National Minorities Reflected In The Romanian Fundamental Laws

Romania is a national state, at least that is what every Romanian constitution agrees upon, and more than 20 national minorities, which are represented in the Romanian parliament, live on the territory of this state. It is not at all easy to live among such ethnic diversity, with so many religions, cultures and different customs, living close together, but it may be really constructive. As a result, Romania's ethnic diversity led to multiculturalism.In time, other people settled in the territories inhabited by Romanians, the highest percentage of new-comers being represented by Hungarians and Germans, who especially settled in the north-west of Romania, which is today's Transylvania. Romanians from this historical province were under foreign domination for many centuries, and were subjected to policies of denationalization, as it derives from treaties and history books, leading a continuous fight for their unification in a single state; their victory materialized in 1918 (1st of December), which remained in the collective consciousness as the Great Union. This moment represented the Romanians' response of acceptance towards the minorities: "We don't wish to become, from those oppressed, the oppressors. We wish to ensure freedom for everyone and development for every co-inhabiting people… we have shed many tears seeing our mother tongue being removed from schools, churches, justice, so we won't inflict this upon others… we don't wish to live off the sweat of others, because we can live on our own diligence and strength, from our own work. We cannot strengthen our Romanian country but in a democratic system, especially when we take into consideration the requests of modern state life" (Iuliu Maniu, the National Assembly of Alba Iulia, 1st of December 1918).The first Romanian Constitution, in 1866, following the Belgian model, was considered one of the most liberal in Europe, but it only refers to the political rights of the minorities, in the sense that the Christian foreigners could be naturalized, and only in this way could they exercise their political rights: "The characteristic of being a Romanian is earned and conserved, and can be lost according to the rules established by civil law. Only Christian foreigners can be naturalized; the naturalization is given by the legislative power. Only naturalization can make the foreigner equal to a Romanian born citizen, for the exercise of their political rights" (article 7 and 8). In the years that followed, the Constitution was modified and the minorities' issue was also debated, especially that Romania wanted foreign ambassadors in Bucharest, and also it wanted worldwide recognition.At the Congress of Berlin, after the Russian-Romanian-Turkish war of 1877-1878, which ended with the signing of the Peace Treaty, the independence of Romania was recognized, but it was still conditioned by the provisions of article 44, which led in 1879 to the modification of the 7th article of the Constitution, because it restricted the rights of the foreigners to be naturalized, especially those of Jews (who were then a large ethnical community with great economic power): "The difference of religious beliefs and confessions doesn't represent in Romania an impediment to obtaining and exercising civil and political rights." This article contained five points in which the modality of individual naturalization was regulated. After the First World War, the entire political, social and economic life of Romania changed through the Act of the 1st of December 1918 – the Great Union, and in the Union Resolution rights for the national minorities were mentioned: "Full national freedom for all co-inhabiting people. Each people will educate, administrate and judge cases in its own language, with its own people, and each people will receive representation rights in all legislative bodies and in the government of the country, in proportion with the number of individuals" – (point III, first paragraph of the Resolution of the National Assembly of Alba Iulia, which proclaimed the fundamental principles, meant to establish the unitary, national state).With the ratification, through royal decree, of the unification of Bessarabia, Bucovina and Transylvania, Romanian citizenship was granted to all the inhabitants of those territories (the law decree for obtaining Romanian citizenship on the 30th of December 1918); also, through the issuance of legislative acts, all the Jews in the Old Kingdom were recognized as Romanian citizens, a quality which could previously be obtained only by individual request; later, in article 133 of the fundamental law of 1923, all the law decrees from 1918 and 1919, regarding the naturalization of Jews, became ratified.The minorities from Bessarabia, Bucovina and Transylvania were present at the assemblies prior to the Great National Assembly of Alba Iulia, which later expressed their adhesion to the unification act with Romania:- "World events created new perspectives for the region where the Transylvanian Germans established a new country 800 years ago… the Transylvanian German people adopted the resolutions of the Assembly in Alba Iulia, while the Peace Congress will have to ensure equally the justice and freedom for both the large nations and for the smaller ones, being considered as a long term guarantee for the peace of all nations… fully aware of the importance of its decision, the Transylvanian German people considers itself today a member of the Romanian Kingdom, and its sons and daughters are seen as citizens of this country". (The Declaration of the Germans from Transylvania, discussed during the general assembly, regarding their adhesion to Greater Romania, 8th of January 1919, Medias).- "Transylvanian Jews living in Bucharest, gathered between the 13th and the 31st of March in the upper room of the Royal Café, acknowledging the Union in Alba Iulia of the 1st of December 1918, wholeheartedly and with satisfaction adhere to the program comprised in this act, taking into consideration that the dispositions correspond completely to the liberal and democratic principles of the moment." (motion adopted by the Assembly of the Transylvanian Jews, through which they express their adhesion to the decisions of the Great National Assembly of Alba Iulia, from the 1st of December 1918, to the 18th of March 1919, Bucharest).The attitude of the Hungarian minorities was one of expectation, in the hope of a change in the conditions imposed by the Peace Treaty of Trianon in 1920, which abolished the Austro-Hungarian monarchy.The establishment of the Romanian modern state in 1918 presupposed the adaptation of the entire legal, political and administrative apparatus to the new social realities of the enlarged Romania. The integration of the national minorities in the Romanian system was a complex process, marked by positive events, but also by moments of tension.The political union accomplished in 1918 also imposed a legislative unification and the inclusion of all the inhabitants of the country in the same institutional and legislative system. Thus, the Law Decree for the electoral reform in 1918 didn't distinguish between ethnicities; the first article stated: "all Romanian citizens of legal age will elect by public, mandatory, equal, direct and secret vote, on the basis of proportional representation, a number of deputies, in direct proportion with the number of population."These transformations imposed the promulgation of a new Constitution (1923) which, in the second title – "On the rights of the Romanians" – stipulated: "Romanians, without regard to ethnic origin, language or religion, enjoy the freedom of conscience, of education, the freedom of the press, of public meetings, freedom of association, and every liberty and right established therein by law" (article 5); "The difference in religious belief or confession, in ethnic origin or language, doesn't represent in Romania an impediment to obtaining and exercising civil and political rights" (article 7, 1st paragraph); "The State doesn't allow any kind of differentiation based on birth or social class. All Romanians without regard to ethnic origin, language or religion are equal before law and are obliged to contribute in an equal manner to public taxes and duties" (article 8).After the ratification of the Constitution in 1923, they tried to elaborate the entire legislative frame by respecting the fundamental rights of all citizens, and implicitly of the minorities. The law for administrative unification in 1925 stated: "Every inhabitant of the country, regardless of gender and nationality, must be a part of a village and participate to its duties" (article 7); the same article was again found in the Law for the organization of local administration in 1929. The electoral law in 1926 stipulated the universal, equal, direct, secret and mandatory vote for all Romanian citizens, men over 21 years old. Article 5 also stipulated, as a legislative novelty, that the "leaders of the religious confessions recognized by the state" were "Romanian citizens chosen or appointed in accordance to the laws of the state", and each represented a number of more than 200,000 believers, hence they became "senators by right as a consequence of their esteemed position in the state and the church" (article 5, letter d). "The religious confession recognized by the state" was proven by a certificate issued by the Ministry of Religious Affairs; in 1928, the Law of religious affairs states that: "Besides the Orthodox Church, whose organization is established by special law, in the Romanian state there also exist the following cults: the Romanian Greek-Catholic cult, the Catholic cult (of Latin faith, Greek-Ruthenian faith, and Armenian faith), the Reformed cult (Calvinist), the Evangelic-Lutheran cult, the Unitarian cult, the Armenian-Gregorian cult, the Mosaic cult (with its different faiths), the Mohammedan cult."In the interwar period, through the elaborated legislation, the Romanian state intended to create a democratic framework of existence for all its citizens. Traditionally, the national minorities had parliamentary representation, being able to participate actively in the political life. Political parties and associations of the national minorities were also created (the Hungarian Party, the German Union of Greater Romania, the Union of Jewish Romanians, etc.) which played an important role in the political life of the country.Although the economy, culture, and social and political life underwent an unprecedented development in the period between the two World Wars, there were manifestations of intolerance that affected the national minorities (as the anti-Semitic manifestations in the first interwar decade); in this period, due to some deficiencies of the insufficiently manifested Romanian democracy, nationalist and anti-Semitic currents developed, which created organizations such as the League of the National Christian Defense and the Legion of the Archangel Michael (the Iron Guard), which were later outlawed. The new political regime in Romania - the royal dictatorship, also known as the monarchic authority regime – was institutionalized with the adoption of the new Constitution in 1938. The Constitution preserved some democratic rights and liberties such as the freedom of conscience, education, labor, and the press, or equality before law. In the second title, "About the obligations and rights of the Romanian citizens", it stated: "All Romanians, regardless of ethnic origin and religious belief, are obliged: to consider the Country as the most important purpose of their lives, to sacrifice for the defense of the integrity, independence and dignity of the country; to contribute through their work to its moral elevation and its economic advance; to fulfill the public duties imposed by law and to willfully contribute to the accomplishment of public tasks, without which the State cannot survive" (article 4); "All Romanian citizens, regardless of ethnic origin and religious belief, are equal before law, owing their respect and submission" (article 5, 1st paragraph); " Romanians enjoy the freedom of conscience, labor, education, freedom of the press, public gathering and associations, and every liberty from which derive other rights under the conditions set by law" (article 10); "There are Senate members by right, as a consequence of their esteemed position in the State and in Church (…), the leaders of the confessions acknowledged by the state, one for every confession, being chosen or elected in accordance to the laws of the state, and they represent a number of more than 200,000 believers" (article 64, letter e).In this period, while the political formations of the minorities, the Hungarian Party and the German Party, continued to exist on the political scene of the country, the Iron Guard became more and more powerful and rose to the status of a governmental political force, trying to fall in line with "the new European order". King Charles (Carol) II issued a Law-decree in 1940, regarding "the judicial state of the Jewish inhabitants" in Romania, through which the Jews were divided in three categories, and denied access to public functions, or to exercising any profession that "might have a direct connection to public authorities": they couldn't be militaries or merchants, nor could they own rural properties, or have Romanian names. After the Second World War and the abdication of King Michael (Mihai) in 1947, the communist period begins in Romania, culminating with totalitarianism. With the 1948 Constitution, the form of government changed from monarchy to republic (popular republic, which later became socialist), and at the same time there was a shift from a multi-party regime to a single-party system and state authoritarianism. The 1948 Constitution states that: "All the citizens of the Popular Republic of Romania, regardless of gender, nationality, race, religion or degree of culture, are equal before law" (article 16); "The right to vote belongs to every citizen over 18 years old" (article 18, second paragraph); "In the Popular Republic of Romania, all the co-inhabiting nationalities are ensured the right to use and to organize the education system in their mother tongue. The administration and legal system, in the circumscriptions inhabited by other nationalities, will use the language of the respective nationality, orally and written, and will name civil servants from among the respective nationality or any other nationality, who knows the language of the local population" (article 24). The proclamation of these rights, as well as of others, was very important, but their enforcement was what it was truly essential. This Constitution abolished the democratic principle of the separation of powers, and it forbade organizations and associations, while some citizens who were declared enemies of the regime, completely lacked any rights. The 1952 Constitution came as a "completion" of the socialist transformation that the previous constitution had initiated. Regarding the minorities it states that: "The national minorities in the Popular Republic of Romania enjoy equal rights with the Romanian people. In the Popular Republic of Romania, territorial and administrative autonomy is ensured for the Hungarian population from the Hungarian districts, where they make up the majority of the population" (the introductory chapter, the seventh paragraph); the following articles contain unprecedented information related to the Hungarian minority: "The Autonomous Hungarian Region of the Popular Republic of Romania is made up from the territory inhabited by the Szekler Hungarian population, and has an autonomous administrative leadership, elected by the population of the Autonomous Region" (article 19); "The laws of the Popular Republic of Romania, the decisions and the ordinances of the central organs of the state are compulsory on the territory of the Autonomous Hungarian Region" (article 20); "The state power organism of the Autonomous Hungarian Region is the Popular Council of the Autonomous Region. The executive and ruling body of the Popular Council of the Autonomous Region is the Executive Committee. The Popular Council of the Autonomous Hungarian Region is elected according to the regulations established by law, for a period of two years, by the working people of the Autonomous Region, citizens of the Popular Republic of Romania" (article 57 and 58). These regulations, resulted from the new territorial division as well as Soviet pressure, were meant to artificially create an administrative "enclave" based on ethnical criteria all over the Romanian state, declared unitary by its constitutional act. The Region functioned up to 1968, when the former administrative division was implemented, and the regions and districts were replaced by counties (Harghita, Covasna, and Mureş).In chapter 6, "Judicial instances and the magistracy", article 68, the 1952 Constitution mentions: "In the Popular Republic of Romania, judicial procedures are conducted in the Romanian language, and in the regions and districts inhabited by populations of a different nationality, they use the mother tongue of that population. The parties that do not speak the language in which the judicial procedure is conducted are given the possibility to know the elements of the file through a translator, as well as the right to speak in court and conclude in their mother tongue". The 1965 Constitution, in the second title, "The fundamental rights and obligations of citizens", article 17, stipulates: "The citizens of the Socialist Republic of Romania, regardless of nationality, race, gender or religion, have equal rights in every domain of the economic, political, judicial, social and cultural life. The state guarantees equality of rights for all its citizens. It is strictly forbidden to restrict the exercise of any of these rights on account of nationality, race, gender or religion. Any manifestation that has the purpose of establishing such restrictions, nationalistic-chauvinistic propaganda, or the instigation to national or racial hatred, is punished according to law." As a continuation, the 22nd article uses the phrase "co-inhabiting nationalities" instead of minorities: "In the Socialist Republic of Romania, the co-inhabiting nationalities are ensured the free use of their mother tongue, as well as the use of books, newspapers, magazines, theatres, education in their own language. In every territorial-administrative unit inhabited by a population of a different nationality than the Romanian one, all the state bodies and institutions use, orally and written the language of the respective nationality, and name civil workers from their midst or other citizens that are accustomed to the language and the way of living of the local population."Article 109 repeats almost word for word the provisions of Chapter 6, article 68 of the 1952 Constitution referring to the language used in courts.The 1965 Constitution was revised under several occasions (it was modified ten times and republished six times), but without any substantial modifications concerning the minorities. The social situation began to worsen for all the inhabitants of Romania, and after 1974 (when the presidency of the Socialist Republic of Romania became institutionalized, through an amendment of the Constitution), Romania recorded a massive emigration of the national minorities to their countries of origin; the emigration of an important number of Germans and Jews was allowed through agreements with the governments of the respective countries, a kind of "buying back" of the minorities. After the collapse of the communist regime in 1989, two fundamental laws were issued in Romania. Identical regulations are found in their content, regarding the national minorities, as follows: article 6 – The right to identity: "The State acknowledges and guarantees to all people belonging to national minorities the right to preserve, develop and express their ethnical, cultural, linguistic and religious identities. The protection measures adopted by the state for the preservation, development and the expression of the people belonging to national minorities must be in accordance to the principles of equality and non-discrimination to the all the other Romanian citizens".Article 16 – Equality of rights: "All citizens are equal before law and public authorities, without privileges or discriminations. No one is above the law. The public positions and offices, civil or military, may be filled only by Romanian citizens who live on Romanian territory".Regarding judicial authority, the minorities' rights to expression in their mother tongues, or to a translator in the process of a lawsuit, are acknowledged; the articles are almost identical, but we may reproduce them for better understanding:The Constitution of 1991: The right to a translator: "The judicial procedure will take place in Romanian. The citizens belonging to national minorities, as well as the people who do not understand or do not speak the Romanian language, have the right to know all the details about the files in trial, to speak in court, and to conclude through the mediation of the translator; in criminal trials, this right is ensured for free" (article 127).The 2003 Constitution: Chapter IV – Judicial authority – The use of the mother tongue and translation in justice: "(1) The judicial procedure takes place in Romanian. (2) Romanian citizens belonging to national minorities have the right to express themselves in their mother tongue in the court of law, according to organic law. (3) The modalities of exercising the right stipulated by article (2), including the use of translators or written translations, will be established so they do not impede the good administration of justice, or involve supplementary costs for those interested". The relations between the majority and the minority were reflected by legal regulations, in particular through the inclusion of provisions regarding the minorities in the texts of the Constitutions. Although political mechanisms represented an attempt to respect the right to national identity in a multicultural society, there were often manifestations of tension, because the laws could not guarantee positive reactions from both sides. The perception of cultural diversity is often based on generalizing mentalities and stereotypes, ignoring the fact that the resulting cultural cross-influences might enrich each of the entities involved.

by Mica Bâră