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Linguistic policy and national minorities in Romania, by Sergiu Constantin


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Article 40 and 106 of Law on local public administration stipulate that in the territorial-administrative units where the share of the citizens belonging to a national minority is over 20% of the number of inhabitants, they shall enjoy the right to be informed in their mother tongue about the agenda of the local or county council session. Moreover, in the local or county councils where the councilors belonging to a national minority represent at least one third of the total number, their mother tongue may also be used in the council meetings. In such cases, the translation into Romanian language should be ensured by the courtesy of the mayor. However, in all the cases, the documents of the council meetings shall be drawn up in the Romanian language (Article 43 paragraph 3).

On the other hand, Article 51 stipulates that “(…) the decisions of normative character shall be brought to the public knowledge also in the mother tongue of the respective minority, while those of individual character shall be communicated, only at request, in the minority language”. Under the same condition (persons belonging to a national minority represent at least 20% of the number of inhabitants) the local authorities shall ensure the inscription in the respective minority language of the names of localities, names of public institutions under their authority and of public announcements (Article 90 paragraph 4).

In December 2001, the Government issued Decision no. 1206/2001 on the adoption of application Guidelines for the provisions concerning the right of citizens belonging to national minority to use the mother tongue in local public administration, as stipulated in the Law of local public administration no. 215/200. This regulation has a double importance: it details the linguistic rights laid down in the Law and is has the role to facilitate the implementation of the new legal provisions regarding national minorities. As regards the details, according to Article 9, for example, stipulates that official ceremonies organized by the local public administration authorities shall be performed in Romanian, the official language of the State but, in administrative-territorial units in which citizens belonging to a national minority represent at least 20% of the number of inhabitants, the language of the respective minority may also be used. Marriage service shall be performed by the matrimonial officer in Romanian. Upon request, the marriage ceremony may be performed in the mother tongue of the persons to be married, provided the matrimonial officer speaks the respective language. Marital documents and certificates shall be drawn up in Romanian language exclusively. As regards implementation, the Governmental Decision specifies in Article 11 and 12 how the how the inscription of the names of localities and public institution should look like. The act contains also twenty-three Annexes with minority languages’ names of the localities where bilingual sign are needed.

The Law was challenged at Constitutional Court because of its provisions regarding linguistic rights of minorities but the unconstitutionality charges were rejected as un-grounded. In the Decision no. 112 of 9 April 2001, the Court held that “none of the provisions cited states that the language of a national minority is an official language. On the contrary, paragraph (3) of Art. 43 provides that the official language of the state is Romanian, and quotes from Art. 13 of the Constitution. Furthermore, the text of the articles subject to notification expressly states that, when the percentage of citizens belonging to a national minority exceeds 20% of the total population of the relevant administrative-territorial unit, the use of mother tongue shall be ensured in the relations with the local public administration authorities, as well as in public documents, without thereby violating the official status of Romanian language. (…) The Law of local public administration merely states and fixes the details of the enforcement of the provisions in Art. 10.2 of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, which, according to Art. 11.2 and 20.2 of the Constitution, may be directly enforced.”

In the Opinion on Romanian State Report of First Monitoring Cycle, Advisory Committee proposed to The Committee of Ministers of Council of Europe to conclude that the Law on local public administration recently adopted by Romanian Parliament could put an end to the legal uncertainty prevailing in the use of minority languages in dealings with local authorities and to recommend to Romanian authorities to pay sufficient attention to the implementation of this Law once this has entered into force. A similar positive evaluation can be found in the Regular Report of the European Commission on Romania’s progress towards accession (November 2003): “the law providing for bilingual signs in localities where minorities represent over 20% of the population has now been applied in the vast majority of cases. In the same localities, implementation has also started of the legal requirement for police officers to speak the mother tongue of the respective minority.”

In Romania, in the last decade, Police forces went through a slow process of reform from a repressive apparatus to a demilitarized force in the service of citizens. Military ranks disappeared but this measure alone is not enough to improve communication between police and population or inter-ethnic relations within a mixed community. Law no. 360/2002 concerning the Status of Policepersons tries to full a gap between police forces (traditionally composed by ethnic Romanians) and persons belonging to national minorities. Article 10 declares that all persons, irrespective of their race, nationality, sex, religion, wealth or social origins, who meet the general legal conditions provided for public employees, as well as the special terms listed in the law, shall have access to the entrance examination to the educational institutions of the Ministry of the Interior, as well as to direct employment. Moreover, Article 79 stipulates that in the administrative-territorial units where persons belonging to a national minority represent over 20% of the total population, policepersons who speak the language of the respective minority shall be also hired.

3.4. Linguistic rights and media

The Audiovisual Law no. 504/2002 underlines that National Audiovisual Council, as guarantor of the public interest in the field of radio and television broadcasting shall ensure “the protection of Romanian culture and language, as well as of the languages and cultures of national minorities”; and shall take measures for the “correct use of the Romanian language and the languages of national minorities.“ Article 82 of the law stipulates that in localities where a national minority is larger than 20%, the distributors shall also ensure transmission services for the programmes free to retransmission, in the language of the respective minority. Public TV and Radio at national and local level broadcast programmes in the languages of the largest minorities (Hungarians, Roma; Germans, Ukrainians, etc.). According to Decision no 14/1999 of National Audiovisual Council, TV programmes in other languages than Romanian have to be translated into Romanian by way of subtitles, dubbing or simultaneous translation. The only exceptions to this general rule are music videos and educational programmes for teaching foreign languages.

According to the report “Minority-language broadcasting and legislation in the OSCE", (17) the access of persons belonging to national minorities to “broadcasts in their own languages across borders is not restricted, and there are no restrictions with regard to particular languages. Bilateral treaties that Romania has concluded with its neighbors (Hungary, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia) have provisions guaranteeing these minorities free and unlimited access to broadcasting, press and electronic networks in their own languages."

Print and online media in minority languages is free but due to lack of own resources the publications of small minorities are subsidized by State. This situation means that media life of these minorities is dependent on budgetary resources. Association of National Minority Media is a member of Convention of media organization in Romania as well as the Association of Hungarian Journalists in Romania that is the catalyst of Hungarian language media. The major part of regional radio and TV stations, daily and weekly newspapers in Hungarian language in Romania is private.

4. Roma minority

The matter of linguistic rights of Roma deserves a special attention because of specific and complex situation of this national minority. In the last years, it is submitted that both governmental and non-governmental efforts to improve Roma’s conditions were intensified. As regards education, Ministry of Education, Research and Youth tries to build a system able to train future teachers belonging to Roma ethnic group, to involve more Roma community in the educational programmes designed in partnership with Roma NGOs and to adapt more its strategies to Roma values, traditions and way of life. Since 1999, there were created special positions for “inspectors on Roma education” as part of each County Board of Education. Although the phrase “affirmative action” is not used by officials, there are special places for Roma children that graduated eight grade, at admission in high-schools and vocational schools (in 2002 there were 1350 places allocated for Roma children, and in 2003 there were 3000) as well as special places for Roma at admission in universities and colleges (in 2002 there were 393 places, and in 2003 there were 422 special places in 39 universities). The Roma students can work in the same time as teachers of Roma language and Roma history and tradition, in schools, at classes with Roma students. At the request of parents, in 2003-2004 academic year, a number of 15,708 Roma pupils enrolled in the grades I-XIII benefit of an additional Roma curriculum (3-4 classes weekly of Roma language and literature and one class weekly of History and traditions of Roma for the grades VI and VII). Counties Board of Education finance around 300 teacher positions of Roma language and history. Young Roma have started teaching those subjects to more than 18.000 Roma children in September 2003, at the beginning of the academic year. It is worth noting that, for the first time in the Romanian educational system, in September 2003 has been established a class with integral teaching in Roma language, at Măguri School – Lugoj, Timis County. A priority seems to be now the elaboration of more educational materials for Roma: primers and textbooks in Roma language, Romanian – Roma and Hungarian – Roma dictionaries. (18)

Although the official data look encouraging, it should not be forgotten that Roma are still facing serious problems in enjoying legitimate rights in every day life. The fact of the matter is that situation of Roma represent already a top European matter and in order to achieve concrete results, national measures must be more effectively doubled by concrete European policies.

5. Conclusions

Romanian experience as regards linguistic rights of national minorities can be described, ultimately, as a positive one. Ten years ago, there were no legal provisions on this matter except the abstract constitutional principle of preservation of linguistic identity. Nowadays, persons belonging to a national minority can rely on a specific legal framework in order to defend their linguistic rights as regards education, public administration and media. On the other hand, it s observable that the degree in which a minority can take advantage of those legal standards depends in a certain extent on its size. A Hungarian may receive education in his mother tongue from kindergarten to university while a person belonging to a small minority may be able only to study his/her mother tongue in schools with tuition in Romanian, because there are not enough requests from the parents and teaching staff in order to establish educational units with tuition in his/her mother tongue. Moreover, media in the languages of small minorities hardly can survive without financial support from the State thus not being in the position to be very critical towards governmental initiatives. In the case of Roma minority there were made steps forward but it is obvious that further measures are needed to put flesh on governmental strategies which look nice on paper but less impressive in the implementation phase.

The main reforms in the national minorities’ field, including linguistic policy, have been made in the last ten years and new big legislative changes are not really expected. It may be asserted, however, that three issues are still on the “minority agenda” and wait for a political decision: a framework law on national minorities, ratification of European Charter of Regional or Minority Languages and establishment of a State University with tuition in minority language(es).

6. Bibliography

Constantin, Sergiu: "The Hungarian Status Law on Hungarian Living In Neighboring Countries", in European Yearbook of Minority Issues, Volume 1, 2001/2.

Kymlicka, W. and A. Patten (editors): Language Rights and Political Theory, Oxford University Press, 2003.

Reports

Laszlo Murvai, Leman Ali, Christiane Cosmatu, Ivan Kovaci, Gheorghe Sarau, Filip Stanciu, Vieroslava Timar (editors), The dimension of education for national minorities in Romania, General Directorate for Education in the Languages of National Minorities and Access to Education of the Ministry of Education, Research and Youth, Bucharest, 2003.

Tarlach McGonagle, Bethany Davis Noll, Monroe Price, “Minority-language broadcasting and legislation in OSCE”, Institute for Information Law (IViR), Universiteit van Amsterdam, Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy (PCMLP), Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, Wolfson College, Oxford University, Study commissioned by the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, April 2003.

Gheorghe Sarau, “Ministry’s of Education, Research and Youth strategic directions regarding Roma education between 1998 and 2004”, General Directorate for Education in the Languages of National Minorities and Access to Education of the Ministry of Education, Research and Youth, Bucharest, 2004.

European Commission Regular Report on Romania’s progress towards accession (November 2003).

Opinion of the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for Protection of National Minorities on the Romanian State Report of First Monitoring Cycle, (10 January 2002).

Internet resources

Minority Rights Information System (MIRIS database)
http://www.eurac.edu/miris

Ministry of Education, Research and Youth
“Education in minority languages” webpage
http://www.edu.ro/mino.htm

Sergiu Constantin
European Academy of Bolzano/Bozen
sergiu.constantin@eurac.edu


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