This study was conducted over 18 months ago and the following report submitted to the Society Farsarotul General Assembly in November 1992.
Very little has changed for the Aromani in Romania since that time. Romania is in economic and political turmoil with tremendous inflation, unemployment and a self-promoting leadership.
The Romanians and Aromani continue their struggle to define and participate in a free market economy. Unfortunately, what we consider basic business practices are anomalies to them. And, as they strive to acheive economic stability, their socio-cultural life deteriorates.
Lack of access to financial resources is merely a fraction of their problem. We need to replicate the survival strategies adopted by many of our immigrant ancestors by providing them with the physical and intellectual tools of basic business. On that foundation, they can build a future for themselves, their families, community and country. And, ultimately, as catalysts to this process, a pride in all of us will emerge as ethnic Aromani.
Some members of our community have asked me and others in this organization why we trouble ourselves with foreign concerns. They believe we have enough to manage with our plight here in the United States.
My response is as follows:
LOCALLY: We Aromani are an extension of those abroad. There is strength in numbers and by working together we have a greater chance of surviving as an ethnic minority.
NATIONALLY: The stability of Eastern Europe is of great National concern. We have an opportunity to become active agents non-politically, in helping promote democratic principles and economic stability.
GLOBALLY: The demise of the Iron Curtain warrants an abandonment of the isolationist strategy forced upon this organization in decades past. By working with and helping our people abroad we help ourselves achieve a sense of purpose and hope. And, after centuries of being denied a place in history, we have the opportunity to be recognized and documented on our terms.
Some of what I have observed and recommended is neither unusual nor different. Other ethnic groups have adopted similar support networks, resulting in very positive ethnic relations.
As an academic, I ask you to read this report with an open mind; as an Aromana, with an open heart!
Recent political changes in the Balkans, especially the demise of the Communist regime, have led to changes in the status of ethnic minorities living within the peninsula. The new Romanian constitution has established a parliament which includes representatives from its ethnic poulation (4,000 signatures from a party or interest group are required to elect a deputy to parliament.)
Foreign Ministry officials representing the government actively participate in meetings of the Council on Security and Cooperation (CSCE, also known as the Helsinki Accord). Land previously confiscated by the State is being returned to the people. Reform is everywhere and is emerging primarily in the establishment of a free market economy. The process is slow and painful and the Aromani are not exempt from its effects.
The purpose of this Task Force was (1) to examine first-hand the current status of the Aromani amid the sea of change in the Balkans, and (2) to determine what, if any, help the Society Farsarotul might provide them.
In addition, it was known that the declassification of some government documents and easier access to research centers and archival materials would allow for a more detailed examination of the historical record of the Aromani. It was felt that sharing this information with others, such as scholars, community leaders, etc. would help to preserve the Aromanian legacy.
POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC OVERVIEW
It takes only a drive through the city of Bucuresti to see the tremendous economic devastation caused by the Ceausescu years. Ninety percent of the new construction undertaken in the late 80’s is incomplete and most of the buildings are nothing more than shells. The 75,000 people displaced to provide land for the “People’s Palace” are bitter and scattered throughout the region. Buildings in the central square are under scaffolding, some in ruins and most covered with bullet holes. Roads are full of potholes and the lack of auto emission standards and controls leaves the city gray and smoggy.
Decentralization and reduction of government price control has led to tremendous inflation and unemployment. Accustomed to being cared for by the State, the general population (particularly non-urban dwellers) have an uncertain perspective on democracy. The ability to participate in the emerging free-enterprise system is extremely difficult for those who are cash poor. Commercial loan rates for opening a new business account are approximately 85 percent. Those who do have enough capital to open a business and who were not active in the Communist Party face great competition from enterprises receiving government patronage. Since many of the ruling officials are former Communist leaders, those in private enterprise who are also former Communist Party activists are awarded contracts, goods and services, licenses, and other perks. Obviously this policy makes it very difficult for the competition.
THE CURRENT STATUS OF THE AROMANI IN ROMANIA
With regard to population figures, the ’77 and ’92 censuses paint a curious picture regarding the Aromani in Romania. The ’77 census cites 982 Macedonian-Romanians, or less than .01% of the total population. This is quite a contrast to the 6,999 Macedo-Romanians cited in the ’92 census. Also included in this census was a category for Aromanians, whose number totaled 21,089 (see appendix 2).
The Aromani are settled primarily in the Dobrugea region (which includes Constanta). There is also a significant population in Bucuresti and smaller pockets scattered throughout the country. The least assimilated and intermarried group resides in and around Constanta, where they are active as government officials and business leaders.
According to the Political Attache at the American Embassy, the Aromani in Romania are officially recognized as an ethnic minority by the Minister of Foreign Affairs. A statement recently issued by the Ministry said the following regarding the minority and the CSCE:
“… What is good for Europe on minority issues, is also good for Romania… we are proud of our record concerning the rights the persons belonging to minorities enjoy in Romania… Our concern is that we should avoid to direct ourselves or let ourselves be pushed towards greater ethnic conflicts, which could lead to a general European catastrophe… Whatever we decide…within the CSCE, regarding minorities, do it with great care and responsibility… avoid any initiative that might generate or encourage new hotbeds of tension and conflict in Europe.”
There are, however, no Parliamentary deputies representing the Aromanian minority. A white paper published in June ’91 (see appendix 3) on the rights of persons belonging to ethnic, linguistic or religious minorities in Romania noted that in the area of Constanta there were 52 Romanian mayors. I was advised that at least one of these mayors was Aroman.
The only mention of the Aromani (Macedonian-Romanians) in the white paper was in the section regarding the Press. “The Constanta territorial radio station broadcasts programs in the Macedonian- Romanian language: Thursday, 25 minutes between 10:30 and 11:00 hrs.” While in Romania I was notified that this radio program will be transmitted to the U.S. shortly.
I have been informed that, since the 1991 publication of the white paper, the Ministry of Education is establishing a school in Constanta to be conducted in Aromanian. In early June, a “Program Folkloric” was held in Bucuresti featuring an Aromanian singing group from Korce. The performance was sponsored by the Ministry of Culture and was videotaped for TV broadcast later in the fall. (I was provided with a copy of this tape which is being transferred from the European to the American System; this tape will become part of the Society Farsarotul collection.)
Clearly, there is increased opportunity for the free expression of Aromanian culture and its preservation. However, I believe His Excellency Adrian Nastase (Foreign Affairs Minister) summed up the minority situation well when he made the following statement to the CSCE: “We would be well advised to look back into our European history… A famous case in point are the well-known treaties aiming at the protection of minorities. What happened is notorious. These treaties failed to represent protection tools for minority rights. Instead they were able to produce only tensions among states, that led ultimately to war…
Another lesson… is the western experience after the second world war. The emphasis in those difficult years was not put on minority rights or nationalities, but on economic reconstruction and on building democratic societies in those countries. That was the key, that led almost automatically to guarantee the rights of persons belonging to minorities…”
Adapting to Romania’s emerging free enterprise system seems to be instinctively easy for the Aromani. Many of them are actively engaged in the country’s underground economy and are adept at transferring these skills into the national economic framework. However, their limited access to capital and non-communist party connections has put them at an economic disadvantage. Consequently, many people I spoke with were unsuccessful in their attempts to open a business and are now financially drained. Others, who were accustomed to relying on the State to meet their personal and economic needs, find themselves economically deprived. As one person mentioned, “What good is democracy and all of these newly available goods in stores if we have no jobs and no money with which to purchase them?
A second interesting observation is the power struggle emerging within the local communities. Under communism, the “they” and “we” attitude of the State versus the people had translated into a collectivized economic survival strategy for the Aromani. As someone said, “Now that we no longer need one another, we’re trying to figure out how we can be the first one to make a lot of money. We don’t care about each other anymore, just about making money.” Many other people I spoke with cited a similar concern.
The problem of job training was also raised by many of the Aromani. With the exception of the affluent few, there is concern about how they will participate in the country’s new economic system. Short of opening a street kiosk that sells cigarettes, liquor, pornographic magazines and candy, many people question their career prospects.
There are currently several Aromanian organizations in Romania. It was rather difficult for the groups’ leaders to explain their purposes, but the fact that they exist as a functioning body was of merit in itself.
These groups include:
Societatea Cultura Aromani: leadership positions held by Anastase Nasta and Nicolae Saramandu (Bucuresti)
Communitatea Aromani din Romania: leadership position held by Mihail Barba, whose brother Vasile is a prominent figure among the Aromani in Germany (Bucaresti)
Societatea Cultura Aromanii: leadership position held by George Beca (Constanta)
In addition to the radio program, there is a social evening held on random Saturday evenings in Constanta called “Seara Aromaneasca.” This event brings together members of the community, both young and old, for singing, dancing, and fraternizing.
All these groups are actively engaged in projects and programs that promote Aromanian ethnicity.
CONCLUSIONS AND REMARKS
While the Romanian constitution clearly provides for the protection of minority rights, the issue of identification must be addressed. Are the Aromani officially recognized as an ethnic group or an ethnic minority? (The official policy of the Greek Government is that there exist no ethnic minorities in Greece, only ethnic groups).
Since the constitution provides for and protects the country’s minorities, it is important that the issue of the status of the Aromani be resolved. By doing so, they will be assured of cultural, educational, and religious opportunities in Romania.
Minority status also provides for their protection under International Human Rights law. Were their minority rights violated in any way, the Romanian government would be subject to investigations and appropriate penalties.
The dramatic discrepancy in the State census figures of ’77 and ’92 illustrates two major problems we face as an ethnic population.
The population’s dramatic increase from the ’77 census of 982 Macedonian-Romanians to the ’92 figures of 6,999 is curious. The overriding question here is the extent to which the people felt free to express their ethnic affiliation prior to the revolution. It seems inconceivable that the group experienced either mass migration from other parts of the world to Romania or a major baby boom during this period.
The second problem we face is one of ethnic identification. The ’77 census did not include any reference to the Aromanians. Yet, the ’92 census cited 21,089 Aromanians. The number far exceeds the 6,999 Macdonian-Romanians and when combined yields a population total of 28,088. Where were these “Aromanians” prior to ’92?
Although the accuracy of these figures is questionable, they are significant when compared with Romania’s total population of 22,760,449. Representing over .01 percent, the combined total ranks the Aromani as the 9th largest ethnic group, only slightly below the 6th ranked Lippovans (29,774); 7th ranked Turks (29,533) and 8th ranked Serbs (29,080).
Either the State did not want this group recognized, or the Aromani avoided recognition of their own accord. Whichever the case, Romania is the homeland to many of our people.
Although there exists several Aromanian ethnic organizations in Romania, creating a viable network with the Society is doubtful. Current leadership struggles and poorly defined organizational goals suggest we proceed cautiously in developing any formal organizational relations there.
There are obviously pluses and minuses to decentralization and the Aromani are attempting to find there place in their country’s new economic order. The rise in unemployment and inflation has reduced their standard of living. While many of them are eager to actively participate in free enterprise and assume an entreprenurial posture, the ability to do so is extremely limited.
Those factors which encourage people to maintain group membership are changing, though many of these factors are rooted in economic needs. The Society’s interest in them (through the Task Force) ignited a spark of enthusiasm and appreciation in a down-trodden group. To keep their spirit alive, it is important that their needs and concerns continue to be recognized and programs established to foster economic growth and stability.
The official government policy on the status of the Aromani in Romania should be determined and as an ethnic minority, they should be protected.
Communication should be maintained with the Romanian Foreign Ministry to keep abreast of policy changes regarding minorities and to receive any and all publications addressing minority issues.
An analysis of the census should be undertaken to determine how these figures were derived in ’77 and ’92.
A more thorough examination of census figures in the Balkan states and other European countries with a significant population of Aromani should be conducted. This data would provide an approximate determination of current Aromani population figures worldwide.
There is a wealth of historical and cultural material in Romania on the Aromani. While a formal relationship among organizations is ill-advised at this time, a sharing of research information, publications, etc. is feasible.
I strongly encourage us to continue engaging in projects such as the Aromanian Almanac (published in Romania), publication reprints, cassette recordings, etc. Sharing this material with other community members will foster increased interest in our cultural life.
Also recommended is continued support of Aromanian academics interested in the affairs of the Aromani. Among the opportunities afforded by this trip was a chance to meet with Matilde Caragiu, who has agreed to compile and publish a dictionary of the Aromanian, Romanian, and English languages. Her qualifications are outstanding (she is by profession a linguist), and I believe we are fortunate to have such a prominent member of our ethnic group so willing to contribute to our cultural legacy.
To assure that our people do not sink into deeper economic depression, I recommend that a committee be established within the Society Farsarotul, whose members will serve as career advisors to Aromani in Romania. This committee might solicit other community members to assist in this effort. The purpose of the committee would be to share expertise on career-related concerns ranging from how-to’s in setting up a business, to identifying emerging career opportunities in Romania.
The possibility of a revolving loan account for our people in Romania in need of capital for opening a business should be investigated. These funds should be a modest amount ($500 per person) and might be managed by the Romanian National Bank, whose First Deputy Govenor is Aroman. He has expressed interest in working with us and believes such a program has tremendous potential. All applications and evaluations would be conducted in the States by a committee of the Society.
The political situtation in the Balkans is very tenuous as these countries struggle to rebuild their economies. Democracy cannot exist without a free market economic system. Helping our people become key players in their country’s affairs assures them not only greater economic advantage, but a reason for continuing to identify themselves as Aromani.
Acknowledgements: Most of the information in this report is based on interviews and meetings conducted in Bucaresti and Constanta, Romania in early August 1992. I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Salvatore Ciufecu, Simona Culetsu, and Roxanna and Coca Covaliu, for their assistance in conducting this study, which represents the Romanian dimension of the Balkan Task Force established to review the current situation of the Aromani in the Balkans.
TRAVEL ITINERARY, August 2-17, 1992
Sunday, August 2
Arrived in Bucuresti
Monday, August 3
Began scheduling appointments. Meetings with Jonathan Nussbaum, Political Attache, US Embassy; Kay Kouts, Commerical Attache, US Embassy; and Lucian Cernat, Head of Protocol, Romanian Cultural Foundation.
Tuesday, August 4
Visited Iorga Institute of History. Meetings with Ioan Stanciu, Editor of Romanian History Journal, and Nicolae Dascalu, Deputy Director of the CSCE Dept., Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Visited Institute de Dialectologie, met with Nicolae Saramandu, Institute Director. Impromptu meeting with Dr. Spiro Shituni, Albanian ethnomusicologist and recipient of Society Farsarotul grant.
Wednesday, August 5
Follow-up meeting with Ioan Stanciu. Meetings with Tom Wincek, Director, Romanian-American Small Business Development Center, and with Matilde Caragiu.
Thursday, August 6
Meeting with Hristu Candroveanu, Editor, Desteptarea (Aromanian newspaper). Visited Iorga Institute. Copied texts, including Liturgy in Aromaneasti and book of Aromanian poems, etc. for Society Farsarotul archives.
Friday, August 7
Follow-up meeting with Nicolae Dascalu. Traveled by car to Constanta.
Saturday, August 8
Meeting with Aromani in Costanta and Palazu Mare.
Sunday, August 9
Returned to Bucuresti.
Monday, August 10
Follow-up meeting with N. Saramandu; meeting with Aneta Nascu, Director, Banca Romana de Comert Exterior.
Tuesday, August 11
Discussion with Paul Stahl, Anthropologist, Sorbonne. Researched information at Iorga Institute.
Wednesday, August 12
Meeting with Mihail Barba, Communitatea Aromani din Romania. Meeting at Foreign Ministry regarding government position on minorities in Romania.
Thursday, August 13
Follow-up meeting with N. Saramandu. Meeting with Emil Ghizari, First Deputy Director, National Bank of Romania.
Friday, August 14
Final meetings with contacts to collect materials to bring back to US: videotape, music tapes, photocopied articles.
Saturday, August 15
Visited with Aromani in Pipera.
Sunday, August 16
Visited with family
Monday, August 17
Prepared for departure early AM on the 18th.
NOTE: Most of the time not spent in meetings or researching archives was spent in discussion with Aromani both in Bucaresti and Constanta. Conversations focused on their impression of Romania post-Communism. How their lives have improved or worsened. What they perceive as obstacles of problems for the Aromani currently. What the Society Farsarotul can do to help them. All of the information collected through these conversations and formal meetings served as the basis for the material in this report.
APPENDIX 2 (copy of official document)
I. Statistical Data on the Population of Romania
Romania is a unitary State. Its present population amounts to 22,760,449 inhabitants. Almost 90 percent, that is 20,324,892 are Romanians. The last census was undertaken on 7 January 1992, being organized (just like the previous one) in conformity with the right of every person to freely declare his ethnic origin and mother tongue. The preliminary statistical data supplied by the 1992 census are the following:
|Total population out of which:
|1 – Romanians
|2 – Magyars
|3 – Gypsies
|4 – Germans
|5 – Ukranians
|6 – Lippovans
|7 – Turks
|8 – Serbs
|9 – Tartars
|10 – Aromanians
|11 – Slovaks
|12 – Bulgarians
|13 – Jews
|14 – Russians
|15 – Macedo-Romanians
|16 – Swabians
|17 – Czechs
APPENDIX 3 (copy of official document)
Government Policy and Legal Framework
Since the December 1989 revolution, the Romanian Government has undertaken firm steps to establish the rule of law and to secure equal rights to all citizens, including persons belonging to minorities, in accordance with the highest standards, as enshrined in international conventions and the CSCE documents.
The new Constitution of Romania, approved by referendum on 8 December 1991, contains important provisions concerning the rights of persons belonging to national, ethnic, linguistic or religious minorities in Romania.
In the very first articles, the Constitution proclaims that Romania is the common and indivisible home of all its citizens, without any discrimination on account of race, nationality, ethnic origin, langauge, religion or other.
According to another key provision of the Constitution, the State recognizes and guarantees to persons belonging to national minorities the right to preserve, to develop and to express their, cultural, lingusitic and religious identity. Measures of protection taken by the State to this effect have to be in conformity with the principales of equality and non-discrimination for other Romanian citizens.
A particular feature of the Constitution, of special interest from the point of view of persons belonging to minorities, relates to the provisions concerning the relationship between international and internal law in the field of human rights and freedoms. The respective stipulations establish that internal legislation on human rights shall be interpreted and applied in conformity with the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the covenants and treaties to which Romania is a party. If there is a difference between these documents and the domestic legislation, international regulations have priority. The Romanian judges and other officials must know and implement the international documents to which Romania is a party. These provisions apply automatically for the rights of persons belonging to minorities, as they are an integral part of human rights in general.
The State guarantees to persons belonging to minorities the rights to learn and be educated in their mother tongue, all the expenses for the public education being covered by the State. The Romanian State also guarantees the freedom of religious education, according to the specific needs of each religious denomination.
According to the Constitution, the citizens belonging to national minorities can exercise their right to a fair legal process by taking knowledge of all documents and contents of the file and by addressing the court and defending their interests through an interpreter. In case of criminal trials, this right is guaranteed on the State’s expenses. As a general rule, whenever relevant, laws passed by the Parliament contained special provisions to take into account the interests of the persons belonging to minorities according to international standards.
The policy of the Government of Romania regarding the persons belonging to national, ethnic, linguistic or religious minorities was reaffirmed in a Declaration issued on 20 November 1991 (in the Annex). Its essence consists of implementing the relevant European standards, the principles and rules enshrined in Romania’s Constitution and other legal documents aimed at the protection of the rights of persons belonging to minorities.