Ethnic Cleansing By Renaming.
(Part of The Darkness Visible series
& Roma In Europe series)
(Roma Face The PNL Party / Rohingya Face 969)
A name is in many aspects the very nature of who we are or who we consider ourselves to be. A person born and raised in France would not suddenly consider himself to be Mexican one day simply because it sounded right. A child born and raised in Yemen would not suddenly decide that he is Korean because somebody suggested it. We are raised to be proud of who we are. The nationality we are given from birth is that which we desire to keep as we age. It is funny in sense, yet we do not easily part from this seemingly arbitrary title. It is simply just too important for us to do without.
Americans are raised with a slightly different sense of what it means to be this or that. We add African, Asian, Latin, Hispanic, Native, and many other nationalities in front of American when we want to be rather specific about our origin. And for most of us, this is a welcome part of declaring our heritage to the world around us. It not offers us a sense of being distinguished in a country that melts our diversity to form a new culture of its own. Yet despite this, we still do much the same as a Parisian might do when we tell others who we are and where we come from... we give them a name that describes it.
For the Roma people of Romania the decision to proclaim their heritage by calling themselves "Roma" is under threat. National Liberal Party (PNL) deputies Mircea Dolha and Grigore Crăciunescu proposed an amendment to the Romanian constitution that would make it illegal for Roma to call themselves Roma. The wording is ambiguous enough to avoid outright rejection by other parties within Romania's government yet according to NGOs and activists clearly targets Romani people. And for the most part the amendment would serve to further alienate Roma living within Romania.
This issue of state sponsored discrimination against an ethnic minority places Romania in the same group as the genocidal government of Myanmar. By attempting to deprive the Roma of their natural right to claim their ethnicity and cultural heritage the government of Romania attempts to push a policy of ethnic cleansing through renaming of an ethnic minority. The parallel between Romania and Myanmar is only further constructed through Romania's PNL party's policy that ethnic minorities may not call themselves "Romanian" unless they can prove their ethnicity to the government. This policy mirrors the policy of Myanmar in it's devout dedication to a policy of denial as it continues to deny the existence of an indigenous Rohingya population within Burma.
In the case of the Roma people in Romania the only major difference is the fact that the PNL has not given them a name with which to scapegoat the Romani people. Though ethnic slurs and the stereotypical gypsy image is paraded readily by PNL party members, the Roma are simply going to face total ethnic cleansing in Romania. The Rohingya people of Burma on the other hand are being given a name to replace their own; Bengali. This form of ethnic cleansing allows Myanmar the opportunity to justify deportations while also revising the history of Burma... erasing Rohingya from history.
For both the Rohingya and the Roma, these attempts to commit ethnic cleansing are only partially masked by political language and platitudes. If allowed to stand these attacks will devastate entire ethnic groups while setting back their attempts to coexist with their neighboring ethnic groups. In the long run these moves also undercut the history and heritage of these two ethnic minorities. By making it illegal to register under their own ethnic name the governments force these groups to accept and adopt the ethnic heritage of groups to which they do not belong.
In the eyes of the world a name is a funny little thing. It seems somewhat odd to many just how important these simplistic titles seem to us. Yet if we were to take just a moment, a brief moment of meditation, we would find in our empathy the disturbing notion of what it would mean to be without our own name. It is in that little title we carry with us that we link ourselves to others within our culture, our beliefs, our heritage. In the eyes of those who realize this a name is not just a silly word but a treasured part of who we are.
An opportunity to scream:
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(Note: not all sources listed)
Amnesty International Live Wire (blog)
Burma News International