The legal basis for the development of Rromani language in Europe



It is nowadays uncontested that languages and people are in incessant relation and there is an interaction between them. The language serves people to express themselves and to communicate, while people, by using the language, shape it. Beyond this relation, who is natural, there is another one, in which the human plays or more precisely is called to play a role. As anything, the language can be regulated, and have a legal framework in which it can evolve. The minority languages present, in this respect, some particularities, since their development, and sometimes even their survival, depend on this legal status. This is the reason why the treatment of minority languages can be considered as an indicator of the Human Rights recognition’s degree.

Concerning the legal basis on which the Rromani language can develop in Europe, we can say that some efforts have been done in different levels, but still remains a long way for ensuring its efficiency and effectiveness. As a preliminary remark, we can say that international institutions and organisations have undertaken some initiatives, but they could be improved, and in any case, they require an appropriate follow-up at the national level.


The existing texts in European level


The resolution n° 89/C 153/02, 21st June 1989 – Council of European Community


“Schooling of the children of Gypsies and Travellers” – the title of the resolution takes the expression “Gypsies and Travellers”, and this leads to a confusion and to difficulties with the implementation of the resolution. Actually, “Gypsies” is a term used by non-Rroms for designating Rroms, but also other populations with no relation with them. “Travellers” also, is a term which design nomadic people, but only a few Rroms continue travelling.

Among the measures proposed to the member-states in this resolution, some of them concern the modalities of the schooling: “experimentation of the education in distance, which can respond better to the reality of nomadism”. The term avoided on the title of the resolution, comes back… 

The terms “Gypsies” and “Travellers” are linked between them with “and” or “or”, according to the provision, on the same text. For instance:

training and employment of teachers coming from gypsy or travellers’ population, when possible” but

encouragement of the research on the culture, history and language of gypsies and travellers”.

We can see, thus, that there is no clear for the Council either we are in front of the same population or not. So that, beyond the fact that the resolution is not legally binding for the member-States, its political impact is weakened by this confusion, which still continues today.


The Council of Europe also is at the origin of different texts concerning the Rromani population. Among the last ones, the Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers, adopted on 3 February 2000 is entitled “The education of Rroma/Gypsies children in Europe”. The word “Rroma” appears on the document, and this shows certain evolution in defining the target population, but it still is accompanied by “Gypsies”. We can say anyway that things progress here and we can be optimistic. The recommendations made to the member-states, who are more numerous, are more specific and the guideline n°12 provides: “In the countries where the Rromani language is spoken, the Rroma/gypsies children should have the opportunity to follow an education in their mother tongue”. Also, are encouraged the training of teachers belonging to the Rroma/gypsy community and the association of Rromani communities in the elaboration of the programmes.

The Commissioner of International Rromani Union on the language proposed recently a recommendation to the Parliamentary Assembly on the Rromani language and culture, as it exists on Yiddish and Aromanian languages and cultures. This text could be an appropriate basis for the development of the Rromani language in CoE area, since it deals specfically with the issue and it is elaborated by a competent person on the matter.


However, let’s go back to the relation between language and people, and see more deeply the relation between the Rromani language and the responsible authorities.

The Rromani language is present in Europe for centuries already, and it is used quite widely among Rromani communities throughout Europe. What should be the attitude of decision-makers face to this situation? And that of the Rromani population itself?

Indeed, all laws, provisions and rules on the use of a language are useless if people don’t wish to speak this language at home. This last can not be achieved by laws, but by creating the context fostering the use of Rromani as home language. The target is then not the pupils, but their families, their parents and grand parents. As we said just before, usually, the Rromani exists. When used at home, it is used in a low level (immediate use), which is not a problem in a rural context, where the needs in social intercourse are similar. This is the situation that Yugoslav sociologists called “Palanka”. But in modern life, especially in urban areas, which remain a social model for everybody, there is a great gap between the needs at home and in social intercourses, except when the speaker have attained a level of intellectual life which brings the home use of the language up to a level similar to the linguistic use in social intercourses.

Right now, the Rromani is in a position of meeting the needs in the primitive scope of uses, but not yet to meet the needs of the highly socialized community, in terms of modern expression. In this structure, there are two possibilities:


1.      To seclude Rromani into a basic activity use, while modern life is expressed in majority language. This leads to diaglossy, as described by Fergusson. The second stage is the following: the modern ideas penetrate the home sphere of activities, and since they can not be expressed by the home language, they will bring with themselves the linguistic patterns and items of majority language. As a result, Rromani will be viewed as a mean of conveying outdated concepts and condemned to fall at extinction by the next generation.

2.      One can state that children have immediate interest perception of language. Language is for them a “hic et nunc” mean of communication, which means that they are aware of only one part of language function, disregarding that language is also cultural structure strongly linked with culture itself, which is also made up of a linguistic structure. This is viewed also among deculturated illiterate people (people who have lost the traditional heritage and not acquired a minimum of the cultural wealth proposed by the Western world). Therefore, it is crucial to set up a firm mechanism of how to revive the cultural dimension of the linguistic heritage, or in other terms, how to bring the Rromani traditional and modern culture to a foot of equality with the majority culture. This is a pivotal challenge faced currently by all minorities whether compact or not, and including official languages of some states.

As far as law is concerned, the legal framework has to grant not the possibility, but the actual existence of the context in Rromani as in majority language, for example the access to Rromani versions of electronic games, traditional tales on-line, word processes, interactive encyclopædia etc… The costs for such productions is extremely low, as compared to what is spent for keeping alive a sort of survival Rromani in areas where the language is almost extinct.