Fourth arm of the state. Romania's press becomes a willing partner in prejudice

Romania’s media is a willing partner in the perpetuation of racism, prejudice and discrimination.

Despite its new-found enthusiasm for taking the leadership in the fight against
corruption in high places – a useful card in its game plan for accession to the
European Union – Romania’s media plays a limited role in the fight against
racism, violence and rampant discrimination. On the contrary, it plays to the
prejudices of its consumers, more often promoting discrimination than fighting
against it. Racism and domestic violence, for instance, are widespread in Romania
but do not form any part of public discourse. Discussion of such things is seen as
prejudicial to the country’s efforts to join the EU and to be avoided at all costs;
any attempt to raise these issues is met with hostility in the media.
Discriminatory and offensive language is a daily phenomenon in the media,
feeding the insensitivity of its consumers to the discrimination and violence that
are endemic in Romanian society. Far from performing an educational role, the
media forms part of the political and judicial structures that effectively ensure an
almost complete ban on the exposure of racism, discrimination, inequality and
violence. Efforts by human rights organisations in recent years to bring
these things to light have had a certain amount of success. At the same time,
however, hostility to such work has resulted in the emergence of a public
discourse that defines a dangerous dichotomy between those ‘activists’ and ‘true

Gender discrimination and domestic violence are so commonplace and
accepted as part of daily life in Romania that they seldom make it into the news.
The few women who dare to talk about the issues are often accused of trying to
get easy publicity; many are also accused of being lesbians, crazy, manipulated or
corrupted by the intellectual – often foreign – elites out to destroy ‘Romanian
tradition and culture’.

Since taking office in 2004, Romania’s President Traian Basescu has made at
least two public statements suggesting that blonde women have inferior
intelligence. This is just one of the more public examples of the tendency of
leading Romanian intellectuals and opinion makers to attack women. There are
plenty of them, most of which are ignored by the public and media.
On 5 May 2005, in an article in the national newspaper Gandul covering
changes in the presidential team, Mircea Dinescu, a leading Romanian opinion-
maker, multi-award winning poet and one of the leading personalities behind the
birth of the Romanian Revolution and the fight against communism, wrote the

following: ‘… to have the choice to keep in your palace garden a male unicorn …
or to prefer a Romanian cow with nail polish on its hooves and exposed udder –
it is beyond belief.’ He was criticising the departure of ex-foreign minister Andrei
Plesu from the presidential team and the retention of Elena Udrea, a high profile
presidential counsellor.

Dan Ciachir, another leading Romanian intellectual, in his article ‘Frigidity
and atheism,’ published on 12 October in the same year in Ziua calls for a more
‘feminine’ approach within feminism – read sensual, mellow and submissive –
rather than the existing ‘ugly face of feminism’.
Another leading Romanian opinion maker and philosopher, also involved in
the underground fight against communism, Horia Roman Patapievici, is also
known for declarations bordering on sexism. The fact that practically no
significant male Romanian intellectuals or opinion makers speak up against
sexism and domestic violence largely explains the absence of these issues in the

The Romanian Orthodox Church and rural traditions are still seen as the
‘backbone’ of the Romanian nation. The most trusted institution in Romania
according to opinion polls, the Orthodox Church is highly patriarchal and
strongly advocates the submissiveness of women to men; rural traditions are
strongly sexist. Romanian newspapers are full of stories about abused celebrity
wives and advertisements offering ‘submissive women for company’. Popular
bands such as BUG Mafia and Parazitii openly promote violence against women
in their lyrics.

Since the regime change in Romania in 1990, there have been annual reports
of a significant number of incidents suggesting that much of the anti-Gypsyism
emanating from the media can be understood as responses to existing popular
anti-Roma feeling in Romania. Polls from 2006 show that 75 per cent of
Romanians do not want to live near Roma and over 50 per cent of Romanian
villagers would support forced sterilisation against Roma women. Even in those
rare instances of apparently sympathetic portrayals in the media, Roma seem to be
perceived as not fully human, at best childlike. Coverage of the Roma in general
are inadequate, fragmented and biased, if not blatantly racist.

Romania’s media is largely commercially driven, and there is little appetite or
will to produce programming that promotes tolerance and combats the social
exclusion of Roma. Commercial television and tabloid newspapers over-
whelmingly portray Roma in a negative light, reproducing the conventional
racist stereotypes.

Programmes and articles are clearly the products of journalists’ own subjective
perspectives, which include both rational and emotional convictions. Given the
often ingrained anti-Gypsyism in many journalist, it is not surprising that most
news reports related to the Roma focus on Roma ghettos or neighbourhoods;
anti-Gypsyism is often combined with other types of discriminatory practices such
as xenophobia, sexism and homophobia.

As in the case of gender discrimination, the most worrisome aspect is that
leading intellectuals and opinion makers openly promote anti-Gypsyism. A good
example is Andrei Cioroianu, one of the best known intellectuals and politicians
in Romania, also a Euro-observer and future member of the European
Parliament, who writes regularly for Dilema, a well-regarded intellectual
magazine. In an article in February, Cioroianu implies that Roma in one of
Bucharest’s neighbourhoods, Chitila, smell bad and are criminals. His article
defending the eviction of convicted Roma accuses Romani women of starting a
fight that triggered police action as the police ‘tried to protect the children from
their own irresponsible parents’. He also accuses the Romanian police of being
too soft on the Roma. Cioroianu also uses the strong pejorative ‘pirande’ to refer
to Romani women. Many Roma feel this word is similar to the term ‘nigger’. It
seems a far fetched fantasy to imagine hearing the phrase ‘What’s up nigger?’ in
the sophisticated and elegant European parliament; however, ‘How are you,
pirando’ might easily slip off the tongue of the Romanian politicians in Brussels,
when meeting one of the two current Romani women MEPs.
Cioroianu also speaks out against the Hungarians, who, he implies, have a
hidden interest in making visible the issues faced by Roma in Romania in an
attempt to prevent Romania’s accession to the EU. The same issue of Dilema published articles by several of the best-known Romanian intellectuals, including the former Romanian foreign minister,
philosopher and ‘unicorn’ Andrei Plesu.

The 4-11May issue of the weekly Aspirina Saracului includes, on its last page,
an article signed by another opinion maker, Mircea Radu, who hosts a popular
TV show From Love, broadcast by Antena 1. He writes: ‘You find gypsies all over
the place with their half unclothed children, with only their t-shirts on. On the
pavement squats some old gypsy woman who looks absent minded to the world
that passes in front of her, her black eyes glittering with sin.’ The author carries on
imagining: ‘…probably all her life she stood with a cheap plastic bag half-full of
sunflower seeds in front of her. And with a cigarette in the corner of her now
toothless mouth. This is a kind of ‘elephants mother’ who gave birth to many
children, some of whom died early, others who are in prisons, who, I imagine, is
some kind of a queen on her street. That is why the children draw their
hopscotch away from the place where she is sitting.’

None of the authors quoted above would be considered by the majority of
Romanians and the Romanian elite as promoting a discriminatory discourse, quite
the opposite: they are seen as open-minded and tolerant personalities in Romania.

On 28 March 2006, the newspaper Liberatea published a short article
describing the arrest of five Romani women caught stealing. The title, in bold
letters, ‘Gypsy women stealing’ prepares the reader for an offensive article aimed
at linking criminality with Roma. The online version of the newspaper offers
readers the opportunity to express their views about the available articles. Thirty-
eight postings refer to the article on the Roma women, and over 2,000 readers
read the postings. The comments offer the following suggestions: ‘Shoot them’,
‘Boil them’, ‘Cut their hands off’ ‘Forced sterilisation’, ‘Bullets the only solution,’
‘Exterminate them’, ‘Drown them’. The least offensive postings are those
referring to the culture of criminality within Roma communities that is
destroying Romania. Given that most of the online newspaper readers are well
educated people, it is remarkable that none of the thousands who read those
postings had anything to say against them.

On 12 November 2005, the newspaper Romania Libera published ‘Homeless
killed by a gang of students’. The article portrays the students as ‘coming from
good families and with no police record’ and from ‘serious high-schools’, while
the victim is presented as an alcoholic and a vagabond. In a twisted way, the
article manages to downplay the brutal killing. The racial aspect of the crime is
completely ignored: the victim was of Roma origins.

Fortunately, some positive examples offer hope. This year a good part of the
mass media joined in the fight against racism and violence in football stadiums.
But the interventions of Mircea Dragomir, the president of the Romanian
Professional League and a predominant member of the extremist party Romania
Mare, are frequently published by the Romanian newspapers and quoted in news
bulletins. Suspected of owning an anti-Semitic publication, known for his
extremist views and his suburban vocabulary, Dragomir has repeatedly called
those who speak up against racism ‘idiots’ and ‘liars’, including the minister of
state dealing with anti-discrimination. Willingly or not, the media provides
Dragomir with a good outlet for his promotion of racism and xenophobia.
On 3 May 2006, Romania Mare leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor said on
DDTV, during the widely viewed Dan Diaconescu talk show: ‘This great country
was transformed by the gypsies into a gypsy camp.’ He advocated the elimination
of Roma during his electoral campaign in 2000 and currently has about 30 per
cent of the popular vote in Romania.

In January 2006, the Romanian press reported widely on a series of articles
published by the Romanian New York Magazin in September 2005. The articles
were signed by Aurel Sergiu Marinescu, who is presented as a respectable writer
and a political dissident, and who suffered persecution and imprisonment under
the Communists. They focus on the former Prime Minister of Romania and
former chair of the Chamber of MPs, Adrian Nastase.

The material is terrifying and grotesque Nazi-style propaganda against Adrian
Nastase, revolving around his alleged Romani origins – Nastase may have had a
Roma grandmother, but he never made this public. The coverage of this material
in the Romanian mass media cannot be justified by the accusations of corruption
against the Romanian politician. The extreme racism of the articles and the
offensive declarations against Roma are illegal and should not have got past the
editors of the newspapers. The similarities to the dehumanising of Jews prior to
and during the Holocaust are haunting.

The birth of the Nastase’s father is described as follows: ‘…at the margins of
the village lived a gypsy woman sexier than the others … and there lived also a
poor and unhappy Romanian villager who liked her, and out of their illegitimate
affair the sex-prone gypsy women give birth to Marin.’ Nastase’s Roma grandmother is described as a prostitute who took advantage
of the ‘poor and unhappy villager’. However, the fact that the father did not
recognise his son suggests that this was, in fact, another of the numerous and
widely accepted rapes of Romani women by Romanian villagers in rural pre-
World War II Romania. This likelihood is strengthened by the next paragraph
which reads: ‘…the gypsy Nastase had no land, she was a day worker for the
others wealthier than her’.

The articles emphasise to saturation the fact that Adrian Nastase’s
grandmother was a Roma; there is no reference to her without a clear
indication of her ‘gypsyness’. The Romani roots of the mother are transferred in
their entirety to her son (Nastase’s father) as he is conveniently seen as Roma
rather than half-Roma, half-Romanian. For example, the author writes of
Marin Nastase/Titi, father of Adrian Nastase: ‘Because ‘puradelul’ (a derogative
name for Roma children) proved he was very good in school, smart and

Adrian Nastase is presented as genetically determined to thievery and cheating
because of his Romani origin: ‘…while growing up Adrian started to show the
obvious racial characteristics of his [gypsy] grandmother: cunning and thievery.’
The articles also ‘expose’ his supposed and ‘shameful’ homosexuality and
alleged contacts with Romanian Security. The racism and homophobia of the
materials gain a new dimension as innuendoes of homosexuality are linked to
Africans: ‘[Adrian] would often invite home black male students and he would
lock himself up with them in his room pretending he was studying.’ This
obsession with the imagined ‘Gypsyness’ of Adrian Nastase recurs throughout the
texts: ‘…to satisfy his pathological hunger for money and power, Ady (Adrian)
made up one of his biggest lies – gypsies have a very inventive spirit…’. ‘…as the
minister of foreign affairs, Adrian Nastase continued without shame a series of lies,
an atavism-quality of Gypsies, inherited from his father…’

When he is not described as a Gypsy he is described ironically as ‘well sun-
tanned’. ‘These racial ”qualities” he preserved until today. Nastase lies a lot and
he believes he is too intelligent and too superior, lies to the Romanian people and
thinks of the Romanian nation as an easy to manipulate herd. There are so many
lies in his declarations that one can’t do much but wonder about his gypsy

Surprisingly, this material can be accessed through the website of the
Romanian Liberal Party, which currently leads the Romanian government with
Liberal Prime Minister Tariceanu and the Romanian Popular Christian and
Democrat Party. One of the best-known Romanian politicians, the ‘father’ of the
Romanian Constitution, Iorgovan, has also publicly attacked Adrian Nastase for
his ‘homosexual, masonic and criminal clique’. This was also widely reported in
the mass media.

Religiously motivated discrimination, racism against Africans, and the
horrendous discrimination and neglect of people with disabilities and mental
health problems are other subjects studiously avoided by the Romanian media,
which not only influences perceptions of ‘the Other’ but, in the case of Roma
and other disadvantaged groups, encourages rejection.

On 2 June 2005, the gay festival in Bucharest saw violent incidents and attacks
by the extreme right and pro-religious groups on the participants. The
overwhelming majority of Romanian intellectuals and opinion makers were
again either silent, finding excuses for such incidents, or openly against any type of
gay rights.

The results of opinion polls, often influenced by the media, provide a clear
indication that a significant number of readers buy and watch media products
promoting racism and discrimination. It is reasonable to assume that prejudices
and preferences are boosted and reinforced by the media and that the constant,
pervasive negative and stereotypical reporting stimulates discriminatory practices.
Journalists seem unaware or unconcerned by the consequences of their cultivation
of xenophobia and incitement to ethnic hatred. There appears to be a substantial
consensus in much of the print and broadcast media, which manifests itself in
dangerous representations of the vulnerable groups not just as pariahs who deserve
what they get, but in the case of Roma, homosexuals and feminists, as the
menacing enemy within. Not only does the media appear to accept and promote
a dangerous Roma-citizen dichotomy, it extends this dichotomy to the separation
of the ‘true and good Romanians’ from the human rights activists.

Published 21 September 2006
Original in English
First published by Index on Censorship 3/2006

Contributed by Index on Censorship © Valeriu Nicolae/Index on Censorship Eurozine


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