The Truth Hides Behind Laws And Declarations

The National Minorities Issue In Romania

When tackling the issue of national minorities in Romania, one should stick to the realities of the life of the ethnic groups in question. Most importantly, when discussing concrete steps for the protection of national minorities, one should just not forget or ignore the truth behind.

During the past fifteen years, Romania has gone through visible changes in all spheres of life, and this includes of course the protection of national minorities, where significant results were registered and seen as steps towards getting closer to the truth. First, the parliamentary representation of minorities, and the presence of representatives of the minorities in local-level decision-making bodies (i.e. local councillors, mayors, county councils), could be mentioned as positive steps in handling the issue, even though several changes should be made in order to obtain a more effective representation of the interests of national minorities. Second, legislation on this issue has gone through considerable development. Today, several pieces of legislation contain regulations regarding national minority rights: the Education Law, which states the right to study and receive instruction in the mother tongue, at all levels and forms of education, and the Law of Local Public Administration, which offers the possibility to use minority languages in the relations with the local public administration, represent today the most important pieces of legislation in this field. Third, the institutionalisation of democratic principles has begun. In 1993, the Council of National Minorities was founded as a consultative body for the Government regarding minority rights. Besides this nongovernmental body, the Department for National Minorities' Protection was set up in 1997 as the first governmental institution specialising in this domain. The institution, which is today called the Department for Interethnic Relations, has as a mission the promotion of national minorities' culture and the support of the preservation, expression, promotion and development of the ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity of minorities.

Even considering the results mentioned above, we somehow still miss what national minorities need and want, and we sometimes forget that they are living entities. In political discourse, even today, in 2006, we can record vehement attacks against those who fight for minority rights. Some political leaders still see minorities as a source of danger and not as peaceful constituents of Romanian society. Even though one can point to a slight change of mentality in Romanian society during the last ten years, and members of the Romanian majority appear to be more tolerant towards persons belonging to national minorities, we still seem to have a long way to go in order to weaken the power of stereotypes and misconceptions, and eliminate discrimination. In spite of the already existing pieces of legislation, we still do not benefit from the rights which could be offered by a special law concerning the status of national minorities, a need expressed by the members of national minorities through the national referendum held in October 2003. Improvements regarding the increase of tolerance towards national minorities, and a more effective participation of these in the political sphere, could be brought about by carrying on with the institutionalisation of democratic principles, and by setting up cultural autonomy in the form suggested by the Romanian Government in the draft law on the statute of national minorities. This model could be able to solve, in Romania, the 19-20th-centuries rooted European "role and place of nationalities in the state" conflict by giving a real tool in the hand of minorities in order to preserve their national identity and culture, by allowing them to be equals of their fellow citizens.

This having been said, how could and should a politician, and head of a governmental institution, recommend this book? Surprisingly enough, it offers me precisely the possibility to invite you to see the truth beyond the actual political context and legal regime, i.e. the truth behind laws and declarations. Pieces of art like multicolour spots offer insight into the history, tradition, religion, literature, music and fine arts of the national minorities in Romania. Such a colourful view! Albanians, Armenians, Bulgarians, Croats, Germans, Greeks, Hungarians, Italians, Jews, Lipovans, Macedonians, Poles, Roma, Ruthenians, Serbs, Slovaks, Ukrainians, Turks and Tatars – all living together in this land for ages, and contributing to what Romania can show to the world as values today.

May the joy of reconstructing this living picture also bring about understanding and valuation of each one's identity and culture, no matter which ethnic group or nationality it belongs to.

I wish you to enjoy the excitement of discovery and have a pleasant journey!

by Attila Markó