International Conference on Rromani Language, Linguistic Rights and Linguistic Justice

El 20 de diciembre de 2018 se cumplieron 1000 años, del éxodo, de la primigenia migración, de la salida de las Rromnǎ y los Rroma de nuestra matria original india.

Con el motivo de la conmemoración de fecha tan señalada el Consejo Indio para la Cooperación Internacional, el Consejo Indio para las Relaciones Culturales y el Museo Nacional de India organizaron en 2018 los días 29 y 30 de noviembre en Delhi y los días 1 y 2 de diciembre en Lucknow y Kannauj (Uttar Pradesh) una conferencia internacional a la que tuvimos el honor de ser invitados-

Publicamos la conferencia que impartió Silvia Agüero en la Universidad de Derecho de Delhi, en nuestro viaje a India

International Conference on Rromani Language, Linguistic Rights and Linguistic Justice

5 December 2018

National Law University, New Delhi (India)

Session Theme: Linguistic Identity, Endargerment and Linguistic Rights

Shortcomings of the The Universal Declaration of linguistic rights from a Rromani point of view

A paper presented by Silvia Agüero Fernández

(Madrid, Spain, 1985. Vice- president of Asociación Pretendemos Gitanizar el Mundo and collaborator of Pikara Magazine -the most important Spanish feminist news’ platform-)

The Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights[1]

it was written and proclaimed in the World Conference on Linguistic Rights (June 6th, 1996, Barcelona, Spain). It was the work done by 61 NGOs, 41 PEN Club centres and over 40 experts in linguistic rights, coming from all over the world.

The World Conference on Linguistic Rights (WCLR) was an initiative of the Translations and Linguistic Rights Commission of the International PEN Club[2] and the CIEMEN (Centre Internacional Escarré per a les Minories Ètniques i les Nacions)[3] with the moral and technical support of UNESCO[4].

IRU, International Romani Union[5], was a founder co-signer of the Declaration, but for a mere administrative matter related to the visa, both the President of IRU, Dr. Rajko Djuric, and the Commissioner for the language and linguistic rights, Dr. Marcel Courthiade, were represented at the Conference by two members of CIEMEN.

The Declaration is a long and complex document which means that it will be difficult to apply in practice. However, we believe that it can be a useful document if it finally incorporates the proposals made by the Rromani experts.

We will start by making a brief list of the positive findings that we find in the Declaration:

  • One of the aims of the Declaration’s writers was to define equitable linguistic rights. For this reason, the Declaration proclaims the equality of linguistic rights, without any non-pertinent distinctions between official / non-official / regional / local, majority / minority, or modern / archaic languages.
  • One of the most important contributions to Linguistic Law is found in the fact that the Declaration considers inseparable and interdependent the collective and individual dimensions of linguistic rights.
  • The main objective of the Declaration is to promote the linguistic rights especially of the speakers of threatened languages.
  • The Declaration considers the linguistic and cultural diversity existing in the world, rejects forced cultural homogenization and recognizes individual and collective linguistic rights.

Fifteen years later, May 2011, PEN International, as a result of PEN Català’s initiative, has developed the Girona Manifesto[6]. It was ratified by the PEN International Assembly of Delegates at the 77th Congress (September 2011), this Manifesto declares PEN International’s ten central and guiding principles on linguistic rights.

Shortcomings of the Declaration from a Rromani point of view

Next we will expose the deficiencies that we detected in the Declaration and in the Manifesto.

We, Rromani People, and our language are not included both in the Declaration and in the Manifesto in so far as the Declaration establishes in its Preliminary title that:

(art. 1): «This Declaration considers as a language community any human society established historically in a particular territorial space, whether this space be recognized or not, which identifies itself as a people and has developed a common language as a natural means of communication and cultural cohesion among its members. The term language proper to a territory refers to the language of the community historically established in such a space.»;

(art. 3): «For the purpose of this Declaration, groups are also deemed to be in their own territory and to belong to a language community in the following circumstances: i. when they are separated from the main body of their community by political or administrative boundaries; ii. when they have been historically established in a small geographical area surrounded by members of other language communities; or iii. when they are established in a geographical area which they share with the members of other language communities with similar historical antecedents.» and

(art. 4): «This Declaration also considers nomad peoples within their areas of migration and peoples established in geographically dispersed locations as language communities in their own historical territory.»

The Manifesto deals only with territorial languages.

The Rromani People is not the majority population in any nation state. Even is not the majority population in any región. Rromani People is the majority population only in a very few local communities: Šuto Orizari (Republic of North Macedonia; Out of a total population of 17,357 in the 2002 census, 13,311 people, 76.6%, were of Rromani ethnicity), Gradets (Bulgaria, 5500 Rroma from a total population of 5895), Bukovlak (Bulgaria, 56.8 %), Alsószentmárton (Hungary, 54 %), Cojasca (Romania, 77.8 %)…

; or neighborhoods: Stolipinovo (a district in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, with 50000 inhabitants mostly Rroma), Luník IX (a borough of Kosice, Slovakia inhabited by 6411 mostly Rroma), Las 3000 (Sevilla, Spain)…

Neither Rromani People is not a stateless nation[7].  The term “stateless” implies that the group “should have” such a state. We, the Rroma, never have had a Rromani State. Of course, inside of Rromani population have existed some Rromani nationalist[8] sentiments and ideologies.

We, the Rroma, are a nation that does not aspire to become a State, as stated in the Declaration of a Nation adopted by the 5th World Rromani Congress held in Prague (Czech Republic) in 2000[9]. In this regard, we are a community with a dual nation identity comprising both the Rromani identity (as members of our own Rromani groups) and the nation identity of the country we are living on[10]: we are Spanish Rroma or French Rroma or Italian Rroma… But we are not only Spanish Rroma or French Rroma, we are members of a transborder community, wich is present in all the European countries and in much of America (central, north and south), Africa and Australia. This implies a complexity that escapes the logic established in the process of conformation of nation states.

Professor Courthiade has proposed a definition, a nation without compact territory, that includes not only the Roma population but also a dozen human groups living in Europe[11]: peoples being scattered in four or more states and wich nowhere constituting the majority of the population in a territorial unit larger than a municipality, district or the equivalent; with a declared wish to cultivate a particular identity or indeed a singular lifestyle; and a determination to exist as fully fledged citizens of the State in which they live, and thus their awareness of embodying at least two identities and two cultural heritages.

This concept, a nation without compact territory, helps to fully understand what the real situation of the Rromani people is like. We are not a stateless nation. We are not a nation without territory. We are not stateless individuals. All Rromani people have a territory that we can call “our own territory”, the terreta[12], a homeland, the place where we were born or raised or where we currently reside and in which we make a living.

The Rromani population is not the only one that has a non-compact territory[13]: Armenians, Aromanians, Yenishes, Sámis, Yiddishes, Travellers, Ashkalies, Jews… Some of them have their respective languages: Wester Armenian, Aromanian, Yenish, Sámi, Yiddish, Haketia, Djudezmo, Shelta…

All these languages are at risk and none of them is protected by the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights. The Declaration totally ignores the particular situation of these languages without a compact territory despite the recommendations that URI presented during the production process.

On the other hand, the Declaration does not take into account the populations that are struggling for the recovery of their ancestral languages when these have disappeared as is the case of the Balkan Egyptians who since the 1990s are trying to recover the use of their ancestral language or the Rroma in Spain which are trying to recover the use of the Rromani language.

Thirdly, I must say that the Declaration reflects a mechanical vision —very similar to patriarchal laws— that impose fixed measures, without flexibility and without sensitivity to the diversity of situations, which severely limits their impact on the daily life of speakers of the protected languages.

In conclusion

The Declaration is still in the process of becoming one of UNESCO’s instruments. Then it must be signed by the States.

At this time, therefore, the best way to overcome the shortcomings we have shown would be for the Delegation of India to UNESCO to facilitate a meeting with the legal team of UNESCO to begin the process of improving the Declaration in the three aspects that I have mentioned: incorporation of languages without compact territory,  to take into consideration the populations that try to recover their ancestral languages and to make the mechanisms provided more flexible to cover the widest diversity.


[2] Founded in Stockholm in 1978, the Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee believes that all languages and literatures have the right to be written, read and heard, whether spoken by millions of people across the world or by just a few. Through projects, events, publishing and campaigning, this committee encourages readers and writers to explore writing from cultures other than their own. It holds a conference every spring in Barcelona, which gives members of the PEN community the opportunity to share stories and exchange ideas with the goal of continuing to ensure that translation and linguistic rights are always at the heart of PEN International and its work

[3] CIEMEN, Escarré International Centre for Ethnic Minorities and Nations, is a cultural, not-for-profit, non-governmental Catalan organization with an international scope and over 40 years of experience in the field of stateless nations, minoritised peoples and diversity. It aims both to contribute to a better knowledge of peoples and nations that are marginalize or see their identity and existence threatened, and to support and foster the recognition and respect of individual and collective rights as a way to progress towards a lasting peace and democracy

[4] UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. It seeks to build peace through international cooperation in Education, the Sciences and Culture

[5] The International Romani Union (Maśkarthemengo Rromano Jekhipen) is an organization active for the rights of the Rromani People. Its seat is in Riga, Latvia. Its current president is Dr. Normunds Rudevičs ( The IRU was officially established at the second World Romani Congress in April 1978 in Geneva, Switzerland. It was given consultative status at the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECO-SOC, No EE-3377) the following year. The Union became a registered NGO with UNICEF in 1986. In 1993, it was promoted to Category II, Special Consultative Status at the United Nations (NGO No D9424).


[7] It is a political term for an ethnic group or nation that does not possess its own state and is not the majority population in any nation state

[8] Hancock, I. (1991). The East European Roots of Romani Nationalism. Nationalities Papers, 19(3), 251-268

[9] Fischer, A. M., (2011) Between Nation and State: Examining the International Romani Unions. Senior Projects Spring, Paper 12.

[10] Horváth, A. (2006) Gadjo Nation, Roma Nation. Roma Rights Quarterly, 2-3, 53-58.

[11] Courthiade, M. (2004) Les Rroms dans le contexte des peuples européens sans territoire compact. Orients, Bulletin de l’Association des Anciens Élèves de l’INALCO,  2e semestre, 31-78

[12] In Valencian language, terreta means homeland and includes some melancholic sentiment

[13] Mile, S (2005) Identité et identification des minorités sans territoire compact en Europe à travers l’exemple des Rroms. 149360665


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