Media reports and social media chatter about Roma People worldwide have often focussed on illegal behaviour and simple stereotypes of laziness, criminality and disorganisation, particularly in countries such as Romania.
But researchers say that the truth about Roma People might be darker than they are given credit for.
Media coverage of Roma-related issues tend to use figures for the number of Roma in a country, usually overestimating this figure. In most of the cases, however, these number are sourced from official statistics, but do not fully reflect reality.
While it’s highly likely that there are people in Romania who identify as Roma, just as it’s highly likely that there are people in Romania who do not, some estimates put the true number of Roma in Romania at between 30 and 70% of the population. Roma people typically live in poverty and are often considered less than human by other people.
Of course, this is nothing new. Roma People have suffered from dehumanisation for thousands of years. However, in recent decades Roma People have not been included in the general population in studies of social groups. They have also been excluded from census, demographic and health statistics.
Tracking Social Groups in Romania
The first Roma Survey of Romania was conducted in 1970-71, and published in 1970. Subsequent Roma surveys were conducted in 1991, 1997, 2001 and 2010, and publish just five years later. None of these surveys is very useful as it is very difficult to understand a sociocultural group based on very little data.
However, University of Bucharest sociologist and project researcher Gabriel Blazici and Columbia University scientist Jennifer Belavuori have attempted to conduct a research on Roma People in Romania and use historical data to find some answers.
They went to court in Romania and started to obtain data on Roma People from the archives of 1990-2. There are a number of questions that have not been answered about Roma in Romania, including their relationship to the population, their past and how they are being treated by members of the Romanian state.
If we want to understand the history of Roma People in Romania we need to collect information from before 1990.
Using data from the census, we found that many of the Roma people in the 1970s and 1980s were children and elderly. These data revealed that children were “born Roma” rather than “residing Roma”.
Oldest Roma Survey in Eastern Europe
To illustrate the tendency of media coverage to overestimate the number of Roma People in countries like Romania, researchers had to compare the data from Roma Surveys with data from three traditional caste-based population censuses that were conducted in Romania before 1990.
The population census in 1990 helped inform the 1990 census, which was held at the same time, and the 2002 census. But in neither of these three censuses were Roma counted.
So we had to rely on the traditional populations of Romania (vessels of information) to find what we needed to understand the present day Roma people.
Using the traditional caste-based population census conducted in Romania in 1951, researchers were able to calculate the ratio of Roma People to other groups. They found a “baseline” for comparison.
And so, we can confidently say that in Romania a Roma people are between 0.7 and 1.3 times less likely to be part of other socio-cultural groups. We also found that a Roma child is between 2 and 2.3 times less likely to be part of a non-caste group.
Other factors also make a difference in the estimates. The birth rate for Roma people is below the national average of Romanians. It is also 70% lower than Romanian children as a whole. On the other hand, the average life expectancy for a Roma mother in Romania is 42 years – 18 years lower than the average Romanian mother.
For this reason, the estimate of Roma people is lower in the current period, but if the Roma population goes up and if the birth rate rises, the estimate will rise.
A deep misconception
Roma people have for centuries experienced injustice and has been at the receiving end of unequal treatment. However, by using dating data, Blazici and Belavuori have revealed the underrepresentation of Roma People in Romania and why they need more than just writing about them in a newspaper or on a website.
As Francesca Middelaer and Giovanni Barone from the Neven Milinkovice Institute wrote in a paper: “Undervaluation of Roma People and under-recognition of Roma people may foster underclass feelings, underdevelopment and inadequate inclusion in Euro-America, whereas over-inflation of Roma people in a comparable situation in America may cause consumer fears, racial discrimination and inferior treatment of Roma people.”