Interview with Adrian Schiop

Adrian Schiop (born in 1973) is writer and independent journalist. He published three novels and has a doctoral degree in manele music, a genre that is rather associated with Roma people and lower social class and rarely finds its place in the academic environment. Adrian has a fine anthropological eye, sensitive to social changes of the generations and on how impact of economic changes on the society and individuals. His latest novel ‘Soldații. Poveste de Ferentari’ [The Soldiers. Story of Ferentari], partly an auto-biographic story about a gay love, is taking place in Ferenatari Neighborhood – a ghetto of Bucharest that seems like stucked in the ‘90, a social universe full of taboos and complex social relations of what can be considered the periphery of the society.

When did the transition begin and how long did it take?

It took place between 1990 and 2007, it was transition until Romania joined the European Union.

And afterwards did you feel it was different?

Yes, the situation has certainly become more stable. Institutions begin to function… even the judicial branch begins functioning independently later… but you no longer get the same amount of rip-offs and scams like it used to, that’s my perception.

And to you the transition period is the time when a lot of rip-offs took place?

Yes, naturally. Industries of all kinds have been bankrupted and stolen. The whole communist industry was stolen. I mean, it was happening at all the society’s levels, from the highest to the lowest. A lot of people ripped off the state and bankrupted state enterprises for personal gains… simple citizens would also get ripped off in masses, especially in the early 1990s when people didn’t have the right economic education. Like that pyramid scheme which tricked people to invest money with the promise of getting rich.

On a personal level, how did you live during the transition?

In poverty. First of all, poverty… when I decided to leave for the New Zeeland, it wasn’t for being oppressed, or other social reasons, it was strictly an economic decision. Meaning that I used to work as a high school teacher, live in a dorm room in the campus… and I would live in that small room because I couldn’t afford paying rent for an apartment. Of course, I was also lazy because I could also tutor students and give private classes for extra money? My subject was Romanian language and literature. But I didn’t like teaching in private, so I had to live off the salary.

And back than there were that soft drink Frutti Fresh [fizzy beverage with fruit flavor, one of the cheapest of its kind] if you remember. I was already working for the fourth year as teacher. And everything was going down, less and less money, everything was becoming more expensive, inflation, whatever. The recession was at its peak, and the next year I couldn’t even afford to buy that bottle of Frutti Fresh. That’s why it was so much “fun” and I said to myself “Fuck this country” if I can’t even afford a shitty chemical soft drink. And that was when I decided to migrate.

That was the hardest burden of them all: poverty. On the other hand, everybody was equal in poverty. At least, as students. As students, we were all poor, very few had money. For example, none of us owned a car. Nowadays if you walk around student campuses you see lots of good and expensive cars. Back when I was a student, there barely was anything to create material differences between us. Students didn’t have cars, and only a few more fortunate wore better clothes, that was the whole difference. But since people didn’t really have money and we were all equal in poverty, we also didn’t have relations based on competition, you see?

 During which period were you abroad?

At the beginning of the 2000s, I think it was 2001 or early 2002. What was interesting about it was that I left in what seemed to me as a maximum level of poverty, when it all seemed to go downhill in terms of living standards. And when I returned in 2003, thinks were starting to get better. People would complain “Oh no, it’s worse than last year” and I would say “Definitely not!”. That’s what leaving for a while means, you clearly and more objectively see the differences. I was away just when the situation was transitioning from its lowest point and facing an improvement.

You had an interesting perspective about Romanians, and especially immigrant Romanians from more developed countries, who aren’t critical at all about the situation of poverty. They consider poverty to be somewhat of a temporary situation and think that whoever is in poverty is guilty.

Yeah, they have this meritocratic discourse with slightly fascist ideas, some sort of social fascism. But in reality they have no empathy or considerations for the poor, and generally it still is a problem in Romania. This is also a problem that wasn’t overcome yet. And the reason it wasn’t overcome is that we didn’t get to have a second bourgeois generation, because the first generation that makes the money considers that they started from a low point and have a sense of entitlement and self-worth for their efforts. And this discourse of a person who made it by oneself, this enriched person who say they knew how to make it on top… they think that the poor person next to them should also do it. Why doesn’t he/she? It must be that they’re lazy, right? And in the case of immigration, it has further developed this feeling of merit because they left when they were very poor in Romania… When you leave Romania with a salary of 10 million [approximately 220 euro] and arrive in a place where you’re paid at least 1000 euro, you think you are God-blessed. If you get a loan from the bank and start exhibiting a higher social status, you already start saying “I’ve picked myself up and reached a different social status”. And that’s where we get this meritocratic discourse from. It marginalizes and excludes the poor and heads towards an area of social fascism. It has a lot more depth than one might think.

Is this happening among the middle class only?

It’s among anybody who’s made money, do you understand? It’s not about the middle class and maybe that thugs will say the same words if you ask them. Mobs say the same too. “It’s his/her fault if they didn’t have the right mindset or weren’t smart enough to get as rich as I”. But, of course, there’s also the never-ending excuse of not being fortunate enough, but anyway, people who made money have this meritocratic viewpoint. We need to switch to the next generation to develop that sense of guilt and consciousness. Because, if you look towards Western states, you see a lot of education in this direction. As a bourgeois, you are induced with this feeling of guilt, which is socially-beneficial if you ask me. The whole concept of the guilty person’s consciousness was also developed among the bourgeois. It’s this sense of guilt that the second generation feels “Look at me, I’m privileged, I was raised in a really good family, I have everything I need, I went to university, and never had to try too hard to get something. That poor guy has a harder time reaching the top.” We don’t have this kind of mentality in Romania, or at least it’s underdeveloped… this conscience of the privileged to acknowledge that you were privileged since you were brought into this world and had access to what others could only dream of. And this is how the guilty consciousness is born: “That poor guy isn’t guilty for the family he was born in”.

But how are the poor perceived?

Well, it’s the same situation. I think it’s practically a depression. They have developed a lot of complexes and they perceive their poverty as a shame. They are shamed for what they don’t have for reasons they aren’t responsible for.

How did you perceive the change from communism to the new democratic regime?

Well, I have to acknowledge, I was 17 around the time when communism fell and I felt very, very happy. The system was oppressive, Ceaușescu was an idiot… I mean he wasn’t the brightest communist leader.

And how do you position yourself now in relation to communism?

Right now? My positioning is much more nuanced, there was oppression… but how should I put it? It was a cost-benefit situation: the cost was the oppression. Otherwise, the society was very organized. We had a functional society under communism. To whomever disagrees, I have to say that it wasn’t a dictatorship, but a functional society. After the transition, society and the whole body structure of the society have been a mess, Romania has become a dysfunctional state during the transition. Which, again, is a matter of costs and benefits.

Returning to communism, it was a functional system, but the dictatorship costs were too high. What the elders say: you had a job guaranteed; they [the state] would give you a house, holiday through the union, and stuff like that. You had no movement of freedom, you had no free speech… but there were some gains.

Do you perceive the nowadays Romanian society as more functional?

Now, yes. It is more functional. Less democracy now than in the ‘90s. but this is because of there is a tendency nowadays to restrain the liberties. This is in all the Occident and in America. In the moment when a society is functional one needs to be become responsible for own deeds. You need to get responsible for what you do, what you say. In transition everyone was careless because everything could be solved/ bribed.

Why do you say there is less democracy?

There is more surveillance. There is much more supervised society. Police was not functional in the ‘90s. Secret services, no one was caring about them. Justice was not functioning. Now phones are listened, you are under surveillance if you done something wrong.

How do you position yourself in relation to the older generations, given the fact that you lived the transition from communism to democracy in your teenage years? How do you view communism in comparison to your parents?

I feel less nostalgic about communism, even though I do have some small degree of nostalgia. I think I feel anarchy. I mean, the older ones aren’t capable of anarchy. The younger generations that are growing up right now aren’t capable of it either, they seem to be more obedient than we were. We, those who lived our youth in the 1990s, were bigger anarchists. But the feeling is starting to get weaker and rarer in newer generations. I look around and see that the youth are drinking less. Okay, now they have access to more drugs and sometimes they just smoke a joint instead, okay… and after that they drink a couple of beers or take a pill on weekend days. But they no longer have that drive we had, they’re not as self-destructive as we were. They’re healthier and more aware about their lives. “I better not start smoking, oh my God it’s bad if I smoke and only losers do it”. Anyway, right now I’m talking about a middle-class zone. I’m not sure to which extent I can extrapolate other social categories, but in this bourgeois area there is a contrast with what used to be before, as well as with what I think comes next. This anarchic and self-subtle feeling that I want to drink until I pass out under the table, that I don’t care about anything… that’s something that fades. It faded in communism by force because you were being watched, and now you have to act properly and be responsible. It’s a movement that starts to work. You can no longer “fuck everything” like in the 1990s. You could do it in the 1990s, now it’s getting harder.

Why are the 1990s your favorite era?

First of all, it’s because that’s when I was young and secondly… there was a lot more liberty than now. There was less responsibility, I mean why would you enjoy being responsible? Could you please tell me what is the pleasure in responsibility? Let me answer that for you: there is none. There was this kind of liberty in which you could not care about anything and could do anything you would think. No you can no longer do it… you used to be able to tell anything, it was all allowed. It was anarchy!

There is these saying used by elderly people ‘that there’s too much democracy or that democracy has gotten to your head’…

Something like that, in the 1990s there really was too much freedom. But it couldn’t go on like this, you couldn’t build a society on the foundations of everybody not giving a damn, everybody stealing one way or another, nobody doing anything, do you understand? It just wasn’t possible. The problem is that you don’t have solidarity among larger bodies of social classes, and there isn’t solidarity above the middle class. We have this problem among the wealthy. I mean, let’s solidarize ourselves a little bit, shall we? You don’t have this kind of solidarity which is essential to form a society among ourselves. If we keep it like this, at some point it will seem impossible and unconceivable to build this solidarity.

And from the perspective of citizens’ rights and minority rights, what do you think is the situation now as compared to the situation during the transition? What about the situation now as compared to communism?

[Sigh] Let’s refer to communism… as compared to communism, of course you enjoy more liberties. I mean as a citizen, or as a minority and… in comparison with the transition? The transition was cool because nobody knew, in the sense that nobody spoke about taboo subjects [such as being gay]… and people were not aware of this thing.

But wasn’t there a negative attitude towards the gay people?

There was, but nobody could tell who was gay and who wasn’t… it was a very abstract thing. They were subject of jokes, it wasn’t… like in the case of the Roma people towards whom there was a lot of racism because the majoritarian population could distinguish them. Who acknowledged being a homosexual, anyway? Let’s get real about it. In the 1990s nobody would come out of the closet and it was a non-existent category. But what was good about the situation… in a way it was great that you could express yourself and manifest your feelings, and people wouldn’t realize that you were gay. You could hit on a guy whom you thought to be either straight or gay and see how they were surprised and confused. Now people are much more aware “Ah, that guy’s a queer”… they get it when you’re acting differently. I’m trying to describe a filter that tells who is gay and who isn’t. However, nowadays they are trying to establish more freedoms and it’s great. I know that in the 1990s or the beginning of the 2000s we had some parties in Cluj [one of the top largest Romanian cities in West of Romania], every 2 weeks. This happened before article 200 [decriminalizing homosexuality by removing its actions from the penal code]. And I think it was awful until 1995 or 1996, that’s when it was harder to be gay. It was before activists from abroad came in and said “Leave them alone, don’t be a bunch of morons. Cool down!”. And back to the story: even though it was the year 1999 or 2000, the parties would take place across the street from the police station. Cops would come to check once in a while, but they never shut down the bar and didn’t ever arrest anybody. There was this tacit toleration, and I think there were higher orders by police officials after the mid-1990s to tell everyone to leave the gay alone. Or at least that’s how it seemed to me.

Until 1993, I think, there were people who would get punished with time in jail.

Oh yes, that’s when we had the biggest problems regarding human rights and the gay community – locked-up gay people. I told you, up until that case with the handball or basketball female player who became famous on national television, it was a lot worse. And people started to get it “Wait a minute, she’s with the green and red lights, we can’t burn her anymore”.

Could you please tell more about that case?

It was a scandal with a female basketball player, who went to a colleague at the gym, and her colleague turned her in for being gay or they got caught, I can’t remember exactly. Anyway, this basketball player ended up doing 5 years of jail time. That was when a proto version of the Accept association [the largest pro LGBTQI+ rights organization in Romania] emerged; activists felt enraged by this scandal and took matters into their own hands.

What was your experience with peoples about you being gay?

In the countryside, people isolate and marginalize you… nowadays we at least have some demographic niches where we, as gay people, can breathe. In central Bucharest, among hipsters, among corporate employee… do you get my point? You can breathe relaxed. But if you start descending the social ladder and scrutinize among the lower classes, problems start to appear. When you head towards the working class, or people who are less educated in general among which you can find the people from rural areas and the underclass… then the beautiful story about tolerance ends there. They wouldn’t even listen to people. Well, personally I have encountered violent reactions due to the fact that I openly expressed my sexuality, you see? However, I’ve more often encountered isolation. I’m talking about people who put it plainly “Okay, we understand, you like penises. Don’t tell me about it because I’m not interested to hear it.”. And these people don’t feel in the mood to have a drink with you or do any other social activities. I feel a little disappointed about the situation, but I’ve also noticed a certain degree of fear to be considered gay when you talk to somebody who is openly gay. People are afraid others will start asking “Why are these two staying together?” So a lot of regular persons decide to just stay away and avoid any conversation longer than a few words. The men in my village do not talk much to me because this thing [being gay] is known.

And from 2007 and up to the present day, did you have you feel an evolution in regards to other people’s perception towards you?

Yes, you can feel that. They become much more aware, more tolerant. You can tell that this is being associated with Western ideas and culture, and people want to be hip. It’s in the snobbish nature of the Romanian to try to appear open and avoid looking foolish or backwards thinking. “You have to understand gay people”… but yes, you can feel progresses from one year to the other. When you start watching television, please tell me which channel is openly homophobic. Is there any?

To make a parallel: Why do you think that the gay community benefits from a better image and has made more progresses in comparison with the Roma community?

It’s because gay people come from all social classes. First of all, you don’t really see them and I think that in this country only about 1000 people are openly gay in the way they dress and act in public. The rest of them are much more reserved. Conversely, the Roma community is associated with poverty and that’s the end of the story. That’s where the problem is in people’s minds: poverty. It’s the same with people from Moldova. Poverty is stigmatized. Gay people cannot be associated with poverty; they’re just about different sexual preferences.

As this is one of your strongest field of expertise: how is the transition reflected in the manele music [a genre of Turkish, Balkan influence often associated with lower social class]? Were there traces before the Revolution about what the music would shape up to become?

During the communist era, manele was the first so called “polluted” folkloric cultural movement. Since the communist days, manele have had a capitalist discourse: people envy you for what you have; it’s all about the money… It was about this kind of hustle and swag since the communist period. But no, the wording was a little different and I couldn’t identify the word “șmecherie” [tricks, swindle] in any of the lyrics from the time. It’s all about people who envy you and human relations based on competition, you know? It’s all about being wealthy, not trusting anybody due to your privileged status, and putting money in the center of it all. Even in communist days, this was the music of “entrepreneurs”. In those cases, the entrepreneurs were illegal smugglers. Who could be an entrepreneur in a time with so many restrictions? Petty salesmen of smuggled goods who were conducting illegal activities. And their music has to reflect their views about life and that’s when an early form of manele shapes up.

And how did manele evolve in the transition period?

They gained more depth, in the sense that they were brought forward to the public. In communism, manele were a part of the prisoners’ folklore and part of the orchestration draws inspiration from those times. But very few artists or “muses” for their songs about illegal activities had the distinction of exceptionality. But after the 1990s, we were exposed to this capitalist discourse with hustling, the fetishization of money, women as porno mistresses, this kind of grey economy where only money matter and the moral principles are irrelevant. Moral principles are limited to own family but not further than that.

And how do you see the relations during the transition in relation to the capitalist discourse? Does it become to strengthen its roots in capitalism? Do manele start containing a criticism of capitalism?

No, not even for a second. They’re not critics of capitalism, not even critics of poverty… it’s all about the American dream: “I either want to get rich or I’m already rich”. They always talk about a past when they were poor, but never write song lyrics about currently being poor. It’s all about “I used to be poor, but I’ve made a lot of money through my own efforts”, like in the American dream.

Interview: Irina Ilisei

Translation: Vlad Costea

December 2016

Romania 27 years after: Minority Rights and the Issue of Education

Iulian Stoian is a dedicated human rights activist, advocating for vulnerable groups such as LGBT and Roma minorities. He worked for several prestigious organisations and institutions such as the Romanian National Agency for the Roma, Council of Europe, Open Society Foundation, National Democratic Institute. He has an in depth expertise as program manager, trainer and researcher in working on issues such as Social inclusion, Anti-Discrimination, Trafficking of Human Beings, Roma political participation.

The interview was shortened. You can read the full transcript here: Interview_Iulian Stoian_Transition and Minority Rights in Romania_2016.

Interview with Iulian Stoian by Irina Ilisei in December 2016, Translation: Vlad Costea

Let’s start with a personal question: What did the experience of the transition mean to you?

I was a fresh graduate after the Revolution, and to me the transition meant a series of major experiences to which I felt like a spectator and sometimes like a Guinea pig. These experiments have somehow influenced my professional path, but also my personal life.

When I say Guinea pig, I mean that I experienced almost all the possible changes that a  student could experience at the time, from the modifications to the legislative framework which, naturally, impacted us as subjects of education, but I also career-changing events. For example, I have always prepared myself, from the earliest school years, to become a chemistry teacher.

When I graduated in 1996, I realized that the social reality no longer reflects my childhood dreams. Just like me, a whole generation of teenagers has had this opportunity to look for a different path on the labour market, as well as in career and life.

Did you feel like you were a subject to a kind of experimentation in the society?

I’ve learned to take life for what it is since I was a child. I’ve learned to try to adapt to the new realities. And I can say that from this point of view I was quite privileged, in the sense that everything I’ve done in my life so far has been a part of what I wished and planned.

In the early 1990s, when I was close to my senior year in high-school, I had the chance to work for “Revista 22” [prestigious magazine on culture and politics] and that’s where I got in contact with what is called nowadays ‘the civil society’, with debates on democratic topics, on human rights, and it was then that I realized that the career that I was about to pursue was in the field of human rights.

We were all learning and breathing democracy, and we were all eager to learn about what this new paradigm Romania had become a part of really means: Romania’s transition towards a democratic state, one that puts human rights at the core of its actions.

How do you evaluate the evolution of human rights or the legislation on human rights? You practically were both a witness and a participant to this process of change.

I believe that the evolution of the human rights is an on-going process: it’s a learning process for us all as a society, regardless if you were born and educated during the communist regime, or if you were born in this post-1989 framework.

During these 26-27 years, there was a process of adapting the national legislation to various juridical systems Romania was aspiring to. For example, Romania’s ascension to the Council of Europe produced a series of changes to our legislative framework: we abolished death penalty, we abolished article 200 from the Penal Code which would bring penal charges for homosexuality, and so on.

Lots of such rights have been progressively adopted, but this came at the cost of not educating the population properly during the process. Practically, we were all a part of a learning process, learning by doing if you may.

Was the transition period a continuous progress in regards to human rights, or did it have its ups and downs?

In the field of human rights, I can say that it’s a continuous struggle. For instance, the fight against racism towards the Roma community. It has taken various forms from the cases of violence in the early 1990s – inter-ethnic violence and all the way to more subtle forms of racism which become more and more refined by the day. People learn to refine, if you may, the way they express racism.

In 2008, according to public opinion surveys, 8 out of 10 Romanians didn’t want to have neighbours who were members of the Roma community or the sexual minorities. In comparison, today the number has decreased to 6 or 7 Romanians out of 10 who declare themselves openly against these unpopular minorities.

In regards to these statistics, I don’t think that racism or homophobia have decreased too much, I do believe there is an influence regarding the self-censorship of survey respondents, because we have all learned that we shouldn’t say certain things when we are being interviewed about sensitive topics such as these unpopular minorities.

What do you think would be required in order to grow the majoritarian population’s acceptance in regards to ethnic and sexual minorities? What should be done in our society?

We should also get used to the idea that we all have rights and should benefit from them equally and equitably as citizens. The major fault, if you may, for this high degree of intolerance in Romania is given by the communist regime itself, which used to try by all means to remove every difference between social classes. That utopia of creating the new man who would fit perfectly in certain pre-determined patterns and in which we all had to fit to be accepted in society.

In terms of evolution, where do you think the transition started and ended?

I believe that the transition has started from the moment when the dictator’s helicopter has left the roof of the Romanian Communist Party from Bucharest, from the days of the Revolution when we all wished to be accepted by the international community, to become an occidental state like we used to see in movies and magazines when they would escape censorship… I think that’s when it began and transition still continues to this day.

Were measures undertaken in the early 90s to support human rights?

1993 Romania has adhered to the Council of Europe. I think that was, if you may, one of the milestones for our discussion: the fact that Romania has adopted a series of normative documents which came to consolidate the human rights dimension from the legislation, but also the efforts that we’ve made for the population to know and internalize these values. I think that was a first milestone. The next one, I think that was technically in January 2007, when Romania became a member of the European Union. We have the obligation, through our member state status, to respect and comply to all these laws.

Let’s talk about the adherence of human rights laws now that Romania is in the EU!

As a human rights activist, I knew from my colleagues from countries that once these human rights regulations are adopted, the state’s interest in human rights will decrease dramatically. It also happened in our case, in the sense that it was assumed that as we adopted all the legislation required for Romania, we would also respect it. In practice, things weren’t this way and they aren’t today either. The big problem we notice for years is the wrong application or the lack of application of this legislation.

I believe that here, what plays a big role is the fact that we don’t make sufficient efforts to inform the population, the economic agents, and the institutions about these topics of human rights. I think that the lack of sanctions – even when the infringements are obvious – encourages the others to think that this is the normal state of affairs.

Do you believe that civic education could improve knowledge and respect for human rights in the population, and also make the population empathize with the rights of minorities?

Civic education and education for citizenship should be, in my opinion, the central component of Romanian schools, not only because we have to catch up compared to other states that became EU members before us, but also given the fact that Romania has had one of the most oppressive dictatorships in the former Communist Bloc, and this supressed the civic spirit.

Therefore, citizens associate civic education with the kind of education they would receive before 1989: patriotic education, combined with lectures from the speeches of the former State Secretary of the Communist Party. Because I will say it again, those of us who lived in that period do not associate civic education with education for citizenship as something where you put human rights in the centre. Because, in essence, that’s what it’s about: the rights we all enjoy and we should apply and promote to the others.

Are there visible changes of mentality from a generation to the other, in regards to human rights?

To those who were about 45 years-old during the Revolution hang on to the values and norms they used to respect strictly in the past. So, we can safely affirm that the younger generation which was born after the Revolution is much more sensitive to subjects like human rights and minority rights.

However, I realized that at least in the case of my generation – the ones who graduated from high-school when the Revolution was taking place or were still in school at the time –  among university graduates a very hard to explain conservatism. A kind of conservatism which manifests itself through racism and homophobia, sexism, ultra-nationalism, maybe, and also anti-Semitism. These things come packaged together and can sometimes be discovered among people with an education that would surprize you.

Still, we’re heading towards an area where acceptance towards diversity is higher than what it used to be in the communist period or in the first few years after the Revolution. We enjoy free movement within the EU for quite some years and see what is and what isn’t done abroad, but also have access to information (television, internet) … we all enjoy the right to free expression and right to free information so that we learn about these topics on the go, while doing.

Did the transition period have an impact on the daily lives of people who are part of ethnic or sexual minorities?

Well, we have to make a little distinction: among ethnic minorities, for examples the Roma, there is this widespread perception, that the situation was much better before 1989 in terms of finding a job or having a decent housing, as well as the chance to study if there was a desire for it. Of course, all these things came with drawbacks and inconveniences, such as no right to free speech, to free assembly, or to speak or use the maternal language. There are pros and cons that somehow make the discussion a lot more difficult.

But in my perception, Roma people have been the big losers of the transition. They were the first to lose their jobs, the first to be pushed towards poverty, the first to sell their homes due to poverty, and lots of them have migrated to rural areas or poor urban ghettos. They were literally and practically marginalized from society.

On sexual minorities, I think that they have faced an improvement in terms of perception, for instance some weeks ago, they had a march against the Christian-conservative “Coaliția pentru Familie” (The Coalition for Family), the organization that wants to limit the right to equality for sexual minorities: the right to marriage or the recognition of family life, which is an universal right. We see an increasing number of young people who become sensitive to the problems of this minority and decide to participate actively to associative movements by signing petitions, taking part in marches, manifesting themselves on the internet in favour of human rights and diversity of every kind.

I need to add that also Roma enjoy new supplementary rights since 1989: education in the minority’s language, class on the language, civilization and history of the Roma, special spaces for the Roma youth in high-schools and universities, a series supporting services and professions such as sanitary mediators, or school counsellors who bridge the communities with the local administration.

But these jobs and facilities shouldn’t exist in a normal society because the local administration should be inclusive enough to be able to discuss with the citizens of Roma ethnicity in their language, but also deliver to them high-quality services that are comparable with the services the other citizens receive.

I would say, these jobs and these facilities are transitory. We need to understand that they exist to compensate for historic injustice.

What has civil society done to support minority rights?

After 1989 there was an explosion of forces that were trying to coagulate at the level of political parties, NGOs, foundations, to quickly improve the problems that existed in our society. I remember that at the time there were many functioning foundations and associations which attempted to help children from orphanages, and still it took quite some time.

Minorities of every kind have tried from the very beginning to express their identity. Since the first free elections we have a deputy in Parliament, who benefitted the Roma by coagulating a movement and the establishing an association that gathered together the members of the Roma community at the time.

Also, on the topic of sexual minorities, there were a series of social actors who worked in this area.

I have been involved in civil society, and Roma society, and the one supporting the rights of sexual minorities since the early 2000, and as an evolution I can say that we have had ups and downs. But we are much more prepared right now than we were in the early 1990s, when Romanians would only see certain realities for the first time.

Were people ready at the time? There was a lot of need for people that had the right kind of knowledge, were sensitive towards the issues, knew legal matters, but also had abilities to organize communities. You simply didn’t have all these things in the communist period.

It often happens that the civil society functions primarily on the foundation of good intentions: in the sense that maybe you weren’t the best prepared in a certain field: But if you had the particular interest to work in that area and you were the only one offering these services, then it was clear that those entities, associations, and foundations that were established and deliver services. It went on like this until the accession to the European Union, when it all began to be much more specialized and exchanges became easier to do. The quality of the services provided, however, is questionable. It was a learning process for all of us.