By Rupert Wolfe Murray
Time.com, December 8, 2010
"Romania's government has caused outrage among Romany -- or Gypsy -- communities and organizations after it asked Parliament in Bucharest to accept a proposal to change the official name of the Romany from Roma, which means 'man' in the Romany language, to Tigan, which comes from the Greek term for 'untouchable.' The government says the name change is necessary because of the possible confusion among the international community between the words Roma -- which refers to the Romany ethnic minority -- and Romania, a nation proud of its historical status as the last colony of the Roman Empire. Meanwhile, the Romanian Academy, whose role is to protect the Romanian culture and language, supports the move on the grounds that many countries in the European Union use a variation of the word Tigan to refer to their Gypsy populations. 'Imagine if a US Congressman proposed to change the name Afro-American back to the insulting term n_____,' said David Mark, director of the Roma Civic Alliance in Bucharest, speaking to TIME at a protest outside the government headquarters last week. 'It would cause a huge scandal and that Congressman would probably have to resign.'
The controversial proposal was put forward by maverick lawmaker Silviu Prigoana, a member of Romania's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, who claims he is acting on behalf of several Romany groups from Transylvania that, he says, told him 'they don't like to use the word Roma.' When asked by TIME to provide the names of these groups, Prigoana refused, saying only that they are 'those Gypsy fellows in Transylvania who wear the big hats' -- meaning the Hungarian-speaking Romany groups who go by the collective name of Gabor. Prigoana denies accusations that he's acting on the orders of Romania's President, Traian Basescu, who recently stated on public radio that the introduction of the politically correct term Roma in 1995 -- at the recommendation of Romania's Foreign Ministry -- was 'a big mistake.' The President went on to say, 'Many Europeans are confused by the terms Roma and Romania. They wonder if it is an ethnicity or a nation of 22 million citizens.' The government has never made any attempt to explain the difference between the words to the international community -- probably because Romanians would rather not be associated with the Roma at all -- or to promote Romania as a multiethnic country with a large minority population (there are an estimated 1.5 million Roma and a similar number of Hungarians in the country). According to Romani Criss, a leading Romany organization, the government never consulted with representatives of the Roma minority about the name change -- which could incur the wrath of human-rights organizations, since the right of minorities to choose their own name is enshrined in international law. [...]"