Flinn Scholars

On the Road 2009: Day Fifteen

June 8, 2009

By Flinn Foundation

After breakfast we started the day off with a lecture by Maria Korek on ethnic relations in Romania. Romania has two major ethnic minorities: Hungarians and Roma. It was interesting to notice the huge differences between the social and economic conditions of these two minorities. The Hungarian minority seems to experience good economic condition. This is not surprising as the region of Transylvania which contains most of the Hungarian population in Romania is also the wealthiest region of Romania in terms of the portion of the county’s GDP produced here. Additionally, the Hungarian minority has its own party in the Romanian parliament. The party is large enough to be of significant political influence because either of the two major parties in parliament need an alliance with the Hungarian party in order to secure a majority of the vote. Hungarians also have their own schools in Romania where material is taught in the Magyar language. The Roma population on the other hand is subject to quite different conditions. While roughly 70% of Roma in Romania have maintained the Romani language, (a greater portion than the Roma of any other country) there are no schools taught in this language. Most Roma children do not have any pre-first grade school and as a result find themselves behind when they begin the first year of school. It is common for children to drop out before even completing the first year of elementary school. This makes it very difficult for Roma to find employment later in life as practically any job requires at least an eigth grade education. It is estimated that unemployment among Roma may be as high as 85%. Needless to say this makes the Roma the most poverty stricken group of people in the country. These people are strongly discriminated against in Romania as well as other european countries.

This lecture provoked contemplation on what causes the drastic differences between the conditions of the two minorities in Romania. The lack of education among the Roma is doubtlessly on of the most important issues that must be faced in order to improve the economic conditions of the people. It is necessary for leaders to rise up within the Roma communities to advocate the rights of their people, and this is much more likely to happen with better education. Perhaps an even more notable difference between the Roma and the Hungarians is the strong sense of identity that the Hungarians have maintained despite being enclosed within Romania for the last 90 years. This identity seems to bring a unification that allows the hungarian minority to advocate its rights in Romania. The Roma on the other hand do not seem to have the same pride and identification with their roots. This is illustrated especially by the difficulty experts have in recording the number of Roma in Romania. Although it is estimated that some 2-4 million Roma live in the country, only 500 thousand people actually identified themselves as Roma on the most recent census. Many Roma simply just want to be integrated into the majority and considered Romanian. This lack of identity among Roma makes it difficult to form a unified popular force among Roma to fight for their rights.

After the first lectrure we loaded the bus and set out to Trgu Mures. On arrival we had a couple hours to explore the town and find lunch. It was interesting to see the significant number of American companies that had penetrated into this small city. Even some of the Romanian brands in this town had a somewhat American feeling. After a half an hour in the local mall it was only the ocassional confusion of V’s and W’s in store signs that reminded me I was still in Romania.

Soon we were again immersed in the Central European atmosphere when we toured the Palace of Culture. The great concert hall had four levels of seating and very few square edges, a design intended to maximiz the acoustic affect. After a long climb to the top of the tower of the neighboring church, we surveyed the rooftops and found that Zsolnay roof tiles are “world famous” in Romania as well as Hungary.

After the Palace of Culture we went to Sapientia University for a lecture on higher deucation in Romania. Sapientia is a private school that is taught in Hungarian. We learned that in Romania state universities are actually considered more prestigious than private universities. The state universities dominate Romanian higher education and exert a huge influence over the private universities. The state universities are usually older and better established because private universities did not exist untill the fall of communism. The lecturers explained that Romania’s higher education system is actually considered the worst of all countries in the European Union. This may be in part the result of very high corruption, especially among the dominating state universities. Some reports showed that 71% of plagerism cases at universities were completely ignored, and cases of falsifying or even selling diplomas have often been reported.

After this lecture we went out for a nice dinner as a group. The rest of the night was spent exploring the city. After a couple hours of the Mures night life we headed back to the hotel to catch some sleep before the next day.