The Romani Elders

The Romani Elders

Nicolae Gheorghe(RO)

Intellectual, activist

Life story

Nicolae Gheorghe was born on November 12, 1946 in Rosiori de Vede, Romania. His parents belonged to Roma groups that have been linguistically assimilated in Romania for centuries. His family moved to Bucharest when he was 6. His father worked as a driver and known as (his-name) Tiganu. His socialization was an important factor for him. Based on his memory his mom did not let him visit a part of the neighborhood that was mostly inhabited by Roma.
As a child he became more and more integrated into Romanian society, and against his parents’ wishes attended military school outside of Bucharest. He graduated from military school in 1968 and finished a degree in philosophy and sociology in 1972 ranked top in his class at that time. Afterwards he began working at the Institute of Sociology in Bucharest
Following the 1974 World Conference on Population in Bucharest he started working on Roma issues. He was part of the National Commission for Demography that contributed to the elaboration of the Romanian Communist Party program to integrate marginalised population (Roma). In 1978 he wrote a letter to Radio Free Europe describing the difficult situation of Roma in Romania. Later on he was investigated by the Securitate. In 1984, together with Ioan Mirescu he organized a concert of Roma artists in the stadium of Timisoara. The concert was attended by more than 30.000 people. 
Immediately after the events of December 1989, he was an expert on minorities for the new authorities and contributed to the establishment of Democratic Union of Roma in Romania, Ethnic Federation of Roma. Nicolae's vision was to organise Roma into civic organisations and defend the most vulnerable group’s rights and to promote their interests even through project implementation.
Some Roma activists perceived him as an enemy of Roma, as a dividing force and one that fight against the unity of Roma. As a result of his unlike personality, in 1991 he was kidnapped by a group of Roma. Nicolae documented a series of mob violence against Roma in Romania and developed plans to reconstruct the houses of the victims. As he declared later, these ethnic conflicts played a significantly formative role in his life as a Roma activist.

In 1993 he founded the Romani Criss, which became one of the leading Roma rights NGOs in Romania as well as in Europe. In the same year he became a speaker at the OSCE and other international organizations’ conferences which formerly did not recognize Roma issues, to promote the rights of Roma through various international documents. He organized the campaign in 1995 to support the term of "Roma” as a denomination of the ethnic group. This action was against the Romanian Government who issued a memorandum proposing the term "Tzigan”. As a result, in 1999, the Romanian Government issued another memorandum recognizing the right of the Roma minority. In 1998-1999, Nicolae played an important role in establishing the Working Group of Roma Associations, as an umbrella structure include almost all Roma organizations from Romania. WGRA was the partner of the Romanian Government in elaborating the national strategy for Roma. He is one of the most outstanding Romani leaders in Europe and ideologist of Roma political activism.

In addition to being a human rights activist he has also published several articles, studies on Roma issues in Central and Eastern Europe. Gheorghe was banned from travelling during the last years of communist rule and was only allowed to publish elsewhere under a pseudonym. With these books he hopes to raise awareness for their cause as well as inform others of Roma culture and traditions.


“I grew up with the idea I am a cigan, I wanted to get rid of this identity I was taught to be Romanian (…). I rediscovered my identity (...). I want to die as a Human person.”
“Being Romanian no longer meant being a citizen of the Romanian State who is integrated into the social development and feels bound to it. Rather, one suddenly was confronted with terms such as blood, heirs and ancestors. I however had a hard time stating that my predecessors had been Dakers or Romans. I knew that it wasn’t true and that it made me differ from other Romanians. My predecessors were Gypsies. I grew angry and started to ask: Who am I really?”
“Roma politics must be dealt with in relation to general human rights; it must be related to common values and moral codes and must not focus on an exclusively ethnic or national problem. I thus prefer a course of action that doesn’t pass by international human rights standards nor their according institutions and organisations.”
“There is governmental reluctance in condemning publicly, in a clear and unequivocal way, the overt violence and the expressed hostility conducive to violence against Roma persons and against the Roma population as a whole.”
“I would say that the treatment of Roma persons in the every-life might serve as a sort of ‘barometer’ measuring the state of democracy and the transition to democracy in a variety of countries. The public treatment of Roma issues might equally serve as a test-case for  the building of democratic institutions, of the rule of law and for the consolidation of the civil movements and associations. This is especially the case in the recently emerged democracies in the central and eastern Europe where is living the majority of Roma population of the world.”
“We are people without any ethnic territory on kin-state of our own. One consequence of this reality is that our cultural identity and our status as a distinct ethnic minority were hardly recognized in the public life.”
“Having neither territorial boundaries under control nor territorial claims, the Roma issues are not perceived in the national and international politics as rising ‘security issues’ and as such not so much attention is given to them in the bi-lateral and/or multilateral inter-governmental negotiations dealing with the situation of minorities. Being not recognized as a people, and eventually as a national minority, sometimes the very ‘human condition’ was and is still frequently denied to Roma persons and communities, as is the case in all racist thinking and practice.”
“The political thinking and acting of Roma persons, communities and associations are rather going toward the ‘Human Dimension Solution’of their problems and of their relations with the surrounding people and local communities amidst they living, in the sense that the Human Dimension of the CSCE is stedingly involving as an interlinked component of the democracy building and security arrangements in Europe. This ‘solution’ is challenging us to rethink the existing, enduring practices of administrating the civic and the human rights in direct connection with clear-cut territorial units and with related clear-cut, homogenous, eventually ‘cleanse’ identities (local, ethnic, etc).”

Books, Articles, Statements

GHEORGHE, Nicolae – LIEGIOIS, Jean-Paul. 1995. Gypsies: a European Minority. Minority Rights Group, London
GHEORGHE, Nicolae – MIRGA, Andrzej. 1997. The Roma in the Twenty-First Century: A policy paper. Project on Ethnic Relations, Princeton
ACTON Thomas- GHEORGE Nicolae. 2001. ‘Citizens of the world and nowhere: minority, ethnic and human rights for Roma’’, in W. Guy ed. Between Past and Future: the Roma of Central and Eastern Europe. Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press.
GHEORGHE, Nicolae. 1994. Romanies in the CSCE Process: A Case Study for the Rights of National Minorities with Dispersed Settlement Patterns. Warsaw, 1994. (This report on the debates at the 1993 CSCE Human Dimension Seminar in Warsaw, Poland )

Press about the Elder

Managed by   View our videos on   View our Facebook page   Newsletter
© 2012 European Roma Cultural Foundation | Frankel Leó út 5. III. 23. H-1027 Budapest | | | design solid | host liw