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«Political Antisemitism in Romania? Hard Data and its Soft Underbelly MICHAEL SHAFIR As in many other former communist countries of East Central ...»

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Political Antisemitism in Romania? Hard Data

and its Soft Underbelly


As in many other former communist countries of East Central Europe1,

antisemitism in Romania resurged almost concomitantly with the demise of the

former regime2. Empirical research on antisemitism, however, emerged only

considerably later and did not take off as a main focus until the establishment of

the National Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania ”Elie Wiesel” (INSHREW) in 2005. This does not imply that the subject of Jews, attitudes to Jews measured by instruments such as stereotypic perceptions and/or ”social distance”, or attitudes toward controversial Romanian historical figures linked to the country’s antisemitic past was not tangentially or even directly tackled on occasion. What lacked until 2005, however, was an effort to systematically (among other instruments, employing a standard questionnaire capable of rendering comparative results) place under focus the phenomenon in its synchronic and diachronic unfolding. In other words, the task of gathering longitudinal data on antisemitism in the country permitting to forge a ”perceptual map” that would select in consistent aspects and select out inconsistencies3 is still in the bud.

”Us vs. Them” As articles in the daily press or in weeklies with direct or allusive antisemitic tones began to appear, the daily Adeva rul on 27-28 July 1991 for the first time mentioned a poll in which Jews were subjected to scrutiny as a separate category of national minorities subjected to what the Romanian Institute for Public Opinion Polling (IRSOP)4 either a ”press syndrome” (i.e. reports designed to attract readership by exploiting existing prejudice) or a ”social syndrome”. Respondents were asked to Randolph L. BRAHAM (ed.), Antisemitism and the Treatment of the Holocaust in Postcommunist Eastern Europe, The Rosenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies Graduate Center/ The City University of New York and Social Science Monographs. Distributed by Columbia University Press, New York and Boulder, 1994.

Michael SHAFIR, ”Anti-Semitism without Jews in Romania”, in Anti-Semitism in PostTotalitarian Europe, Franz Kafka Publishers, Prague, 1993, pp. 204-226.

On the importance of such a map see Raluca SOREANU, ”Autodefinire s i heterodefinire a românilor s i maghiarilor din România: O analiza empirica a stereotipurilor etnice s i a fundamentelor diferite de definire a identita t ii etnice”, in Gabriel BA DESCU, Mircea KIVU, Monica ROBOTIN (eds.), Barometrul relat iilor etnice 1994-2002. O perspectiva asupra climatului interetnic din România, Centrul de Resurse pentru Diversitate Etnoculturala, Cluj, 2005, p. 65.

IRSOP was set up in 1990 as a governmental institute. Not long after it was privatized and proved to be one of the most successful polling institutes in the country, though it took some time for it to shed off suspicions of serving former President Ion Iliescu and his different governments.

Romanian Political Science Review • vol. XII • no. 4 • 2012 558 MICHAEL SHAFIR mention whether they agreed or disagreed that the Romanian media carry articles

against any of the following ethnic groups:

Table 1 Do you agree or disagree for the Romanian media to write against...1

–  –  –

Gypsies1 41 50 9 As this table shows, some two respondents in five condoned the publication of articles critical of the country’s Roma minority, whereas only one in ten respondents endorsed similar articles directed at the address of Jews. Germans (alongside Serbs) occupied a privileged position, with Hungarians (soon after the infamous Târgu-Mures [Marosvásárhely] clashes of March 1990) occupying a somewhat less privileged position as targets of criticism, but still considerably safer than the Roma. While subsequent surveys would show some fluctuations in attitudes towards the Hungarian minority (the general trend being that of improvement) and towards the German minority (a rather less, though still positive attitude), rejection of the Roma (measured by studies focusing on either social representation or social distance or stereotypes) has been and remains the single most consistent aspect in Romania, as indeed in the rest of the former communist countries2. For example, in a survey carried out by the Bucharest- based Center of Urban and Regional Sociology (CURS) in December 1997, 52 percent of the respondents said they had ”favorable” sentiments towards Hungarians (vs. 41 percent admitting their sentiments were ”unfavorable”), but no less than two in three (67%) were negatively inclined towards the Roma minority (vs. 27 percent).

Jews, on the other hand were unfavorably viewed by only 15 percent, and no less than 69 percent claimed their sentiments vis-à-vis this minority were favorable3.

To what extent, however, do surveys where respondents are straightforwardly asked to depict their sentiments towards a national minority reflect reality? In a public opinion poll conducted by the Bucharest-based Institute for Marketing and Polls (IMAS) in June 2009, respondents were asked to ascribe on a 1-5 scale their perception of three pejorative words employed in reference to Hungarians (bozgor), Jews (jidan4) and Roma (t igan). By the time the survey was carried out, the first term had been eliminated by the Romanian Academy from its Explicative Dictionary of the Romanian Language (DEX)5, but the two other terms still figured in, despite protests stemming IRSOP poll based on a representative sample of 2,179 persons, margin of error ± 2.1%.

See Ioan MA RGINEAN (coord.), Cerceta ri cu privire la minoritatea roma, Ministerul Informat iei Publice, Oficiul Nat ional pentru Romi, Bucures ti, 2001, pp.

15, 18.

See Dan OPRESCU, ”Despre romi”, Revista 22, no. 6, 10-16 February 1998.Best rendered in English as ”kike” or ”yid”.Cf. Academia Româna. Institutul de Lingvistica ”Iorgu Iordan”, DEX. Dict ionarul explicativ al limbii române, edit ia a II-a, Univers enciclopedic, Bucures ti, 1996.Romanian Political Science Review • vol. XII • no. 4 • 2012 Political Antisemitism in Romania? 559 from Jewish and Romani NGOs. After initial attempts to justify their presence, the Academy’s Linguistic Institute consented in 2012 to specify that the latter two terms were pejoratives, but left them in the dictionary1.

Table 22 On a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 means ”Absolutely inoffensive” and 5 ”Very offensive”, please tell me how offensive seems to you the term By and large, then, Table 2 seems to reconfirm the findings in Table 1. A significantly larger plurality of Romanians is aware of the offensiveness of the pejorative when it comes to Hungarians than the plurality of those conscious of it when Jews are concerned. More significant, when it comes to the Roma minority, the plurality switches from ”very offensive” to ”absolutely inoffensive”. In the case of Jews, differences of gender in appraising the pejorative as ”very offensive” are statistically insignificant (28.2% men vs. 26.8% women), but this is not a factor differentiating the gender division in the Hungarian case either (37.6 vs.

35.6%). Not so in the case of the Roma, where women are both more aware of the term as being ”very offensive” (25.6% vs. 21.4% for men); hand in hand, a significantly lower segment of women (28.2%) than men (34.9%) responded that t igan was an ”absolutely inoffensive) term.

Age is definitely playing a role. In the case of Jews, nearly one in four respondents aged 45-59 (24%) were of the opinion that jidan is an ”absolutely inoffensive” term, somewhat higher than those aged 60 and over (22.3 percent). At the other end of the spectrum, the age-break 30-44 scored the largest plurality (32.1%) among those who perceived the term as ”very offensive”, closely followed by those aged 45-68 (30.4%) and those aged 60 and over. It can thus be concluded that the age-break 45 and over is the most opinionated at both ends of the scale. As for Hungarians, there is a statistically significant difference between the youngest group (18-29) of those saying bozgor is an ”absolutely inoffensive” term (18.8%) and the age groups 30-44 (14.0%) and 60+ (14.5), whereas the same difference in the case of the group 45-59 (16.6%) is within the margin of error. The picture is different at the other end of the spectrum: more than two in five respondents aged 30-44 (41%) and 45-59 (40.5 percent) said ”Academia Româna somata sa scoata ’jidan’ din dict ionar”, Ziua veche, 8 August 2011, http://www.ziuaveche.ro/actualitate-interna/social/academia-romana-esomata- sa-scoata-“jidan”-din-dictionar-46022.html, acessed on August 8, 2011; Raluca ION, ”A apa rut DEX-ul corect politic. Cum a modificat Academia Româna definit iile cuvintelor ’t igan’, ’jidan’, ’homosexualitate’ s i ’iubire’”, Gândul, 25 April 2012, http://www.gandul.info/news/a-aparut- dex-ul-corect-politic-cum-amodificat-academia-romana-definitiile-cuvintelor-tigan-jidan- homosexualitate-si-iubireacessed on April 25, 2011.

Sondaj Romnibus realizat de IMAS pentru LDK Consultants, (Bucharest, June 2009).

Multistadial sample of 1,249 respondents carried out between 10-15 June 2009. Margin of error ± 2.7%.

560 MICHAEL SHAFIR the term was ”very offensive” and more than one in three of those aged 60 and over (35.3%) were of this opinion, the smallest score being registered among the youngest age group (28.6%). It would seem, then, that in this case the youngest group is also the most inclined to dismiss the sentiments of the Hungarian minority. In the case of the Roma, between a ”low” one in four aged (25.4) 30-44 and a high 35.3 aged 45-59 perceive ”t igan” as being an ”absolutely inoffensive” term and between one in four (26.2%) aged 30-44 and roughly one in five for all other age groups responded that the term was ”very offensive”.

When residence is taken into consideration, a highly interesting factor emerges: in all three cases, the highest score for those believing the terms were ”absolutely inoffensive” is rendered by those residing in small towns with a population of between 10-49 000 inhabitants1. Significant differences emerged in the case of the ”very offensive” answers as well: in the case of the Jews, the most aware that jidan has a pejorative meaning were residents of middle-sized towns (50-199 000 inhabitants), 37% of whom returned that response; they were followed by residents of rural areas (28.6%) and those residing in small towns (23.2%), with those residing in large towns with a population of over 200 000 occupying the last place (21.8%). A nearly similar picture was rendered in the case of the Roma: the largest awareness of the pejorative sense of the word was found among residents of middle-sized towns (29.3%), followed by rural areas (25.7%), large towns (20.4%) and small towns (20.4%). Finally, far the most aware of the pejorative meaning in the case of the Hungarians were the residents of middle-sized towns (50.9%) and the least aware of it were residents of large towns (26.3%); those residing in rural areas scored higher (38.1%) than those residing in small (33.4), middle-sized or large towns.

Surveys carried out in Romania have repeatedly showed that the strongest rejection of the Hungarian minority is found in regions where members of that minority are either historically absent or at present in insignificant numbers2. This may well explain why residents of middle-sized towns and rural areas, as most Transylvanian settlements are, tend to view their neighbors belonging to the Hungarian minority with a more benevolent eye and be more aware of the significance of pejorative meanings. The same applies to some extent to the Roma, since a large proportion of that population resides in middle-sized towns and rural areas. But since Romania’s Jewish population has been reduced to a meager few thousands3, with practically no The four types of localities into which the sample was divided were as follows: rural;

small town (10-49 000); midlle-sized towns (50-199 000); large towns (200 000 inhabitants and over).

As reported by the daily Evenimentul zilei on 8 December 1993 in reference to a poll carried out by CURS and by the weekly Revista 22, no. 31, 3-9 August 1994 in reference to a survey carried out by IMAS. The latter findings also reported by the daily Adeva rul, 13 August 1994.

According to the census carried out in March 2002, only 6,057 Jews (0,02% of the total population) were still living in Romania (5 870 had defined themselves as Jews according to nationality and 6 057 according to religion. 951 said Yiddish was their mother tongue.

See ”Structura etnodemografica a României”, http://recensamant.referinte.transindex.ro/?pg=8, acessed on April 12, 2012. The results of a census carried out in July 2011 have not been published in full and number of Jews is small enough to have been included under ”other minorities” in preliminary reports; see Cristian ANDREI, ”Recensa mântul populat iei, primele rezultate. Cât i români sunt, cât i etnici maghiari s i cât de mare este minoritatea roma ”, Gândul, 2 February 2012, http://www.gandul.info/news/recensamantul-populatiei-primele-rezultateRomanian Political Science Review • vol. XII • no. 4 • 2012 Political Antisemitism in Romania? 561 Jews residing in the countryside and very few in small towns, this explanation can hardly apply in their case.

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