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Linguistic policy and national minorities in Romania, by Sergiu Constantin


Article 1 declares Romania a sovereign, independent, unitary and indivisible National State and Article 4 “Unity of the people and equality among citizens” states that it is homeland of all its citizens, without any discrimination on account of race, nationality, ethnic origin, language, religion, sex, opinion, political adherence, property or social origin. In 2003 no amendments were brought to these provisions.

First paragraph of Article 6 “Right to identity” recognized and guaranteed the right of national minorities to preserve, develop and express their ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity but the second paragraph made clear that protection measures taken by the Romanian State in the light of first paragraph shall be conform to the principles of equality and non-discrimination in relation to the other Romanian citizens. As it has been seen in the last decade, a very rigid application of the second paragraph might be an obstacle to the efforts to improve the situation of Roma people. In time it became clear that due to their specific situation, the State should adopt special measures for Roma in fields like education for example. Despite this situation the article remained unchanged in 2003.

Article 13 declares Romanian as the official language and Article 32 “Right to education” guarantees in paragraph 3 the right of persons belonging to national minorities to learn their mother tongue and to be educated in this language under the conditions laid down in the organic Law on education. These provisions were not subject of amendments in 2003.

Article 62 “Election of the Chambers” (Article 59 before amendments) represents a very interesting provision because it seems to me that, in a way, can be considered a form of affirmative action in favor of national minorities as regards representation in the Parliament. Paragraph 2 stipulates that “organizations of citizens belonging to national minorities, which fail to obtain the number of votes for representation in Parliament, have the right to one Deputy seat each, under the terms of the electoral law. Citizens of a national minority are entitled to be represented by one organization only.” This constitutional guarantee which has assured the representation of national minorities in every Parliament remained unchanged.

Article 73 (old Article 72 in the form of 1991) regarding the classes of laws passed by the Parliament was amended thus including now “the status of national minorities in Romania” as a matter which must be regulated by means of organic law.

In 2003, one of the most important amendments for minorities was the introduction of a new paragraph of Article 120 (old Article 119 in the form of 1991) which provides for the use of minority language in relation with public administration. The Constitutional principle is that “([i]n the territorial-administrative units where citizens belonging to a national minority have a significant weight, provision shall be made for the oral and written use of that national minority's language in the relations with the local public administration authorities and the decentralized public services, under the terms stipulated by the organic law”.

Finally, an important amendment regards the use of minority language in the Courts. Article 127 “Right to have an interpreter” in the form of 1991 stipulated that “citizens belonging to national minorities, as well as persons who cannot understand or speak Romanian have the right to take cognizance of all acts and files of the case, to speak before the court and formulate conclusions, through an interpreter; in criminal trials, this right shall be ensured free of charge.” After 2003, old article 127 became the new Article 128 called “Use of mother tongue and interpreter in the Court” which contains separate provisions as regards Romanian citizens belonging to national minorities who “have the right to express themselves in their mother tongue before the courts of law, under the terms of the organic law. The ways for exercising [this right] including the use of interpreters or translations, shall be stipulated so as not to hinder the proper administration of justice and not to involve additional expenses to those interested."

It is worth mentioning also the fact that a new title on “Euro-Atlantic integration” was introduced in 2003. (13) The provisions of the Constitution with regard to the national, independent, unitary and indivisible character of the Romanian State, the republican form of government, territorial integrity, and independence of justice, political pluralism and official language cannot be subject to revision. (14)

3. 2 Linguistic rights and education

Law on education no 84/1995 was amended by Governmental Urgency Ordinance no 36/1997 in order to improve the legislative framework on education for national minorities. Two years later those amendments were approved by the Parliament (Law no 151/1999) and the new version of the law was republished in the Official Gazette no. 606 of 10 December 1999. The whole chapter XII of the Law (Article 118-126) is dealing with “Education for persons belonging to national minorities”. The principle is that persons belonging to national minorities have the right to study and receive instruction in their mother tongue, at all levels and forms of education where there is an appropriate request (Article 118). Thus, at request and taking into consideration the local need, can be established groups, classes, sections or school units with teaching in the languages of national minorities but without prejudice to the learning and the teaching of the official language (Article 119).

In the next article, the legislators regulated in a very detailed way the teaching of Romanian language in schools with tuition in minority languages (in primary schools, Romanian Language and Literature shall be taught according to curricula and textbooks specially conceived for the respective minority; in middle schools, Romanian Language and Literature shall be taught according to identical curricula as for grades with tuition in Romanian, but from special textbooks; in secondary schools, Romanian Language and Literature curricula and textbooks shall be identical as for grades with tuition in Romanian). The same article specifies the terms and conditions for teaching two other important subjects that can be considered sensitive in inter-ethnic relations: History and Geography. In primary schools with tuition in languages of national minorities, History of Romanians and Geography of Romania shall be taught in these languages, according to identical curricula and textbooks as for the grades with tuition in Romanian; it is compulsory to transcribe and acquire the Romanian toponymy and Romanian proper names. In middle schools and in secondary schools, History of Romanians and Geography of Romania shall be taught in Romanian, according to the same curricula and the same textbooks as for the grades with tuition in Romanian. Examination for the subjects History of Romanians and Geography of Romania shall be carried in the language in which the subject was studied.

A subject called “History and traditions of national minorities” can be introduced, at request, in the middle school. It shall be thought in the mother tongue of the pupils (Article 120 paragraph 4). Moreover, pupils belonging to national minorities that attend schools with tuition in Romanian shall be granted, at request, the study of the Language and the literature of the mother tongue as well as the history and traditions of the respective national minority, as school subjects (Article 121).

The Law stipulates further that in public vocational, secondary, and specialized post-secondary education where specialist training is provided in the mother tongue, it is compulsory to acquire the special terminology in Romanian language as well (Article 122) but is underlined the principle that at all levels of education, admission and graduation exams shall be taken in the language in which the respective subject matters have been studied (Article 124).

Article 123 represents a very important provision especially for Hungarian minority because it is dealing with matters regarding education at university level. Since the fall of the communism, the representatives of Hungarian minority requested with all the occasions the need to establish a separate State University with tuition in Hungarian languages. One proposal was to re-split the existing multicultural Babes-Bolyai University (15) of Cluj (Koloszvar in Hungarian) in two separate universities but no agreements was reached in this case and it seems that chances to put in practice such a solution are close to zero. Paragraph 1 of Article 123 stipulates that, at request and according to the law, within higher educational institutions run by State may be established groups, sections, colleges and faculties with tuition in minority language. In this case, the conditions necessary in order to acquire the specialized terminology in Romanian language shall be assured. At request and according to the law, multicultural higher educational institutions can be established.

The languages of teaching shall be determined in the foundation law. Based on these provisions (included in the Law by amendments of Governmental Urgency Ordinance no. 36/1997), the Government passed, in July 1998, the Government Decree no. 378/1998 on the establishment of the Evaluation Committee for the foundation of the State University with tuition in Hungarian language. Due to political reasons, there were no further progresses as regards this initiative but soon a new idea emerged: a State multicultural university with tuition in Hungarian and German. The first move of the Government in this new direction was also the only one until now. In October 1988, it came into force the Government Decree no 687/1998 on the initiation of the foundation process of the "Petofi-Schiller" State Multicultural University with Hungarian and German as languages of education. No further steps were taken due to a combination of various factors like lack of political will, internal disputes in the governmental coalition, new elections period, new Government in power. The issue remains still open although it wasn’t lately in the top of the agenda of discussions between Hungarian representatives and the Government.

Paragraph 2 of Article 123 declares that “persons belonging to national minorities shall have the right to set up and manage their own private higher educational institutions according to the law.” This was achieved already by Hungarian minority which established its own private university level educational institutions. Sapienta University was set up in 2001 as a private and independent Hungarian-language university with four branch campuses in Transylvania: Cluj (Kolozsvar), Targu Mures (Marosvasarhely), Miercurea-Ciuc (Csikszereda) and Oradea (Nagyvarad). The last one is ran today as a separate Hungarian language institution known as the Partium Christian University.

Finally, Article 126 of the Law on education provides for a proportional representation of the teaching staff belonging to national minorities in the managing boards of educational units and institutions with classes, sections and groups providing tuition in the languages of national minorities, in compliance with their professional competence.

Those legal provisions regarding education in minority languages were challenged at Constitutional Court but the judged declared the objection of unconstitutionality unfound. In its Decision no. 114 of 20 July 1999 on the constitutionality of the Law on the approval of the Government Urgency Ordinance No. 36/1997 for the modification and completion of the Education Law No. 84/1995, the Court held that “the legal text now criticized under this reference of unconstitutionality has extended access granted to national minorities to various education forms and levels. The possibility to organize higher education institutions in the national minorities’ languages, as well as to set up multicultural higher education institutions does not discriminate against other Romanian citizens, but is, quite conversely, intended to ensure equality of citizens belonging to national minorities with members of the Romanian ethnicity, in what concerns the existence of an adequate institutional framework in the field of education."

In its Opinion (made public on 10 January 2002) on Romanian State Report of First Monitoring Cycle, the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for Protection of National Minorities welcomed the new legal standards of linguistic policy on national minorities but noticed also that "a shortage of minority-language textbooks and qualified teachers is still the rule for some minorities, in particular Armenians, Croats, Poles, Serbs, Slovaks, Turks and Tatars. This makes it hard for schools attended by children from national minorities to provide full education of the same standard as that provided in Romanian. Although many other factors can affect their choice, this may discourage parents from sending their children to schools where most subjects are taught in the minority language. The Advisory Committee considers that this matter should be reviewed in order to provide the said minorities with the necessary textbooks and teachers."

Within the Ministry of Education, Research and Youth there is a “General Directorate for education in the languages of national minorities and access to education”. According to the 2003 Governmental Report called “The dimension of education for national minorities in Romania“, (16) in 2002-2003 school year, in pre-university in 2,648 school units and sections 208,146 children and pupils studied in the 7 native languages. In higher education 30,684 ethnic students studied in over 20 university centers in Romania (25,762 Hungarians, 1,881 Germans and 3,041 other national minorities). The report also points out that, in the present, in Romania there are 3 types of education for national minorities: educational structures with tuition in the native language, educational structures with partial tuition in the native language, and educational structures with tuition in Romanian language with the study of the native language.

European Commission Regular Report on Romania’s progress towards accession (November 2003) mentions that “as regards the use of minority languages, there was a very slight decrease in the 2002-2003 academic year in the number of mother-tongue educational units and in the number of students being educated in their mother tongue. The Department for Inter-Ethnic Relations financed the publication of several secondary school textbooks in the German, Hungarian and Serbian languages. The constitutional requirement for education to be organized only in Romanian or in languages of international circulation has been abrogated, opening up the possibility of private universities teaching exclusively in minority languages. Two private Hungarian universities continued to function well."

3.3. Linguistic rights, public administration and police forces

The new Law of local public administration no. 215/2001 represents a great achievement for national minorities in Romania. The basic principle is that citizens belonging to a national minority which makes up at least 20% of the number of inhabitants of an administrative-territorial unit, shall enjoy the right to use their mother tongue in their relations with local public administration authorities, under the terms set forth in the Law of local public administration, in the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and in other conventions and international treaties to which Romania is a party (Article 17). This implies the recognition of a list of linguistic rights laid down in the following provisions of the law. First of all, citizens belonging to a national minority enjoy the right to address the local public administration authorities and the specialized personnel of local and county councils in their mother tongue, whether in written or orally, and they shall be answered both in Romanian and in their mother tongue (Article 90 paragraph 2). As a logic consequence, persons who speak and write the minority language have to be employed in the public relation posts within the local administration (Article 90 paragraph 3). In fact, an identical provision can be found in Article 99 of Law no 188/1999 on the status of the public servant, while Article 26 of the same act bans any discrimination between the public servants on the base of ethnic criteria.

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