MINELRES: Local Government and Public Service Reform Initiative Newsletter, May 25, 2010: excerpts
Thu May 27 21:36:02 2010
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Romania: Roma language request causes confusion
May 21, 2010
by Vali Popvici, George Lacatus, and Dan Alexe
WAZ.EUObserver, May 17, 2010
Local authorities in western Romania are facing an unusual challenge - a
request by the Roma minority to have road signs and street names written
in their language as well as in Romanian.
Bilingual signs have been requested in the village of Ticvaniu-Mare
where Roma make up more than 20 percent of the population.
After studying the local Roma's request, the Ticvaniu-Mare
administration said it cannot be taken forward because a single Romani
language does not exist.
"There is no standard written Romani that we could use for the street
signs," said Daniel Fistea, the village's mayor. "We can't even agree on
the proper translation for 'town hall', 'school' or 'police'," Mr Fistea
pointed out. Even Ion Stancu, the local advisor on Roma issues who has
supported the bilingual initiative, seems to be lost in translation.
Mr Stancu is in the midst of a linguistic argument with Aurel Jivan, the
village's deputy mayor, on how to translate "church" and "police" into
Romani. According to Mr Stancu, "church" should become "Cangari" while
in Mr Jivan's view it should be "Delaro." For the translation of
"police," Mr Stancu recommends "Jandaria" while Mr Jivan is in favor for
Most trained linguists specialised in the study of Roma dialects have a
different opinion when it comes to the unity of the Romany language.
"The mayor is wrong to allege there is no written Romany language," said
Delia Grigore, a lecturer at Bucharest University and president of
Romania's Roma Council. "Romany has been taught at our university for 13
years now, and since recently it is also taught in schools and colleges
where the Roma make up a sizeable percentage."
Rather than clarify the translation conundrums of Ticvaniu-Mare, Ms
Grigore has instead contributed new ideas on how to translate the names
of public services and institutions from Romanian into Romani - for
example "Grastarlin" for "police."
Meanwhile, the Ticvaniu-Mare case has provoked another a further debate
between those in the local community who support the bilingual
initiative and those who oppose it.
Opponents come predominantly from the ranks of ethnic Romanians. "I have
nothing against the Roma people," said Maria Radu, a local resident.
"But I wish my village would keep a decent face by using public signs
only in Romanian."
The local Roma population hotly contests such opinions. "Why not? Whom
does this harm?" asked Doru Iacob. Many local Romanians of Roma descent
ask the same question. "Half of the population of the village are Roma,
half are Romanian," Mr Iacob pointed out. "So we want those street
Siberian Buryats Struggle With Loss of Autonomy
May 21, 2010
by J. Lee Jacobson
Transitions Online, 18 May 2010
The Buryats are Siberiaís most populous indigenous group and maybe its
biggest political losers.
Aginskoye, Russia | Since 1937 the Buryats, Siberiaís most populous
indigenous group, have given their name to three administrative regions
of Russia. But in recent years that number has been reduced to one. In
2008, the Ust-Orda Buryat Autonomous Area merged with the surrounding
Irkutsk Region, melding the Buryats into a large Russian population. In
2007, just as the region was celebrating 70 years of autonomy, a
referendum decided a similar fate for the Aginsk Buryats. This January
marked the end of the transition period, when the Aginsk Buryat
Autonomous Region officially lost its autonomy and became part of the
new Zabaikal Region. Now, the Buryat Republic is resisting pressure to
merge, and Buryats across Russia struggle to maintain their culture.
Though home to a small fraction of Russiaís 400,000 Buryats, Aginsk
Buryat was the only administrative region where the Buryats formed a
majority. Of Russiaís 89 regions prior to 2005, it was one of only two
in Siberia where natives outnumbered Russians. The Buryats, a formerly
nomadic people of Mongol origin, with their own language and strong ties
to Buddhism and shamanism, have a culture distinct from the Russians who
form the majority in the surrounding region. With the loss of the
funding and legislative decision-making that came with autonomy, this
unique culture now faces additional challenges to its survival.
SLICK ETHNIC MARKETING
Dulmazhab Tsingueva, a Buryat language teacher in Aginsk, is concerned
by what she sees as a steady decrease in Buryat language skills. "The
reality of our life is that there isnít a strong need for the language,
because people have already gotten used to not using Buryat," she said.
"Families that have three generations living together use Buryat for
family communication. But thatís all. Communication, culture, and
government is all done in Russian. Only Russian."
She spoke of a law in the nearby Buryat Republic that requires the
Buryat language to be taught in any school where Buryats study. In the
Aginsk area, such a policy has been recommended but is not law. "We
canít adopt such a law because our status [within the new Zabaikal
Region] doesnít allow it," she said. So parents who value a Buryat
language education send their children to her school, which requires
Buryat language study for all students. "We have the status of a
national school, a school of ethnic-cultural education,? she said. "Itís
the only school in Zabaikal Region with this status. We are a regional
center for the preservation of Buryat culture. Our job is saving and
translating our culture.?
Though support for the merger in the March 2007 referendum (94 percent
in the Aginsk district and 91 percent in the Chita region) appeared
strong, interviews with residents indicate many felt the order to merge
came from Moscow, as part of then-President Vladimir Putinís attempt to
consolidate territories and assert control in the regions, and that they
didnít have a choice.
"We received orders from above to work on the merger and make sure it
passed," a government employee in Aginsk said last year. Like several
others interviewed, she refused to give her name for fear of retribution
by the authorities. "We knew that if it didnít pass, various
organizations would be under a lot of pressure until it did."
A longtime resident of Chita told of a slick marketing campaign calling
for unity between the Russian and Buryat peoples. The campaign began
before the referendum and several billboards still remain.
"Before this ballot, there was never a word about unity between the
Russians and the Buryats. It was obviously very false." He said he knew
of students who were told they would not receive their grades if they
didnít vote and teachers who were told they would lose their jobs for
Moscow has long felt threatened by Buryats, despite their Buddhist
nature and a history of peaceful ethnic relations. In 1937, Stalin
accused the Buryats of Asian sympathies and pan-Mongolism, inflicting
purges upon them and tearing apart the Buryat-Mongol Republic into three
non-contiguous entities, ensuring they could not easily unite. Since
then, the Buryats in all three regions struggled to maintain their
cultural identity. Despite the difficulties, Aginsk had done better than
the others, maintaining the Buryat language, becoming a center of
Buddhism and Tibetan medicine, and maintaining traditional Buryat
customs and beliefs.
Between 2005 and 2008, five mergers have taken place among Russian
regions. Each of these mergers subsumed a geographically insignificant
region with small populations, but sizeable indigenous groups, such as
Koryaks, Komi-Permyaks, Evenks, and Buryats, into majority-Russian
Moscow argues that these mergers promote government efficiency and
economic development. But they also result in small native groups having
less say over their own affairs.
Kathryn Stoner-Weiss, a researcher at Stanford University's Freeman
Spogli Institute for International Studies and a Russia specialist,
agrees that greater efficiency is possible. She thinks there are two
interpretations of what lies behind the mergers. "In the malignant view,
Moscow is trying to force recentralization," she said. "The mergers
represent an incursion on regional rights and the stomping out of local
cultures. There is that possibility. A more benign interpretation Ö is
that it makes little rational sense for some of [these regions] to
exist. Ö There may be a certain rationality to doing this."
Aginsk is notable among the autonomous regions that were merged in that
it had experienced both economic development and cultural revival in
recent years. Its former leader, Bair Zhamsuev, established an offshore
zone, allowing large companies to register their businesses in this
remote area and pay their taxes to the Aginsk budget. That step,
combined with proper management of the income and spending, resulted in
notable transformations for the population of 72,000. Residents, most of
whom use outhouses and carry water into their homes, acquired cars, cell
phones, and computers. New hospitals, schools, museums, roads, and
houses were constructed across the region.
Stoner-Weiss said that because Buryats made up the majority in Aginsk, a
cultural identity was established, and the region had experienced
economic growth, Aginskís merger was different than those of some other
areas with less to differentiate it from the region it merged with.
"It's highly contingent on the starting conditions," she said. "One can
see whatís in it for Chita, but itís hard to see whatís in it for
Despite an overwhelming vote in favor of the merger, people interviewed
in Aginsk after the vote were almost uniformly against it. Government
employees spoke of pressure and monitoring from their workplaces. Some
also cited the influence of then-Governor Zhamsuev, who told his people
that if the referendum didnít pass the first time around, Moscow would
make it happen, but with less goodwill to the people of Aginsk. Reports
indicate that Zhamsuevís commitment to pursuing the merger was central
to his re-nomination by Putin as governor in 2005.
Russian law requires the heads of both merging regions to request
permission from the president, meaning that the merger could not take
place without the collaboration of the local leaders. In 2004,
government leaders in both the Chita region and Aginsk were quoted in
Russian newspapers declaring that they had no interest in merging. A few
years later, apparently under pressure from Moscow, they were lobbying
their citizens to vote for the merger.
Some regions, such as the Republic of Adygeya and the Altai Republic,
both of which had significant indigenous populations, retained their
autonomy through a combination of popular protests and local leaders
refusing to support the merger.
"These [merged] regions were manipulated, but not forced," Stoner-Weiss
said. "Moscow is not willing to send in tanks."
In Aginsk, the most striking effect of the merger has been the need to
lobby for funds from the Chita administration, which has become doubly
salient as Russia experiences the global economic crisis. Money that
used to flow directly from Moscow to the Aginsk district now goes
Aginskís popular leader, Zhamsuev, was transferred to the presidential
administration in Moscow and is no longer involved in running the
region. Many projects that had been planned are now on hold, such as a
school with the foundation already laid and a paved road to a national
park. Teachers and other government workers say their salaries are
arriving a month late. A slow but steady decline in use of the Buryat
language is likely to continue as the need for the language decreases
further and the transfer of civil jobs to Chita offers less opportunity
to youth wanting to return to Aginsk after their studies.
Some Aginsk region residents wonder whether they would be better off if
their leaders had resisted more boldly. "Zhamsuev was put into a
position where he didnít have a choice," a local teacher said. "He Ö had
his family and his career to think about. The problem is that he, like
others, was not brave enough to say no. If he had, he and his family
would have suffered. He would have been without work, perhaps he would
have even gone to jail. But with time, he would have become a hero and
we would have remembered him for a long time. Instead, he Ö will be
remembered for giving away our autonomy. What we lost can never be
regained. People are only now starting to feel that."
In late 2009, Zhamsuev was appointed federal inspector of the Zabaikal
Region, which includes the two merged territories. Residents of Aginsk
hope he will lobby for Buryat interests. "After Zhamsuev was appointed,
relations between Aginsk and Chita became much better," said one
At the same time, Nikolay Tsyrempilov, chairman of the Regional Union of
Young Scholars and a member of the Buryat human rights group Erkhe, said
some in the Buryat Republic, or Buryatia, see Zhamsuevís appointment as
a signal that their region may be next in line to merge. Although
Buryats are a minority, the republic is the last of the three Buryat
areas to retain its autonomy, although Tsyrempilov believes it is slated
to be merged with the Irkutsk Region or Zabaikal Region in the coming
years. "In some ways [Zhamsuev] is a compromised figure for Buryats,"
Tsyrempilov said. "He can negotiate with the elites in Buryatia and
public figures to make them change their minds."
In the meantime, residents try to adapt to the changed circumstances.
Some leave Aginsk for the civil service jobs that have been transferred
to Chita or seek opportunities in Buryatia. Tsyrempilov notes an
increased migration of Buryats from both Ust-Orda and Aginsk. "People
donít see enough opportunities for themselves in regions without their
own budgets," he said. "Buryatia is the last region where Buryats can
have a career." Others seek advice and comfort from local monks and
shamans. Cultural workers Ė from artists to Buryat language teachers Ė
continue with their work, hoping for the best.
"We have the assignment to save and protect our national culture," said
Bazar Damdinov, director of the Buryat music and dance group Amar-Saan.
Group member and throat singer Leonid Babalaev said he feels some
responsibility to maintain his culture. "Since weíve merged with Chita
we've had difficulties with finances," he said, as he worked on a
costume on his home sewing machine. "It becomes hard to do a new
program, we have to sew our own costumes and we buy our own material.
Before, the district would give us 5 million rubles for the year and we
were able to work with that. Everything we made working we could use for
gas and other expenses."
Cultural activists in Buryatia, such as Tsyrempilov, are focusing their
attention on maintaining the republicís autonomy through influencing
public opinion via the media and the Internet. "Since the Republic of
Buryatia is all we have now, we have the duty to [work to preserve it].
We are a small nation and there are not so many scholars among Buryats,"
he said. ?Buryats look at us and say, ?We gave you education, please do
something to protect our rights.'"
J. Lee Jacobson is a freelance writer working on a memoir about a year
living among the Siberian Buryats. A shorter version of this article
appeared on the Huffington Postís blogging site.
Armenian Council Opposes Foreign-Language Schools
May 21, 2010
RFE/RL, May 20, 2010
YEREVAN -- A body of prominent Armenians that advises President Serzh
Sarkisian has joined opposition critics in rejecting legislation that
would permit foreign-language schools, RFE/RL's Armenian Service
Vazgen Manukian, chairman of the Public Council, said on May 19 that his
group submitted a unanimous and "highly negative" assessment of the
education bill to Sarkisian in the hope that it will be withdrawn from
Armenia's first post-Communist government, in which Manukian served as
prime minister, adopted measures after coming to power in 1990 that
ensured the primacy of the Armenian language in the national education
A law on education adopted at the time stipulates that only members of
ethnic minorities and foreign citizens may study in schools where the
main subjects are taught in a language other than Armenian.
The Armenian government approved a set of draft amendments to the law
last month that eliminate the ban. The move sparked a storm of criticism
from opposition politicians, media and public figures, including those
loyal to the Sarkisian administration. They believe it endangers the
constitutional status of Armenian as the country's sole official
Manukian said the proposed amendments "do not correspond to our national
and state interests."
The former opposition politician rejected as an "absolute lie"
government officials' claims that foreign-language schools would improve
the quality of education in the country.
Manukian further argued that young Armenians already study at least two
foreign languages in school and can enroll in English, French, and
Russian-language universities operating in the country.
The two opposition parties represented in parliament -- Zharangutyun and
Dashnaktsutyun -- have made clear they are against the bill. Some
members of the parliament's progovernment majority have also expressed
concern with it.
Education Minister Armen Ashotian assured critics last week that
nonlinguistic subjects would be taught in foreign languages only at
Hungary: A Toxic Togetherness
May 21, 2010
by Lubos Palata
Transitions Online, 20 May 2010
Hungaryís new prime minister wants to unite his ethnic brethren. That
could be a problem for Slovakia.
BUDAPEST | It is the last Sunday in April. Thousands of people, mostly
in their 30s and 40s, have been gathering in front of the stage on a
city-center square. They are getting ready to celebrate the victory of Ė
who else? The triumph of Fidesz, that is the Hungarian Civic Union, with
former Prime Minister Viktor Orban at its head, was a forgone
conclusion. That dayís second round of the parliamentary election was to
determine only one thing Ė whether Orbanís party would be the first in
Central and Eastern Europe since 1989 to win an outright majority in a
Normally, the remaining political forces would unite against any party
with such a clear opportunity to dominate the country. But there was no
one to unite in Hungary. Cooperation among the far right Movement for a
Better Hungary (Jobbik), the Hungarian Socialist Party, and the newly
established liberal-environmental party, Politics Can be Different, was
out of the question. The governing Socialists did try to attract the
liberal environmentalists by withdrawing several of their candidates,
but to no avail. Over the past four years the socialist label has
compromised itself to such an extent that not even the pending Fidesz
majority could spur mutual cooperation.
The second round went as predicted. With the exception of a few
constituencies, Fidesz gained all it could, and with its 68 percent of
seats in parliament broke a record in democratic Europe.
When he took the stage that night, Orban beamed. "In the past, the
victory that Hungarian voters won today in a democratic election was
possible only through revolutions. This is not only a victory but a
revolution," he thundered. At the same time, he added, this wasnít
merely a victory for Hungarians in Hungary but for a people. At that, TV
cameras panned to a large banner outstretched in the middle of the
square: "Viktor, Felvidek Trusts You," it read, using the Hungarian term
for southern Slovakia (sometimes for all of Slovakia). And to close the
official part of the triumphant parliamentary victory of Fidesz, the
"Szekely Hymn," the anthem of Romaniaís Hungarian minority, was played
along with the Hungarian national anthem.
ACROSS THE BORDER
A major part of Orbanís first press conference as prime minister was
given over to the topic of Hungarians across the border. In Slovakia,
they make up about 10 percent of the 5.5 million population. In Romania,
about 7 percent of 22.2 million.
Apart from announcing that the current political system, which has been
in place for 20 years, will be replaced by a new system in which
so-called ?national consultations,? meaning consultations with
Hungarians in other countries, will play a key role in the preparation
of legislation and government decisions, Orban talked about extensive
plans regarding Budapestís increased influence on the Hungarians living
outside the country.
Essentially, the new prime minister sketched plans for a kind of
Budapest-controlled "Hungarian Euroregion" that would include the areas
along its borders inhabited by Hungarian minorities. "Hungarians across
the border are a full-fledged part of the national cooperation system,"
Orban said, adding that he had a much stronger mandate for these steps
than any other politician in neighboring countries. Orban also sent a
clear message to Slovakia, whose ruling coalition includes the
right-wing Slovak National Party, which has been hostile to the rights
of the Hungarian minority there. "We shall demand respect from our
neighboring countries. They cannot treat Hungarians the way they have
been. Budapest will not tolerate it."
A few days earlier I had taken part in an informal meeting of several EU
diplomats who discussed in private what would come of Fidesz's
commanding victory. They essentially agreed that Slovakia has the most
reason to fear a Hungarian effort to ?unite 15 million Hungarians," a
figure that relies on the questionable assumption that 5 million
Hungarians live outside Hungary.
"There is a psychological basis for that [fear]. In the eyes of many
Hungarians, Slovakia is an artificial state without any tradition of
statehood. It is in a totally different position from that of, say,
Croatia, Serbia, or Romania," one of the diplomats said. "When a
Hungarian president wants to open the issue of the Hungarian minoritiesí
rights in Bucharest, his Romanian counterpart lets him talk and then
says, 'We will not come to an agreement, we both know that, so letís
talk about other things.' Slovakia does not have this kind of
self-confidence," the diplomat added.
In the past four years, under a moderate socialist-liberal government in
Budapest, Slovak-Hungarian relations reached a crisis point. Slovak
Prime Minister Robert Fico invited the Slovak National Party into his
government instead of the Party of the Hungarian Coalition. Some moves
by Ficoís cabinet, such as restricting the use of the Hungarian language
in some majority-Hungarian areas in southern Slovakia, have considerably
worsened the position of Hungarians. Some time ago Slovakia also barred
Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom from entering the country to take part
in the unveiling of a statue of Hungarian St. Stephen in the
predominantly Hungarian town of Komarno, ostensibly because he failed to
ask the Slovak authorities for permission in time.
Budapest has launched several diplomatic protests against verbal attacks
by the leader of the Slovak nationalists, Jan Slota. No official visit
to Hungary by a Slovak prime minister, or vice versa, has taken place
for more than five years, even though the respective heads of government
hold discussions once or twice a year.
A 10-point plan for improving the countriesí ties included suggestions
that textbooks be published jointly and bridges along the border be
restored. But nothing happened. On the other hand, both Slovak and
Hungarian diplomats say Bratislava and Budapest cooperate within
regional and EU structures. Thousands of Slovaks, particularly those
near Bratislava, have been moving to Hungary to find cheaper real
estate. In turn, Slovakiaís lower taxes have attracted thousand of
Hungarians who have transferred the seats of their companies over the
border or registered their cars there. The new Hungarian foreign
minister, Janos Martonyi, told the Austrian daily Die Presse in April
that Slovak-Hungarian relations were not in crisis. "Both countries have
had disputes; the Slovak language act is not in accordance with
international legislation; however, relations with Slovakia are not bad
at all," Martonyi said. At the same time he disclosed that Hungary would
offer citizenship to its ethnic brethren living outside the country. "We
shall explain our stand to our neighbors."
PROMISED LAND VS. MOTHERLAND
Martonyi is an experienced diplomat, having served as foreign minister
during Orbanís first tenure, from 1998 to 2002. He clearly knows that
offering citizenship to members of the Hungarian minorities in
neighboring countries, as well as bringing them into a "system of
national cooperation" will be difficult to explain in Slovakia in
particular. Perhaps it was no coincidence that as Hungarian elections
were under way, Slovakia passed a law requiring that classrooms fly the
Slovak flag and display the preamble to the countryís constitution,
which opens with words unpleasant for Slovak Hungarians: "We, the Slovak
The new Hungarian law on dual citizenship, which would provide several
million Hungarians living abroad the opportunity to take part in
parliamentary elections, is to be voted on at one of the first sessions
of the new parliament. Fidesz has said Hungarian passports would be
issued not en masse but individually to Hungarians abroad. Under the
previous Fidesz-led government, a less far-reaching law on extending
privileges to Hungarians abroad brought protests from Romania, Slovakia
and the EU until Budapest watered down some of its provisions.
So far, Orbanís plans have met with relative silence in Bratislava. No
one wants to stir the anti-Hungarian pot before the countryís June
parliamentary election, as that would only generate support for the
Slovak National Party or the even tougher neo-fascist People's Party.
The chairman of Slovakia's leading Hungarian political party even asked
Orban to delay the adoption of the dual citizenship law until after the
Slovak elections. But the nationalists saw an opportunity and in late
April tried to push through parliament a resolution confirming the
validity of the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, which reduced Hungary to a
fraction of the area it controlled before World War I and established
the current Slovak-Hungarian border. "Things are going to happen in
Hungary that will make our heads spin," party leader Slota warned.
We could be about to witness a geopolitical experiment in Hungary and
its neighborhood that is without parallel in modern history. It is
likely, though, that Orbanís Hungary will not have the political and
economic wherewithal to carry it out. For while even an economic
disaster zone like Hungary might prove attractive to poor Hungarians in
Romania or Ukraine, those in richer Slovakia are a different story. Not
many of them are likely to want to move across the border, even if their
native language is spoken there.
Lubos Palata is a reporter for the Czech daily Lidove noviny and a
correspondent for the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza.
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