The international seminar “The protection of minority groups – condition for a real European integration”
7 mini-interviews: between enthusiasm and tempered optimism.
On May 11-13, 2003, the international seminar “The protection of minority groups – condition for a real European integration” took place in Predeal. The event was attended by leaders of the Department for the Protection of National Minority Groups, of the European Commission in Romania and of several NGO’s. The seminar strengthened our hopes that, beside the good intentions, there are actual solutions for this project to become, through joint efforts, a reality, no matter how complex it is, or how many obstacles it encounters. The conclusions that resulted from the communiquÃ©s, the debates and the workshops restated the fact that the economic development of the post-communist countries and their European integration condition one another. It was also shown that the will towards integration is a common denominator for the entire Romanian political class, for all social categories, for majority and minority groups. Apart from the elaborate speeches, the talks we had with some personalities of the Romanian and the European political arena who attended the seminar, gave us the opportunity to record their spontaneously expressed opinions, which may be closer to what they intimately believe. Sorry for being limited by space to only publishing the essence of these interviews, we are submitting them to your attention, gathered in the spirit of the idea expressed by minister Peter Eckstein Kovacs: “regardless of our professions, our ethnical and religious affiliation, we all have a common goal: understanding among people, European integration.”
PETER ECKSTEIN KOVACS, Minister Delegate forNational Minority Groups: “The European integration: not only a topic for debate; an imperative of our times”
“After this first contact with the opinions of some of the European Commission’s leaders, what seemed to be the most important thing to you?”
“The fact that great emphasis is being laid on the application of treaties and international conventions regarding the minority groups, and that the European integration proves to be not a slogan, but a very valuable topic for action.”
“Do you think that the monitoring mechanism proposed by the European Commission is useful?”
“It is in our best interest to present the real situation in Romania, an expression of the special efforts which were and are being made by the Romanian authorities on this matter.”
FOKION FOTIADIS, Head of theDelegation of the European Commission in Romania: “Tomorrow’s European construction will no longer be possible without a unity in diversity.” We began our interview with a paraphrase of an old aphorism: “Tell me what your Europe is and I’ll tell you who you are”. Hence, the first question:
“Is there any concrete strategy to overcome the prejudices held by many Europeans against minority groups?”
“Public debates, knowledge of cultural values, the respect for the others. In one word – education.”
“What is the pattern of behavior towards minority groups proposed by the EU?”
“We are all minority groups in the EU. There is no dominant majority (power). All minority groups are subject to the same laws guaranteed by the application of the human rights. Tomorrow’s European construction will no longer be possible without observing the basic principle of the unity in diversity. This is what we want to prove to the applicant countries and to the world in general.”
“What mattered the most in the creation of the EU?”
“World War 2. The EU was founded so that no other world conflagration should ever devastate Europe again.”
“Yet, how do you explain the average individual’s high degree of indifference towards the issues of the minority groups?”
“By the fact that their life is governed by economic problems. But I believe that it is this same life that will force them to adopt an attitude some day.”
MARIA-ROSA GUIDA, Associate Manager in the European Commission: “Those who are responsible for xenophobia or anti-Semitism must know that there is a law against this.”
“What are the responsibilities faced by the rapporteurs for the integration of the applicant countries into the EU?”
“Mainly – diagnosing the situation of the minority groups in one country or another and reporting regularly on the evolution of the inter-ethnic relations in those countries.”
“As I suspect you are a man who deeply respects and trusts the power of legislation, and has an impressive moral strength, and after having realized – from your interventions during these proceedings – the extent of your knowledge in this field, I ask you how the current ascent of the extreme Right in Europe can be stopped.”
“An increased cross-government cooperation, press campaigns, learning history â€˜without hatred’. Those who are responsible for xenophobic and anti-Semite manifestations must know that there is a law which will punish them.”
PRIIT JÃ„RVE, General Rapporteur for the European Center for Minority Issues: “Even when one is learning about history, it all depends on how the teaching is done”
“From what you said and didn’t say in the conference room, I understand that you are a skeptic with a â€˜plus’ sign, who believes that only by taking into account the things that obstinately oppose our idealism can we have a good influence on today’s reality. Do you think that history can serve as a good teacher for the future?”
“History is the only teacher, but â€˜nobody’s learning’. And even when people are learning, it all depends on how the teaching is done. Think about prejudices: they all come from historyâ€¦”
“Do you have a forecast for the up-coming century?”
“I think we are going to witness a great metamorphosis of culture, because communication will seriously intensify. Against this background, minority groups exercise special pressure so that their own cultures are promoted. It is a way of defense against globalization. We can only survive through change, but, at the same time, we must remain ourselves.”
HANNO HARTIG, Manager of the General Department for Human Rights of the European Commission: “Eliminating suspicions about the notion of â€˜foreigner’ can only be achieved by direct contact.”
“What do you think would best protect humanity against inter-ethnical conflicts?”
“A change in mentalities, children’s education, elimination of one’s suspicions about the notion of â€˜foreigner’ through direct contact with one’s neighbor belonging to a different ethnic group.”
“Can you explain why Western Europeans react more strongly to xenophobe and anti-Semite manifestations than Eastern Europeans?”
“The Western Europeans are more used to freedom, which is why they exercise it more promptly. But I believe that the European integration will diminish the issue of national minority groups.”
ROMANI ROSE, President of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma: “The present must also admit the negative parts of the past.”
“Mr. Romani Rose, being one of those who know from their predecessors’ experience what it means to be a successor of Holocaust survivors, you will allow my asking you: do you know any antidote against racial discrimination?”
“Dialogue, education, knowledge of cultural values. Only these can lead to an abandon of the clichÃ©s, the slanderous allegations, the prejudices.”
“Do you live with the hope that the new century and millennium will open a new chapter in the field of inter-ethnic relations?”
“Yes, as long as the present admits and publicizes the negative parts of the past.”
“Do you see any way of going beyond theories?”
“The media. The Western-European press in very sensitive to xenophobe attitudes and it mobilizes consciences. And, of course, during the past ten years, the newly-created democracies in the Eastern-European countries have generated the conditions necessary for the manifestation of those journalists who defend the human rights.”
GUNNAR JANSSON, President of the Committee on Human Rights of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly: “I am convinced that the values of democracy will prevail.”
“To all those who were present here, you have been – before anything else – the experienced Gunnar Jansson, the official who came to talk about â€˜the consequences of the access to the European Community of the Eastern and Central-European countries, in terms of the observance of human rights, including those of the persons belonging to minority groups.’ As far as our periodical is concerned, we have noticed your interest in Romania, and we agree with you on the point that it would be a mistake to ignore the grey in the general picture showing the issues of national minority groups in today’s Europe and to try to see things in black and white. Can the European integration become a reality?”
“Yes, if the West is determined to really support the East. Personally, I am a fan of the integration as the only solution for the European stability.”
“What chances do you give integration since the nationalist-authoritarian orientation clashes with the democrat-liberal one, especially in the ex-communist countries?”
“I am convinced that the values of democracy will prevail; but this process is neither easy, nor of short last. I am a moderate optimist.”
By Iulia Deleanu
On March 29, an important plenary meeting of the Council of National Minority Groups (from the Department for the Protection of National Minority Groups) took place in Victoria Hall, at the Romanian Government. The proceedings were presided by the minister delegate for national minority groups, Peter Eckstein Kovacs. Counsel Iulian Sorin (secretary general of the Federation of the Jewish Communities in Romania – FJCR – and president of the Commission on Legislation and Administration) was elected, with a large majority, co-president of the meeting. The event (that was covered both by the central press and by the minority press) was attended by representatives of all the organizations belonging to national minority groups in Romania. The FJCR was represented by Academy member Nicolae Cajal, counsel Iulian Sorin, dr. Tiberiu Benedek and parliamentary deputy Dorel Dorian.
The meeting was inaugurated by an analysis delivered by Prof. Gelcu Makusutovici, president of the Commission on Culture, Cults and Mass-media of the Council of National Minority Groups. He pointed out the good parts and the bad parts of the series of cultural manifestations related to the Week of the National Minority Groups; how they were echoed by the political class, the diplomacy and the media. Then the plenary meeting discussed the Emergency Ordinance modifying and completing the Government’s Ordinance 26/2000 concerning associations and foundations; the nomenclature of the ethnic groups for the 2001 population and dwelling census; the representation of the minority groups in Romania at the Expo 2000 – Hanover World Exhibition; the phenomenon of the “ghost organizations” of national minority groups.
“The Ordinance”, said minister Peter Eckstein Kovacs, “is a project of the Council of National Minority Groups. The Department for the Protection of National Minority Groups may be consulted as a reviewer, but the final decision belongs to the Ministry of Justice.
“The project was discussed by the Commission on Legislation and Administration”, said counsel Iulian Sorin, “and Mr. Varujan Pambuccian, president of the Parliamentary Group for National Minority Groups, had a talk with the minister of Justice, who showed openness towards the completion of this Ordinance. We also received support from parliamentary deputy Dorel Dorian, Nicolae Paun (president of the Roma Party), Berci Margarian, representative of the Armenians’ Union. The author of the project is Iosif Czedly (representative of the Democratic Union of the Hungarians in Romania).” The talks were also attended by Gheorghe Glisici (Serbians’ Union), Andrei Ioan Stefanko (Czechs and Slovaks’ Union), and dr. Marko Attila, manager of the Legislation Division of the Department for the Protection of National Minority Groups. The project was achieved and a memorandum is to be sent to the Commission on Legislation and Administration at the beginning of April.
The debates on the nomenclature of ethnic groups were attended by: counsel Iulian Sorin (FJCR), Klaus Fabritius, secretary general of the Department for the Protection of the National Minority Groups, Dan Oprescu, head of the National Service for Roma, Wolfgang Wittstock (The Democratic Forum of the Germans in Romania), Alexandru Varuna (Lippovan Russians’ Union), Andrei Ioan Stefanko (Czechs and Slovaks’ Union), Gheorghe Glisici (Serbians’ Union), Stefan Tkaciuc si Ion Robciuc (Ukrainians’ Union), Sali Negiat (The Democratic Union of the Turkish-Muslim Tartars in Romania. The participants stressed the fact that the nomenclature concerns all the minority people who are Romanian citizens, have traditions and have been living here for centuries, and are not just immigrants to Romania. Some representatives drew attention to the pejorative character of some denominations, others specified what branches can or cannot be included in the same denomination of a minority group. An extended nomenclature was proposed, where the “ceangai” and the Gagauz would constitute separate minority groups.
The report delivered by Tudor Nichita, coordinator for the Expo 2000 – Hanover World Exhibition on behalf of the National Development Agency, was based on the forms of artistic expression and on the interactive multimedia programs reflecting chapters of the century-long cohabitation of different ethnic groups in Romania, which will be presented in the Pavilion of the Exhibition’s Romanian Section. The ways of illustration aroused much interest and the debates are to be continued at the Commission on Culture, Cults and Mass-Media of the Council of National Minority Groups.
The last topic on the agenda was the memorandum regarding the “appearance of ghost-organizations of the national minority groups” sent to prime-minister Mugur Isarescu by minister Peter Eckstein Kovacs. Most of the interventions (Prof. Gelcu Maksutovici, The Cultural Union of the Albanians in Romania, Stefan Tkaciuc, Ukrainians’ Union, Sali Negiat, The Democratic Union of the Turkish-Muslim Tartars in Romania, Mihai Radan, Croatians’ Union) expressed the will to maintain the organizational unity of the ethnic groups and favored the recognition of those organizations founded “before September 27, 1992 and present in all the documents of the Council of National Minority Groups.” Minister Peter Eckstein Kovacs underlined the fact that “only the organizations of national minority groups represented in the Parliament receive budgetary allocations”.