WASHINGTON–Leaders of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) expressed concern today in advance of the Romanian Senate’s consideration of a proposal to change the term used for one of the country’s largest ethnic minorities, Roma, to “Tsigan” — a term widely viewed as pejorative by Romani communities, including those in the United States.
“I was stunned to hear that Romania is considering changing the official term used for Roma to ‘Tsigan,'” said Commission Chairman Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD). “Ostensibly, this change would prevent people from confusing members of the ethnic Roma minority with members of the ethnic Romanian majority. This makes no sense, especially since the term ‘Roma’ has become the term most widely used by Romani organizations internationally and is used by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.”
The current legislative proposal comes at a time when Romanian nationals are facing escalating bigotry in some other EU countries. Earlier this year, France targeted Roma from Romania for ethnically-based expulsion.
Co-Chairman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) said, “The change of terms being considered seems to be really about stoking prejudice against Romania’s largest and most persecuted minority. The argument that the term Roma is confusing just doesn’t hold up. No one in Rome is demanding that Romania change its name because their similar city and country names are ‘too confusing.’ This proposal would essentially return Romania to a discredited policy of the communist government of Ion Iliescu.”
In 1995, a Romanian government decree directed that Roma could not be identified in official documents by the name “Roma” but instead had to be called “Tsigan,” a word of Greek origin that is considered offensive to many Roma. Numerous Romani NGOs and the U.S. delegation denounced the decree during a meeting on tolerance convened in Bucharest in May 1995. After the 1996 elections, the decree fell into disuse and, in September 1999, the Minister for National Minorities formally recommended that the government use the term “Rom/Tsigan” in official documents.