64731 5/19/2006 14:02 06BUCHAREST841 Embassy Bucharest UNCLASSIFIED VZCZCXRO0817 PP RUEHAST DE RUEHBM #0841/01 1391402 ZNR UUUUU ZZH P 191402Z MAY 06 FM AMEMBASSY BUCHAREST TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4468 INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 BUCHAREST 000841
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STATE DEPT FOR EUR/NCE - WILLIAM SILKWORTH
E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: PGOV, PHUM, SOCI, RO
SUBJECT: A VISIT TO THREE ROMA VILLAGES REVEALS ENDURING POVERTY AND PREJUDICE
REF: 05 BUCHAREST 1761
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1. (U) Summary: In April, Human Rights officer visited three Roma communities in Mures County, Transylvania, the most ethnically diverse and yet ethnically divided county of Romania. Although less than 20 kilometers apart, each community demonstrated dramatically different levels of development, and distinctly varied experiences in terms of inter-ethnic relations and Roma integration. A repeated assertion by Romanians, ethnic Hungarians, and Roma in the region was that the term "gypsy" is used just as frequently to describe an economic class type -- those at the lowest rung of the socio-economic ladder -- as it is to describe a distinct ethnic identity. All commented that alhough Romania has progressed economically since the fall of communism, tis particular sector has "stayed behind." Some ocals blamed the lag on Roma themselves while others attributed it to discrimination and "hatred" frm non-Roma. Despite claims by the central governent that conditions for Roma are improving, mostethnic-Roma Romanians still live largely segregaed from mainstream society, many of them in absolutely destitute conditions. End Summary.
2. (U) In April, Human Rights Officer visited three vastly different Roma villages in Mures County, Transylvania. Bordering the ethnic-Hungarian Szekler Land, Mures County is the most ethnically diverse county in Romania. According to local contacts, the two largest ethnic groups in Mures Country -- ethnic Romanians and Szeckler Hungarians -- co- exist peacefully. These same contacts emphasized, however, that this was not the case for the ten percent Roma population living in Mures. In Hadareni village, for example, three Roma men were killed and 14 Roma houses burnt in 1993 when relations broke down between non-Roma and the Roma community in that locality. This situation has become even more tense in recent months following several court rulings requiring reparations for the 1993 violence. (ref) The three nearby Roma communities had not experienced the same degree of violence as in Hadareni. Rather, PolOff observed three contrasting views of relations between Roma and non-Roma populations, and a broad variance in socio- economic conditions for Roma in Mures, ranging from absolute poverty to nouveau riche.
3. (U) One Roma community was dominated by three wealthy Roma clans which competed among themselves and excluded other Roma groups. In another village only four miles away from the county capital of Targu Mures, marginalized Roma families live on the outskirts of a wretched village at the end of a dirt road. In a third village with an ethnic- Szekler majority, most Roma families lived side-by-side with ethnic Hungarians in relative "peace"; the villagers, however, still preferred "minimal association" with their Roma neighbors. Villagers appeared to liberally use the term "gypsy" in conversations with Poloff to refer to those at the bottom of the economic and social ladder rather that an ethnic group per se.
The Tri-Clan Craciunesti
4. (SBU) Craciunesti village is a model of Roma wealth. The majority of residents in Craciunesti village are Roma, and since 1989 have purchased or constructed numerous large houses, many with intricate metal roofs, an easily identifying characteristic of affluent Roma homes. One local journalist informed Poloff that what appears to be an infusion of Roma money had driven up property values. He claimed that a house in this small rural community would now easily cost USD120,000, almost five times the average housing price in the area of USD25,000, because "the gypsies are buying." Local villagers nearby alleged to PolOff that "those gypsies got rich overnight" and are willing to pay "any price for their mansions." The source of this unexplained wealth remained the subject of considerable speculation. Some residents claim that the Roma obtained money by selling silver they had stolen or saved before Romania's 1989 revolution. Others claimed it came through organized crime. None could conceive that the Roma had come upon this wealth honestly.
5. (SBU) Moreover, the wealth had not increased the social status of the Roma in the villagers' eyes. They vehemently insisted to Poloff that they had no desire to "live with these mafia gypsies." The villagers stated that three Roma clans -- the Burceas, the Rostas, and the Kocsas -- had built huge houses, along with new asphalt streets, and then
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named the streets after themselves. They barred from entry to the village other Roma clans and fought among themselves, bringing a heretofore unknown level of violence to the small community. None of the villagers said they had befriended a Roma. Several said they were considering moving out of the area.
The Levezeni Village of Shacks
6. (U) No further than four miles from the modern Mures County capital of Targu Mures, conditions in the village of Livezeni could not have been more different. A group of Roma lived in abject conditions in makeshift mud shacks at the margin of an already poor village. Families with six children were crammed into a mud house the size of a single room that provided no heat, no electricity, no water, and no sewage; "windows" could not be closed because there was no glass. An ethnic Hungarian Targu Mures resident informed Poloff that these Roma families made a "living" by going through garbage sites in Targu Mures. Their means of travel were carts drawn by similarly malnourished horses. Local residents explained to Poloff that these Roma live in a permanent vicious cycle -- no one would give them work or associate with them because they are Roma; without work, their living conditions continued to deteriorate, especially during the harsh Transylvania winter.
The Szekler-Hungarians' Foi
7. (U) In the ninety-percent Szekler-Hungarian village of Foi (Folyfalva in Hungarian), Roma villagers lived in relative harmony next to ethnic Hungarians. Although some Roma villagers still lived in houses built from mud, others had built themselves brand new homes. A villager in Foi informed Poloff that the so-called Roma middle-class earned a decent living through "trading." They acquire goods from elsewhere and sell them at flea markets or weekend fairs. He complained, however, that "the gypsies just do not know how to save" -- all the money earned during the summer is apparently quickly spent during the winter. By early spring, they are "out of money again." He also accused the Roma of "never paying taxes," as profits from their goods sold at fairs were not declared as earnings. Although the Roma villagers spoke Hungarian fluently and mingled with other Foi villagers, their lifestyle remained stigmatized. Non-acceptance and likely a lack of understanding between the two groups appeared to underpin a subtle but real segregation of the two ethnic groups.
8. (SBU) Further aggravating the situation, according to Roma advocate Istvan Haller of the respected NGO Pro Europa headquartered in Targu Mures, is the fact that many "integrated" Roma choose to deny their Roma ethnicity. Haller lamented to Poloff that instead of proudly displaying their heritage, well-to-do and educated Roma often choose to hide their ethnicity because of the negative connotations of the term "gypsy." Haller claimed that this denial further reinforces the vicious cycle of stereotyping Roma -- and the myth that Roma are either "poor because they are lazy," or "rich because they are the mafia." The term "gypsy" has negatively evolved in some parts of Mures County to describe anyone who lives in poverty, chooses not to work, or engages in illicit activities. Haller believed that a nationwide government-sponsored campaign is necessary to improve the social image of the Roma ethnic group and debunk this myth. He opined in frustration, however, that the Romanian government -- despite repeated declarations to the contrary -- is doing precious little on any positive outreach campaigns.
9. (SBU) Comment: The prejudice against Roma in these three Transylvanian villages mirrors the prejudice which exists across Romania towards this minority that represents an estimated eight percent of the total population. Irrespective of Romania's level of social and economic development, mainstream Romanians still frequently express overtly prejudicial attitudes or more subtle, but deeply entrenched, bias towards the Roma. Many educated and ostensibly sophisticated contacts of PolOff, for example, routinely refer to Roma by the pejorative term "crow." These same interlocutors frequently express the sentiment that Roma are, in some fundamental but undefined way, not fully "Romanian." This mentality also reflects that social attitudes toward Roma are often based on social class as much as, and in some cases more, than ethnicity. Regrettably, political leaders are reluctant to openly
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confront this prejudicial attitude. And more often than not, the leaders of many Roma clans are also unwilling. One local European Commission diplomat observed to PolOff that Romania as a whole had made tremendous progress over the past 16 years in terms of human rights and economic development. In the same breath, however, he noted that Roma had somehow fallen still further behind. Addressing this issue, he stressed, "will be a big problem not just for Romania, but for Europe," especially after Romania joins the EU. While the challenges facing large segments of Romania's Roma community, such as poverty, discrimination, and inter- clan violence, are neither unique to Romania nor the region, no country has a higher percentage of Roma in its population. The challenge of the Roma community is one feat Bucharest can ill afford to ignore. End comment.
10. (U) AmEmbassy Bucharest's Reporting telegrams, as well as daily press summaries, are available on the Bucharest SIPRNet website: www.state.sgov/gov/p/eur/bucharest