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Hatred and Nationalism in Romania-Explaining Anti-Roma Violence

Hatred and Nationalism in Romania-Explaining Anti-Roma Violence

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Published by bgeller4936
Roma, racism, prejudice
Roma, racism, prejudice

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Published by: bgeller4936 on Apr 11, 2010
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Volume 1, Spring 2005Stanford’s Student Journal of Russian,East European, and Eurasian Studies
There is no more bitter fruit than foreigners in one’s land. —Romanian proverb
Introduction
The “Gypsy Problem” in Europe may be illustrated best by the recent treatment of the Roma in Romania, oftenconsidered to be the most oppressive in Europe. Since 1989 when Nicolae Ceausescu’s communist regime fellthere have been an estimated thirty anti-Roma pogroms in Romania.
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The pogroms have resulted in several Romadeaths, burned Roma houses and villages, and forced migration of the Roma from their villages. The Romaminority in Romania, which is the largest Roma population in Europe with figures ranging from one and a half to two and a half million, are marginalized politically, socially, and economically.
2
Ethnic violence and exclu-sion toward Roma in Romania has attracted the attention of the international community and has been paralleled by an increasing effort to confront the problem on both domestic and international levels.For centuries, the Roma have consistently been victims of violence and discrimination in Romania. The plight of the Roma has gone largely unnoticed until recently due to pressure from the European Union regardingtreatment of minorities in countries negotiating EU membership. Under the watchful eye of the EU, theRomanian government has slowly begun to initiate reform and develop a minority treatment policy.Unfortunately, anti-Roma sentiments continue to remain strong among the public. The organization of extremenationalist political groups and the phenomenon of a partially government-controlled media, sensitive to publicsentiments, has been largely responsible for perpetuating negative stereotypes of the Roma and using the Romaas a scapegoat for Romania’s severe economic problems. Combined with lagging democratic reforms and ram- pant corruption on the national and local level, Romania remains a place ripe for unchecked acts of aggressiontoward ethnic minorities, in particular, the Roma.The tradition of nationalism in Romania and nationalist objectives by political elites has led to assimila-tionist policies regarding minority groups, including the Roma. Despite these efforts, the Roma have failed toassimilate and thus, remain targets of violence, committed mostly by ethnic Romanians. What is the relationship
Hatred and Nationalism in Romania:Explaining Anti-Roma Violence
 Alessandra Salatti
 
2Salatti/ Hatred and Nationalism in Romania
Volume 1, Spring 2005Stanford’s Student Journal of Russian,East European, and Eurasian Studies between nationalism and anti-Roma violence in Romania? Do nationalism and the ancient-hatreds theory of eth-nic violence explain the treatment of the Romanian Roma? Have the Roma failed to assimilate because of prej-udice towards the group, or have the Roma refused to assimilate in order to preserve their distinct cultural iden-tity?Evidence suggests that the Roma minority has refused to assimilate, while the Romanian majority has prevented it. Despite the deep-seated prejudice and persecution that they have endured, the Roma have stubborn-ly resisted assimilation, although political authority has made repeated attempts. The Roma’s persistence in main-taining a distinct ethnic identity has been a constant struggle and has often been perceived by Romanians as anobstacle to achieving nationalist objectives (a homogenous Romanian nation), which has reinforced preexisting prejudices, held by ethnic Romanians. Hatred arising from Romanian nationalist sentiment has led to the exclu-sion of Roma from political, social, and economic dimensions of society, making them constant targets of vio-lence, discrimination, and persecution. Additionally, the failure of the Roma to assimilate and the recent transi-tion to democracy, which has created a political space for the Roma to express their desire to maintain their dis-tinct identity, conflicts with a re-emergent Romanian nationalism and new nationalist objectives.Since the rise of the nationalist movement in the mid-nineteenth, anti-Roma violence has tainted the mod-ern history of the Romanian nation. Political leaders, under constant threat from external powers, have respond-ed by attempting to homogenize the nation in order to strengthen and consolidate it. Thus, the Roma, themselves,were not feared, but their presence threatened to create disunity within the state, making Romania vulnerable toits surrounding strong neighbors. Under Ceausecu’s communist rule from 1965-1989, the entire Romanian pop-ulation was brutally oppressed and anti-Roma violence and sentiments subsided. The post-communist shift to a parliamentary democracy allowed the Roma to seize the opportunity for political mobilization in order to gainthe right to maintain their cultural identity and improve their economic condition. Equally poor lower classRomanians feared the competition for jobs and Roma attempts to gain political power. Simultaneously, the weak government called for a revival of nationalism that excluded minorities and rekindled past hatred towards theRoma.
Theories of Ethnic Violence
Apartial explanation of anti-Roma violence in Romania is an emotion-based theory of ethnic violence developed by Roger D. Petersen. To explain individual motivations for engaging in ethnic violence, Petersen associateshatred with a correlating rationalist explanation for violence: ancient hatreds theory. Petersen provides a four-step process that leads an individual to become violent against a targeted group or members of that group. The chrono-logical order of events is as follows, a structural change in government, the individual receives and processesinformation regarding the change, beliefs about the event form based on information, and the individual acts outon his/her emotion.
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Based on hatred, Petersen predicts which group will become the target of violence following state col-lapse. Hatred, he predicts, will lead to the targeting of “the group that has frequently been attacked with similar  justification over an extended time period.”
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Petersen defines
ethnic hatred 
as “an antagonism against a groupas an object; the antagonism is focused on the purported innate characteristics of the opposing group.”
5
According to Petersen, if the motivation for ethnic violence is hatred, then the acts of violence and their justifi-cations should be similar over an extended historical period.
6
Although Petersen champions resentment, whichcorresponds to the social group status theory of ethnic violence, as the driving force behind ethnic violence inEastern Europe during the twentieth century, this author disagrees that resentment, as framed by Petersen, can be
 
3Salatti/ Hatred and Nationalism in Romania
Volume 1, Spring 2005Stanford’s Student Journal of Russian,East European, and Eurasian Studiesapplied in the case of Romania, where the Roma have consistently been of marginal status.Thus, hatred, as a motivating factor, can more aptly describe the violence in Romania, where nationalismhas been repeatedly used as a means of legitimizing the government, when the state has been weakest, during itsformation, and after several revolutions that occurred throughout the twentieth century. Groups such as the Romahave been consistently targeted by inflammatory nationalist rhetoric of far-right political organizations. Morerecently, political elites have used the Roma as a scapegoat for Romania’s economic problems, diverting atten-tion away from the economic mismanagement of the state.Political elites, able to manipulate the public and arouse certain sentiments, control information and/or the media and frame situations in a controversial way. Interaction between politicians and the masses are dynam-ic in that politicians can both respond to and shape the emotions of the public. For example, Romanian politi-cians have frequently used nationalist rhetoric to justify the exclusion of minority groups and/or defer blame for  poor economic and social conditions. In doing so, they have reinforced negative stereotypes of minorities, there- by inciting violence.Politicians are most effective in manipulating the masses when they are able to draw on preexisting sen-timents, such as nationalism or hatred toward a minority group. In Romania, there is a strong sense of national-ism among ethnic Romanians, who constitute the majority of the population. Ernest Gellner defines nationalismas, “a political principle, which holds that the political and national unit should be congruent.” Nationalist senti-ment, he states, “is the feeling of anger aroused by violation of this principle, or the feeling of satisfaction aroused by its fulfillment.”
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It is important to understand that an individual can grow strong attachments to a concept suchas nationalism, and use it to justify decisions and actions, namely, ethnic violence.Overtime, nationalism can become internalized by individuals or groups so that it becomes a culturalvalue, as it has among ethnic Romanians. “Romanian nationalism,” according to Martyn Rady, “is unmitigated by civic notions of national identity. It is rooted in ethnicity rather than in a concept of citizenship and rights.”
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Romanian political leaders have made several attempts to homogenize and unify the nation, by adopting whatBenedict Anderson refers to as policies of ‘official nationalism.’
9
Rogers Brubaker states,“Anationalizing state, I have suggested, is one understood to be the state
of 
and
 for 
a particular ethnocul-tural ‘core nation’whose language, culture, demographic position, economic welfare, and political hegemonymust be promoted and protected by the state. They key elements here are (1) the sense of ‘ownership’of the state by a particular ethnocultural nation that is conceived as distinct from the citizen or permanent resident popula-tion as a whole, and (2) the ‘remedial’or compensatory project of using state power to promote the core nation’sspecific (and heretofore inadequately served) interests.”
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Romanian nationalism and its ethnocentric quality have characterized the nation’s historical experience,which can be summarized, “as a permanent struggle for cultural as well as political independence.”
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Recently,democratic transition has afforded the Roma the opportunity to mobilize politically. Simultaneously, radicalnationalists, whose “activities are premised solely on the repression of any manifestations of minority self-organ-ization and political representation” have mobilized on the political front, forming extremist groups, such asthe Party of Romanian National Unity or the Greater Romania Party.
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Theories of Assimilation
The term
ethnoclass
is often used to describe the Roma, a minority group that lacks a homeland and occupies thelowest social and economic strata of any society, in which a contingent is present. Additionally, a plethora of neg-

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