Issues

Uneven Romanian state grants to ethnic minorities

Preferential state subsidies for well-defined groups within a democratic country have always attracted criticism. Sometimes it’s for their very existence – for example, using a fictitious case: why should blonde astronauts receive state subsidies out of the taxes collected from everyone? At other times they’re criticized for their absolute size, or size relative to a randomly chosen other group. With that introduction, let us now delve into the matter at hand.

Every year, the Romanian central budget – through a government agency known as the Department of Inter-Ethnic Relations – subsidizes ethnic minorities with a certain amount of money. This year, the 18 ethnic minorities entitled to such grants received a total of RON 130.8 million (EUR 27.7 million). But looking at the complete list, one cannot but wonder how these amounts are determined.

The most obvious distribution would be based on a minority’s population number, multiplied by as many RON the state can afford to give them. That, however, is certainly not the case. Hungarians – on account of being the largest minority in Romania – receive RON 29.4 million (EUR 6.21 million).  A tidy sum, but just on its own. Divided by their number at the latest census in 2011, ethnic Hungarians receive RON 24 (about the price of four kilograms of bread) a year, while the Roma – numbering half as many as the Hungarians – receive RON 30, so about 20 percent more per capita.

Abandoning this approach, maybe the amount is calculated based on the – otherwise correct – assumption that the smaller the population of a particular minority group the more it is in danger of disappearing. Data – up to a point – seem to support this theory. Ethnic Germans, numbering just above 36 thousand, receive RON 298 per capita, or the price of a basic flatscreen TV. From here on, the subsidies rise exponentially, and one of the smallest minorities, the Armenians receive RON 4,312, or the equivalent of four months’ rent of a two-room apartment in the central Transylvanian city of Marosvásárhely/Târgu Mureș.

So the theory seems to pan out. That is until we look at the Csángos, a Hungarian ethnic group living in an enclave in an area in eastern Romania known as Moldova. Though they consider themselves Hungarian, the Romanian census lists them as a separate ethnic minority, with their numbers comparable to those of the Armenians. But no, they do not receive that kind of money. As a matter of fact, they aren’t even included in the government subsidies list. Meaning that they receive the exact same RON 24 as any other ethnic Hungarians.

Title image: Ethnic minority summer camp in Bikfalva/Bicfalău, Transylvania in 2017.

Author: Dénes Albert