Romania in the communist era was for many Roma people hard to bear.  They were harassed and secluded from modern cities, then there were efforts made to integrate them into society and the work force, while authorities also “sold” them to neighbouring countries. As always, the Roma adapted and tried to survive these changes the best they could.


The Roma who survived deportation to Transnistria returned to their villages and towns, while many of them settled on the outskirts of Bucharest.

When the communist regime was established in Romania, the Party set out to ethnically unify Romanian society by ‘Romanianising’ the Roma and adapting them to the new system.

During Gheorghe Gheorghiu Dej’s leadership, mass ‘systematisation’ was carried out in an area of the capital by removing more than 2 000 people, mostly Roma, using tear gas grenades. They were evicted from unhealthy houses, loaded onto trucks and distributed to various sectors, without the authorities making any further efforts.

It was only at the end of the 1970s that Ceaușescu took steps to find real solutions for the fate of the Roma. Until then, the process of their economic and social integration had missed its target. The Roma were not employed, some of them lived in conditions that were harmful to their health and to those around them, children did not go to school and the crime rate was high.

When the authorities were met with resistance at their efforts of integration, the Roma population began to become a national problem.

The measures that were sometimes forced on the Roma largely succeeded in integrating them into employment. They were sent to school, provided with a decent living through stable employment and housing, and also attempts were made to sedentarise nomadic Roma in order to draw them into society.

The social aid system integrated into Nicolae Ceausescu’s policy came to the aid of many poor Roma families, but only those Roma who were employed and fully adapted to the imposed system benefited from this.

For many of them, the economic and social system established by the communists led to the abandonment of traditional occupations. And as other communities refused to modernise, all their valuables were confiscated by the Securitate and Militia.

In the wake of the economic crisis, some of the Roma adapted their traditional lifestyle to the modern times and became traders on the ‘black market’.

Such is the case of the coppersmiths, a community that learned the craft from their ancestors and despite many obstacles, did not give up their traditions.

They used to make brandy cauldrons and sell them secretly because they did not have a “manufacturing licence”.

“My father had a manufacturing license but only for tinware, not for boilers – for coffee kettles, kettles, pans, scotches, horse weaves, buckets, laundry kettles. They were not allowed to make boilers for liquor, but they made and sold them anyway. There was no material to be found, they made them from what they could, from old objects, from bath kettles. During the communist era, my father took two boilers to someone in Bucharest by train. The first night, he jumped off with my mother, carrying boilers on the backs, when the train started. There was police on the train. The second night, he tried again. He sealed the cauldron in a box, but when he arrived in Bucharest, the police opened it, saw that it was a cauldron and confiscated it. My father was fined for about 1,000 lei,” says one of the coppersmiths.

A hidden issue in communist Romania was the sale of Roma to neighbouring countries. The Securitate, as the Secret Services were called at the time, created multiple pathways to the West.

Romania and Austria signed an agreement allowing a limited number of Romanian tourists to visit the country. Thus, the Securitate issued passports for Roma with a maximum an expiration date within 3 weeks.

When they arrived in Vienna, the Roma were instructed to destroy their passports in order to be smuggled into Germany, where life conditions were a lot better. The passage to Germany was carried in exchange for considerable sums of money.

In conclusion, during the communist era, efforts were made to integrate the Roma but also to repress them. The history of this population in post-war times is more difficult to reconstruct since, for many years, there was no special policy for this ethnic minority in Romania.

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