Romanian foreign minister's comments spark outcry


Roma are demanding that Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi step down after an apparent ethnic slur against their community. Several NGOs have condemned his remarks.

By Paul Ciocoiu for Southeast European Times in Bucharest -- 04/03/10


Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi. []

Members of the Roma community in Bucharest -- about 500 people joined by sympathizers -- protested in front of the Romanian government building last week, demanding the resignation of Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi. In public remarks on February 11th, he connected the ethnic minority to crime, on the basis of physiology.

"We have some physiological, crime-related issues in some of the Romanian communities [abroad], especially among ethnic Roma communities," Baconschi said after a meeting with the French State Secretary of European Affairs, Pierre Lellouche.

Lellouche traveled to Bucharest last month seeking help with the problem of squatting Roma immigrants in France.

Five NGOs -- Active Watch-Press Monitoring Agency, the Roma Civic Alliance in Romania, the Legal Resources Centre, the Pro Europa League, and Romani CRISS -- promptly condemned Baconschi's remarks.

"The minister directly associates criminality with ethnicity ... he gives a biological explanation for associating criminality with ethnicity, an explanation common to Nazi Germany when 'justifying' the Holocaust," read a letter sent by the organisations.

It asked for Baconschi's immediate resignation, adding "Baconschi is probably not aware that associating criminality with ethnicity, the so-called 'racial profiling', is neither in the spirit nor in the letter of the European law of the 21st century."

"Baconschi's statements severely infringe on the right to dignity of the Roma people as Romanian and European citizens. Furthermore, his statement constitutes a breach of Romanian and European anti-discrimination legislation," it read.

The offending phrase was quickly removed from a press release on the foreign ministry's website, which rejected the "racist end ethnic" interpretations of Baconschi's statements.

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The ministry attempted to explain his wording as a faux pas and invited the five NGOs to sit down for "an honest exchange of opinions". The organisations declined the invitation.

President Traian Basescu defended Baconschi last week, saying that Romania has a tarnished image abroad because of Roma beggars on "every corner of the street". He stressed that the best way for the Roma to improve their public image is to "send their children to school". His remarks were met with loud protests from Roma attending the meeting. The hecklers were escorted from the hall.

This is the second scandal in three years sparked by Romanian officials concerning the country's ethnic Roma living abroad. The last time was November 2007, amid intense anti-Romanian sentiment in Italy after the brutal murder of an Italian woman. Romania's then Foreign Minister Adrian Cioroianu said people like the suspected murderer should either be exiled to the desert or face military punishment.

Around 8,000 ethnic Roma immigrants were sent back to Romania in 2009 by French authorities after receiving financial incentives. Most of the Roma in France, however, refused to leave.

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