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The Roma in Romanian History

Viorel Achim

Chapter VI. The gypsies during the communist regime. a few points of reference

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  • 1 References to the situation of the Gypsies in the post-war period can be found in: M. Merfea, Inte (...)

1Paradoxically, reconstructing the history of the Gypsies in Romania during the period of the Communist regime is even more difficult than for the years of the Second World War. For a long time in Romania, there was no special policy directed at the Gypsies. Furthermore, when at the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s the authorities did decide to find a solution to the problematic social situation of the Gypsies and to a certain extent took action in this direction, the policy was not made public. The relevant materials (statistics, decisions reached by political and administrative forums, even some sociological studies etc.) have not been made public even today, and historians shall have to wait for many years until the archives that house them are opened up to researchers. Consequently, official information regarding the Gypsies that is accessible to researchers is thin on the ground and not always significant, whilst the appeal to oral histories presupposes carrying out a kind of research that this work did not intend to undertake. In these conditions, until major research can take place that will make a priority of the archive material currently unavailable to us, this book is limited to offering a sketch of the post-war history of the Gypsies.1

  • 2 Cf. L. Cherata, Istoria ţiganilor. Origine, specific, limbă, s.l., [1992], p. 48.

2After the ending of the Transnistrian episode, the Gypsies who survived deportation returned to their villages, while some of the nomads settled on the edges of Bucharest. The General Union of Roma in Romania resumed its activity under the leadership of Gheorghe Niculescu, without, however, producing any publications. In 1949, the Union was disbanded by the Communist authorities together with all other organisations that did not fit in with the totalitarian system. In the 1946 electoral campaign, the Bloc of Democratic Parties (the electoral alliance headed by the Communist Party) sent out special manifestos to the Gypsies, addressing them as “Brothers and Sisters Roma!”2 In reality, however, as with the repatriation of deported persons, for many years the authorities paid no attention whatever to the fate of the Gypsies.

3From the year 1948, when Communism established itself fully in Romania, the Gypsies no longer appear in official documents of political nature. The motion of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Romanian Workers Party regarding the national problem from December 1948, which laid the foundations for the policy of the new regime with regard to the ethnic minorities, ignored the existence of the Gypsies. They were not included in the list of “co-inhabiting nationalities”. Until 1989, the Gypsies were refused this status in Socialist Romania. Consequently, the Gypsies were not represented as an ethnic group at the level of the Party and state administration; there were no institutions to promote their collective interests and to deal specifically with the problems of this minority, within the limits of the totalitarian Communist State, of course. At the end of the 1960s, when a new form of representation for minorities was introduced, no national council of workers of Gypsy nationality was created, as was the case for the Hungarians, Germans and other minorities. For three decades, until the middle of the 1970s, the Communist regime did not pay any attention to the fate of this population as a whole, and there was no special policy dedicated to the Gypsies. On the part of the authorities there was an attempt to conjure away the serious problems faced by this population.

4In the first years of the Communist regime, a previously unimaginable phenomenon in relation to the Gypsies showed itself: a relatively large number of Gypsies were employed in the Party apparatus, the militia, army and the security apparatus. This promotion of some Gypsies occurred not so much under the aegis of the policy of promoting national minorities practised by the regime in the first years of its existence, but rather in the conditions of the Communist regime’s social policy, which aimed at fostering the development of the poor classes and at destroying the old social structure that was unwilling to accept the new order. This explains why in a considerable number of villages, a Gypsy was appointed as mayor. This overturning of the social hierarchy was for the new regime a simple and certain means of securing loyal followers. In the same way, Gypsies without land or with only small parcels of land were among the first to join the collectives. Communist ideology favoured the ascension of the poor, while citizens of Gypsy origin were among those who benefited from this new state of affairs. However, after a few years when there began to be a need for people with a certain level of education and competence, the Party quickly rid itself of such elements. Nonetheless, in the 1950s and 1960s, due to their “healthy social origins”, it was possible for Gypsies to progress further, becoming minor activists, militiamen, army cadres etc. Some made a career in politics, reaching the higher echelons of the Party apparatus. Their social ascension was of course not due to their ethnic origin, which in any case many denied, but rather because they came from a poor social background.

5The economic and social transformations that took place in Romania during the years of Communism also affected the Gypsies. The nationalisation of the economy, the processes of industrialisation and urbanisation, the transformation of the village as a result of the collectivisation of agriculture, the policy of social “homogenisation”, the transformations affecting the rural and particularly the urban environment, the occupational changes that took place—all of these naturally could not fail to affect the Gypsies. Citizens of Gypsy origin experienced both the positive and negative effects of these transformations. As a part of the country’s population, the Gypsies felt the effects of the benefits and disasters brought by the new order. The social history of the Gypsies during the years of Communism is directly linked to the social history of the country as a whole. In the absence of any sociological studies we are far from knowing in detail the impact that the transformations taking place in Romania during those decades had on the Gypsy population. We can, nevertheless, observe that in certain respects, the Gypsies were affected as least as much as the vast majority of the country’s inhabitants. It is, however, beyond doubt that the specificities of this population— i.e., the Gypsies’ occupational and social situation at the start of Communism, as well as the psycho-social traits typical of the Gypsy population as a whole or to its various components—made their mark on the evolutions experienced by the Gypsies during those years.

  • 3 Ibid.

6One transformation that affected this population alone was the sedentarisation of the Gypsies who still practised nomadism in one form or another. At the beginning of the 1960s, the authorities went about settling the nomadic Gypsies in fixed settlements.3 The results were not, however, those expected. Even if they were provided with houses, the Gypsies continued to live for a time in a tent pitched in the yard, with the house used as a stable for the horses. In summer they continued to wander the country practising their traditional crafts or peddling their wares. In 1977, the authorities estimated the number of nomadic and semi-nomadic Gypsies to be around 65,000 persons. The sedentarisation of these Gypsies took place at the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s, when all of them were settled in fixed settlements and houses. Local authorities were obliged to provide them with dwellings and to guarantee them jobs. Some families were moved from counties with many nomads (Mures,, Alba and others) into other counties, resulting in a certain movement of Gypsies to other areas. The majority of these were settled in large towns. The operation was directed from the centre and implemented by the local authorities and the militia. Consequently, the Gypsy caravans that had previously travelled from village to village disappeared from the landscape of the country. It can be stated that today the nomadic way of life has virtually ceased to exist. The way in which sedentarisation was carried out has had the effect of dispersing certain groups of Gypsies. Historians do not, however, believe that this should be regarded as an ethnically motivated measure. The sedentarisation of nomadic Gypsies was a measure of social nature.

7The changes to the urban landscape and especially the “systematisation” programme of the final decade of the Communist regime affected the Gypsies in the same way that it affected the other inhabitants of the country. Systematisation began as a rule with the removal of insalubrious neighbourhoods located on the edge of towns. In the 1960s and 1970s, the so-called Gypsy neighbourhoods, with their squalid appearance, inhabited by many people with serious social problems, some of them without any identity papers, could no longer be tolerated within the modern urban environment and were erased from the landscape of Bucharest and other towns. From a town planning point of view, the destruction of these neighbourhoods was not much of a loss. The people whose houses and shacks were demolished were, as a rule, provided with better living conditions than those they had previously owned. In the case of the Gypsies, the systematisation of the towns certainly had positive consequences with regard their living conditions. Many Gypsies were housed in blocks of flats with a level of comfort higher than that of their former dwellings.

8However, it must be observed that the demolition of the Gypsy neighbourhoods meant the end for the respective Gypsy communities. Together with the construction of a modern neighbourhood with its large population on the site of the old Gypsy neighbourhood and the moving of the Gypsies into blocks of flats, the local Gypsy community, which in some places had been there for several centuries although in most cases it had been created in the inter-war period, to all intents and purposes ceased to exist. As a rule, the Gypsies became a minority in their new environments, living dispersed among the other inhabitants. This does not mean that one of the aims of the systematisation of the towns was to disperse the Gypsies. Urban modernisation and the policy of systematisation covered the entire country, while in the 1980s the policy managed to affect such aberrations as the destruction of old residential neighbourhoods of historical and architectural value in some towns, including Bucharest. It would appear, however, that on the level of their community life, the Gypsies have suffered acutely as a result of the disappearance of their traditional neighbourhoods.

9From the point of view of living conditions, the Gypsies experienced undeniable progress during the years of communism. The shacks that until the 1960s characterised the habitat of the Gypsies did not disappear, but did make up a much smaller proportion of their dwellings. For the Gypsies mentioned above, moving into a block of flats meant gaining a minimum level of comfort. Also in large towns, a large number of Gypsies were housed in nationalised houses. Consequently, today a significant Gypsy population lives in the centre of many large towns. This situation is the consequence of events in the 1970s and 1980s, when in the conditions of their demographic explosion, the Gypsies became a problem for municipal authorities. They were provided with dwellings in nationalised houses in urban areas that had become poor and which were possibly earmarked for demolition. It can be stated that with regard to housing, urban Gypsies benefited fully from the social benefits offered by the Communist regime. The State provided them with accommodation without applying any discriminatory measures in this respect. In the villages, the Gypsies built houses in the style of the majority population in the last decades of the regime. In villages in Transylvania and the Banat that were abandoned by the ethnic Germans, many of the houses of those who had emigrated were allocated to the Gypsies of the respective locality or to Gypsies from elsewhere. Almost everywhere in the country, the Gypsies, who as a rule had previously been housed at the edge of the locality, began to penetrate the centre of the villages. More affluent Gypsies either purchased or built houses there so that to a certain extent the old topographical marginalisation of the Gypsy population disappeared.

10The economic transformations that took place in Romania in the postwar period resulted in the gradual disappearance of the traditional crafts and specific occupations of the Gypsies. In the new economic and social context, Gypsies who still practised their old crafts were forced to take up modern professions and occupations. The different groups of the Gypsies adapted to these demands in specific ways. For example, blacksmiths found a new role in heavy industry and construction; the Gypsies of the villages around Bucharest found work in large numbers as builders etc. In towns, Gypsies were able to find work in factories. Street-cleaning became an area in which Gypsies held a virtual monopoly. In the villages, where in some places the Gypsies have preserved their occupational specificity even up until the present day, they worked in agriculture to a greater extent than in the past. In the final decade of the Communist regime, even the agricultural co-operatives sometimes summoned the Gypsies to work, even though they were not members of the respective co-operative. The state farms, however, which faced an almost permanent shortage of labour, would offer work to Gypsies. Gypsies were employed particularly as day or seasonal workers. Sometimes, the Gypsies organised themselves into their own work teams and gained employment on a seasonal basis on state farms located far from their homes, in areas with a labour deficit. This seasonal activity, in which entire families would sometimes take part, enabled them to earn a living. The phenomenon of seasonal work migration in Romania was, however, fairly widespread and the employment of Gypsies on state farms represents a minor aspect of the phenomenon.

11To a certain extent, some of the Gypsies’ traditional occupations nonetheless survived. In some areas of the country, the bricks required in the villages were supplied by Gypsies specialised in this craft. They would bar-gain over the price of the work at the start of the hot season, when they would install themselves together with their entire family on the boundary of the respective village, where they would work until the delivery of the bricks. If they received an order from another village, they would move on to the other village. This was, however, a seasonal occupation. Similarly, in villages of rudari that had not completely given up their old occupation, the manufacture of wooden objects played a wholly minor role in the household economy. The căldărari began to manufacture copper goods for the distilling of brandy, as there was no longer any demand for their traditional wares. In the villages, as well as in some towns, they worked as tinsmiths. The local population made use of their services, as they were cheaper than those offered by a specialised co-operative, and some of them were appreciated as skilled craftsmen. Since they filled a gap that the state economy could not cover, the authorities in general tolerated them.

12Other categories of the Gypsies, who did not possess any kind of craft that could have eased their transition to a modern occupation, nonetheless found a place for themselves in the economy. They took up a new occupation, which became specific to them and which enabled them to survive as a distinct group. The collection of recyclable materials or the acquisition of feathers and down in exchange for money or objects (pots, plates, glassware etc.) procured from various factories and cooperatives were occupations that were practically reserved for the Gypsies. In the final decades of the regime, commercial occupations proliferated among the Gypsies. Peddling was practised by certain categories of Gypsies either on the basis of official authorisation or on an illicit basis. Gypsies living in large towns were the main protagonists on the black market that became a large-scale phenomenon in the final years of the Communist regime. This occupation, which was tolerated by the authorities, favoured the enrichment of the most entrepreneurial elements among the Gypsies and led to the appearance of a category of rich Gypsies in the towns.

  • 4 See the following chapter.

13As a general characterisation, we can judge that during the years of Communism, the Gypsy population in Romania underwent significant occupational transformations. Most of them were forced to abandon the occupations that had for a long time been characteristic of them and to find their place in the communist-type economy. However, the Gypsies’ adaptation to the existing social-economic system took specific forms, which distinguished them from the population at large. As a rule, due to the precarious nature of their qualifications, the Gypsies were forced to perform unskilled and poorly paid work. At the end of the process of wide-ranging social and occupational transformation that took place in Romania during the years of Communism, the Gypsies found themselves on the lowest rung in society. Sociological research carried in recent years shows that, as we shall see,4 most Gypsies employed in industry or in other branches of the economy practised unskilled or semi-skilled professions. The old occupational distinction between the Gypsies and the rest of the population disappeared, but a paucity or absence of professional training were characteristic of a large part of the Gypsy population, with all the consequences that follow from this (poverty, unemployment etc.).

14However, many Gypsies did not find a place in the new economic and social structure of the country. This was not so much the case for those who practised a traditional profession that was no longer needed in the new conditions, but rather for those Gypsies who had no profession, who had always existed and who for a long time lived on the edges of settlements, living off marginal resources. In the first place, these Gypsies were those who did not adapt to the new conditions. The policy of the Communist State to provide everyone with a job, with all the social benefits that this entailed, within the limits of the system, of course, did not work out in the case of the Gypsies. The Gypsies in general regarded employment in a regular job as an imposition and gave the authorities a great deal of trouble in their attempts to tie Gypsies to jobs. At the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s, the authorities dealt specially with the “integration into work” of the “problem” Gypsies. However, they were forced to observe the partial failure of these attempts. A report from 1983, which recorded the measures taken to integrate the Gypsies into work, notes the fact that after receiving a job, many Gypsies abandoned their place of work.

  • 5 For the situation of the Gypsies in these countries, as well as in other European countries in the (...)

15The transformations experienced by the Gypsy population in the postwar decades are not the result of a special policy that was applied to them. In Romania, for a long time no attempt was made to solve the specific problems faced by this population. In the 1950s and 1960s, there was no social integration for the Gypsies in Romania, as was the case in other communist countries such as Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.5 The Gypsies were not treated as a separate group, with a specificity that normally would have required different action from that taken with regard to the rest of the population. Professional reorientation, finding employment and other issues were treated as individual problems, which did not depend on the specificity of one ethnic group or another, and still less on the specificity of one or another group of Gypsies. Even if the measures taken affected certain groups of Gypsies, they were not conceived as ethnic measures.

  • 6 It is significant that the first sociological investigation of the Communist period into the Gypsy (...)

16Only at the end of the 1970s, when in Romanian society important changes had already taken place, did the authorities understand the special situation in which the Gypsy population was living, a situation that in many respects was in clear contrast to the realities of the country as a whole. Political forces observed that the Gypsies constituted a particular social problem and consequently initiated a programme of social integration for them.6

  • 7 In Destroying Ethnic Identity, pp. 108–116 (translation; the annexes of the report have not been p (...)

17In 1977, the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party carried out an analysis of the situation of the Gypsies and initiated a special programme designed to integrate them into society. There is very little available information about this programme and about the Gypsy policy applied at the end of the 1970s and during the 1980s. The programme was never made public and historians and researchers do not even have access to the archives of the period. Until now, only the report compiled in 1983 by the Propaganda Section of the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party, in which an assessment of the results achieved until that point, has been published.7 This material is revealing about the policy with regard to the Gypsies that was being promoted during those years. The report contains interesting data of social, demographic etc. nature with regard to the Gypsy population, carries out an evaluation of the real situation of this population, refers to the activity of the commissions for the social integration of the Gypsies created at the time on a local level, synthesises the most significant achievements accomplished in the years since 1977 etc.

18The report refers to the measures undertaken during those years in an attempt to sedentarise the Gypsies, when the authorities made land available to them and assisted them in the procurement of building materials for houses. Many Gypsies were given jobs. Gypsies lacking official identification were registered at the civil status office, measures were taken to legalise marriages between Gypsies, to send Gypsy children to school, to enlist Gypsies for military services and to supervise their hygiene. The report noted that many of the Gypsies who had been subjected to these policies abandoned their “parasitic” way of life and that a broad segment of the Gypsy population made progress in many respects.

19At the same time, the report indicates that the measures taken to integrate the Gypsies had not produced the expected results. In 1977, 32.7 per cent of the Gypsy population fit for work was unemployed: in the case of women the percentage was 48 per cent. In 1983, the situation was even more serious. It is estimated that in 1977 there were around 65,000 nomadic and semi-nomadic Gypsies, of which only 5600 carried out useful activity for society: the majority of these had temporary work, while only 900 were qualified. After gaining employment, many Gypsies abandoned their places of work as a result of their inability to adapt and of their lack of the necessary qualifications, to which should be added the hostile attitude of the Gypsies who were not employed. Among the Gypsies, the level of delinquency was fairly high. Many families were living in inadequate living conditions. In Bucharest and in other towns, Gypsies had received dwellings that were state property but had destroyed many of them, rendering them uninhabitable. In many cases, they had not paid their rent, electricity bills etc. Many of these families had returned to their old way of life, moving back to tents and huts. Similarly, the state of the Gypsy population’s hygiene and sanitation was alarming. There were numerous dysfunctional families. The number of Gypsy children who did not go to school was large. Among the Gypsies, there were frequent cases of children being abandoned in hospitals and given to orphanages. The conclusion of the report was that the Gypsies were not integrated into society, that they possessed a retrograde mentality and a negative attitude with regard to work and life in society.

20The report contains a “Platform of measures pertaining to the incorporation into work and the social integration of the Gypsies”. Measures were listed in separate chapters with the following targets: the registration and the sedentarisation of the Gypsy population, employment, living conditions, health and social assistance, culture and education and problems of organisation.

21Even if there had undeniably been some successes, in reality not even at the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s had a great deal been done with regard to the integration of the Gypsies. The programme of social integration of the Gypsies was only partially implemented and for too short a time. Serious economic problems appeared in the mid-1980s, when the policy was practically speaking shelved. The 1980s, and especially the last years of Communism in Romania, resulted in a sharper deterioration of the situation of the Gypsies amidst the conditions of the economic and social debacle of the Ceauşescu regime. Being the most under-qualified social class and the least integrated into the modern economy, the Gypsies as a whole were seriously affected by the economic crisis and the reduction in social spending.

22An assessment of the transformations experienced by the Gypsy population in Romania in the post-war years will of course only be possible after rigorous research is carried out into the topic. Overall, there is no doubt that the situation of the Gypsies improved in many respects: housing, employment, incomes, level of education and training etc. The years of Communism had a considerable contribution to the modernisation of the personal life of the Gypsies. Some Gypsies have developed in the direction of modernisation and integration, attaining a different social and material condition. A category of Gypsy industrial workers has appeared, as well as a category of Gypsy intellectuals. However, this is only one aspect of the reality. The Gypsies we have just mentioned make up an insignificant minority. During Communism, the Gypsies underwent a process of polarisation that previously had not existed to such a degree. The Gypsies (or a large proportion of them) are the category of the population with the most acute economic, social etc. problems. In the social structure moulded by four decades of Communism in Romania, the Gypsies have come out on the bottom rung of the social ladder. The majority of them are engaged in activities that, as a result of their casual nature, are only sufficient to ensure their subsistence. They have remained among the poorest in society, despite encouraging social progress. At the same time, on a statistical level of course, the gap between the Gypsies and the rest of the population has increased. For example, if in the villages the Gypsies have built houses of a better quality than those they built in the past, the peasants have improved their dwellings to an even greater degree, to the extent that the difference in comfort between Romanians and the Gypsies is greater than ever; illiteracy, which has been virtually eradicated from the Romanian population, is now found only among the Gypsies etc. The dynamic of the transformations that have taken place in Romania in recent decades have caused the social and economic distance between Romanians and the Gypsies to grow even wider. The marginalisation that has characterised the Gypsies throughout their history was accentuated during Communism. To the problems of the past have been added new problems, generated by the Gypsies’ failure to adapt to the new conditions.

23The extremely limited progress experienced by the Gypsy population during Communism can be explained in part by the absence of a special policy on the part of the Romanian state with regard to the problems of the Gypsies. Even at the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s, when a programme of this nature did exist, the authorities did not deal with the Gypsies in a serious way. The financial effort of the State did not match the intentions of the programme. The failure of the policy to integrate the Gypsies was due not only to the way in which it was conceived and applied in Romania. In the other communist countries, where a much more consistent, long-lasting and coherent policy existed and where much more radical measures were undertaken presupposing substantial financial efforts on the part of the State, as was the case in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, the results were the same. In these countries also, the authorities managed only the partial integration of the Gypsies. In any case, everywhere in the world, including in Western countries, the Gypsies are regarded as a problem from the point of view of their integration into modern society. We do not believe that it is incorrect to state that the failure of integration policies depends also on the particular characteristics of this population.

  • 8 The number of Gypsies recorded in censuses, on the basis of those taking part in the censuses, was (...)
  • 9 Ţiganii între ignorare şi ingrijorare, pp. 59–63.

24The social problems faced by the Gypsies have become acute against the backdrop of the demographic growth of this population. From a population of approximately 300,000 Gypsies in the 1930s and 1940s, their actual number (not that which results from declarations made in censuses)8 had by 1977 reached 540,000 (according to the report mentioned earlier). For 1992, the most plausible study evaluates the size of the Gypsies population identified as such by others according to their way of life between a minimum figure of 819,446 persons (3.6 per cent of the population of the country) and a maximum figure of 1,010,646 persons (4.6 per cent of the total).9 Today the Gypsies are the second largest national minority after the Hungarians, who make up 7.1 per cent of the total population. This explosive demographic growth has taken place in the conditions of the policy of the Ceauşescu regime to increase the birth rate, which stimulated by all means possible the creation of families with large numbers of children. A situation was produced in which child benefits and social allowances for mothers were enough to ensure, on a basic level, the existence of a large number of families of Gypsies. This system of allowances enabled many Gypsies to make a living without being forced to gain employment. However, the main explanation lies in the demographic behaviour of the Gypsies, which differs from that of the Romanian population, including the rural population, which for a number of decades has followed a modern demographic model. This is another aspect of the civilisation gap between the Gypsies and the majority population. The high numerical growth has aggravated the situation of this population as regards living standards; it has damaged the family and increased the number of maladjusted people and orphans. In the 1980s, the demographic situation became a burden on the Gypsy population. It constituted a further obstacle on the road to social development and the process of integration. At the beginning of the 1980s, the authorities observed the drawback of its demographic policy in the case of the Gypsies. The 1983 report proposed that in the case of families with five or more children, the provision of allowances should be conditional on the work record of one of the parents and the children’s attendance at school.

  • 10 The problem of ethnic self-identification/hetero-identification in the case of the Gypsies is disc (...)

25With regard to the Gypsies’ relations with the authorities during the years of the Communist regime, it should be said that state policy, as with the attitude of society in general, was based on the cultural and ethnic assimilation of the Gypsies, considering that they can only be “civilised” if they give up their cultural heritage and become “Romanians” or “Hungarians”. There is no doubt that a large number of Gypsies integrated into non-Gypsy society. It was not only Gypsies who were cut off from their traditional communities and who had been “absorbed” by the majority population through education and occupation who were affected; some larger groups of Gypsies integrated, too. Especially in towns, many Gypsies lost their ethnic identity. This transformation was often the result of a generation’s evolution. Some neighbourhoods of Bucharest and other towns have a relatively large population that is the result of these social and ethnic transformations. A similar process also took place in some villages, where the number of Gypsy families was small. Generally speaking, in places where the Gypsies were obliged to completely abandon their traditional occupations, their way of life, the social behaviour, their birth rate etc., they have aligned themselves with those of non-Gypsies, although with a certain gap between the two groups persisting. The adoption of Romanian (or Hungarian) as native language—in places where the loss of Romanes had not taken place much earlier—took place almost of its own accord. Social integration and ethnic integration went hand in hand. Today a by no means small proportion of the population known as “Gypsy” is at a more or less advanced stage of ethnic assimilation. Even if these people are sometimes identified by others as being Gypsies or former Gypsies, they consider themselves to be Romanians, or in localities with a Hungarian population, Hungarians.10 The process of ethnic assimilation suffered by a part of the Gypsy population in Communist Romania cannot be denied. If on a global level this is hard to quantify, on the level of the many rural communities it is evident.

26The Gypsy assimilation policy promoted in Romania was not elaborate in nature and was not characterised by the excesses of certain neighbouring countries, where Gypsy children were taken away from their families and educated in state institutions and Gypsy villages were destroyed (Hungary), or where the sterilisation of Gypsy women who had more than a certain number of children was encouraged (Czechoslovakia) etc. In the final years of the Ceauşescu regime, there were some voices that accused the Romanian political regime of promoting an anti-Gypsy policy and even of anti-Gypsy racism. It is true that Ceauşescu made use of the nationalist diversion, but we take the opinion that such an accusation cannot be supported. In Romania, no measures of racial nature were taken and there were no special laws for the Gypsies. The Gypsies were treated as a social minority that was to be integrated in some form or another into the new economic and social organisation of the country. The Communist regime should rather be reproached for neglecting the problems of the Gypsies, for the fact that it did not pay close attention to improving the social and cultural conditions of this population and that when measures were taken in this respect they did not take into account the specificities of the different groups of Gypsies. It is worth mentioning that at the time when such accusations were made against the regime in Romania, many Romanians felt that the Gypsies were under the protection of Ceauşescu. The pronatalist policy, which caused the number of Gypsies to increase, and the toleration within certain limits during the 1980s of speculation, practised mostly by the Gypsies, were interpreted as being evidence of a policy that favoured the Gypsies. We do not believe that this argument can be supported. During the Ceauşescu era, minorities were no longer used, as they had been at the beginning of the 1950s, as a means of putting pressure on the majority population. On the contrary, it can be stated that certain forms of Ceauşescu’s nationalism did affect the minorities to a certain extent. The Gypsies’ place in the national policy of the Ceauşescu regime remains to be studied in the future.

27The Gypsies often came into conflict with the militia and the local authorities. The high level of criminality among this population was not the only cause for this. Either because they were “not incorporated into work” or because they practised their occupation without authorisation, the Gypsies suffered the strictures of the laws in force at the time, being considered “social parasites” and sent to work on construction sites or on the Danube– Black Sea Canal. It is understood that the respective laws did not only affect the Gypsies. One measure that directly affected the Gypsies was the confiscation of gold from private owners, according to decrees no. 210/1960 and 244/1978. For the Gypsies, particularly tent-dwelling Gypsies, who kept their wealth in the form of gold, this measure led to the loss of their principle source of wealth. For the Gypsies, this measure represented what the collectivisation of agriculture and the nationalisation of industry had done to the rest of the population in the early years of Communism. The authorities controlled the different groups of Gypsies through the intermediaries of their traditional leaders. Some of these leaders were even allowed to travel outside the country to international Gypsy conferences, where they were regarded as the representatives of their ethnic group in Romania.


1 References to the situation of the Gypsies in the post-war period can be found in: M. Merfea, Integrarea socială a romilor, Braşov, 1991; Ţiganii intre ignorares, I ingrijorare, coord. Elena Zamfir and C. Zamfir, [Bucharest], 1993; V. Burtea, “Neamurile de romi şi modul lor de viaţă”, Sociologie Romanească, N. S., V (1994), nos. 2–3, pp. 257–273; M. Băcanu, Ţiganii – minoritate nat,ională sau majoritate infracţională?, [Bucharest], 1996, pp. 42–45; S. Beck, “Ethnicity, Class and Public Policy: Tsigani–Gypsies in Socialist Romania”, Giessener Hefte fur Tsiganologie, 3 (1986), nos. 1–4, pp. 109–127; Destroying Ethnic Identity. The Persecution of Gypsies in Romania. A Helsinki Watch Report, New York, Washington DC, 1991, pp. 16–35; Fr. Remmel, op. cit., pp. 74–83; Emmanuelle Pons, Les Tsiganes en Roumanie: des citoyens a part entiere?, Paris, 1995, pp. 31–54 etc.

2 Cf. L. Cherata, Istoria ţiganilor. Origine, specific, limbă, s.l., [1992], p. 48.

3 Ibid.

4 See the following chapter.

5 For the situation of the Gypsies in these countries, as well as in other European countries in the post-war period, see (among others): G. Puxon, “Roma heute –Zur Situation der europäischen Zigeuner”, In Auschwitz vergast, bis heute verfolgt, ed. Zülch, Reinbek, 1979, pp. 29–63; The Gypsies of Eastern Europe, ed. D. Crowe and J. Kolsti, Armonk/New York, London, 1991; Jacqueline Charlemagne, “Les Tsiganes d’Europe de l’Est”, Etudes, January 1992, pp. 5–14; A. Fraser, op. cit., p. 271ff; J.-P. Liégeois, op. cit., passim; idem, Roma, Tsiganes, Voyageurs, Strasbourg, 1994, passim; Gy. Szabó, op. cit., pp. 82–95, 126–147; “Cigánykérdés a 20. század végi Magyarországon”, Regio. Kisebbsegi Szemle, 1993, no. 1, pp. 84–101; G. Seewann, “Zigeuner in Ungarn 1945–1990. Ethnische Minderheit oder soziale Randgruppe?”, Anuarul Institutului de Istorie Cluj-Napoca, XXXII (1993), pp. 283–290; Anna Jurová, Vy´voj romskej problematiky na Slovenska po roku 1945, Bratislava, 1993.

6 It is significant that the first sociological investigation of the Communist period into the Gypsy population was undertaken only in 1974. Its conclusions were passed on to decision-makers, who nonetheless underestimated the work carried out. Cf. M. Merfea, “Despre integrarea socială a romilor. Participares, i nu asimilare”, Sociologie Romanească, N. S., V (1994), nos. 2–3, p. 291.

7 In Destroying Ethnic Identity, pp. 108–116 (translation; the annexes of the report have not been published).

8 The number of Gypsies recorded in censuses, on the basis of those taking part in the censuses, was: in 1948—53,425 (0.3 per cent of the population) (A. Golopenţia, D. C. Georgescu, “Populaţia Republicii Populare Române la 25 ianuarie 1948. Rezultatele provizorii ale recensământului”, Probleme economice, 1948, no. 2, pp. 28, 30); in 1956—104,216 (0.6 per cent) (Recensămantul populaţiei din 21 februarie 1956, vol. iii, Structura populat, iei după nat, ionalitate şi limba maternă, Bucharest, 1959, p. 556); in 1966—64, 197 (0.3 per cent) (Recensămantul populat, iei s, i locuint, elor din 15 martie 1966, vol. i, part 1, Bucharest, 1969, pp. 113, 153, 154 and 158); in 1977—229,986 (1.067 per cent) (“Comunicat privind rezultatele recensământului populaţiei şi locuint, elor din 5 ianuarie 1977”, Scanteia, XLVI, no. 10,829, 14 June 1977, p. 3); in 1992—401,087 (1.8 per cent) (Recensămantul populat, iei şi locuint, elor din 7 ianuarie 1992, vol. I, Populaţie –Structura demografică, Bucharest, 1994, pp. 708, 714).

9 Ţiganii între ignorare şi ingrijorare, pp. 59–63.

10 The problem of ethnic self-identification/hetero-identification in the case of the Gypsies is discussed ibid., p. 52ff.

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