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Romania Emigration: Problem or Solution?
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
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    Although the goal of the Ceausescu regime was national homogenization and an ethnically pure Romania, the regime opposed the emigration of ethnic minorities. Beginning in the late 1970s, a media campaign was launched that followed two basic tacks. Spokespersons for ethnic minorities in the workers' councils praised the regime's treatment of minorities and declared their devotion to socialist Romania. By contrast, those who desired to emigrate were depicted as weaklings with underdeveloped "patriotic and political consciousness," would-be traitors abandoning their fatherland and the struggle to build socialism. Stories abounded of Romanians emigrating only to find life more difficult in their new environment and happily returning to their homeland. Accounts of those who had emigrated to West Germany were particularly bleak.

    Attempts to discourage emigration were not left entirely to the media. The official policy allowed emigration only on an individual basis, and only in specific cases--usually for family reunification. In later years, the PCR ironically suggested that families could be reunited by immigration into Romania. Obtaining permission to leave the country was a lengthy, expensive, and exhausting process. Prospective emigrants were likely to be fired from their jobs or demoted to positions of lower prestige and pay. They were often evicted from their homes and publicly castigated. At the same time, they were denied medical care and other social benefits, and their children were not permitted to enroll in schools.

    In 1972, amid claims that emigration was purposefully encouraged by the West and was becoming a "brain drain" for the nation, the regime proposed a heavy tax requiring would-be emigrants to reimburse the state for the cost of their education. Although Romanian citizens could not legally possess foreign money, sums of up to $US20,000 in hard currency were to be paid before emigrants would be allowed to leave. Under pressure from the United States, which threatened to revoke Romania's most-favored-nation trade status, and West Germany and Israel, the tax officially was not imposed. But money was collected in the form of bribes, with government officials reportedly demanding thousands of dollars before granting permission to emigrate. A failed attempt to emigrate illegally was punishable by up to three years in jail.

    Despite Ceausescu's opposition to emigration, the ethnic German population declined sharply. In 1967, when diplomatic relations with West Germany were established, roughly 60,000 ethnic Germans requested permission to emigrate. By 1978, some 80,000 had departed for West Germany. In 1978 the two countries negotiated an agreement concerning the remaining German population, which had decreased from 2 percent of the total population in 1966 to 1.6 percent in 1977. Romania agreed to allow 11,000 to 13,000 ethnic Germans to emigrate each year in return for hard currency and a payment of DM5,000 per person to reimburse the state for educational expenses. In 1982 that figure rose to DM7,000-8,000 per person. In the decade between 1978 and 1988, approximately 120,000 Germans emigrated, leaving behind a population of only about 200,000, between 80 and 90 percent of whom wanted to emigrate. As their numbers declined, the Germans feared they would be less able to resist assimilation. In 1987 an entire village of some 200 ethnic Germans applied en masse for emigration permits.

    The Jewish minority also markedly declined as a result of large-scale emigration. Suffering under state-fostered antiSemitism and financially ruined by expropriations during nationalization, much of the Jewish population applied for permission to leave in 1948. Between 1948 and 1951, 117,950 Jews emigrated to Israel, and from 1958 to 1964, 90,000 more followed, leaving a total Jewish population of only 43,000 in 1966. Permission to emigrate was freely granted to Jews, and by 1988 the population numbered between 20,000 and 25,000, half of whom were more than sixty-five years of age. Furthermore, over one-third of those Jews still in the country held exit visas.

    In the late 1980s, ethnic Hungarians clung to their ancient roots in Transylvania and, unlike the Germans and Jews, the majority were reluctant to consider emigration. Although neither Hungary nor Romania wanted the minority decreased by emigration, thousands of refugees crossed into Hungary during the 1980s, especially after 1986. This development prompted Budapest to launch an unprecedented all-out publicity campaign against Romania's treatment of minorities. Inside Romania, ethnic protest against the regime was quite restrained. A notable exception in the late 1980s was Karoly Kiraly, an important leader in the Hungarian community who openly denounced the regime's nationalities policy as assimilationist. The regime, which readily discounted such protests, labeled Kiraly "a dangerously unstable relic of Stalinism dressed up in Romanian national garb."

    Data as of July 1989

    NOTE: The information regarding Romania on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Romania Emigration: Problem or Solution? information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Romania Emigration: Problem or Solution? should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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Revised 10-Nov-04
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