Multiculturalism in the context of the modern globalizing world. The Romanian narrative on pluralism and diversity

This book was published by Middle East Political and Economic Institute in June 2017 based on the project financed by the International Fund for Cooperation and Partnership of the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.

The book has the following contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Theoretical Aspects of Multiculturalism
  3. National and Religious Minorities in Romania: General Features and Legal Status
  4. The Turkish-Tatar Minorities and the Mimetic Interiorizing of Otherness
  5. The Recent Muslim Communities in Romania: Integration and Intercultural and Interethnic Empathy
  6. Conclusions and Recommendations


The French sociologist Michel Wieviorka was wondering as he studied the concept of multiculturalism whether “Can we live together? Equals and yet different?” As a matter of fact, this is a question that has arisen through the entire history of humanity, whilst the issue of states and of communities being (un)able to accept diversity and pluralism caused most of the conflicts that have become a constant for the human condition. Unfortunately, in the past few decades, the modernity and progressive universalism of liberal democracy, based on the right to freedom and to acceptance of particular identities and values of citizens – core elements of the human rights – have not yet succeeded in entirely influencing the societies and the authorities to find appropriate ways in order to adapt to the particularities of ethnic, religious, linguistic, and cultural diversity that is to be found in each state.

After the excesses and the ambitions manifested by the nationalist ideologies and policies that targeted to establish states that would distinguish themselves through a collective identity of the nation, we have been witnessing for the past few decades a process of new identity dynamics facilitated by globalization. This is how groups and communities try to revive or defend their cultural values, to have them acknowledged, accepted and legalized by the normative systems and state’ policies, within a postmodern logic that criticizes and contests the establishment of official cultures, which are usually the expressions of the ethnic, national or religious majority. Instead, these new systems support implied equality amongst forms of culture. Ensuring a steady social and political environment in a global context where there is a continuous resuscitation of individual and collective identities mostly depends on states and other actors’ involvement in this process of acceptance – or not – of the multicultural societies and especially of policies those acknowledge and support this pluralism. The failure of such systems of coexistence can lead to violence, crises, internal fractions within the societies, and communal or even racial polarization. We can observe this reality at a global scale, almost taking place on a daily basis: religious intolerance and violence between communities; the rivalry between ethnicities or tribes in order to seize power; using religion as a political weapon; the weakening of national identities and fidelity in favor of the ones focused around sub-national or transnational structures; tensions generated by immigrants’ demands to have their traditions and cultural values accepted in the host countries; the rise of intolerance between ethnic or religious communities inside a state; and others. To all these problems, multiculturalism and diversity management is seeking to offer solutions, more or less pragmatic and efficient, more or less dependent on the political and institutional system of each state, on respecting and applying a normative system regarding minorities’ rights and freedoms that has already been regulated internationally.

In this context, Romania comes up with its own tradition and its own challenges to find the right formulas in order to integrate and support different ethnic and religious communities that are part of the Romanian society and constitutionally recognized as equal citizens. This project’s aim is to offer a general view upon the issue of multiculturalism in Romania, with emphasis on the Muslim communities, in an attempt to identify the relevant aspects of the relations between the state and the minorities. These elements explain the presence of a functional model of coexistence and tolerance and could represent a possible source of inspiration to other European states that have been through hard times while managing the relations with their own Muslim communities. Obviously, our goal is not to idealize the reality, but rather to project an optimistic perspective of it and to extract those elements that explain the climate of tolerance and of mutual availability from the very complex dynamics of inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations in Romania and also from the standpoint of multicultural practices implemented by the state throughout its modern history. These aspects can also lead to the degree of acceptance between various communities in Romania so that they recognize their values and collective projects within the same state. The relations between state/society and the Muslim communities are such an example. As a result, the research project insists on their condition, having in view the eventual capitalization of this successful experience of managing multiculturalism and diversity, in order to proceed in optimizing policies of this kind in Romania and elsewhere.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The aims of this research were to offer a concise illustration of multiculturalism in Romania – insisting on the relation between state/society and the Muslim community, a sensitive subject that is very present in the discussions in academia, media, and politics of numerous European countries. Romania managed since its inception as a modern state, in 1859, and especially after the Union with Transylvania and Bessarabia in 1918, to handle its ethnic and religious diversity that had to be conciliated with an official discourse and strong nationalistic feelings that were specific to recent nation-states. The interwar period was marked by pluralism and liberalism until it was seriously affected by the emergence of the right-wing currents that revived a type of nationalism with mystical and exclusive touches. The Communism marked a tragic time that affected all communities of Romania, as it meant leveling of the society, whereas some of the ethnic, religious, and linguistic differences were considered basically nuances of a collective identity. However, the Communist regime allowed a limited recognition of the cultural specificities of the ethnic minorities and accepted various religious denominations, even though they were strictly controlled and the religious life was constantly considered as opposed to the socialist values. The situation in Romania was less radical than in other Communist states, such as the USSR or Albania, where religions were banned and the worship buildings were destroyed or transformed into industrial or agricultural places. Despite the strict control, the ethnic, linguistic, and religious values of the communities in Romania managed to be preserved and transmitted from one generation to another. Their representative structures managed to ensure the persistence of values and traditions, despite having to make compromises.

The transition from Communism to a democratic system allowed initiating projects and policies that have a pluralist dimension. As a result, the minority groups were not only recognized officially but also socially and politically. Obviously, this process was animated by the complex realities of the transition period and by the particular interests of the different actors. However, noting that multiculturalism and diversity have failed dramatically in other states, for example in former Yugoslavia, Romania was spared from major internal disturbances that could affect the social stability and the relations between the ethnic and religious communities. Obviously, a sensitive aspect was the relations between the state and the leaders of the Magyar community, who tried to capitalize on the maximum the legal rights and freedoms of the minorities that Romania assumed through the international agreements it signed. The political integration of the Magyar elites, together with the broad implementation of the requests of the Magyar community – and not only, in the Romanian legal system, helped the conciliation between the claims of the minorities and the openness of the authorities. In this sense, we can say that despite some unavoidable problems of the transition, the Romanian situation offers in the terms of norms and public policies, and of the social reality as such, an example where the ethnic, religious, cultural diversity is recognized and especially assumed.

This project aimed to analyze in a detailed manner the situation of the Muslim community in the modern and recent history of Romania, from the perspective of ethnic and religious identities. This reflection is important in the context of the problems posed by multiculturalism and its management, globally speaking.

The Islam in Romania, as in the Balkans and Eastern Europe has a very long history, even though demographically and geographically, it had a peripheral or adjacent status, being situated beyond the Romanian politics’ interests, until the end of the 19th century. However, its presence was familiar to the Romanian communities, through the Ottoman Empire that exerted a direct or indirect influence on all three Romanian provinces. This proximity generated an entire collective mentality that opposed Islam to Christian identity and values. This is why the image of the Turks and/or Tatars often had negative connotations. However, even at that time or in the present time, there was not a negative reaction of the communities, the inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations were/are peaceful and symbiotic. The political relationship between the Turkish Republic (the successor of the Ottoman Empire) and the Romanian state was very friendly and it was amplified after 1989. It can be explained by the fact that Moldavia and Wallachia were not part of the Ottoman Empire, so they were not colonized, as the territories in the Balkans. It is also true that there is a certain connection between the Romanian ethos and the Eastern one – especially in the South -, factor that explains the cultural permissiveness towards ethnic diversity, this aspect being part of the identity and cultural genesis of the Romanian pre-modern times.

Another reason for the specific native tolerance is the predisposition of the Romanians of not exporting their values by force, lacking imperial and colonial ambitions. We can note the persistence of a concessive spirit and of the capacity to integrate, take over or accommodate other populations, accepting or tolerating the otherness, especially as long as they do not alter the identity and own values of the Romanians. An important role was played by the ethos and the Orthodox spirituality, crucial factor in the identity and cultural genesis of the Romanians, which also lacked a proselytizing attitude and an ambition to be imposed on other religious groups on the Romanian territory. All of these factors generated a culture of tolerance and acceptance. Dobruja is annexed to this framework after 1878, with its own tradition of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, facilitated by the heterogeneous demographic structure and by the ruling of the Ottoman Empire that applied a sort of multi-cultural values. The socio-political integration of Dobruja (especially of the Turkish-Tatar community) within Romania went smoothly, in comparison with the situation in other states. A large part of the Turkish-Tatar population migrated until 1940 to the homeland (Ottoman Empire, later Turkey), but those who stayed are very attached to their ethnic and religious identity and to the territory. One of the remarkable successes was exactly the mutual accommodation of the communities and cultures (not the administrative and political system per se). The inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations lacked major conflicts and the diversity was relatively well accepted by the state and the majority. At their own end, the Turkish, Tatar, Russian, Bulgarian, Albanian, etc. communities were never problematic for the Romanian state, they adapted naturally and seized the opportunities to preserve and harness their identity and traditions in a tolerant environment. Here is where it lays the assumed multiculturalism (at the micro-level – among the communities). Beyond the excesses of the Communist regime, the relations between the state and the representatives of the Turkish-Tatar community were of mutual trust, collaborating and supporting each other. The Turkish-Tatar community managed to conciliate the issue of loyalty to the ethnic references with the condition of being Romanian citizens. Those who chose to stay in Romania, despite having connections abroad in Turkey or Crimea, never took action against Romania’s national interest; actually, they got involved actively in the economic, social, and cultural development of the country and supported Romania’s interests abroad. There is an assumed patriotic feeling, not affected by the ethnic or religious difference. This is why the Romanian authorities trust them and display openness and availability, allowing them contacts with institutions, authorities, and different partnerships in Turkey or elsewhere.

Finally, we have a more recent group of Muslims coming from other states of the Arab and Muslim world. They are not important demographically, but their members are involved and present in the Romanian society, at the economic, professional, political, and intellectual level. They are even more important in recent years, as in their case we can observe the dynamics that generate many problems, comprising also security aspects, in the other European states. Until now, Romania has not been confronted with the identity and socio-economic insertion problems of the migrants, many of whom are even refugees. There are reasons that ground this relative lack of tensions. First of all, their number is relatively reduced, thus they are not perceived as a threat to the native values, as it is the case with other Muslims in Europe (they have sizeable communities). On the other hand, those present here are less involved in activism and militant causes, specific to their countries of origin that could put into discussion the stability and public safety. The cases that were monitored and identified by the authorities have not involved high-level risks and those who raised suspicions were expelled. Besides these exceptional situations, there is large compatibility of those coming from the Middle East and Northern Africa to the values and behaviors of the Romanians, the empathy and resonance transcending the ethnic and religious differences. This is what explains a large number of mixed marriages, as there is a feeling of being familiar. Thus, they are not contesting the cultural and social norms of Romania. It is equally important that those who had been here temporarily or have been naturalized, have preserved their affection towards Romania that could be/could have been capitalized for having closer political, economic and cultural ties with those countries of origin (especially since some of them had prominent jobs once returning to the homelands). A Romanian traveling to the Arab world has the same openness and complicity feeling (while few Europeans/Westerners could say that). As a result, we could say, without exaggeration that there is an implicit empathy between Romania and the Arab world, produced by the history of political-economic cooperation and by common psychology that eases interaction. It is true that within the new Muslim milieu and that of the new converts, there are specific manners in which they assume values and Muslim norms; often different from the cultural and ethnic Islam of the Turkish-Tatar community (hence, occasionally they enter into competition/conflict). These dynamics within the Muslim community of Romania can be found elsewhere in the Muslim space, being a reflection of the transformations of the Muslim world since the 19th century, based on clashes between the modernist and the traditional interpretations of the Muslim values. One of the consequences of the negative impact resulting from the violent activism of the extremist structures is that it generated negative attitudes and discourse towards the Muslims and Islam, in general, for the first time in Romania. This is an imported Islamophobia, facilitated mostly by the massive impact of the Internet today that can project the anxious feelings of Western Europe via transfers, when it comes to managing the Muslim communities, terrorist threats, refugee crises, etc. Such emotions are sometimes expressed concretely, for instance in the case of building a Grand Mosque in Bucharest, but there are in fact void of a real ground in what the actual relationship with Islam in Romania is concerned. This is exactly where we need a widening of knowledge about the local multicultural model that despite its inherent lack, offers a successful model of adaptation and openness, confirmed historically.

As such, we can make few recommendations, useful especially for the actors involved in the issue of enhancing multiculturalism and ethnoreligious diversity:

  • A better explanation of the legal and institutional framework for the national minorities, the current one allowing space for divergent interpretations and a conditional application upon specific interests and circumstances. For many years, the government affirmed the necessity of elaborating and promoting a framework-law regarding the status of the national minorities that could offer a clearer and more pragmatic management system of the multiculturalism- according to the official explanations of the Romanian authorities, multiculturalism “represents one the fundamental values of Romania”;
  • A compliant application of the international norms regarding the rights and freedoms of the minorities, especially of the Law 287/2007 (ratification of the European Charter for regional or minority languages), Order no. 137/2000 regarding the prevention and sanction of all forms of discrimination, Law no. 33/1995 (ratification of the Framework-Convention for the protection of national minorities);
  • Respecting the legal dispositions regarding minority rights: applying the Education Law and its dispositions regarding teaching in the language of national minorities; respect of the proportionality norms concerning political representability of the minorities at executive and legislative level (national and local); transparent application of financing program of the legal organizations that represent the ethnic communities recognized officially; ensuring a legal framework of explaining the values and cultural and religious expressions of different communities; supporting projects for preservation and development of the cultural and religious heritage; supporting and offering consultancy (by the authorities) for different structures and associations of the minorities in order to obtain national or European funds; the continuation of financing and developing TV and radio shows broadcasted in the maternal language of the national minorities;
  • Enhancing the process of parliamentary representability of the national minorities, especially legally speaking (and the management of the electoral process), so that we can develop a political pluralism within the ethnic groups and stimulate an authentic selection process of the political elites. This aspect can facilitate the emergence of a democratic culture within the association structures of the ethnic communities while supporting efficient utilization of governmental funds for financing organizations and projects of the minority groups;
  • In the case of political or community leaders of the minorities: a real implication for the interests of those they represent; to attempt to escape the recurrent temptation of the Romanian politics that involves the monopole on the leading structures; developing a democratic culture within the organization that facilitates the emergence of the leaders proposed and sustained by the community as such;
  • Increasing the visibility of the governmental institutions that are in charge with the issues of the ethnic and religious communities: The Department for Inter-Ethnic Relations, The Council of National Minorities, The Romanian Institute for Research of National Minorities; the State Secretariat for Religious Affairs and the intensification of their collaboration with think-tanks, NGOs or structures from the academic and scientific milieu;
  • More active involvement of the local authorities in managing the aspects connected to multiculturalism, better communication and collaboration with the minorities’ structures at the local level in order to facilitate different programs and financing that can develop and promote their culture, identity, and values;
  • Greater openness of the ethnic and religious communities of Romania themselves towards the knowledge and acceptance of history, culture and national values of the Romanian state and of the Romanian majority and of other cultures, traditions, and religions;
  • The support of inter-religious dialogue, especially by the Orthodox Church and other religious denominations, developing inter and trans-religious programs (educational, cultural, charity) that can reunite the representatives and institutions of the different religions;
  • The necessity to develop promotion programs, nationally and locally, on ethnic, cultural and religious diversity that can be diffused to the population, in order to raise awareness and knowledge about the other communities and cultures in Romania;
  • The additional positive value of introducing classes in the school curriculum, explaining multiculturalism and cultural diversity in Romania, the history and traditions of the communities, which promote tolerance and dialogue and to adapt their content to the school curriculum, especially in connection with history and literature classes;
  • Enhancing collaboration between specific institutions in Romania, and those in other European states, first of all with the neighbors, for developing common projects and programs that can facilitate the contacts between the communities of Romania and those of the states of origin;
  • Stimulating the cooperation between the NGOs and the representative structures of the ethnic and religious groups, for boosting the participation level to the civil society and to different alternative programs to those developed by the authorities;
  • Stimulating scientific and research projects dedicated to multiculturalism, pluralism, diversity in Romania and Europe, and of the research dedicated to the history and traditions of communities in Romania. Currently, there are only restrained groups of specialists that consider the communities, we should promote the scientific cooperation and larger promotion of the research that could go beyond the circle of specialists; we should stimulate the publications dedicated to those aspects, including a greater media visibility of their results: press, internet, specific websites, media appearance, etc.
  • We recommend to religious, intellectual, and political leaders of the Muslim community to get involved more actively in talking about the negative situations that affect the image and values of the Muslim religion. It is necessary to have greater visibility and presence in the public and in the media, in order to eliminate the negative stereotyping of Islam and Muslims. We also need the more active involvement of the specialists on culture and history of the Muslim world, on the European Islam, on interethnic and interreligious relations, etc.;
  • In what the media is concerned, especially TV channels, which have a great impact on the population, it is necessary to render the journalists more professional, in selecting the information offered and in selecting the guests who took part in the shows. Unfortunately in the Romanian media, there is a large deficit of qualified and objective expertise, which leaves place to superficial and far from reality approaches. It affects the quality of the information offered and thus has a negative impact on the public;
  • The members of the Muslim communities themselves, especially those who have recently settled (during the last decades) have to respect the laws, values, and sensitivities of the Romanians, without initiating actions that harm them and the Romanian national interest. There are numerous currents of Salafi and political Islam interpretations or other neo-fundamentalist currents, within the Muslim community in Europe. They preach distancing and even rupture that can have violent expressions in relation to the values and interests of the societies and European states. This is an obvious breach of the democratic norms and of the respect of others that cannot be justified through religious ideology. Until now, Romania had an extremely open and wide policy towards the recognition of values and specific identities of the Muslim communities. It makes Romania distinctive, in some aspects, when compared to other European states that promote integration policies or even practice a negative discourse in relation to Islam.

The Romanian multicultural model – with its inherent lacks, a product of a long and complex transition process of the implementation of a democratic system, it is also the product of the specific historic and cultural realities. However, it can offer some references that can be useful for other cultural policies in states that have difficulties with multiculturalism. We can name as reference points: formalizing the political representability of the official ethnic groups, recognizing the educational system in the maternal language, financing programs for the minorities, financing and supporting the official religious denominations and their specific religious education programs in public schools, supporting publications and TV and radio shows in the language of the national minorities, accepting partnerships of the communities with the states of origin or with institutions/citizens from that place. It is equally important that there is a social climate for understanding, without negative representations in relation to the communities on behalf of the majority. In the case of the Muslim communities, the older (Turkish-Tatar), and the recent (Arab, Iranian, Kurdish, etc.), there are not collective negative memories that could alter the mutual perception. Romania did not have colonial policies and the relations with those countries of origin were friendly and supportive, an aspect that contributes enormously to the construction of a positive image of Romania, even in the context of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alignment in military operations that had a negative impact on the Arab and Muslim world. Romania has never been seen as an enemy, as a country that is contrary to the interests of the Middle East states; as a matter of fact, for many who lived in Romania, who either remained or left, Romania became a second county, a space for familiar ties. This compatibility and empathy model cannot be exported, given that is the result of the encounter of collective psychologies and specific histories on the territory of Romania. But we can raise awareness about it, in Europe, first of all. It can serve as a source of inspiration in the attempt of optimizing multiculturalism, beyond the institutional and legislative policies that hardly manage to offer efficient solutions. What it really stands at the basis of the real multiculturalism is the recognition and the acceptance of the other, at the individual level (the population).

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About the author:

Flavius CABA-MARIA, President, MEPEI; Marius LAZĂR, Scientific Research Director, MEPEI; Răzvan MUNTEANU, Strategic Analyst and Project Manager, MEPEI

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