Political Participation and Interest Articulation of Roma in Romania

Article excerpt

Abstract

By examining processes of political participation and ethnic mobilisation, this article assesses how Roma create organising structures of representation which they use to articulate their shared interests. The utilitarian nature of the democratic system necessarily excludes the voice of minorities who must create their own representation structures to ensure their voice is heard. This article analyses the ability of the Romani community in Romania to articulate interests and assesses the legitimacy of their organising structures of representation. This article starts from the observation that Roma constitute a sizeable minority group in Romania yet they remain under-represented in public life. Following a brief outline of how representation relates to legitimacy, the analysis proceeds in two steps: Firstly, the shared interests of Roma in Romania are determined; secondly, the role and purpose of the three organising structures of representation (elites, ethnic political parties, and civil society organizations) are assessed. The respective legitimacy of these organising structures of representation is analysed in turn.

Introduction

Romania houses a vibrant Romani1 community which has seized the opportunity to develop organising structures of representation since the collapse of communism.2 The state too has responded to the needs and interests of Roma who make up at least 3% of the Romanian population.3 The case study of Romania presents some interesting legislative innovations which are unique to this state and impact directly on how Roma mobilise and organise themselves politically, and articulate their interests through organising structures of representation. These include a guaranteed seat in parliament for all national minorities as well as the ability of minority non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to secure parliamentary representation. Despite mobilisation efforts and the creation of organising structures of representation, Roma remain woefully under-represented in political life (Roma have one Deputy out of 314 in the Chamber of Deputies- the lower house of the bicameral national parliament- despite a population between 3-10%). Clearly the right to vote has thus far not translated into adequate representation of Roma in the national assembly. This investigation asks 'who speaks for Roma in Romania?' and in doing so advances understandings into how Roma organise themselves in public life. Analytically this paper seeks to advance understandings of the complex relationship between identity, interests and organising structures of representation with regard to minorities, and empirically it details the case of Romani political participation in Romania.

The literature on the Romani community in Romania has been largely silent on issues of political participation and representation with a few notable exceptions4, and often cite the Romani community's sub-standard access to social provisions5. There have been several attempts to define who Roma actually are in the European political context6, as well as in Romania specifically through a historical perspective7. Furthermore, Roma rights theorists often provide emotive evidence when detailing Roma 'problems'8 and more recently there has been a concerted move towards understanding the political participation of Roma9. The political mobilisation of Roma is the most obvious response to the current situation of exclusion from democratic political processes10. Ethnic mobilisation has taken place in the past and has resulted in the establishment of organising structures of representation through which Roma can articulate their interests. However, mobilisation is not enough to overcome the numerous political problems that Roma are confronted with. It is by asking questions such as "who speaks for Roma?" that more informative research on modes of political participation has taken place, yet there have been no successful attempts to determine who legitimately represents Roma in Romania, nor who claims to. …