypsies. The largest number lived in Bucharest— 6 795 persons (1.1 per cent of the population). The towns with the largest proportion of Gypsies were Urziceni (13.4 per cent), Ors,ova (8.5 per cent), Târgu Frumos (8.3 per cent) and Mizil (8.1 per cent).

4In the census of 1930 only 101,015 people, in other words 37.2 per cent of the total Gypsy population, declared their native language to be Romanes. If the Gypsy nation accounted for 1.5 per cent of the population of the country, the proportion speaking Romanes as their mother tongue amounted to just 0.6 per cent. There were some counties with substantial numbers of Gypsies where they had almost completely lost their ancestral language: in Sibiu county only 10.3 per cent of Gypsies spoke Romanes as their mother tongue, in Făgăras, county 10.7 per cent, in Braşov county 11.5 per cent, in Gorj 13.0 per cent, in Prahova 16.0 per cent, in Vâlcea 17.7 per cent. The process of the abandonment of Romanes was very advanced in Bucovina, southern Transylvania and Muntenia. Since we have in 1930 a situation in which two-thirds of Gypsies spoke Romanian as their native language, Hungarian (in settlements with a Hungarian majority in Transylvania) or another language, it means that we are dealing with a phenomenon of assimilation that at the time was of long duration and at a very advanced stage.

  • 3 S. Manuilă, D. C. Georgescu, Populaţia Romaniei, Bucharest, 1938, p. 59.
  • 4 M. Block, Maurs et coutumes des Tziganes, translated by J. Marty, Paris, 1936, p. 64; idem, Die ma (...)
  • 5 I. Făcăoaru, “Amestecul rasial şi etnic in Romania”, Buletinul eugenic şi biopolitics, IX (1938), (...)
  • 6 Gh. Făcăoaru, Cateva date in jurul familiei şi statului biopolitic, Bucharest, [1941], p. 17 (extr (...)
  • 7 The General Union of Roma in Romania claimed in 1938 that it represented the interests of a popula (...)
  • 8 I. Chelcea, op. cit., pp. 63–88 (chapter: “Caţiţigani sunt in Romania?”).
  • 9 Ibid., p. 84.
  • 10 A. S. B., fond P. C. M., dossier 42/1942, pp. 5–6.

5There can be no doubt that the 1930 census did not reproduce exactly the number of Gypsies living in Romania at the time. It was compiled on the basis of declaration given by participants, while there were inhabitants of Gypsy origin who did not declare themselves Gypsies. This occurred either because they considered the term “Gypsy” to be demeaning or because some individuals of Gypsy origin felt themselves to belong to other nations, with whom they identified.3 The true number of Gypsies in Romania was calculated differently by those who dealt with the question of this population, with various figures being advanced: Martin Block calculated that in Romania there were 350,000 to 400,000 Gypsies.4 Certain Romanian specialists in bio-politics, with an interest in alerting public opinion to the “danger” represented by the Gypsies, quoted figures of 400,0005 or even 600,000 Gypsies.6 Some voices from within the Gypsy population put forward aberrant figures, including up to one million.7 Ion Chelcea, who deals at length with this problem,8 estimated the number of Gypsies in Romania to be double that of the figure given in the census of 1930, in other words, approximately 525,000 instead of 262,051. He divides the Gypsies into three categories: a) those who still exhibit genuine external Gypsy traits with a “consciousness” of belonging to this ethnic group; b) those who are on the verge of assimilation, who are still vacillating in terms of their ethnic identity; c) those who consider themselves to be assimilated, but who can still be recognised as Gypsies.9 This attempt to correct the figures of the census paid too little attention to the phenomenon of ethnic assimilation, which meant that some inhabitants of Gypsy origin became assimilated into the majority ethnic group of the locality or area in which they lived. It has been observed that a much greater number of the Gypsies living in the provinces of Transylvania, the Banat and Crişana-Maramures, declared themselves as such than the Gypsies living in the provinces of the Old Kingdom, where the true number of Gypsies was significantly greater than that given by the census. The explanation of this difference lies in the very strong ethnic and national identifications in Transylvania and in the massive process of assimilation of the Gypsies that had taken place over time, including the inter-war period, to the south and east of the Carpathians.10 The figures provided by the census, with the aforementioned limitations, are the only credible data available on the subject and were considered as being the closest to reality when at the beginning of the 1940s the question of the introduction of racial discrimination was raised.

  • 11 Ibid., pp. 14–16.

6The figures provided by the census are lower than those from the end of the nineteenth century. The process of assimilation that took place over the decades can explain the decrease in the number of Gypsies from census to census. The 1930 census recorded a lower number of Gypsies compared to previous censuses in most settlements. In approximately 200 communes, the Gypsies had disappeared from one census to another. If we compare the figures from the census of the Gypsies for Transylvania, Crişana and the Banat carried out by the Hungarian authorities in 1893 with those of the 1930 Romanian census, we can observe a significant decrease in the number of Gypsies in the interval of thirty-seven years between the two censuses. In 1893 there were 151,711 Gypsies, while in 1930 there were just 109,156, a reduction of 42,555 people (i.e., a 28.1 per cent decrease). It is true that in certain counties, particularly as a result of socio-economic factors contributing to population movements, a significant increase in the Gypsy population was recorded: in Sălaj county, the Gypsy population rose by 44.4 per cent, in Năsăud county by 23 per cent, in Târnava Mare county by 8.8 per cent. As a rule, however, a fall in the number of Gypsies was recorded. In the 462 communes in the provinces of Transylvania, the Banat and Crişana that in 1893 were inhabited by at least fifty Gypsies, the Romanian census of 1930 finds that in 127 of the communes the number of Gypsies was stationary or growing; in 266 communes it was in decline, while in sixty-nine communes the Gypsies had disappeared altogether.11 The phenomenon of assimilation was even more pronounced in the Old Kingdom of Romania. Compared to the figure of 200,000 Gypsies thought to be the minimum estimation of the population at the end of the nineteenth century, in 1930 in the provinces of the Old Kingdom there were just 137,663 Gypsies, a decrease of approximately 31 per cent.

  • 12 For a picture of the Gypsy population during this period see I. Chelcea, op. cit., pp. 22–62.

7In inter-war Romania, the Gypsies were the country’s sixth largest ethnic group in terms of number, after the Romanians, Hungarians, Germans, Jews, Ukrainians and Russians. The Gypsy population presented itself as an extremely heterogeneous conglomerate, including groups that differed according to language, occupation, social situation etc. Some Gypsies, continuing the tradition of the old clans, perpetuated in more or less modified forms the community life of previous times, living as rudari, ursari, căldărari etc. The majority had, however, abandoned their traditional way of life, living instead among the Romanian population or among ethnic groups, integrated to a greater or lesser extent into their respective rural or urban communities.12 What united these very different groups and gave them a consciousness of their Gypsy identity, aside from their common origin, was their marginal social status and secondly their isolation as Gypsies by the population among whom they lived.

  • 13 The occupations of the Gypsies in Romania in the first half of the twentieth century, with ethnogr (...)

8The decades between the two world wars were a period in which the Gypsy population in Romania went through a process of important transformations. The Gypsies were carried along by the social evolutions of the country. From an occupational point of view they continued to have a certain specificity. Some groups of Gypsies perpetuated their traditional crafts, with some crafts considered to be peculiar to the Gypsies being maintained. The profession of blacksmith was, for example, regarded even in this period in Romanian villages as an occupation reserved for Gypsies. This was also the case for the manufacture of bricks and many objects typical of the peasant homestead. It was the rudari who generally supplied the wooden utensils and tools necessary to the homestead, while Gypsies continued to perform as musicians almost everywhere.13

  • 14 I. Chelcea, op. cit., pp. 119–124.
  • 15 Arhivele Statului Bucureşti, fond Inspectoratul General al Jandarmeriei (from now on to be referre (...)
  • 16 Glasul Romilor, III, no. 11, 8 June 1938, p. 3; IV, no. 12, 5 April, p. 2 (article “Meserii care d (...)
  • 17 Ibid., III, no. 11, p. 3; Timpul, III, no. 40, 18 July 1934, p. 2.
  • 18 C. Barlea, “Conservatorul de lăutari din Rociu”, Sociologie Romanească, IV (1942), pp. 471–475.

9It was, however, increasingly evident at this time that the aforementioned professions, which were the most representative of the Gypsies, were in decline. This was due to competition of industrial goods and the material progress experienced by the peasantry, who, instead of buying rudimentary objects made by Gypsies, preferred to buy factory-produced items. Similarly, more so than in previous times, Romanian craftsmen appeared in the villages, breaking the “monopoly” formerly held by the Gypsies. Ethnographic research carried out in the 1930s highlighted the crisis facing the rudari. Entire settlements of rudari were in a state of decline from the point of view of their specific occupation. They had lost their monopoly in the supply of wooden objects to peasant households and by then were producing only small items such as brooms, spindles, rakes etc. and were being forced to find new means of making a living. In Transylvania, the rudari or the băieşi in general adapted to other occupations (e.g., tilling the soil in the villages, leaving to carry out seasonal work in other parts, trading in car-pets). On the other hand, the rudari from the Old Kingdom were unwilling to adopt other occupations. Some of them became proletarianised in the negative sense of the word. As their occupation disappeared, so the rudari themselves disappeared as professional group and even their communities disintegrated.14 At this time, as a result of competition from industry, the tinsmiths disappeared, while the brush-makers and white-washers became increasingly rare in the Bucharest streetscape. Gypsy builders suffered competition from foreign master craftsmen, while horse-dealers grew increasingly rare. Ursari were prohibited from practising their occupation following protests by the society for the protection of animals.15 Other professional categories of the Gypsies were also subject to certain restrictions.16 Even the profession of musician went into a period of decline. Facing competition from radiophone music, gramophones and modern music orchestras, Gypsies grew fewer in numbers, while in many towns musicians’ guilds disappeared.17 Furthermore, the Gypsies lost the monopoly they had for a long time held in this profession in some regions of the country, as a result of Gypsy musicianship being taught in special schools and Romanians taking up the trade.18 In these conditions, many Gypsies were forced to find a new occupation. Consequently, during the inter-war period, the practice of peddling proliferated among the Gypsies. Even in previous times, some nomadic Gypsies in the course of their wanderings through the country had traded their specific items for goods produced by peasant homesteads, which they then sold on elsewhere. At the time, this was, however, an auxiliary occupation. In the inter-war period, peddling became a profession for some Gypsies. The peddling of textile goods was practised on a particularly large scale. In Transylvania especially, there were Gypsy peddlers who practised this trade on the basis of official authorisation. However, generally speaking, Gypsies forced to abandon their traditional trades took up marginal occupations. The pauperisation of the minor craftsman did not result in the Gypsy craftsman becoming a worker. Rather, in the best cases, he became a labourer, a street-sweeper etc. The inter-war period produced a major transformation in the occupational structure of the Gypsy population.

10The vast majority of the Gypsies, living in villages, were engaged in agricultural occupations or in occupations connected with agriculture. The agrarian reform carried out in Romania in the years 1918–20 transformed some of the Gypsies living at the time in villages into smallholders. Gypsies who had taken part in the war and their families, and in some places other Gypsies as well, were granted small parcels of land, together with the other villagers. Nomadic Gypsies, however, did not benefit from the reform, since they were not linked to any particular village. Similarly, the vast majority of rudari were not granted land, since the specificity of their occupation led them to live in forested areas outside the villages, and they were not fully sedentarised. Many Gypsies acquired the position of smallholders, resulting in the disappearance of the gulf that separated them from Romanians. The process of integration of these Gypsies into the village community—a process that had begun much earlier with sedentarisation—thus acquired a major impetus.

  • 19 I. Chelcea, op. cit., pp. 104, 133.

11However, their position in the agricultural economy was marginal. Land owned by Gypsies was insignificant at the village level. Tillage was not their favourite occupation. In the socio-economic conditions of the inter-war period and more particularly the polarisation that was taking place at the time in the Romanian village, many Gypsies lost the lands they had acquired under the agrarian reform. Ion Chelcea observes in an investigation carried out in the Olt valley in 1939 that 57.9 per cent of the lands granted to the Gypsies of the village of Şercaia had been sold, while in the village of Ucea de Jos, the percentage was 73.3 per cent.19 On the whole lacking land altogether or owning too little of it, the Gypsies took land individually or rented it. Many of them worked on a day-to-day basis in exchange for goods or money, or to pay off a debt.

12Even if the Gypsies failed at this time to become a population of agricultural workers, they did, however, continue to have an important role in the repair of agricultural equipment and in the practice of other rural crafts. In some parts of the country, crafts such as that of blacksmith continued to be practised almost exclusively by Gypsies. Similarly, as a rule (and in Transylvania on an exclusive basis) the village swineherds and cowherds were recruited from among the Gypsies.

  • 20 Domnica I. Păun, “Ţiganii in viaţa satului Cornova”, Arhiva pentru Ştiinţa şi Reforma Socială, X ( (...)

13For village-dwelling Gypsies, the inter-war period was unquestionably a time of progress in many aspects. They built themselves better dwellings than they had had in the past and became more linked to agricultural occupations, while some became smallholders. In short, they became increasingly integrated into the village community. Differences between them and the Romanians persisted nonetheless. A general characteristic was that the Gypsies remained the poorest social category within the village. They constituted a labour force that was extremely cheap and available at all times. Because of their inferior social and economic position, the Gypsies effectively formed a separate social class. A study on this subject carried out in a village in Bessarabia pointed out that in the social division of the village, which still bore elements from previous centuries, the Gypsies formed a kind of fourth social class after dvoreni (boyars), mazili (petty boyars) and ,tărani (peasants).20 In general, however, the barriers separating Gypsies from Romanians were increasingly disappearing. The material progress achieved by some Gypsies and their acquisition of a social and economic status close to that of other villagers facilitated their integration into the village community. These Gypsies began to forget their ancestral language, entered into relations of kinship with Romanians, were perceived by others as members of the community, expressed the desire to be considered Romanians and sent their children to school, all of the above in fact indicating an advanced stage of assimilation.

  • 21 See A. Boia, “Integrarea ţiganilor din Şant, (Năsăud) in comunitatea romanească a satului”, Sociol (...)
  • 22 Domnica I. Păun, op. cit., p. 527.

14The process of linguistic and cultural assimilation, and finally ethnic assimilation, was almost as a rule conditioned by the tying of the Gypsies to the land. The agrarian reform of the years immediately following the First World War accelerated this process, coming as it did at a moment when a large part of the Gypsy population was in a more or less advanced stage of assimilation. The local circumstances of the Gypsies, as investigated by teams of sociologists from the Romanian Social Institute, are evidence of this evolution. Research carried out in a village in Năsăud county, for example, shows that the Gypsies in the village no longer spoke Romanes, practised Gypsy traditions, sang Romanian songs and danced Romanian dances or dressed in Romanian costume, while many other elements characteristic to the Gypsy tradition had been replaced with Romanian elements. Their evolution towards the Romanians was becoming more and more pronounced. They wanted to be included in the business of the community. They considered themselves to be Romanians and wanted to be perceived as such. Mixed marriages between Romanians and Gypsies especially promoted developments in this direction. Children resulting from such marriages considered themselves to be Romanians, meaning that assimilation occurred even from the first generation.21 In some places, raising one’s social status from that of Gypsy to that of Romanian as a result of this mixing was known as “improving one’s nation”.22

  • 23 I. Chelcea, op. cit., p. 97.

15This tendency towards linguistic and ethnic assimilation was characteristic of a substantial part of the Gypsy population in Romania. This author believes that this ethnic transformation affected a by no means negligible percentage of the Gypsies. However, the scale of the process is hard to quantify. Villages that a few decades earlier were inhabited by a large number of Gypsies became (almost) completely Romanian as a result of the Romanianisation of the Gypsies. In some places, only those Gypsies who had settled quite recently were considered to be “Gypsies”. The village’s long-established Gypsy population, who had settled there decades or even centuries earlier, had already merged into the local population. Only their names or the colour of their skin gave away the Gypsy origin of some inhabitants. The “Gypsy Lane” found in many villages proved that this part of the community had at one time been inhabited by Gypsies.23

16At all levels of Romanian society in the inter-war period, the general view was that the Gypsies were on the path to assimilation, with completion of this process only a question of time. The sociological studies of the 1930s that included the Gypsies in their area of study also came to this conclusion.

  • 24 See following sub-chapter.
  • 25 G. Potra, Contribut,iuni, p. 125.

17Under these external changes and occupational transformations, the traditional collective way of life of the Gypsies went into decline. Most Gypsy communities disintegrated. By this time, nomadic Gypsies were an insignificant percentage of the population. The traditional social structures and the authority of the Gypsy leaders declined. In the course of a single generation, the Gypsies lost much of their cultural heritage and civilisation. During this period new forms of solidarity appear among the Gypsies that differ from traditional forms. Examples of these are represented by Gypsy organisations, non-traditional Gypsy leaders and a growing consciousness of belonging to a separate ethnic group.24 These are all indicators of the beginnings of modernisation.25

18Romanian society, in spite of reservations of social nature as well as those based on image, was generally speaking open to contacts with the Gypsies. The Romanianisation (or Magyarisation in localities in Transylvania with a majority Hungarian population) of a considerable percentage of the Gypsy population occurred in conditions of a high level of acceptance being shown towards them by society. The most illustrious members of this population, in all their social manifestations, be they baptisms, marriages, missionary work, charity balls, were assisted and patronised by notable figures from Romanian public life.

  • 26 Timpul, II, no. 17, 14 November 1933, p. 1.
  • 27 Ibid., VI, no. 66, 17 August 1937, p. 2.

19The group of Gypsies left out of these transformations was that of the nomads. Tent-dwelling (corturari) or camp Gypsies (lăieşi), as the nomadic Gypsies were known, were few in number and in constant decline, but their incessant movements and the attraction of the picturesque elements of their lifestyle made them seem more numerous than they actually were. They were not in any way integrated into rural or urban communities. They moved about the country on a seasonal basis, practising their traditional crafts. The administrative and military authorities found it difficult to exercise control over them. They were regarded as a relic from a previous era that did not fit in with modern society. Consequently, the authorities were preoccupied with attempting to eliminate nomadism. However, the central authorities took too small a part in this matter, leaving the responsibility to the local authorities. A sojourn by tent-dwelling Gypsies on the edge of a village was permitted only with the authorisation of the local authorities. In many cases, the Gypsies were chased away, being considered a danger and often accused of theft. In 1933, regulations were introduced according them the right to remain for up to eight days in a particular place.26 From 1934, nomadic Gypsies (or craftsmen) were forbidden from travelling the country without authorisation issued by the General Inspectorate of the Gendarmerie.27 It would happen frequently that villages playing host to a band of Gypsies who had set up a residence of sorts on their boundaries, would take measures to move them on to another, more secluded, location so that they were not to be found by the main highway, thereby bringing shame upon the village.

  • 28 Ibid., II, no. 17, 14 November 1933, p. 1 (article “Colonizarea ţiganilor nomazi”).
  • 29 I. Chelcea, op. cit., p. 164.
  • 30 A.S.B., fond I.G.J., dossier 126/1942, p. 204.

20The elimination of nomadism could only take place via the tying of Gypsies to a village. There were cases in which the authorities placed land at the disposal of “local” nomadic Gypsies so that they could build houses. However, no such plan existed on a national level and even at a local level it would frequently happen that the gendarmes would chase nomadic Gypsies who owned land there out of the village. Gypsy organisations, which regarded the elimination of the “vagrancy” of camp Gypsies as part of the emancipation of the Gypsy population, called for nomadic Gypsies to be granted land to build a house, so that they could be tied to a particular place, and possibly receive agricultural land.28 During the inter-war period, the idea of the “colonisation” of certain localities with available land with Gypsies was also floated. The authorities returned to this problem on a number of occasions, but without any concrete measures in this sense ever being taken. The reaction of the Gypsies to this rumour is interesting. In order to avoid colonisation, they employed the following ruse: they would buy houses in a village, thus becoming inhabitants of the respective commune by law. Their sedentarisation was, however, merely a formality. They did not completely renounce their way of life. The houses were used more as a stable for their horses, while they continued to live outdoors. Ion Chelcea describes the situation of nomadic Gypsies living in the village of Porumbacu de Jos in Făgăras, county. Gypsies bought a space in the village with houses built on it. Initially they sought to live in the house. After that they set up a tent in the house and lived in the tent. In the end, they moved the tent outside, leaving the houses empty.29 The seasonal movements of the Gypsies continued even after they had become owners of land and houses. However, their movements were as a rule limited to the same county or between a handful of communes. Increasing numbers of nomads renounced their way of life and became completely sedentary. The number of tents in a caravan decreased, the community shrank and its organisational structure began to disintegrate. In 1942, when the Romanian authorities deported all the nomadic Gypsies in the country to Transnistria, they numbered 11,441.30


  • 31 Some data in G. Potra, Contribuţiuni, pp. 124–126; Fr. Remmel, Die Roma Rumaniens. Volk ohne Hinte (...)
  • 32 See J. E. Gyurgyevich, “Die Romi. Zur Volkwedung der Zigeuner Rumaniens”, Sibiu-Hermannstadt, 1934 (...)

21The evolution of the Gypsy population in Romania in the direction of modernisation during the inter-war period is demonstrated by the appearance of Gypsy organisations and the beginnings of a movement for their emancipation.31 During this period, a new kind of elite appeared within the population. The social mobility characteristic of Romanian inter-war society made it possible for persons of Gypsy origin to affirm themselves in society.32 At this time, we find intellectuals, artists, merchants etc. emerging from the ranks of the Gypsies who did not renounce their origins and who took an active role in the life of their community. This was a new phenomenon in Gypsy society. Until that time, social climbing on the part of Gypsies as a rule had led to the loss of their ethnic identity. These Gypsies, who had attained a certain position in society and who for the Gypsies represented an example of success, became the formal leaders of their respective community. The old social organisation of the Gypsies had not, however, disappeared completely. Local or regional communities of Gypsies were still led by bulibaşi and vătafi. Nonetheless, the new elite began to have an increasingly important role, to the detriment of the old community leaders.

  • 33 Fr. Remmel, op. cit., pp. 46–47.
  • 34 I. Chelcea, op. cit., p. 170.

22In the 1920s and 1930s, Gypsies in some areas that were home to significant communities of Gypsies formed their own social and professional organisations, following the example set by their fellow citizens. These organisations brought together Gypsies with the same profession or the same interests living in the respective locality or region. This took place at a time when a rich network of organisations of this kind was developing in Romanian society. Gypsy musicians formed societies in many towns. The largest of these societies was based in Bucharest, known as “Junimea Muzicală” (Musical Youth). One of its leading figures, the well-known Grigoras, Dinicu, was a fierce campaigner for the social and cultural emancipation of the Gypsies. In Calbor in Făgăras, county, the Gypsy peasant Lazăr Naftanailă founded a local Gypsy association, known as the “Neorustic Brotherhood”, in 1926. The association functioned according to the model of Saxon associations that existed in the vicinity and was concerned with the improvement of the economic and cultural level of the Gypsies. In 1934– 35, the association published a newspaper, entitled Neamul Ţigănesc (The Gypsy Nation).33 Gypsies from Şercaia (in the same county) also founded a “society”. In Făgăras,, Gypsies had their own funeral society.34

23Over time, the idea developed of gathering Gypsies from the entire country into a single ethnic organisation to represent their interests. The promoter of this idea was Archimandrite Calinic I. Popp- Şerboianu, himself of Gypsy origin and a graduate in theology. He was the author of a book about the Gypsies: Les Tsiganes. Histoire – Ethnographie – Linguistique – Grammaire – Dictionnaire, published in Paris in 1930. He worked as a priest and for a time entered a monastery in Oltenia, where he held a prestigious position among the Gypsies. Romanian democracy permitted such associations, and there also existed models provided by the economic, cultural, political etc. organisations created by the country’s other national minorities.

24In 1933, two organisations of this kind were established. In March 1933 in Bucharest, Calinic I. Popp-Şerboianu founded the General Association of Gypsies in Romania. The programme of the association, alongside ideas of a social and cultural nature, which were of common interest at the time and which constituted a preoccupation for the entirety of Romanian society, also featured problems specific to the Gypsy population, including the following:

  • a drive to improve literacy among the Gypsies, including through evening classes for adults and travelling schools for nomadic Gypsies;
  • the establishment of a popular university for Gypsies, and the establishment of a Gypsy “national museum”;
  • the publication of books on the history of the Gypsies, “The collection of our traditional songs, dance schools that will teach our dances”;
  • the establishment of workshops for “trades appropriate to our national character”;
  • “The insistence, via all legal means, that town halls and authorities provide us with land in every town and village in the country where we can build houses for those without their own home, which would be payable over twenty to thirty year periods”;
  • the organisation in guilds of all Gypsies practising a craft and their recognition as craftsmen, with corresponding rights from the General Office of Social Insurance;
  • the establishment of “county councils” and of a “supreme council of elders” for the resolutions of disputes between Gypsies.35

25One of Şerboianu’s associates, the writer and journalist of Gypsy origin G. A. Lăzăreanu-Lăzurică, quit the association and founded the General Union of Roma in Romania. The Union’s congress, which took place on 8 October 1933 with the participation of Gypsies from the entire country, elected as executive president Lăzăreanu-Lăzurică and as honorary president the musician Grigoras, Dinicu. At the same time, Lăzurică assumed the title “voivode of the Gypsies of Romania”.

26The two organisations battled each other to secure members from among the Gypsy population. The two leaders launched attacks on each other, which were published in the contemporary press. The authorities were also familiar with these disputes. However, for the time being, neither of the two managed to secure the authorisation for their organisation. Their applications for legal status were refused on various grounds.

  • 36 G. Potra, Contribut,iuni, pp. 124–125.

27Frictions also appeared within the Union itself. In the autumn of 1934, Lăzurică was removed from the leadership of the union by Vice-President Gheorghe Niculescu, a flower merchant from Bucharest and adviser to the Labour Ministry and the Council of Merchants, who proclaimed himself “executive president and voivode of the Roma of Romania”. In November 1934, Niculescu secured recognition of the organisation as a legal entity. The General Association of the Gypsies in Romania, once again led by S,erboianu and Lăzurică, also managed to obtain legal recognition in 1935, but did not manage to establish itself in the community; in the end the association disappeared, giving up its place to the rival organisation. The General Union of Roma in Romania, under the leadership of Gheorghe Niculescu was undoubtedly the most important Gypsy organisation and was in fact the only one to function at a truly national level. According to figures from the association, in 1939 it had forty branches (at county level), 454 local offices and a total of 784,793 members.36

  • 37 Glasul Romilor, I, no. 1, 1–15 November 1934, pp. 1–2.
  • 38 Thus took place on 14 October 1934 the baptism of 100 nomadic Gypsies of all ages at Ploieşti, in (...)
  • 39 Glasul Romilor, I, 1934, no. 1, p. 3.

28The association established as its aim “the emancipation and reawakening of the Roma nation”. It intended to take action “to improve the fate of our Roma nation, so that we can live alongside our co-nationals without being ashamed”. The programme of the General Union of the Roma in Romania (UGRR) revived, point by point, the ideas of the previous association.37 The association functioned on a formal level until 1941. However, following the change of regime (i.e., the imposition of a royal dictatorship in 1938), the association was subject to certain restrictions. In the few years during which it functioned, the UGRR undertook measures in line with the aims of the organisation: as a result of its persistent petitions to the authorities, nomadic Gypsies were granted land; with the direct support of the Romanian Orthodox Patriarchate, the association undertook the baptism of many nomadic Gypsies38 and the marriage of many couples; a solicitors’ office was founded that gave free legal advice to its members and also managed to arrange for a doctor’s surgery and a maternity clinic to provide them with free health care; it intervened to convince the authorities to grant nomadic Gypsies the right to free movement so that they could practise their trades;39 many Gypsies congresses on a county and national level were organised, and the UGRR edited two publications: O Ròm in Craiova (two editions in September–October 1934) and Glasul Romilor in Bucharest (1934–41) etc.

  • 40 Timpul, II, nos. 11–12, 25 September 1933.

29On a regional level, it is worth mentioning the Gypsy movement in Oltenia, which functioned during the 1930s. A group of intellectuals of Gypsy origin (the journalist Aurel Manolescu-Dolj, the poet Marin I. Simion, the lawyer N. St. Ionescu and the teacher C. S,. Nicolăescu-Plops,or) founded here a regional Gypsy organisation. They benefited from the collaboration of the traditional Gypsy leaders. In 1933, Simion, an associate of Şerboianu, founded, together with a number of prominent Gypsies (bulibas,i), the Regional Circle for Oltenia of the General Association of the Gypsies in Romania. After this organisation split in two, in Oltenia the Gypsies remained loyal to Şerboianu. Manolescu-Dolj proclaimed himself to be the “great voivode” of the Gypsies of Oltenia. In 1934, when the UGRR obtained official recognition, the Gypsy leaders in Oltenia crossed to the latter organisation, only to resign from it in 1936, on the grounds that the centre was not interested in the fate of the Gypsies in Oltenia, and form an independent organisation with its headquarters in Craiova. The regional organisation in Oltenia was active throughout the period, regardless of its affiliation. The main leader of the organisation was Simion, who also proclaimed himself the “voivode of the Gypsies of Oltenia”. During those years, in Oltenia Gypsy assemblies were organised, while even nomadic Gypsies were incorporated into the association. The organisation intervened in situations where Gypsies became involved with the authorities. In 1933, the association founded a trade union of chimney sweeps from Craiova, which was registered at the local court.40 The organisation in Oltenia also published its own publications. From September 1933, the Oltenian association supported the newspaper Timpul (Time), produced by Manolescu-Dolj. The newspaper continued to be published until 1938. In 1934, two editions of the newspaper O Ròm, the official publication of the UGRR were published. Under the aegis of the Association of Gypsies in Oltenia a series of books published under the banner O Ròm was established, where in 1934, Nicolăescu-Plops,or published two books of Gypsy folklore in Romanes, together with a Romanian translation: Ghileà romanè (Cântece ţigăneşti) (Gypsy Songs) and Paramiseà romanè (Poveştti ţigăneşti) (Gypsy Stories).

  • 41 C. S,. Nicolăescu-Plopşor, “Casa, şcoala şi biserica romilor”, O Rom, I, no. 2, 22 October 1934, p (...)
  • 42 As J-P. Liegeois does in Tsiganes, p. 295.

30These Gypsy leaders attempted to inculcate the Gypsies with a consciousness of their ethnic identity. Gypsy organisations and their publications adopted the term “Rom”, which they attempted to establish. They rejected the term “Gypsy” as demeaning and called for official documents and school textbooks to use the name Rom. They even attempted to provide a theoretical foundation for their demands, claiming that the term Rom originated from Sanskrit, indicating the noble origins of the population, in contrast with their contemporary situation. This was another aspect of the emancipation movement initiated by the leaders of this population. In the programmes of the two Gypsy associations and in their publications, the idea of founding a Gypsy church, in which Gypsy priests would officiate in Romanes, as well as the idea of founding a Gypsy school, in which Gypsy teachers would teach from Romanes-language textbooks, can be found.41 We also come across the idea of a Gypsy “legal system”, in which Gypsy tribunals would give judgements in disputes between Gypsies. Similarly, also worth mentioning is the interest for the cultural heritage of the Gypsies, particularly history, that is apparent in the Gypsy publications. These ideas indicate the emphasis placed on the preservation of the Gypsies’ identity. However, some promoted integrationist ideas, such as the sedentarisation of nomadic Gypsies at all costs, so the Gypsy movement in Romania in the 1930s cannot be considered a “nationalist” movement.42 The whole activity of the Gypsy organisations denotes a mixture of modernism and traditionalism, reflecting the actual situation of the Gypsies during the period.

31This was the state of what in the language of the period was known as “the organisation” of the Gypsies. Not all Gypsies were included in the organisations established during the period. Rather, only a very small proportion of them were involved, while membership was to a certain extent a formal and forced process. The success of the action taken by the organisation depended not only on their leaders and Gypsy activists (or “inspectors”, as they were known) but also on the local Gypsy leaders (the bulibaşi and vătafi) and on the authorities. The mobilisation of the Gypsies at their assemblies was sometimes carried out with the assistance of the local authorities. It was difficult to gather together such disparate groups. Within the Gypsy population (declared as such or otherwise) of the country, there were major linguistic and cultural differences. Some categories of Gypsies did not even speak Romanes. Naturally, not all Gypsies responded to the appeal to become members of the society.

  • 43 Timpul, III, nos. 38–39, 10 June 1934, p. 4.
  • 44 Fr. Remmel, op. cit., pp. 57–58, 60.

32It is worth mentioning here that the Gypsy leaders who have been discussed were far from being in the style of the modern leader. As has been seen, they were tempted to adopt the title “voivode of the Gypsies”. It was not an old title, as in Romania the traditional leaders of the Gypsies had never used it. Instead it came from romantic literature, which created the myth of the “voivode of the Gypsies”. In the conception of the Romanian Gypsy leaders of the time, the title of voivode demonstrated that their authority was superior to that of the local vătafi and bulibaşi and applied to the Gypsies of the whole country or an entire region. These figures were, in general, people of mediocre calibre. They surrounded themselves with admirers; the newspapers that they led were full of articles in praise of them. The associations themselves did not have a democratic form of organisation and rather seem to have been personal organisations. Some leaders even attempted to use the organisations to their own personal use in order to make an entry into politics. This was particularly the case of the group from the Craiova-based journal Timpul. In Dolj county, figures from the National Liberal Party (PNL) attempted in the years 1933–34 to win the votes of the Gypsies. Manolescu-Dolj and Nicolăescu-Plopşor joined the National Liberal Party (under Gheorghe Brătianu), while the latter of the two stood as a candidate for the county council on the list of this party.43 The newspaper called on Gypsies to vote for the lists of the PNL. After the elections, an appeal was made for parliamentarians from Dolj county to take action on behalf of the Gypsies. In 1937, the National Christian Party (PNC), via its president Octavian Goga, managed to gain the support of S, erboianu and Lăzurică. The PNC together with the latter two figures gained an increasing amount of influence over Manolescu-Dolj and his newspaper Timpul. As the elections scheduled for the end of the year approached, Ţara Noastră (Our Country), the official newspaper of the PNC, published a special weekly edition for the Gypsies. Gheorghe Niculescu accused S, erboianu and Lăzurică of attempting to gain the votes of the Gypsies in order to become deputies.44

33The achievements of the Gypsy movement of the 1930s were modest. To a certain extent, it succeeded in sensitising public opinion to the social problems of the Gypsies. During the inter-war period, the Gypsies were regarded as a part of society, and the press of the time reported the activities of the Gypsy organisations.

  • 45 G. Puxon, “Einhundert Jahre Nationalbewegung der Zigeuner”, in In Auschwitz vergast, bis heute ver (...)

34All of the above are indicators of the progress achieved in many respects by the Gypsies in Greater Romania. In many countries during the inter-war period the Gypsies went through a period of organisation and action in favour of the interests of the community.45 Some Romologists even speak of “Gypsy nationalism” in connection with this period. Thus, the developments that took place in Romania form part of the general evolution of the Gypsy population in Europe.

35The disappearance, together with the imposition of the royal dictatorship in 1938, of the democratic framework that made all these positive developments possible meant that the history of the Gypsies in the inter-war period managed to give rise only to the beginning of certain trends that were not able to consolidate themselves.


1 We recall the fact that an assembly of the representatives of the Gypsies of Transylvania, gathered at Ibaşfalău (Dumbrăveni) on 27 April 1919, hailed the decision of the Great National Assembly in Alba Julia from 1 December 1918 to unite Transylvania with Romania and affirmed the commitment of the Gypsies to their new fatherland. (1918. Unirea Transilvaniei cu Romania, 3rd ed., Bucharest, 1978, pp. 666– 667.)

2 For the figures from the 1930 census of the Gypsies, see Recensămantul general al populat,iei Romaniei din 29 decemvrie 1930, vol. ii (Neam, limba˘ maternă, religie), Bucharest, 1938, pp. XXXII–LVI. See also Arhivele Statului Bucureşti, fond Preşedinţia Consiliului de Miniştri (from now on to be referred to as A.S.B., fond P.C.M.), dossier 42/1942.

3 S. Manuilă, D. C. Georgescu, Populaţia Romaniei, Bucharest, 1938, p. 59.

4 M. Block, Maurs et coutumes des Tziganes, translated by J. Marty, Paris, 1936, p. 64; idem, Die materielle Kultur, p. 52.

5 I. Făcăoaru, “Amestecul rasial şi etnic in Romania”, Buletinul eugenic şi biopolitics, IX (1938), p. 282.

6 Gh. Făcăoaru, Cateva date in jurul familiei şi statului biopolitic, Bucharest, [1941], p. 17 (extract from Romania Eroică).

7 The General Union of Roma in Romania claimed in 1938 that it represented the interests of a population of 784,793 Gypsies (G. Potra, Contribuţiuni, pp. 125–126). In the newspaper Timpul (Craiova, III, no. 41, 29 July 1934, p. 1) we find mention of a million Gypsies in Romania (!).

8 I. Chelcea, op. cit., pp. 63–88 (chapter: “Caţiţigani sunt in Romania?”).

9 Ibid., p. 84.

10 A. S. B., fond P. C. M., dossier 42/1942, pp. 5–6.

11 Ibid., pp. 14–16.

12 For a picture of the Gypsy population during this period see I. Chelcea, op. cit., pp. 22–62.

13 The occupations of the Gypsies in Romania in the first half of the twentieth century, with ethnographic aspects are dealt with in M. Block, Die materielle Kultur, pp. 87–125; I. Chelcea, op. cit., pp. 102–149.

14 I. Chelcea, op. cit., pp. 119–124.

15 Arhivele Statului Bucureşti, fond Inspectoratul General al Jandarmeriei (from now on to be referred to as A. S. B., fond I. G. B), dossier 95/1940, pp. 269–276, 459–460.

16 Glasul Romilor, III, no. 11, 8 June 1938, p. 3; IV, no. 12, 5 April, p. 2 (article “Meserii care dispar”).

17 Ibid., III, no. 11, p. 3; Timpul, III, no. 40, 18 July 1934, p. 2.

18 C. Barlea, “Conservatorul de lăutari din Rociu”, Sociologie Romanească, IV (1942), pp. 471–475.

19 I. Chelcea, op. cit., pp. 104, 133.

20 Domnica I. Păun, “Ţiganii in viaţa satului Cornova”, Arhiva pentru Ştiinţa şi Reforma Socială, X (1932), nos. 1–4, p. 521.

21 See A. Boia, “Integrarea ţiganilor din Şant, (Năsăud) in comunitatea romanească a satului”, Sociologie Romanească, III (1938), nos. 7–9, pp. 351–365.

22 Domnica I. Păun, op. cit., p. 527.

23 I. Chelcea, op. cit., p. 97.

24 See following sub-chapter.

25 G. Potra, Contribut,iuni, p. 125.

26 Timpul, II, no. 17, 14 November 1933, p. 1.

27 Ibid., VI, no. 66, 17 August 1937, p. 2.

28 Ibid., II, no. 17, 14 November 1933, p. 1 (article “Colonizarea ţiganilor nomazi”).

29 I. Chelcea, op. cit., p. 164.

30 A.S.B., fond I.G.J., dossier 126/1942, p. 204.

31 Some data in G. Potra, Contribuţiuni, pp. 124–126; Fr. Remmel, Die Roma Rumaniens. Volk ohne Hinterland, Vienna, 1993, pp. 45–61; T. Amza, Ţiganii, o lume a contrastelor, [Bucharest], 1994, pp. 65–70.

32 See J. E. Gyurgyevich, “Die Romi. Zur Volkwedung der Zigeuner Rumaniens”, Sibiu-Hermannstadt, 1934, p. 8–9 (extract from Der Spiegel); idem, Zigeunerromantik in den Karpathen. Vom Nomadentum zur Zivilisation – Einbruch in die Kultur, Hermannstadt, 1937, p. 5.

33 Fr. Remmel, op. cit., pp. 46–47.

34 I. Chelcea, op. cit., p. 170.

35 Timpul, II, nos. 11–12, 25 September, pp. 1–2.

36 G. Potra, Contribut,iuni, pp. 124–125.

37 Glasul Romilor, I, no. 1, 1–15 November 1934, pp. 1–2.

38 Thus took place on 14 October 1934 the baptism of 100 nomadic Gypsies of all ages at Ploieşti, in the presence of Patriarch Miron Cristea and of local officials (O Rom, I, no. 2, 22 October 1934, p. 2; Glasul Romilor, I, 1934, no. 1, p. 3).

39 Glasul Romilor, I, 1934, no. 1, p. 3.

40 Timpul, II, nos. 11–12, 25 September 1933.

41 C. S,. Nicolăescu-Plopşor, “Casa, şcoala şi biserica romilor”, O Rom, I, no. 2, 22 October 1934, p. 1.

42 As J-P. Liegeois does in Tsiganes, p. 295.

43 Timpul, III, nos. 38–39, 10 June 1934, p. 4.

44 Fr. Remmel, op. cit., pp. 57–58, 60.

45 G. Puxon, “Einhundert Jahre Nationalbewegung der Zigeuner”, in In Auschwitz vergast, bis heute verfolgt. Zur Situation der Roma in Deutschland und Europa, ed. T. Zulch, Reinbek, 1979, pp. 291–293.

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