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Wednesday, 27 March, 2002, 14:17 GMT
Hungarians unwanted in Romania census
Mr Funar (right) talks to gypsies at the rubbish dump
Funar threatens to visit anyone who claims to be Hungarian
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By Nick Thorpe
BBC Central Europe reporter
line

Romania has been frequently been criticised for trying to forget about its gypsy minority.

Now, a Romanian mayor is trying to enlist the support of local gypsies in his battle against what he sees as a worse problem, the large number of ethnic Hungarians in his town, Cluj.

Julia Eotvos
Julia Eotvos: Call for Hungarian identity cards
The road to the town's rubbish dump runs out of the city beside a railway line, before veering uphill, past shacks reminiscent of the shanty towns of a Third World city.

Some 500 gypsies live here permanently, swollen by other, more transient arrivals.

As each truck arrives, children jump up on to the back, and start frantically sorting through the mountain of junk, before the load has even been deposited on the ground.

"It's just a question of technique," said Gabi, a diminutive 12-year-old, "to make sure you don't get cut by the wheels."

The gypsies sort mostly paper, iron and glass out of the rubbish, and sell their day's work back to the state company.

Today, the community has an unusual visitor - the mayor of Cluj, Georghe Funar.

This is not simply a friendly call, but bound up with the fact that 27 March is the final day of Romania's population census - the first since 1992.

The 1992 census figure showed that nearly 23% of Cluj's population was ethnic Hungarian.

Mr Funar, notorious for his hostility to ethnic Hungarians, is unhappy with that figure.

Under the Public Administration Law passed in Romania last year, if a national or ethnic minority makes up over 20% of the population of a given settlement, they have the right to street signs, schools, and official proceedings in their own language.

"I don't believe the Hungarians make up more than 10% of the population of Cluj," he says.

He is determined that this year's figure will reflect that belief.

Identity quest

In the crowd listening to Mr Funar, is 45-year-old Julia Eotvos.

Gypsy children
Some of the gypsies speak Hungarian as their first language
Mother of 15 children, she holds a banner saying; "We want Hungarian identity cards."

In January, a new law came into effect in neighbouring Hungary.

Known as the status law, it gives special privileges to Hungarians living as national minorities in Romania and other countries bordering on Hungary.

That includes the right to work temporarily, and a grant of 80 euros per child per year, if the children attend Hungarian-language schools.

The gypsies of Cluj are for the most part of ethnic Hungarian descent.

There has been a rush of gypsies, as well as ordinary ethnic Hungarians, to apply for such Hungarian identity cards - 125,000 applications have been filed in Romania since the end of January.

For this reason, and due to the poor social standing of Roma, gypsies may well claim to be Hungarian on their census form.

Mr Funar is trying to persuade the gypsies to admit they are Roma, when the census collectors visit them.

He has threatened to personally visit anyone in the town who claims to be Hungarian on the census form, in order to verify their claim.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Nick Thorpe
"Many people in Transylvania have multiple identities"
See also:

19 Jun 01 | Media reports
Hungary 'Status Law' irks neighbours
12 Apr 00 | Europe
Czech court backs anti-Gypsy wall
26 Feb 99 | Europe
Hiding gypsies behind a wall
09 Jun 99 | Europe
Czech gypsies in school row
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