Bucharest, 21 March 2013
Policy Center for Roma and Minorities together with ActiveWatch Romania and Agentia Împreună raise serious concern on the declarations of the Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta during a 23 minutes interview on HARDtalk show on BBC World News on 19 March (http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p015nvvz/Hardtalk_Victor_Ponta_Prime_Minister_of_Romania/). During the interview, Mr. Ponta’s statements reflected and further enforced the societal racist and discriminatory position of the majority population in Romania towards Roma ethnics. We demand a public statement that clarifies the official position of the Romanian government towards the Roma minority in Romania, hence in the European Union.
In an effort to restore Romania’s image during an interview taken by Mrs. Zeinab Badawi, Mr. Ponta alienates Roma from the rest of the Romanian citizens, blames Roma for the negative perception of Romania abroad by labeling them as criminals and denies the discrimination of Roma by the majority population in Romania despite studies issued by public institutions such as the National Council for Combatting Discrimination that indicate otherwise. Mr. Ponta describes “benefit tourism” in UK and Germany as “a specific situation of the Roma community” and indirectly designates Roma community as a scape goat for the migration issues of Romanian citizens in western countries. Though expressing several times during the interview full commitment to respond to the needs of the Roma community in Romania, Mr. Ponta shows a poor understanding of the Roma, lacks proper documentation and enforces through ambiguities many of the prejudices of the majority population towards Roma.
Moderator: “Are you saying that there are some Romanians who come specifically to countries like UK and Germany (both these countries have raised concerns that there is benefit tourism as it’s put)?”
PM Victor Ponta: “It is a specific situation of the Roma community. And here I agree that this is a real concern for all the countries – France, for example and UK and Germany. And for the Roma community we have to have a strategy and we’ve tried to implement a strategy with the European Commission in order to reintegrate the Roma community people back in Romania.”
“[…]but if we speak about the common Romanian people it`s not migration just for benefiting it is a normal migration in the EU.”
Moderator: So when William Hague […] says that benefit tourism has got to end and the British government along with other countries in the EU like the Netherlands, Austria are working out initiatives nationals from Romania be they from the Roma community or otherwise go to their countries just to claim benefits, you agree with them that there is a problem and that you would help them!
PM Victor Ponta: ”It` s a problem with the Roma community and I’m completely committed to work together with your government and the other governments in order to solve the problem but it’s not gonna be solved in several months”.
Mr. Ponta’s statement clearly separates Romanian people in two categories – “common Romanian citizens“ and Roma – and he associates them to two types of behavior in a racist manner. “Benefit tourism” in UK and Germany is defined as a specific problem of the Roma community. There are no studies showing that the migrants to UK and Germany are onlyRomanian citizens with Roma ethnic background. Furthermore, Mr. Ponta indirectly identifies Roma as a separate category, disfranchised of the Romanian citizenship.
Moderator: “A more serious link in many people’s minds, according to Scotland Yard in London 49.2 % of all arrests for begging were Romanians […]So on petty crime, hmm, people might think well Romanians…”
PM Victor Ponta:”[…] I am telling you once again that this is an important issue because most of these people come from the minority, from the Roma Minority and we haven`t been effective in creating successful strategies in reintegrating them here in Romania.”
Romanian Prime Minister makes use of ethnic profiling in saying that most of the Romanians detainees are Roma. The statement is based on speculation, not on concrete data and it reflects one more time the common stereotypes regarding Roma.
Moderator: “[…]When you are complaining about the way Romanians are perceived …The way the Roma community, sometimes referred to as Gypsies, the kind of prejudicial treatment that they themselves receive inside Romania […] and there are some people that wonder if that kind of undermines the moral force of your arguments.”
PM Victor Ponta: “ You see there is a clear angriness of the Romanians living here in UK or France for being always accused of facts that you mentioned that the Roma community are confusing with Romanians.”
Moderator: “But the Roma Community are Romanians!”
PM Victor Ponta: “Yes…This is what I am trying to explain to them, that being angry or just trying to discriminate the Roma communities is not going to solve the problems.”
Moderator: “Who is discriminating against the Roma community, it is your people, the Romanian people?”
PM Victor Ponta: “In Romania it is not happening like this…the Roma in Romania are not discriminated.”
Moderator: “We have spoken to Valeriu Nicolae, president of the Policy Center for Roma and Minorities, told us on the phone that the government thinks […] it is best to encourage the Roma people to leave, in their head Roma are petty criminals, drug addicts so if they leave the state does not have to cover their costs.”
PM Victor Ponta: “I do not share this view and I changed my view completely this mentality last year when I took the office accepting that the only reasonable solution is to integrate the Roma community within the Romanian society.”
According to Mr. Ponta, there is no discrimination against Roma in Romania although the General Secretariat of the Government commissioned a survey in 2009 that revealed the widespread discrimination against Roma in Romania – 70,2% of the Romanians do not accept a Roma as a member of their family; 54,9% reject Roma as friends; 48,8% do not want Roma neighbors.
 A report issued by the National Council for Combatting Discrimination in 2012 that analyzes the perceptions and attitudes of Romanians towards minorities shows that: a) 51% of the Romanian consider discrimination an important current concern; b) Roma are among the most discriminated groups in Romania; c) Only 8% of the respondents consider there is no discrimination against Roma in Romania; d) 43% of the respondents had a bad and very bad opinion about Roma. Source: Consiliul Național pentru Combaterea Discriminării, Raport de cercetare. Percepții și atitudini privind discriminarea în România, 2012,http://www.cncd.org.ro/files/file/Raport%20de%20cercetare%20CNCD_Discriminare.pdf