Marching for social justice and housing rights for the Roma from Pata-Rat, in Cluj-Napoca, Romania

By Enikő Vincze*, Adrian Dohotaru* and Cristina Raţ*, on behalf of the Working Group of Civil Organizations (glOC), Cluj-Napoca, Romania

The 19th of December 2011 was incredibly sunny for the smoggy city of Cluj-Napoca, up on the hills of central Romania. As people gathered near the Heroes’ Boulevard, picked up placards which they could resonate with, greeted each other or simply exchanged glances with the sundry crowd of Roma from Pata-Rat (the famous “Gypsy ghetto” near the garbage dump of the city), civil society activists, university professors and academic researchers, artists, students, and many others… The March for Social Justice began, with messages of “Stop forced evictions!”, “Decent housing for everybody!”, “For a Society without Prejudices!”, “Social Justice for the Roma” floating above our heads.

The leitmotiv of the “Super-Owl” (“Superbufniţa” in Romanian) captured the eyes of the passers-by: the fictive “Superbufniţa”, supposed to save the humanity in our hearts, was invented by Roma children from Pata-Rat and their Romanian peers from the ELF school, in a joint artistic workshop organized two days before, at the Tranzit House, an old former synagogue, now place for alternative social art and multicultural events. It was a powerful message of solidarity and claim for social justice, coming from children on different sides of the socio-economic and ethnic divide. Some of them were present at the March, along with heir parents.

The March for Social Justice took place one year after 76 families, the majority Roma, were forcibly evicted from Coastei Street, in the centre of Cluj, to the substandard “social housing” provided by the municipality at the outskirts of the city, next to the waste dump. They joined the stigmatizing marginality of other deprived Roma families, evicted several years ago to the nearby Cantonului street, or those who moved close to the trash dump in order to earn a living from garbage and settled their improvised barracks in the shanty-town of “Dallas”. Altogether, more than 1,500 persons, half of them children, live in precarious conditions in the polluted area of Pata-Rat.

“Some of us, who became homeless after the evictions, managed to construct small wooden houses near the modular houses from Pata-Rat. But we feel unsecure, because we don’t have the mayor’s approval for this. And we are not connected to utilities, and it is impossible for our children to make their homework at the candle’s light. We waited for this march, to recall the attention of the municipality on the injustices they made us to suffer,” said after the March Ernest Creta, one of the Roma men forcibly evicted in December 2011.

Adrian Pusztai, a representative of the Romani families living on Cantonului Street and facing threat of forced eviction was also present: ”Together with other 5 families, my family was moved to Cantonului street by local authorities in 2001. Since then, the number of families increased to around 140. Some of us received small houses with the approval of the mayor in 2004 and 2005, which were made by the Ecce Homo Foundation. Now the Railway Company sued us, saying that we illegally occupy this terrain, and wants to evict us. We still haven’t heard anything from the mayor where are they going to move us if we would be evicted. So we came to this march to show that we exist and we have a problem.”

After walking along the central avenues of Cluj-Napoca, the March ended at Tranzit House. We warmed up looking at the drawings of children exhibited in the large hall, reflected upon the artworks of Project Protokoll and clapped enthusiastically after the Gypsy Dances performed by Roma youth from Pata-Rat. Then silence coated us again, as we watched the documentary Shiny-Happy People from the Trash Dump, narrating the history of evicted families from Coastei street, introduced by one of the authors, also director of the National Centre for Dance.

This was followed by a public debate gathering the positions of leading international human rights and development institutions: Dana Iepure (European Roma Right Centre), Yesim Oruc (United Nations Development Programme), Aleksandros Tsolakis (European Commission (EC), DG Regio), Kalman Mizsei (Open Society Institute, Budapest), and voices from the local civil society: Bert Looiji (ProRoma Foundation) and Enikő Vincze (professor and founding member of gLOC). Although invited, local and regional authorities refrained from participation.

The solidarity message sent by Amnesty International gave additional political weight, by stating that the cause of the families foricibly evicted from Coastei street was chosen among the ten cases highlighted by Amnesty International for action by the Danish Presidency of the Council of the European Union, taking office in January 2012 for the following six months.

Since it was established as an umbrella organization in January 2011, the Working Group of Civil Society Organizations – gLOC (, initiated several actions to promote the cause of the Roma families living in Pata-Rat and to raise awareness and put political pressure for solving the urgent, yet increasingly complex problems in the area.

In November 2011, the Romanian National Council for Combating Discrimination sanctioned the municipality for the discriminatory forced eviction and relocation of the families from Coastei street to Pata Rat. But it was with the occasion of this recent March for Social Justice that we could experience most the feeling that public actions like this contribute to empowering citizens from Pata Rat and other marginal areas; such actions can make everybody might become more aware that we form one political body and can become agents of change. At the March one could see the faces, and the immorality of inequities could no longer be ignored. We were equals, and our simple presence was an act of political affirmation of solidarity.

We firmly believe that the civil society should put pressure on state authorities to fulfill their duties in the domains of social inclusion, housing, combating discrimination, and ensuring equal opportunities. gLOC will continue trying to empower people subjected to social exclusion, forced evictions and other injustices to raise their critical voices. Together with them, we aim to put up programs that ensure the participation of marginal people in the mainstream society, respecting the human dignity and personal resourcefulness of Roma women and men.

*Enikő Vincze is a professor, PhD., at the Babeş-Bolyai University and a founding member of gLOC; Adrian Dohotaru is a journalist, Ph.D. candidate at the Romanian Academy of Sciences; Cristina Raţ is a lecturer, PhD., at the Babeş-Bolyai University Cluj-Napoca.

To watch the Solidarity message for the Roma families in Cluj-Napoca video click here.