Péter László

életrajz | kontakt | publikációs lista

utolsó frissítés: 2006. nov. 1.

How Extreme Marginalization Generates Ethnicity? In Heller, Wilfried & Peter Jordan & Thede Kahl & Josef Sallanz (ed.) Ethnizität in der Transformation. Zur Situation nationaler Minderheiten in Rumänien. Wiener Osteuropa-Studien no. X., Wien 2005.

How Extreme Marginalization Generates Ethnicity


The present study is based on an anthropological fieldwork research[1] in a Romanian mono-industrial small town which has undergone a quick impoverishment process due to the restructuring of the local mine. By means of interviews and participant observation techniques, I have tried to find out how extreme marginalization has produced a certain ethnicity of those living in extreme poverty whose chance to escape poverty is very low due to the structural shifts. The study is empirical; I have investigated a segregated community in Balan, which lives on the left bank of the Olt River. The members of the community are called–in fact labeled, or more precisely stigmatized as–"Texans" or "ordinances" and their neighborhood is called "Texas".[2] The newcomer "Texans" lost their jobs after the economic restructuring process started in the mid nineties. They lost their jobs–they "quitted", accepting the terms imposed by the Emergency Ordinances No. 19 and 22 (1997) and they were compensated with (and right after that spent) some money–they became not only the "undeserved poor" of Balan, but also a distinct social group having a "new ethnicity". Balan is also poor in itself, so the Texans are systematically isolated by the "outside world" (those living on the right bank of Olt River) and labeled as Gypsies in order to block their way to scarce resources, and to legitimate this practice. Being isolated and labeled, being a Texan became equivalent to belonging to an ethnic group with a different situation.


            After the Romanian Revolution, the social structure has radically changed. This process has produced social problems unknown and unexperienced before: rapid and severe inflation, structural unemployment, visible inequalities, and ultimately severe poverty. A new social stratum has appeared due to the decline of some economic sectors: the "losers" of the transition (Ferge, 1996, Emigh-Szelényi, 2001). The mining industry represented one of the most problematical industrial areas and enterprises in Romania. That is why the former workers from the mining industry represent a considerable percent among the "losers" (see Teşliuc-Pop-Teşliuc, 2001). This was also the case with the town Balan, where the Copper Mining Enterprise suffered a serious depression, which led to the spectacular increase of unemployment and poverty. But–as perhaps elsewhere in the country in similar social and economical contexts–in the investigated site, the rapid impoverishment of a considerable segment of the population in correlation with spatial segregation and stigmatization had serious consequences: a new ethnicity rose. In the following, I will try to present how persistent stigmatization can stimulate ethnicity. I expect to give a concrete answer to the process of classificatory struggle or the formation of "mental maps" of ethnicity related to social situation, particularly extreme poverty and spatial segregation. The present article consists of three different parts. Hereinafter, the first part is a presentation of the theoretical background of the study. After a brief presentation of the investigated site, I will focus on the process in which the new situational ethnicity is socially constructed. Finally, the main conclusions will be traced.

The theoretical guidelines of the research[3]

For the sake of simplification, the theories of ethnicity can be grouped in two classes along the pairs of opposites primordialist-modernist, classical-constructivist, essentialist-instrumentalist, objectivist-subjectivist, although lately synthesizing attempts have also emerged. The theoretical basis of our research is represented by the so-called constructivist approach. Its core is represented by Barth (1969) who called the attention to the importance of the inter-subjective isolation practice of ethnic groups instead of using the former culture-centric approach to identity. In his view, ethnicity cannot be defined based on objective criteria, it does not represent static and long-lasting group membership, but it is a dynamic organizational model, formed in the course of interaction, in which people categorize themselves and the others, that is they constantly draw the borderlines between the two (or more) groups. The continuity of the group is determined by the preservation of these (symbolic) borderlines, not by the objective differences between them, because from among the last ones only those materialize which the actors consider important in the given situation. Although Barth had many critics,[4] ethnicity research shifted towards the direction imposed by him. The representatives of the paradigm (Barth, 1969, 1996, Banks, 1996, Bell, 1975, Cornell-Hartman, 1996, Eriksen, 1993, Gans, 1996, Hannerz, 1996, Horowitz, 1975, Jenkins 1997, Schaefer, 1998) handle his tradition differently, yet they agree on certain matters.

According to their opinion, the ideology of ethnicity and solidarity among the members of an ethnic group are modern concepts, not the result of an original (cultural) kinship which could be traced back to the "common past". Moreover, constructivists also accept that the isolated cultural contents do not represent the essence of ethnicity, but in given social circumstances during daily interaction the groups which come into contact create the borderlines that separate the two groups in such a way that they classify one another according to some categories, and they build the identity of the group based on the interplay between these classifications, labels and their acceptance/refusal (see also Banks, 1996, Bell, 1975:159, Cornell-Hartman, 1996, Eriksen, 1993, Hannerz, 1996, Jenkins, 1997:40, 53-56 etc.).[5] They consider that the cultural traits which appear in some of the dichotomies do not represent mechanical applications of objective criteria, but they are cultural symbols which the members of the group actively choose based on subjective factors (Gans, 1996). All this due to the fact that in the given situation symbols are capable of rendering them "diacritical signs" of the differences between groups (Hannerz, 1996:418), of landmarks of identity (see also Eriksen, 1993:47, Horowitz, 1975:120).[6]

Therefore, in this view–which we also accepted–ethnic identity is not a static concept, but a dynamic process: the classification of individuals into certain groups takes place in given social circumstances, in an instrumental way, depending on the interests of the own/other group (Bell, 1975:171). Furthermore, we also accept that the individual can be a member of more groups at the same time (ethnic identities do not necessarily exclude each other, and choosing one identity or the other–more or less rationally and/or instrumentally,[7]  - always depends on the given situation, and borderlines are not definitely given, but they are osmotic and can be crossed (Barth, 1969:19, Horowitz, 1975:118, Jenkins, 1997:70).

The constructivist paradigm allows us to embed the ethnic construction process of our subjects into the economic, social and political context, given that the interactions between groups which consider themselves/each other different are very important if they compete in the same niche, for the same resources from unequal positions (Barth 1969:19). During the competition, the indicators of group characteristics represent the criteria of differentiation (see also Horowitz, 1975:119). We consider that here we are faced with a similar situation, the mental and symbolic blueprints of which will be presented in the following.

In agreement with the above presented theoretical background, I think that ethnicity is strongly connected with certain social groups. Ethnic here refers to those groups which can be "invented", or "re-invented", or even "created" and "taken as such" by the members of the group, or the "outside world" for different reasons. This is based on the praxis of distinction, the classification in which the hetero-definitions about the boundaries between social groups pay a decisive role. Briefly: I will argue that the construction of ethnicity can be easily the result of a so called "classificatory struggle" between classifiers - those who hold different kinds of power, especially economic–and the classifieds–those who lack any form of power (see Emigh-Szelényi, 2001). The reason for that is the competition for scarce resources (Schaefer, 1998). Therefore, I think that in certain contexts "ethnicity" is produced or imposed accordingly by the relation between the members of at least two social groups. The difference can be, and often is, economical.

The general context–the site

The town Balan[8] is situated on the western part of the Hăşmaş Mountains–in the area where the rivers Olt and Mureş spring from–at a distance of 42 kilometers North from Miercurea-Ciuc, capital city of Harghita County, at the eastern border of the historical region of Transylvania, not far from the region Moldova. The site is located in an extremely narrow valley of approximately 2.5 KM length (the average width does not surpass 350-400 meters)–on an average altitude of 825 meters and surrounded by mountains with an altitude between 1720 and 1792 meters. The climate of the area is particularly severe, characteristic to the mountains: damp, very cold and unsteady. The summer is short; the number of sunny hours is only 1200-1300 per year, the rest being rainy; only potatoes, carrots, parsley, onions, and beans can be cultivated. People do not possess arable land, and according to the data supplied by the Local Council only 0.9 percent own pastures for animals.

The town is small, being, in fact, a mining and highly mono-industrial town. It is isolated from the rest of the settlements–it is located on the Northern dead end of the Olt Valley–out of the national road network and with no railway. All along its existence, the history and development of this settlement has been constantly connected to and determined by the copper mine. A village before 1967, the life of Balan town as well as of its inhabitants has followed the dynamics of copper mining. In fact, the history of the town can be interpreted as the history of the mine. 83 percent of the population has been involved in mining/mine related activities–being in fact employees. The town is clearly marked by its mono-industrial nature: except the mine, there is no other industry or company.[9] Presently the total population of Balan is 7902, ethnically and religiously mixed: about two thirds Romanians and one third Hungarians, respectively Orthodox and Romano Catholics. The Roma represent only three percent.[10]

The very majority of the population (93 percent) lives in blocks of flats built by the state between 1966-1985. In these 2896 apartments (the data were supplied by the Local Council of Balan) out of which 120 of 1st category, 1500 of 2nd category and the rest of 3rd and 4th categories -126 single room apartments, 2120 two-room apartments, 630 three-room apartments and 20 four-room apartments (these data include 160 single-room bachelor flats and two hostels for workers).There is no central heating and warm water in the apartments since May 1984–disregarding comfort and in spite of the severe climate conditions. The rest of 7 percent live in private houses with garden. The majority of these flats are privately owned, they were sold by the state at relatively small prices after the change of regime. Presently, their market price is far below that of a similar apartment in any other town. For instance, a two-room apartment in Balan costs-sells at a price between 333-533 Euro, while the same type of apartment sells in Miercurea-Ciuc at a price of 12 000-25 000 Euro. The average living area is 52 sq., and the average family consists of 5.2 persons. In general, Balan has a very high rate of unemployment due to the reorganization of the mine. In 1997, as a result of Emergency Decrees No. 9 and 22, 6956 persons were laid off, and the total number of laid off persons was 835 by the end of 1997. In the following year, 87 more people were laid off who also got compensatory money.

Actually, Balan district is the least developed area in Harghita County. The area–actually the mono-industrial "made city"[11] (Szirmai, 1988) in an obvious economic decline–was officially declared by the Romanian Government disadvantageous area[12] in 1998. The level of unemployment is around 27 percent, but it is continuously changing due to the economic context–anyway its rate is much above the county average, around 7 percent.

Breaking nexus and new ethnicity

The golden years and a turnout

A "made city", the history of Balan is highly connected with the history of the copper mine. In fact, the mine determined everything that happened or could have happened in the town (see further Péter, 2003). Before 1989, the mine was the main integrating factor: it fulfilled both a social and an economical function (Péter, 2003).

Before 1989 any condition of scarcity gave off almost exclusively from the nature of the centralized economy of "shortage", of acute lack of goods, but these had been somehow counteracted and ameliorated by the social networks that came to help the individual, and the mine as an entity (in which people had had almost complete confidence) encouraged these informal mechanisms. At the level of micro-communities there was solidarity of mutual support in which people had a considerable trust, and among part of its elements–among the individuals who constituted the social network–there were no considerable social differences. An example, which bolsters the above-mentioned ideas, is the common ritual of obtaining wood for fire, or the control mechanisms as far as properties and stored goods in front of the block were concerned. The network functioned because, on the one hand, the problems of everyday life were much greater than the sociological characteristics of differentiation, and on the other hand, almost everybody belonged to the same organizational culture. The specificity of labor (hard underground work, the methodical need for mutual help in the mine) led them to vital co-operation for survival in any moment. There simply existed a state that determined by this praxis lead by the social capital provided and generated by the mine. Everyday life was characterized by the awareness that the mine "is the knot and aid for all of us": a formal mechanism considered appropriate for the resolution of the daily problems.[13] In this context, the individuals did not consider their situation as being unprotected because they constantly knew and noticed the company's support on which they could rely any time. It represented some sort of "corporatist" reality in their mental.

The situation after 1989, but especially 1997 has radically changed because of losing the validity of the pattern that guided their everyday life before. The social system and implicitly the economic one have suddenly changed: the role of the mine has decreased considerably. Due to financial motifs, the role of the mechanism in allocating the aids has clearly diminished and as a result, the accredited trust has collapsed. The social networks have lost their well-defined roles–because without the social capital produced by the mine -, their efficiency has decreased dramatically. Moreover, among the elements of the former networks the individuals who were part of it–the balance has broken definitely: some have lost their jobs, the others have left and this way the common identity and culture have been lost–the socially assisted unemployed and the remnant employed miners could not have the same culture.[14]

Therefore, after 1997 an emphasized process of social disintegration took place. According to the in-depth interviews, the individuals (Texans) consider that "the common underground tradition" does not function any more, partly due to the fact that the mine has lost its capacity to supply help. "When the social institutions lose identity, then social disintegration occurs" (Gans, 1988)–this is exactly what happened in Balan. The previous social networks do not exist, the mechanism of social and systematic integration disappeared. The lack of social integration mechanisms triggered unemployment, the cause of acute poverty: (see Peter, 2003).

Unemployment has become constant, the unemployed have no place to go besides Balan–simultaneously, the number of those who are pensioned off ahead of schedule is growing, and women lose their jobs definitively and disappear from the more and more segmented labor market. The phenomenon of marketization emerges: social services have to be paid, sending for a doctor represents a cost hardly reachable and it visibly outlines a parallel system that is available only for a very few who can afford it. Of course, these negative effects do not influence the whole population equally: the real losers are the "newcomer" families living on the left bank of River Olt in the southern part of the town. They became not only the "undeserved poor" of Balan but also a distinct social group[15] with a "new ethnicity". Systematically isolated by the "outside world" (those living on the right bank of Olt River, out of Texas) and labeled as Gypsies, the Texans have become the equivalent of belonging to an ethnic group with a distinct situation. Let us see how all this happened.

The process followed a linear path: 1. First they lost their jobs "unworthy" (see Katz, 1996), then 2. The Texas district became more and more segregated and isolated, and finally, 3. The constant stigmatization with the Gypsy label runs up the distinct ethnicity. Moreover, our results show that the new socially constructed ethnicity is a tool or instrument by means of which the haves get in touch with the have-nots to isolate them in the competition for the resources. Let us have a closer look at the first element. How did they end up with the "unworthy" attribute?

"Unworthy discourse" and becoming "Gypsy" - the invention of "new ethnicity"

      As I have mentioned earlier, following the economic transition the mining industry was reorganized, generating the reduction of personnel in this field of the economy. These changes considerably affected the Mine Balan. In 1997 and 1998, the Mining Enterprise carried out massive lay-offs. In Jill Valley[16] the lay-offs were mandatory, but in the Balan Mine it was on voluntary basis. The whole project has proved a total failure because the statute of laid-offs also implies the obligation of a future employment; they cannot be re-employed in the mine irrespective of the evolution of the mine's economic performance. Practically, in Balan many people choose long term unemployment.[17] As for the moment when the lay-off lists were prepared–on which they voluntarily registered–later on they make the following comments: "I was influenced by friends", or "I did not know what I was doing", "I was drunk", "…all my neighbors did the same". In the outer world's (outside Texas) public discourse "their unworthy behavior", the common idea that the poor have become poor "by their own doing", by their inappropriate and reprehensible actions, is a key element.[18] The "unworthy discourse" exaggerates with the supposed irresponsibility of the "ordinances", but the argument is feasible for the working rest. The discourse was strengthened through a gossip:[19] many Texans refused (otherwise for understandable reasons) "a possibility to work".[20]

Other–taken as objective and proved–elements helped to spread the "unworthy discourse": it was easy to locate the subjects of the discourse in space with certain proofs of their difference.[21] The district populated by "the unworthy" Texans presented visible and incontrovertible architectural irregularities, which suddenly turned into the voucher of fossilized "abnormality" concentrated and settled apart–an ethnic ghetto. Statements like "They were people who did not care where and under what conditions they were living", or "I remember them doing all kind of things, just as they used to back home, in the village", or "They came from all directions, some wondered through the country and settled here... many of them were Gypsies" are only a few examples of this.

In Balan the buildings of the institutions are mingled in space with those of dwelling houses, so the districts have no special functions (such as residential area, divided economic centre, administrative area). The blocks of flats were built very close to each other; the few elements that differentiate them (and the districts as well) are the position of the blocks of flats as compared to the "main street" of the town, the period they were built and their location as compared to the Hăşmaş mountain. (Due to this differentiation, the Southern and Northern parts of the town can be distinguished). Almost each building from Balan is a block of flats of a standard type and bad quality, with a low level of comfort (each of them has an area of about 51 sq., made up of 2-3 rooms, bathroom, kitchen, pantry and a small vestibule). Even the buildings of public institutions are of such type. Their features bear the impact of the urbanizing policy characteristic to communism until 1989. Although the whole aspect of the town is gloomy and lacks character, Texas can be easily considered a unit having its own visible geographical borders. The town is line-shaped, divided into two parts by the river Olt: the Northern (including the city centre), respectively the Southern (including Texas). The most representative institutions are on the northern part: the Headquarter of the Mining Enterprise, the building of the Local Council and the Mayor's Office, the Police, a catholic church, one school and the Miner's Club. The northern part is the older one; the buildings are from around the '60-ies. Except two schools and the Orthodox Church there is nothing but blocks of flats in the southern part. The inhabitants endow this physical device with axiological meanings. The people leaving in the Northern part–having a higher economic and social status - define the Southern one as "the end of the town", although the only high road entrance to the town can be found there.[22] The physical space of Balan, when interpreted by its locals as a social one, has three dimensions: the chronological one, the axiological one, and some elements of the social space correlating with them. The map, in fact, is divided into four parts: the Northern, the Centre and the Southern one, the latter representing a semi-periphery, "the end of the town" and Texas. This map considers Texas a geographical and social space different from the other parts. The ghetto is localized at the bottom of a mental hierarchy. However, the social distance between "the Northerners" and the Texans was so big that Texas was mentally cut from the town, becoming a self-reliant unit. All the inhabitants, no matter where they live, admit the isolated character of Texas. They all agree as to the borders of Texas and the run-down character of the blocks of flats–that is why the "unworthy discourse" has had such a huge impact, and mentally it has transformed Texas into a ghetto.

Texas is situated on the left side of the Olt. Having an elliptic shape, its area is about 5 hectares, composed of 12 blocks of flats. Being surrounded by geographical units, the borders of Texas are very easy to mark: it is adjacent to Hăşmaşul Mic in the south, southeast, and due to that fact that the mountains are very close behind the blocks of flats, it is practically impossible to be accessed from this direction. The next border is at the very visible intersection with the high road. The building that marks this limit is an ex engine house that stopped functioning in 1984. A waste, peripheral zone lies between the high road and the southeastern border. There used to be a skating rink and a swimming pool there, both out of function for years now The street where the blocks are is parallel both with the high road and the Olt, the latter marking the western border of Texas.

Apart from the entrances from the mountain and that from the field, Texas has three "main gates", i.e. two bridges and a passage-way. Two of the bridges link Texas with the cages behind the blocks of flats, and the passage is very close to a third bridge connecting Texas with the main street of the town. Therefore, there is a neutral zone between the main street from the "good north" and Texas, which belongs neither to Texas nor to north; there is no direct physical connection between these parts of the town. The third bridge (the only way to cross the Olt, the natural border of the geographical and social space) links two interim "neutral" zones: the swimming pool–skating rink area in Texas and the set of dry kilns from north. Next to the passage-way there is a block of flats for bachelors, the "Garsoniera". Texas was named after this building. The origin of the name goes back to 1962, when a two-storey simple building was constructed on the future place of the Garsoniera. Made of wood, this particular building served as miners' home for those workers who came recently to the town.

According to the "unworthy discourse", this building was practically just a simple shelter for the newcomer miners who used to sleep on the floor or on overlay mattresses on temporary basis. The aspect of the building was similar to that of a cowboy saloon due to the several quarrels and fights that took place there. Later on, a new district built on that area borrowed the name of Texas from that particular shelter and became associated with the notion of "newcomer" definitely. This location represents a constitutive element of the discourse about the Texans, in which the borders, i.e. the bridges mentally divide "us" from "them". The "unworthy discourse" capitalizes the urban legends about the bridges from Texas: accordingly, the conflict between local people and the newcomers has become very intensive. This conflict had two motives: a professional and an ethnical one. According to these legends, the newcomers settled on the left side of the Olt tried to blow up the bridges in order to protect themselves. These legends are unfounded, but their use as an argument made possible the transformation of the concrete and visible borderlines into inter-ethnic borders.[23]

The blocks of flats were built for the workforce, the miners coming from outside the town. However, as the newcomers moved into their lodgings some differences had immediately emerged in the quality and aspect of the blocks of flats: the apartments from Texas had/have no galleries; the living area was/is smaller with about 24 percent as compared to the lodgings built in the northern part. Further, these blocks are made of a material of worst quality than bricks, meaning that these apartments are very cold and full of mildews; the drain-system is also bad. These factors bear the impact of the political-economical context of the '80-ies: the level of production in the mine was forced by increasing the number of labor force. They were offered apartments, but the whole concept was different from a rational urban planning. The disastrous aspect of Texas is a "result" of the forced urbanization-strategy. These blocks of flats fulfilled a single function, namely to serve as lodgings for the newcomer workers. The urban project of this "residential area" has completely forgotten about the inhabitant's social and natural needs (except for work): there are no stores, no possibilities for leisure activities in Texas. Between 1982-1991 there was a single store in the ghetto. The Bazar was a simple box made of sheet iron, a store where domestic products could be purchased, although in a limited variety. The location of the Bazar is meaningful: it is not far from the intersection of the district with the high road. Presently, it is visited mostly by women who spend their spare time there. The Bazar is a common element in every interview, embodying the changes in the life of the inhabitants. This place is a kind of meeting point between past and present: the latter gloomy and useless, the former very pleasant. The Bazar also embodies the progress and decline of life cycles in Texas. This particular place is the most miserable in the ghetto, being usually called "Ghaza Zone" by those who live in the northern part. The difference between Texan apartments (tap water and electricity are no longer provided in many households) and the rest of the town is rather shocking. Apartments with missing entrance doors are quite frequent. Usually everything is impregnated with the unpleasant smell of plastic phials being burned in the stoves and the smell originating from the basements, inundated for 3-4 years. For the above presented reasons (considered objective by the majority of the non-Texan population) Texas represents a distinct–isolated and segregated–social unit.

The rapid segregation and isolation has to do with the former economical environment. Balan is located in a larger geographic context in which the Hungarian population forms the majority. Before 1967 Balan was part of a village populated exclusively by Hungarians. The first inhabitants come from the Sândominic community and they are exclusively Hungarians. They live in private houses and own some plots and they are inhabitants before 1967, too. A second category comes from more remote regions of Romania and most of them are Romanians. Their majority (about two generations) have been inhabitants mostly since around 1967-1970 or they moved in a little bit later due to the development of the mine. Until 1989 there has been slight but constant immigration to Balan in the form of labor force. The mine had even a special department for recruiting labor force[24] from all around the country. According to this practice, persons who came to the mine as employees from other parts of the country were allocated a flat in the Texas area. As soon as someone advanced professionally, he/she had a great chance to get another flat in a better part of the town. The flat which thus became empty, was redistributed to other "new-comers", and the cycle worked, because the best situated inhabitant - especially the specialists and the intelligentsia–moved out constantly from the town, heading to Miercurea-Ciuc. The "new-comers" had always the lowest social position, but there was a chance of promotion as they advanced in the work hierarchy.

This process suddenly stopped in 1989, when following the political and economic changes it was decided that the unprofitable economic sectors, including the mining industry, should be restructured. The above-described algorithm, the tested and viable course of live of a newcomer has suddenly stopped working. The well-defined meaning this life used to have before December 1989 disappeared; it became useless. Thus, those who were living in Texas at that moment were simply blocked in this district. Their chance of breaking out has constantly decreased. As last comers, they had the lowest positions in the professional hierarchy of the mine, therefore they were the first to become unemployed. Their precarious status in the social hierarchy became permanent and they could not benefit from vertical mobility. Permanent extreme poverty became a characteristic of those living in Texas given that 1989 had the same impact on all new-comers who had been allocated a so called provisional flat in the district. This phenomenon produced a large-scale and almost uniform poverty localized in space, and made possible the re-invention of their "otherness" used as argument in the "unworthy discourse".

Generally, there are some legends in the "unworthy discourse" about the Texans, which tend to illustrate that in the eyes of the rest of the population they have always been different, somehow "exotic", they were viewed as "they" as compared to "us". In the stories about "those at the edge/peripheries" or "those beyond the Olt" there are certain elements and images which date back to the '70-ies, the period when the blocks of flats were built and put into use. Interestingly enough, the most famous legends speak about the behavior of "newcomers" in the blocks of flats. They are portrayed as persons who use their private spheres differently. The legends speak about the way the Texans changed the "normal" destination of certain rooms from their apartments: "they" used the small room as storage, the toilet for storing pickled cabbage, they destroyed the parquet and they were sleeping in the kitchen or keeping domestic animals–especially horses- in the apartment.

Summing up, the constitutive elements of this discourse refer, in fact, to a concrete aspect of the subjects' way of life. Namely, to a radically different way of using the physical space in their homes, therefore in the eyes of the inhabitants of the town they represent a social and urban sphere with norms and values specific to urban life. (It is interesting that those who thought of themselves as "more urban", in most of the cases came from villages, also).

Thus, differences were expressed in terms of behavior, and these "persisting differences" gradually acquired ethnic connotations:[25] "those who behave like that must be Gypsies". Many people outside the ghetto regularly use terms like Texan and/or Gypsy. At the same time, this means that this differentiation persists in time[26] (it is known by the youth), and the informational baggage about these "hereditary" differences is assimilated by non-Texans. Therefore, the first difference we noticed was a behavior inappropriate to the environment, meaning social relationships characteristic to rural areas which have generated a state that could be defined as behavior specific to "ethnic villagers" (Gans, 1962). Later on, everything related to the Texas tradition and the message about the newcomers made it possible (even prior to 1989) that the differences based on the dichotomy "us" and "they" be operational. The rural origin is one difference, but not the only one, because the non-Texan majority is also of rural origin. Gradually, the social differences perceived as real were expanded to the higher levels of everyday life and had become ethnic stereotypes closer to the way of life specific to Gypsies.

The successive processes of invasion, of filtration generated a certain level of segregation even prior to 1989 in an already known form. Those blocked in the ghetto after 1989 had similar characteristics and occupations (viewed as particular) and they lived in physical and social proximity with each other.[27] Given that they were massively loosing their jobs, their attitude and behavior outbursts–that rendered the members of this group alike and, at the same time, different from others–persisted, moreover, they became stronger due to the discourse of the outside majority. I have mentioned urban legends related to inadequate attitudes. Once again, these constructed differences perceived as real barriers, which were then emphasized by the need of using resources and services outside the area. The process of "ghettoization" and social segregation, which originated from the physical space and the incapability of Texans to adapt to the social reality of that time, permitted the interpretation about them to be different form the mainstream in ethnic terms. The names and adjectives used by those outside the ghetto, i.e. "Gypsies", "newcomers", "uprooted", "camper", "Moldavians", "lazy", "unpretentious", "dark faces", "dirties" try to classify and keep the Texans in the lowest position possible in the social hierarchy by classifying the Texans as different from "normal Romanian/Hungarian people".


A socialist mono-industrial "new-town" in deep crisis after the economical reorganization process, Balan has become a place where extreme poverty seems to produce a distinct ethnicity which defines the relationship between the "haves" and "have-nots". Due to the emergence of the competition for scarce resources present in the town, the pressure on the Texans has become permanent and extremely strong; gradually, they have been excluded from this competition, and finally they have become members of a new different ethnic group due to their undesirable social status. In the process, the term Gypsy with strong social connotations has become the main criterion of ethnic classification, combined with the "different" socially constructed characteristics that "define group membership" - newcomer-ship, location and marginalization. First, the lack of access to basic material resources generated the association with the undesirable Gypsy ethnicity. Then, the "different" characteristics acquired a primordial role: it has produced a new situational ethnicity.

Bibliographical sources

Banks, Marcus (1996) Ethnicicty: Anthropological Constructions London–New York, Routledge.

Barth, Fredrik (1969) "Introduction" In Ethnic Groups and Boundaries Oslo-London, Verlag, p. 9-38.

Bell, Daniel (1975) "Ethnicity and Social Change" In Nathan Glazer–Daniel P. Moynihan (eds.) Ethnicity. Theory and Experience Cambridge–London, Harvard University Press, 141-174.

Cornell, Stephen–Hartmann, Douglas (1998) "Consturction Sites: Contextual Factors in the Making of Identities" In Ethnicity and Race. Making Identities in a Changing World. Thousand Oaks-London-New Delphi: Pine Forge Press, p. 153-194.

Emigh, Rebecca Jean, Szelényi, Iván (ed.) (2001) Poverty, Ethnicity and Gender in Easter

Europe During Market Transition. Westport: Connecticut, London: Praeger

Elias, Norbert-Scotson, John (1994) The Outsiders and the Estabilished London. SAGE

Eriksen, Thomas Hylland (1993) Ethnicity and Nationalism. Anthropological Perspectives. London: Boulder, Pluto Press

Erikson, Kai T. (1982) Everything in its Path. Destruction of Community in the Buffalo Creek

Flood. New York: Simon and Shuster

Ferge Zsuzsa (1991) Szociálpolitika és Társadalom. Budapest: ELTE Szociológia Intézet, T-Twins Kiadó

Gans, Herbert, J. (1988) Middle American Individualism. The Future of Liberal Democracy. International Edition: The Free Press

Gans, Herbert J. (1965) The Urban Villagers. Group and Class in the Life of Italian

Americans. New York, The Free Press

Gans, Herbert J. (1996) "Symbolic Ethnicicty: The Future of Ethnic Groups and Cultures in America" In Werner Sollors (ed.) Theories of Ethnicicty. A Classical Reader. London: MacMillan Press LTD, p. 425-459.

Gans, Herbert, J. (1988) Middle American Individualism. The Future of Liberal Democracy.

International Edition: The Free Press

Greenstone, David, J. (1991) "Culture, rationality and the Underclass" In. In Jencks,

Cristopher, Peterson, Paul E. (szerk.) The Urban Underclass. Washington D.C.: The

Brookings Institution

Hannerz, Ulf (1996) "Some Comments on the Anthropology of Ethnicity in the United States" In Werner Sollors (ed.) Theories of Ethnicity. A Classical Reader. London: MacMillan Press LTD, p. 415-424.

Horowitz, Donald L. (1975) "Ethnic Identity" In Nathan Glazer–Daniel P. Moynihan (eds.) Ethnicity. Theory and Experience. CambridgeLondon, p. 111-140.

Jencks, Cristopher (1991) "Is the American Underclass Growing?" In Jencks, Cristopher,

Peterson, Paul E. (ed.) The Urban Underclass Washington D.C.: The Brookings Institution p.


Jenkins, Richard (1997) Rethinking Ethnicity. Arguments end Explorations. London-Thousand Oaks-New Delhi: Sage Publications

Katz, Michael B. (1996) In The Shadow of a Poorhouse. A Social History of American Social Welfare New York: Routledge

Kideckel David with Bianca Elena Botea, Raluca Nahorniac (2000) "A new "cult of labor": stress and crisis among Romanian workers" Sociologie Românească, 2000, 1, p. 142-161.

Merlin, P. (1991) "Les villes nouvelles d'URSS" Merlin-Sudarskis 1991.

Péter, László (2000) Poverty, Ethnicity and Underclass Formation in Romania. The Case of

Bălan and Temelia.  www.yale.edu/socdept/poverty/romania

Péter, László (2003) "Új szegények túlélési életstratégiái." In Erdélyi Társadalom 2003/1 pp.


Schaefer, Richard T. (1998) Racial and Ethnic Groups. Longman (International Edition), Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers Inc.

Spéder, Zsolt (2002) A szegénység változó arcai. Tények és értelmezések. Budapest: Andorka

Rudolf Társadalomtudományi Társaság–Századvég Kiadó

Stanning, Alison (2000) "Placing (Post) Socialism. The Making and Remaking of Nova Huta,

Poland." European Urban and Regional Studies 7(2) pp. 99-118

Szirmai, Viktória (1988) "Csinált" városok. Budapest: Magvető Kiadó

Szirmai, Viktória (1996) "Közép-európai új városok az átmenetben". Szociológiai Szemle 3.


Teşliuc, Cornelia Mihaela, Pop, Lucian, Teşliuc, Emil Daniel (2001) Sărăcia şi sistemul de protecţie socială Iaşi: Polirom

[1] Methodological facts about the research: The site: Bălan (a rapidly decaying mono-industrial mining town, isolated, with a very high rate of unemployment, situated in Harghita County, in the eastern part of Transylvania, Romania, officially declared detrimental region). The subjects of the research: about 250 urban segregated ghetto inhabitants named "Texans" due to their economic status. Used methods: in-depth interviews (78), participant observation, micro-survey. The period of the research: from February 1999 until June 2000. The hypothesis: Extreme marginalization and poverty generates ethnicity among the Texans. (The interviews were conducted by Péter László and–four quotes cited here–by Iván Szelényi and Péter László, during year 1999 and 2000).

[2] The name of Texas comes from the characteristics of the district where poverty and frequent quarrels and fights are combined into a specific cultural pattern characteristic to the ghetto.

[3] This paper is based on a community study part of the project called "Poverty, Ethnicity and Gender in Transitional Societies" carried out by UCLA, CA and YALE University, New Haven, CT and financed by Ford Foundation between 1999 and 2001. For further information visit the following web site: www.ccr.edu. My official advisers were Gail Kligman kligman@soc.ucla.edu and (as the PI of the project Ivan Szelényi ivan.szelenyi@yale.edu. This paper have been presented at "Bedeutungswandel von Ethnizitat im Lendichen Raum" conference in Wien, organised by Lehrstuhl Sozial- und Kulturgeographie der Universitat Potsdam and Volkswagen Stiftung, Hannover, 19-21 May, 2004.

[4] According to Abner Cohen's (1996:373-375) criticism, Barth covers the dynamic character of identity by differentiating between the concepts of borderline and cultural content, making thus the same mistake which he himself criticized in classical ethnicity research.

[5] As regarding this question Schaefer's (1998) opinion is different. In his view, the classifying majority has a greater role, while the inferior groups accept their classifications.

[6] Such landmarks of identity are, in the proper sense of the word, "empty symbols" (Parsons quotes Sollors 1996), icons which acquire meaning depending on who uses them (Cohen, 1996:105).

[7] Eriksen (1993:30-31) explains this process with the bargain-like character of identity. The relative character of identity means that the ethnic belonging of the individual is not relevant in every situation - in such cases, the borderlines of ethnic groups are more expanded. The individual chooses from among the possible identities so that he/she can arrive at the most favorable position.

[8] The name of Balan comes from the Mountain Balan, which on its turn received the name after a local legend from the outlaw Balan caught here in the mountains; the name of the town can be also related to the color of the lurch during autumn.

[9] Between 1983 and 1989 a subsidiary of the Textile factory from Miercurea-Ciuc existed in the town having 25 women employees.

[10] According to the official 2002 Census data based on self identifications.

[11] Balan as artificially "made city" is not a singular case; he has many counterparts in the former socialist countries, even is western urban settlements. Balan can be compared with Zory, Wodzislaw, Glogow, Lubin, Tichy (coal extraction) in Poland, Tatabánya, Komló (copper mine) in Hungary, or Dunaújváros, Ózd in Hungary and Stalowa Wola is Poland (steel industry). Other similar cities were constructed in the Sesties: Kedzierzyn, Police in Poland and Kazincbarcika, Tiszaújváros in Hungary (chemical industry). (For furhter information see Merlin 1991: 92).

[12] There are 25 such disadvantageous areas on the whole territory of Romania (Region Balan, Region Brad, Region Valea Jiului, Region Albeni, Region Schela, Region Motru–Rovinari, Region Stei–Nucet, Region Borod-Suncuius-Dobresti-Vadu Crisului, Region Apuseni, Region Popest-Derna-Alesd, Region Rosia Montana, Region Bocsa, Region Moldova Noua-Anina, Region Ip, Region Hida-Surduc-Jibou, Region Sarmasag-Chiejd-Bobota, Region Baia Mare, Region Borsa-Viseu, Region Filipesti, Region Ceptura, Region Comanesti, Region Bucovina, Region Baraolt, Region Altan-Tepe, Region Rodna).

[13] This is typical of every miner community (see for example Erikson, 1982 or Kideckel at al., 2000) but the communist ideology intensely exploited it.

[14] The allocation of social aid of unemployed is considered social stigma.

[15] "Yes, I know that we are called Gypsies. So what? Some of us are gypsies, some are Romanian and the others are Hungarians. But we are all alike. We are so poor, that we can hardly survive. You know, I don't care how I am called. When you are hungry as I am, you are not interested in anything else than to find something to eat for your children and if it is possible; to live somehow. If you are poor as we are, you can be a Gypsy in the eyes of the others." Men, 42, former unskilled worked, unemployed

[16] The most important cool mine area in Romania.

[17] About their economical situation see Peter, 2003.

[18] "Apparently all these problems appeared after the Revolution, when some of the inhabitants became unemployed. Partly this is true. The population of Balan became poor after 89, but this is just half of the truth. The town, in fact, has always been poor. All those who are now crying for help come from the other bank of the Olt. Today, they do the same thing as before 1989. Let me explain. They are not from here. When the mine was increased in the seventies and eighties, the necessary manpower was "imported" from all around the country. Most of them came from Moldova, and part of them were Roma, they had dark faces, and they were after all lazy. Now they are doing the same thing: nothing. They were lazy, but the former regime did not allow to anyone not to work. Formally, they had a job, I know because I used to work with such people, but they did nothing; most of the time it was better to send them home because they endangered the entire work process. That is why they are now in this situation. Only Gypsy people like them, just people from over the river could request to be laid off, and after they received the money, they spent it all for all kind of stupid things. I remember, right after the Ordinance appeared and their request was approved, for a while everybody was highly conceited and, of course drunk. What to say, they are like Gypsies." Man, 58, former head of PR department (responsible for hiring and after that for security/safety of work)

[19] The gossip seems to be is an excellent informal instrument for control over the Texans because it is used in accordance with the cultural values and norms of the non-Texan majority. Similar findings are provided by Norbert Elias on Winston Parva (Elias-Scotson, 1994).

[20] In fact, in April-May 2000 when following up a demonstration for jobs, the Harghita County Council offered 30 jobs in the textile industry, outside Balan. The jobs offered were refused due to the lack of adequate skills.

[21] "The Texans? Well, I am angry because of them. I am a local settler. This is my place of birth, my parents used to live here, but they are gone now. Because of that kind of people, we are blamed as a whole. But we are different. I saw them on television; they broadcast only the shocking materials about this place, but not all of us are like that. (Question: How are they?) What should I say? I am not like them, they are and they have always been different from the rest of us, decent people. First, they do not belong here, they do not belong anywhere, they are uprooted, Moldavians, part of them are Gypsies for sure. They live like Gypsies. I have to admit, they are poor, but we are all poor here. But at least we try something, we do not send our children to beg for a piece of bred every early morning, and we work hard for a living. Whilst we are working, they are doing almost nothing. They don't like to work, dirty folks". Woman, 41, housewife

[22] Considering it a metaphor which bolsters the mental map presented above, I will relate a "story" told by a retired woman. Some friends visited her from Germany, and they entered Balan on its single high road. After arriving home, the old woman was asked: "Why didn't you take us on the high road, why did we take the shortcut"?

[23] "When they came here they thought that the bathroom and the toilet were something else: places for storage. I heard that the parquetry was picked up and used as firewood. The whole condo was destroyed, they lived like Gypsies, and they are, in fact, Gypsies." Woman, 48, or "There are some pupils in my class from there. Indeed, they come from the poorest families of the neighborhood, and some of them have dark faces. Well, yes, at least some of them are Gypsies. This is not important to us, but they have fewer possibilities, they come to school only for the child allowance. And this is their only source of income." Woman, 36, teacher

[24] This department does not exist any more.

[25] "I am from Vâlcea, Moldova. I am not a Gypsy, my neighbor is, but we are poor, so what difference does it make? We are just trying to survive. They can call us as they want." Woman, 31, housewife "There was a real mess during the public protest. Almost all of them were a little bit dark at face. Well, Gypsies. Decent Romanians do not take part in such gatherings." Man, 42, pyro-technician

[26] The interviews were done in the year 2000.

[27] "Me and my husband have lived here for 13 years with my children. I have never worked, my husband used to work for the mine before 1997, now he is unemployed. My husband is Romanian, I am Gypsy. The children are mixed, half Romanian half Gypsy, but this should not be an issue. You know how people are. I grew up here, among Romanians. It is hard for you when your skin is a little bit darker, not too much, but enough to be different. This is it." Women, 46, housewife