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Romania to remove defamatory definitions for Jews and Roma from new dictionary

Bucharest, 26.9.2011 9:37, (ROMEA)

The Romanian Academy of Sciences will be changing the definitions of terms it has included for members of the Jewish and Roma minorities in its new dictionary. The decision was made after human rights organizations argued that the current definitions and terms are discriminatory, news server BalkanInsight reports.

Two words considered defamatory are at the center of the dispute. They are the Romanian terms "jidan" ("Yid") to refer to members of the Jewish population and "tsigan" ("Gypsy") to refer to members of the Roma population.

The Academy, which supervises conventional usage in the Romanian language, "does not recommend using" the objectionable words. "The analysis will be rewritten so there will be no room for a discriminatory interpretation," Marius Sala, Vice-President of the Academy, said.

Many Jewish people consider the word "jidan" to be derogatory. According to the Center for Combating and Monitoring Anti-Semitism in Romania, this expression was the last word heard by hundreds of thousands of massacred Jews during WWII. The Holocaust took as many as 380 000 Jewish lives in Romania.

The definition given for the word "tsigan" is that of "a person with bad habits". NGOs consider this definition to be clearly offensive. Activists have welcomed the Academy of Sciences' decision to correct the dictionary, but are concerned that merely removing the term will not be enough to get rid of the social stigma which members of the Roma minority suffer.

Romanian media almost exclusively use the correct term "Rom" in news reporting, but they do permit their readers to post online commentaries using the defamatory term "tsigan". Public opinion polls also show that more than two-thirds of Romanians prefer to use the term "tsigan" because the word for "Roma" in Romanian ("Romi") is very similar to the word for "Romanian" ("Romani").

At one point the country even planned to officially change the term referring to members of the Roma ethnicity from Roma to "Gypsy" ("tsigan"). Two parliamentary committees gave the proposal the green light, but it was halted after criticism by Roma activists and associations this past February, after it made it to the upper house.

Official records say about 550 000 members of the Roma minority live in the Balkan country of 21 million, but their actual number will be at least double that, according to estimates. The Roma comprise the EU's largest minority, the total population of which on the continent is estimated at between 10 and 12 million people.

Disputes over terms designating minorities in official publications are not limited to Romania. In 2009, ethnic Albanians in Macedonia protested the Macedonian Academy of Sciences (MASA) for publishing an encyclopedia referring to Albanians as "immigrants" and using the term Shiptari instead of the correct Albanian term, Shqiptarët. MASA eventually removed the controversial encyclopedia from circulation.

ČTK, Gwendolyn Albert, Czech Press Agency, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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