Author: Emanuel Pietrobon – 25/4/2020
The Balkans are being recorded an ethnic revolution which is expected to change the landscape deeply and what is going on in Romania in the days of the COVID-19 pandemic is the self-proving evidence of what awaits us in the near future.
Romania is the Balkans’ hardest-hit country by the COVID-19 and the key-explaination is as known within the country as unknown outside its own borders: it’s the high presence of Roma-inhabited ghettoes where the basic services lack, poverty is as widespread as diseases, and people tend not to respect state-given rules as a habit.
This explosive mix is being shown its detrimental effects in these days: entire Roma-inhabited villages have been quarantined, like the infamous Țăndărei (home of the most dangerous Roma crime families operating in Europe), and daily civil riots are turning the country into a open-air battleground from the main urban cities, like București, Ploiești and Brașov, to the most remote rural villages, like Hunedoara.
What occurred in Rahova, neighbourhood of southwest Bucharest, on 19th April, Resurrection Sunday for Romanian Orthodox, is very meaningful. The city was then quarantined but some people weren’t happy about that, including a Roma local leader known as “Spartacus”. He invited his people to protest against the movement-restriction laws via Facebook and got to start a day-long civil unrest ended up with tens of wounded and 11 jailed, including himself. He and the other inhabitants were prepared and armed to confront the arrival of special forces, gunfires have been shot. If no one has died is only matter of luck.
Apparently his bravery is convincing other communities to riot and Roma vs. police clashes are growing day after day. Even the police brutality is increasing and dozens of controversial Rodney King-style videos are being uploaded on social networks. Whereas some people and NGOs denounce the mounting anti-Roma sentiment, mainstream politics, countrywide media and vast sectors of civil society seem to approve the police’s zero-tolerance line.
The Covid-19 pandemic will be remembered by tomorrow’s Romanians as the most important watershed moment of the country’s recent history after Nicolae Ceaușescu’s death. In fact, the relation between Romanians and Romas has never been so conflictual, the two communities have never been so polarized and the latter have never been so aware of their status, that is the one of a minority set to become majority in two or three decades. The unwillingness to respect the rules, the widespread inter-ethnic violence, and the rise of unknown local leaders capable of turning Romanian streets in open-air battlefields for several hours by inciting people to rise up, are the symptoms of what awaits Romanians in the near future.
The numbers are pretty clear: Romania hosts the Balkans-largest Roma community, composed by 2 – 4 million people. Many Europe-based Romas share a common heritage: their ancestors were born in Romania and it’s no coincidence that the most spoken dialect among Roma peoples is the Romanian variant, be they live in Serbia or be they live in Italy.
Roma culture is already spreading in Romania and the hidden segregation is slowly expiring as their folklore, music, costums and traditions are melting with the Romanian ones. Furthermore, many Roma “royal families” are based in the country and have a kind of influence among their connationals. The self-proclaimed king Dorin Cioabă has spoken out in the COVID-19 days, taking a stand against his own people and their resort to violence.
But it’s not only Romania. Tensions are being also recorded in Bulgaria, Slovakia and Hungary, where Roma-targeting quarantines have been implemented.
The Roma revolution is happening right now
Budapest, February 23th, 2020. Some 2,000 people held a singular protest in the city centre against what they perceive as an act of discrimination. The people who went out in the streets were mainly ethnic Romas, backed by anti-racist NGOs, and requested the government to enforce a verdict which obliges the government to indemnify a Roma family whose children have been victim of segregation in the elementary school of Gyongyospata, a rural village, in 2011.
Yes, it’s true: 2,000 people isn’t a big number but here the importance isn’t tied to the quantity but to the fact that Romas have never staged a protest for their rights in Hungary. That was the first time and George Soros’ Open Society played a role in inciting people to go out in the streets.
At first, the Prime Minister Viktor Orban seemed reluctant to give in to pressure and announced he would launch a national consultation on the topic. Anti-Roma sentiment is deep-rooted and widespread in Balkans societies and Hungary is no exception: the second-largest political party is Jobbik, whose extreme-right positions make Orban’s Fidesz ultra-moderate.
It is no coincidence that Orban took advantage of the protests to ride the wave. Some weeks before the Roma mobilisation, Jobbik-linked Mi Hazank Mozgalom staged a march in Miskolc, a remote village where tensions between Hungarians and Romas have recorded a peak after the brutal killing of a 61-y-old lady during a theft commited by a young Rom. The arrival of Mi Hazank in the village received a very warm welcome by the inhabitants and hundreds of people take part in it.
What is truly curious is that Mi Hazank leaders didn’t speak only about the murder but dedicated an important part of their intervention to an even more sensitive topic: the alleged proliferazione of no go zones in the country, where crime is rife, police is forbidden from entering and Hungarians are quickly disappearing. Someone may be interested in exploiting this situationa they say and they are right: Opre Rom, Hungarian Romas’s political party, is lobbying hard to get from the central government concessions of autonomy for Roma-inhabited counties. In the recent years Budapest has been granting forms of self-government to some Roma communities, but apparently this is not enough: now Opre Rom wants full autonomy, which is something very different from partial self-government in little affairs.
Anti-Roma sentiment and fears are on the rise and the reason is simple: as in the rest of the Balkans, the country is set to become Roma-majority in a few decades. According to official estimates the national Roma community is of about 300,000 people but some studies conducted by the university of Debrecen and by the Roma and Travellers Division of the Council of Europe depict a different reality: the number is presumably between 500,000 and 1 million. If we take into account that Hungary is inhabited by less than 10 million people, it means that already today 1 person out of 10 is of Roma origin.
Târgu Mureș, October 17th, 2019. The so-called Aresel movement, a Roma-focused association, stages a protest before the city hall. The target is Dorin Florea, the country’s mayor, who is blamed for something he posted on Facebook. He accused the Roma people living in the city of using children as a source of revenue and of not doing anything to rise themselves socially despite the services and the support provided by the state and by the local authorities.
Roma people are offended by his declarations and Aresel successfully convince them to rise up aganst the mayor. Hundreds of people accept the challenge, they want official apologies and his resignation. The event is noteworthy and Nicu Dumitru, Aresel’s spokesman, explains why: “[This has been] a historic day, Roma people for the first time in 30 years have went out in the streets to speak out, because this kind of declarations are no longer permissible in 21th century’s Romania”.
But Florea doesn’t want to apologize and goes more in-depth, explaining in detail the reasons of his discontent and suggesting the introduction of legal criteria to make children and even a mininum age so that to make disappear the unluckily widespread phenomenon of teenage pregnancy which affects the Roma community.
The protests continue, 100 protests become 500 and then 1,000. Yes, like in Hungary we are speaking of little numbers, but again here the importance is given by the mere fact that they are protesting, something they never did. The situation convinces the national politicians to intervene and on January 21 Florea is fined by the National Council Against Discrimination for his declarations, which have been judged as hate speech. It’s another historic goal: it’s the first time that a high profile politician is found guilty of hate speech and condemned for it; it’s the sign that something is changing in the Romanian society and Roma can be no longer ignored.
The ethnic revolution nobody is speaking about and his consequences
The Balkan peninsula is recording the world’s worst demographic crisis and no government has found any solution to reverse the trend until now. According to the United Nations’ projections, whose reliability is strenghtened by national data and studies, by the end of the century countries like Moldova, Serbia, Romania, Bosnia, North Macedonia and Bulgaria could virtually disappear as their native populations are expected to decrease at critical levels until the extinction point.
In the above-mentioned countries, the fertility rate has been being below the replacement line – 2,1 children per woman – since the late 1980s because of the constant discrepancy between deaths and new births and high rates of mass emigration abroad.
Bulgaria represents the most emblematic case of such demographic crisis: the country is estimated to resize at a rate of 164 people less per day. Between 2050 and 2100, the total population is set to diminish from the current 7 million 128 thousands (2016) to 3 million 400 thousands.
But there is something untold about what is going on in the Balkans. While it’s true that the Slavic-centered ethnic core that has characterized the peninsula for centuries is likely to fade significantly, it’s true as well that these countries will continue to exist but under a different cultural and ethnic framework.
In fact, while natives emigrate abroad and those who don’t re-settle choose not to have children or to have small-sized families, Roma people, whose presence in the Balkans dates back to the year 1000, tend to have very large families and their growth is now posing a challenge for the traditional social order because of the gradual disappearance of ethnic Slavs.
By the year 2050, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic will be Roma-majority and the ethnic transition will not take place peacefully. Inter-ethnic clashes, appearance of far-right vigilantes and people-led assaults on Roma ghettoes have become common phenomena in Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary, and they will characterize the rest of the Balkans as soon as the social pressure coming from the increasingly numerous Roma community will start arising and being felt in the neighborhood.
Turkey has understood what is going on and has significantly extended and deepened its presence in Bulgaria’s Roma community by means of culture centres, schools and mosques. Bulgarian Romas tend to be Muslims and Turkey is being pursued a strategy of re-Islamisation towards them which has also led to the first cases of religious radicalisation and the departure of dozens of them to Syria and Iraq to join the so-called Islamic State.
According to Sofia’s Center for Demographic Policies, by 2050 Bulgarians will be the country-third ethnic group, after Romas and Turks, and by 2100 their presence will be almost insignificant – 8 millions Romas, 1 million 500 thousands Turks, and 300 thousands Bulgarians.
It’s clear that whoever is interested in shaping Sofia’s internal affairs must deal with the ethnic revolution and find the instruments to conquer the favour of Romas: today’s persecuted and much-hated minority, tomorrow’s major ethnic group. The same reasoning applies to the other mentioned countries. It’s only matter of a few decades until the time bomb to blow up.