Non- and dedocumenting citizens in Romania

Nonrecording as a civil boundary

in Focaal
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  • 1 University of Amsterdam I.Vrabiescu@uva.nl

Abstract

This article explores state practices in Romania that lead to the non-, de-, and redocumenting of tens of thousands of inhabitants. Unlike state practices of (non)recording aliens (asylum seekers, refugees, undocumented migrants), the scale of dedocumenting native citizens in Romania exposes a deliberate and systematic modality of governance through exclusion from state records. These practices of citizenship dispossession lead mostly to the gender discrimination of marginalized women and the racial exclusion of Romani ethnics. People who were born and live on the state’s territory become de facto stateless. By scrutinizing state regulations and institutional practices, this article unravels the logic of dedocumenting citizens, a process that allows state actors to select those who belong to the nation on the basis of criteria that are incompatible with basic civil and human rights. This selective modality of recording endows state actors with crucial and direct control over the political and economic lives of undocumented citizens.

Within theories about the state, some scholars point to the existence of a weak or illegible state (Desch 1996; Goldsmith 2002) and others to a violent one whose governance triggers mainly surveillance and control over its citizens (Gupta 1995). Legibility allows states to claim knowledge and control, thereby demonstrating power. It has been suggested that legibility has increased over time (Brewster and Hine 2013; Scott 1998) and that strong states use legibility mainly to control the movement of people (Dhupelia-Mesthrie 2014). By contrast, illegibility supposedly indicates a weakness, a symptom of a failing state unable to effectively govern. This article questions whether illegibility is a frailty, arguing for acknowledged practices of illegibility as part of governance. Following this, I decipher the state’s (il)legibility sought through bureaucratic rules and regulations, and expressed in the materiality of identity documents.

This article debates two practices of nonrecording people that characterize the Romanian state’s exclusionary policies toward its own citizens on the basis of administrative registration. They reveal two techniques used by the nonrecording state: failing to register newborns and revoking identity documents from evicted people or emigrants. I chose these two particular cases to emphasize the gender dimension and the ethnic element built in to the state’s practices of illegibility.

On the one hand, official documents and especially identity documents draw the attention of scholars who seek to bring back the significance of bureaucratic documents by looking “at them rather than through them, [and] … treat them as mediators” (Hull 2012: 253). For the state, identity documents become the material proof of one’s existence by recognizing people as citizens (Szreter and Breckenridge 2012). On the other hand, sanctioning practices prove to be at the core of the state, by simultaneously allowing and forbidding, thus constantly selecting its subjects (see Gandhi, this issue). More specifically, the state uses a strategy of dedocumenting and/or nonrecording people to render illegible certain segments of the population.1

Two positions explain the state’s legibility as a manifestation of biopolitics in recording and disciplining the population. Bridget Anderson, Isabel Shutes, and Sarah Walker (2014) explain how the state’s hierarchies of deserving and belonging determine a “not-quite-good-enough citizen,” while Engin Isin and Peter Nyers (2014) portray an “abject citizen” dispossessed by a revengeful state. These to-be-excluded categories of citizens have far less of a moral leverage than a technical purpose. When citizens prove unable to comply with the state’s requirements, meaning they are not eligible and do not deserve to be part of the national body, the state rejects them. Here, I point to a particular way the state excludes, through refusing to register or by dedocumenting citizens considered undeserving or ineligible. Therefore, I recall Michel Foucault’s ([1979] 2010) notion of biopolitics, which explains the way in which the bureaucratic state deploys techniques for population management: documenting people who are rendered visible and included, and dedocumenting citizens who become invisible for the state or the non-dealing-with as a modality of governance (Kalir and van Schendel, this issue).

However, state legibility means not only claiming political power but also evoking a moral statement, thus generating legitimacy. This means that the state’s actions are transformed beyond its civil duty into illegibility. Human beings acknowledged by the state must fit an abstract model of citizen to whom the state carries responsibility through protection and provisions. Rather, illegibility allows the state, at all levels of bureaucracy, to negotiate and turn a blind eye to human differences (e.g., ethnicity or gender) against the abstract and morally deserving citizen. While citizens’ recognition is dependent upon regulations about who should be included or excluded, a legible state overlooks the moral debate on rules and norms. By conceiving people’s nonrecording as a technicality, the state avoids the moral issue of being accountable for their lives. Thus, illegibility endorses the state to enforce regulations unrestrained and to abandon to (innocent or complicit) third-sector actors the responsibility for people’s lives, fashioning them as undeserving.

In this article, I look at the ways in which Romanian state practices of selecting its population are manifest through issuing identity documents. Laying out the state’s sanctioning endeavor, I focus on the anomalies of bureaucratic rules and the current laws that permit the issuing of documentation. Adding to this, I reveal the attitudes of public servants toward two groups who are the main victims of the Romanian state policy of nonrecording or dedocumenting citizens: women whose children are not recorded and Romani2 ethnics whose status is being recurrently dedocumented. It might be presumed that these two groups largely overlap, as many of the dedocumented Romani ethnics are women, but due to the limitations of my research I did not gather systematically information in support of this hypothesis, nor did I use intersectionality in the analysis.

The article is based on research conducted mostly from July to October 2015. Ethnographic data were gathered through semistructured interviews with four undocumented persons, three civil servants, and four nongovernmental organization (NGO) workers. Field research was complemented by an analysis of other sources: policy papers, law implementation orders, and internal regulations.

In Romania, the so-called process of transition—or the privatization of national assets and decentralization—has led, among other things, to several disparities in the bureaucratic functioning of recording citizens and recognizing their rights. First, in order to prove its up-to-date recording technology to scan the population, the state disregards its political obligation according to the principle of subsidiarity. The drawbacks of a decentralized state are represented in situations handled case by case as opposed to being considered systemic issues and addressed correspondingly, as I will explain is the case for non-recorded persons.

Second, by transforming political responsibility into a technical regulation, the state forces people to respond strictly to requirements regardless of the possibility for fulfillment. Demanding that people show a contract when they do not have the required identity documents that allow them to sign a contract is an example. These procedural practices show the state’s ability to enact its sovereign power by shifting the responsibility of official recording to individuals, or by delegating it to the third sector. Third, the hyperregulated administrative existence of Romanian subjects requires people to prove territorial belonging in order to certify their commitment to citizenship. Territorial belonging reveals a particular type of condition for citizenship: residency law regulations turn into an obligation of proof of residency, both at birth or at any other moment, in order to be recorded as a fully fledged citizen.3

In the first section, I will discuss the notion of statelessness and contrast it with nonrecording practices. The section contextualizes Romania’s structural transformation of citizenship rules under its disputable process of “transition.” In the second section, I will tackle the state’s legibility by explaining the related meaning and utility of governance through exclusion. This will outline the practices of citizenship dispossession and describe the two practices of non-recording and dedocumentation. The last section shows how the gap between national legislation and bureaucratic regulations produces a space for the discretionary power of civil servants. Specifically, I will expose the ways in which the state has been politically and administratively engaged in dedocumenting its own citizens without contravening any international regulations, or, for that matter, human rights laws and norms. The conclusion brings together the instrumentality and logic of citizenship dispossession through the practices of nonrecording. I approach the debate on the state’s illegibility as a civil boundary that conditions the assurance of human rights, by creating insurmountable legal fractures and ignoring differences among populations to selectively acknowledge some as citizens and others as not.

Negotiating national belonging: Generating stateless and/or invisible people

Before looking into the practices of nonrecording and dedocumenting citizens, I explore the notion of de facto statelessness, which describes, without defining, the status of dispossessed citizens. The concept of statelessness refers to the status of people without legal identity. This absence of legal identity prevents people from claiming rights from the state and exonerates the state from providing social protection and benefits for such people. In her analysis, Jacqueline Bhabha describes de jure and de facto statelessness as the difference between “lack of legal identity and the inability to prove the legal identity that one does have” (2011: 1). The first category, de jure stateless, is either a consequence of state dissolution or aggregation when a certain population stops being recognized as belonging to the (new) state or when a group is missing from the statistics due to the use of different definitions in the censuses or domestic registration (Milbrandt 2011; Tucker 2014). The second category, de facto stateless, refers to people who have a nationality but not residential status or birth registration that allows them to prove their citizenship.

Many international conventions on nationality and citizenship4 stipulate a framework for states’ attitudes toward stateless persons, coercing European Union (EU) member states to implement the restitution of citizenship and interdiction to retract a person’s citizenship into their domestic legislation—if that person remains at risk of becoming stateless. Specifically, several articles of the European Convention on Nationality (Council of Europe 1997) limit the sovereignty of member states in modeling nationality laws in order to protect stateless people. Additionally, the Treaty Establishing the European Community potentially authorizes the EU to defend stateless people on the territory of its member states (Melikian 2014: 299).

In 2005, Romania adopted Conventions (1954 and 1961) for the Protection of Stateless Persons, without making the commitment to implement the procedures regulating the registration of stateless persons. A recent report (Marin 2015: 5) asserts that “Romania does not have a stateless status determination procedure at the national level, therefore it is difficult to tell when identification, registration or documentation of statelessness are adequately conducted.” The same study points to the state’s disinterest in changing the domestic law to insure the protection of the rights of the child and the protection of stateless persons. Notably, domestic legislation affects children born on the territory of the Romanian state “who cannot effectively or automatically acquire or be recognized as having the same citizenship as their parents” (11). These newborns are not granted citizenship and become stateless “by effect of national legislation.”5 They can be children of stateless people, born from parents who are foreigners with uncertain citizenship or from parents that are undocumented nationals.

In Romania, a thorough population registration conducted under the centralized Socialist regime aimed to issue documents to all individuals relaying on data obtained from their compulsory working place and state-allocated dwellings. Since 1990, the democratic government has made a double concession within the system of population control: the information technology required updated forms of registration, thus making it more difficult for the population to acquire the necessary proof, and the pro-European politics pushed the decentralization of public services. The result challenges both the political dimension of the laws6 and the bureaucratic maze left, seemingly on purpose, to preserve the discretionary power of civil servants. In practice, the department dealing with population registration within the Ministry of Internal Affairs is only in charge of delivering the machines for issuing identity cards. In order to register the population, the local authorities employ police officials and civil servants to share the duty of collecting data from the territory, analyzing the information, and issuing documents to people.7 This “one-stop shop” of local public services for population registration represents the link between citizens and the central authority responsible for population registration. Without a consistent budget and no special training for the civil servants, the operation of local units depends largely on the good will and personal judgment of local mayors, while they suffer no consequences if the registration is not done conformingly or at all.

The decentralization of the civil registration office is one of the most significant shifts in restructuring public services in post-Socialist Romania. Unlike other countries, state legibility through population control was a tough tool of the repressive apparatus for decades, having misused citizens’ personal data (Morar-Vulcu 2015; Pittaway 2004; Shelley 1996; Verdery 2009). Adding to this, the procedural requirements for issuing identity documents were so cumbersome and time-consuming that only the state’s bureaucratic compulsion for collecting personal data appeared stronger. Within the current social and political climate, relocating responsibility to the local authority for evaluating and issuing identity documents has been welcomed by the population. Nevertheless, regulations and requirements have not been modified to date and the same amount of paperwork—regardless of digitalization—is still necessary to issue a birth certificate, ID card, or passport. Furthermore, I specify the way in which different bureaucratic constellations in Romania render people de facto stateless or nonrecorded citizens.

Governance through exclusion: Nonrecorded newborns and the issuing of temporary ID cards

Central to state governance are the bureaucratic practices of issuing certificates to newborns and national ID cards to citizens. People’s existence is registered by the state according to certain residential requirements: house ownership, a rental contract, or a limited and conditional housing agreement with an owner. Unless citizens periodically prove their belonging to the state through a residential contract, the state may dedocument them. This practice relocates the obligation of legality to individuals, engaging bureaucratic structures to negotiate territorial belonging and responsibility.

In contrast to international legislation, the state constantly produces regulations that result in citizenship dispossession. From here on, I use the term “official existence” to refer to the state’s recording of a person at birth, thus recognizing her/him as a citizen. I use the term “legal existence” to refer to some aspects or conditions of residency that, if not accomplished, prevent a person from being legally recorded and exercising full citizenship rights. The issuing of a temporary ID card that offers a limited capacity for exercising citizenship would be an example. The person who has official existence is visible to the state, has the ability to claim her/his rights, and the state can be called upon to fulfill its obligations. In contrast, “official nonexistence” refers to the condition of a stateless person without the recognition of statelessness. Following on and by consequence of rules and regulations alone, these people become de facto stateless.

The processes of non- or dedocumentation of de facto citizens simultaneously display a wide range of administrative and political subterfuge with a bureaucratic enforcement of power. Factually, the Romanian state fails to document thousands of people in marginal situations. Different sources, including the Secretary of State in the Ministry of European Fund, claim that 15,000 to even 160,000 people may be missing from the state’s records (Florea 2016; Marin 2015; Romani CRISS 2006). However, these estimations remain vague due to the lack of national-scale research on the existing population.8

Nonrecording newborns: The gendered burden of proof for being documented

One form of exclusion is the nonrecording of newborns. According to the Romanian state, each newborn should be issued a birth certificate by the local authority. In order to obtain a birth certificate, regardless of the father’s legal status, the mother must prove her identity with a valid ID card and must have a document of residence. If the mother cannot provide evidence of her legality, both as a citizen and a resident, the mayor cannot approve the issuing of the newborn’s birth certificate. Those newborns who are not issued a birth certificate remain registered in the birth registry at the hospital only. Moreover, if a pregnant woman does not go to the hospital to give birth, the state has no direct means of recording the existence of the newborn. Subsequently, the family cannot access the social benefits a mother with a child should receive from the state or any other related state provisions, such as a monthly child benefit allowance.

By comparison, elsewhere in Europe, other countries’ practices of recording newborns vary depending upon the local or central authorities’ civil registration system. The recording is done directly by the registration office or sometimes at the hospital where the birth takes place (e.g., France, the United Kingdom, and, recently, Spain). Over and above this, according to national citizenship and migration laws, newborns acquire the citizenship of their country of birth or that of the parents, with notable complications for migrant parents who are undocumented themselves (e.g., in Germany or the Netherlands).

In Romania, the precarious situation of newborns’ registration can create a legal and administrative maze for the parents of a child for whom a birth certificate has not been issued within the first year. The procedure of late registration requires a judicial order to approve the issuing of a birth certificate after the consideration of legal expertise (legally attested testimonies) and a medical examination (anthropometric measurements to determine the sex, age, and affiliation of the child and the parent[s]) (Public Direction for Citizens Registration and Civil Status n.d.). As a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF 2013) report suggests, every country applies the rule of judicial trial and a penalty for delayed registration (usually exceeding 30 days). Each state imposes regulations and establishes fines, but some provide services to facilitate the otherwise costly procedures of late registration. In Romania, it is not only that state provisions for parents provide little incentive for child rearing; the penalty system also inhibits parents from carrying out the late registration of their child.

By not recording newborns, the state produces nonexistent people. Without a personal registration number (CNP), newborns do not exist. They are not citizens of the state, nor do they belong to another state. They are de facto stateless, deprived of citizenship and the rights associated with it. Stateless children, minors, and adults are thus deprived of the most basic rights: school registration, health insurance (except in emergency cases), access to a formal working place, access to pensions and social security benefits, as well as the right to vote and to be elected.

The story of Geta,9 who is now 30 years old, reflects the bureaucratic maze created by the non-recording state. It took her 12 years to become a visible and accounted subject of the state. Geta grew up without any documents, thus never attending school or having been attended to by a medical doctor. Since 2003, after her second child was born, her (documented) partner had wanted to help her obtain an ID card. After a few legal attempts across several years and when the local mayor refused to cover the costs for the medicolegal expertise necessary for issuing the birth certificate, the case was eventually closed. In 2013, an association fighting for gender equality, Filia, became involved in the attempt to legalize Geta, who by then had given birth to four children (her eldest daughter had already given birth to an undocumented child). Two years later, after completing the full procedure—and with the help of another association that covered the costs involved—Geta finally received her ID card.

In an interview with an activist from Filia, I was told that Geta got her ID card due to a generous civil servant:

[It] was pretty ok this lady from the population registration with whom we kept in contact, Ms. Dora, because she was a lawyer and also because she was freshly moved to the office. She was a bit … So she was very impressed by the story and by … thereafter they went together [with Geta] to IML Iasi, they made the test there, an anthropologic examination, that did not cost anymore 500 euros but apparently 75 or 90 euros. And [she went] together with the scholar mediator from the village and with the money for the transportation, for the taxes were paid from a project [of a friend] that had to include also the local authority [in order to justify the expenditures]. … Geta said this woman had cried when they went to the court … [because] everything was almost finished.

Before this happy event, during one of Geta’s many attempts to obtain her birth certificate, she had discovered that the required expertise cost around 500 euros. The mayor refused—nor is he obliged to pay for this. Geta recalled what he had suggested she should do instead: the mayor advised her to pay a “smuggler” to go to the “West,” to earn some money (supposedly from begging or working illegally), and then return to pay for the legal procedure in Romania. Geta was enraged at this and threatened that if he would not issue her birth certificate, she would break all the windows in the town hall building, thereby forcing the police to issue the documents through an emergency procedure. Ironically, the law does indeed stipulate that people under criminal suspicion or people who have committed crimes, but cannot prove their identity, should be issued documents using an emergency procedure. This procedure for issuing a temporary ID card is put in motion in order to arrest or take the individual in question under police control.
The issuing of temporary ID cards

The second procedure of governance through exclusion points to the regulations and practices of issuing a temporary ID card. The official website of the institution responsible for recording population in one district of Bucharest lists the conditions for issuing a temporary ID card: “Temporarily id card will be released under the following circumstances: Citizen doesn’t have all of the documents needed for the release of the id card; Citizen is living in a litigious house; When the mechanisms for the production of id cards aren’t working” (General Council of Bucharest City n.d.)

For issuing a temporary ID card, the law requires several documents (more than those necessary for a permanent ID card) to be provided by the individual who “wants to legalize his status as a citizen.” This identity document is valid for a minimum period of 30 days and maximum period of one year, and is issued according to the law “whenever the individual is missing one of the necessary documents for issuing the ID card.”10 One crucial document concerns proof of residence. Without a legal dwelling contract, proof of house ownership, a rental contract, or a conditional living agreement in a privately owned house (which is free of charge, but limited in time and in the number of persons that can live in the same house), a citizen will only be able to obtain a temporary ID card. This type of ID card limits essential citizenship rights: the person cannot be legally self-employed, cannot sign a civil contract such as marriage, cannot vote or be elected to office, and cannot cross the state’s borders. Moreover, children who have parents with a temporary ID card that states “lack of evidence for residence” or “lack of dwelling address” cannot be registered in a school, as the public school system only admits children residing in the neighborhood or, upon a special request, children with parents residing in other area.11 Conclusively, the school system does not have an obligation to register children without a birth certificate or those whose parents are lacking a legal residence.

For evicted people, one of the severe implications is the loss of residential address. Within 10 days, they have to declare their residency to the local police; otherwise, they are sanctioned. Furthermore, temporary ID cards are issued until individuals have a new residential address. As a result of this one simple procedure, people are transformed from being full citizens to pseudocitizens who must prove their territorial belonging in order to acquire an identity document. This practice of dedocumenting citizens enacts a continual constraint on mobility, leading to people’s exclusion and marginalization. One of the citizenship rights’ limitations is a form of forced immobility for undocumented citizens: the temporary ID card (or lack of birth certificate) does not provide them with the right to cross the country’s borders. Hence, it is not only citizens’ identities that are jeopardized, but rights such as freedom of movement that are also severely limited.

A lack of residential documentation is the main reason for Romani ethnics not to be able to obtain identity documents.12 An indigent residential status in rural areas excludes most of the Romani ethnics from state registration. In urban areas, the (ex-Socialist) state initially relocated poor Romani families into nationalized houses (Chelcea 2006). Now, they are among the first to be evicted (Vrăbiescu 2016a, 2016b). The eviction of Romani ethnics from their legal dwellings or semiformal settlements is followed by the process of dedocumentation. Thousands of people left without state support for social housing also now lose their citizenship rights. Families with children who were once fully integrated—parents with a job, a residence, and identity documents—are now expelled from society, forced out of the city, and simultaneously reduced to invisible people in the eyes of the state. Even if the multilevel discrimination against the Romani is neither new nor singular, I argue that the lack of appropriate identity documents, which many Romani in Europe presently face, is the result of relatively new state practices.

One of the many notable eviction cases took place in Eforie Sud, a seaside town in the county of Constanța. From 2013 to date, during several actions taken by the mayor against Romani families living in semiformal dwellings, hundreds of people were evicted. This was despite the fact that these people possessed legal documents with a residential address registered by local police who had documented them. Nevertheless, the vice-mayor, who was expressing an official position, said that the evictions were legal as the people did not have proof of a residential contract. Indeed, many of the people living in Eforie Sud could not provide any documents for their dwellings. Despite the fact that they had their ID cards issued to their address,13 the place was declared “illegally occupied public space.” Furthermore, state provisions were distributed correspondingly: people considered “illegal residents” but who owned regular ID cards were offered night shelters, and people without an ID card to attest to dwelling in the city of Eforie Sud did not receive any state support. At the same time, there was nothing illegal about the mayor’s decision to enforce the law and to issue a judicial order to evict people residing in a public space, even when the circumstances prescribe a certain support from the state. It is also legal not to provide social housing for people if there is nothing available.

Due to the circumstances and the harsh state attitude toward these marginalized people, many trials have been initiated by human rights NGOs. To defend his position, the mayor of Eforie Sud condemned the local police officers, who were alleged to have mistakenly recorded people at that address: “[It is the] police’s fault that they issued ID cards to the Roma.” He added: “A long time ago, a Roma camp was there … [but] who gave them ID cards? The police officers who came from the county’s department, didn’t they?” (Hagi and Drăgan 2013).

While the local police, who are under the direction of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, have the obligation to record people at the address where they live regardless of residential conditions, it is also legal for the mayor to not issue a housing certificate for nonstandard dwellings or houses built on someone else’s property. These regulations and parallel practices reveal the bureaucratic and legislative maze that occurs as a consequence of decentralization politics that create a lot of room for the discretionary power of civil servants. Considering James Scott’s (1998) theory on statecraft as using legibility to map territories and peoples, the point here is the impartial need of the state to record both. Scott’s focus on state legibility leaves the bias of prioritizing territory over people or, for that matter, selecting people according to their territorial belonging. When the state enables both the recording and nonrecording of people, following competing laws and norms, it leaves civil servants on the ground to decide who should be selected. Thus, as I will comment further, the attitudes and beliefs of civil servants employed in local public institutions become essential to producing and framing the state’s legibility.

Guarding the state’s legibility with bureaucratic benevolence

The purposeful complication between legal residence and standardized dwelling mainly facilitates bureaucratic discretionary power. When nonrecording is done systematically and persistently, the results cannot solely be considered bureaucratic failure. As Didier Fassin (2012) explains, the state punishes and authorizes, and permits and regulates at the same time. That is to say, the legibility of the state expresses its “ambiguity” (Dhupelia-Mesthrie 2014) through state obligations to simultaneously acknowledge and limit the rights of its citizens.

It is estimated that out of a population of about 20 million registered in the last national census (2011), 165,000 have been declared homeless or living in collective shelters and 301,000 were categorized as “temporary presence in the country.”14 Moreover, studies confirm that 3 percent of Romani ethnics in Romania do not have birth certificates, and between 6 and 10 percent of adults over 14 years old do not have ID cards (Ionescu and Cace 2006; Romani CRISS 2006). At a national level, these numbers amount to about 300,000 people who are either officially nonexistent (the Romanian state did not record them at birth) or legally nonrecorded (they do not have ID cards although they may have birth certificates, expired temporary ID cards, or have lost and never recovered the necessary documents). Notably, a consistent part of these numbers represents Romanian citizens or their children who are not born in Romanian territory. Many of the children born outside Romania are confronted with difficulties in obtaining birth certificates or passports, given the consulate regulations. This adds to the prevailing national ambiguities regarding the recording of newborns.

In order to differentiate among citizens and noncitizens, scales, measurements, and conditions imposed by the state have an effect on citizenship itself. Moreover, the state’s repressive exclusion of some citizens may go unnoticed, but the state’s negligence of their rights draws a civil boundary and carries unforeseen long-term consequences: spatial and racial segregation, limitations on accessing civil rights, and citizenship dispossession. Being deprived of the necessary documents that demonstrate one’s citizenship indicates a harsh marginalization that results in illiteracy and a total lack of health care, as well as exposure to extremely dangerous situations such as human trafficking through sexual and labor exploitation.

To control the access to provisions and protection, bureaucratic structures have strict requirements for documentation (e.g., change of name, civil status, address, renting contracts, terms of the contract), which has led to many people being procedurally expelled from state recordings. These practices of exclusion and inclusion picture contrast “deserving” citizens with those with a limited capacity of exercising citizenship or that find themselves in an officially nonexistent situation. On the one hand, the state pressures people to perform all the requirements for documentation; otherwise, they risk being held accountable and punished for not fulfilling their duties as citizens. On the other hand, the state governs through exclusion and selects the group of people thought worthy of belonging to the nation.

Projects aimed at restoring the documentation of Romani ethnics15 began in 2002 and continue nowadays under the National Strategy for Roma Integration (2010–2020). Actions have been taken by NGOs and public institutions to (re)document people. But allowing NGOs to promote, budget, and deploy services assumes these NGOs have the logistical means and moral interest to fill the gaps in society. This tension is built on the fact that a nationally determined issue—the lack of identity documents for the Romani ethnics—is left to be solved with local and private interventions.

Instead of considering the state’s obligation to record its citizens, it transpires that civil servants act as benevolent masters paying courtesy to selected individuals, preferably when accompanied by NGO workers (Kalir and Wissink 2016). The local authorities, instead of taking responsibility to record individuals and issue identity documents, prefer the legal means of penalizing people who are labeled “illegal.” Even in the bureaucratic language of the civil servant, the technical procedure for issuing documents to citizens is regularly referred to as “legalizing a person.”16

According to my interviews, civil servants often denounced the ambiguity of the norms, or they referred to law enforcement methodology that regulates their job and limits the possibility to “help” undocumented people. In the city of Giurgiu, the deputy manager of social services explained to me why it was impossible for the state to record a mentally challenged woman:

I have a case, a girl, I do not know what more can I do for her. She is alone, she does not open the door for anyone, and she is educated, she is not Roma. I went to her [place] with the police but they [the policemen] say that they cannot enter [to her apartment]. And she does not have heating in the house, she does not have anything. Only cold water. And the food … are the neighbors that give her by mercy. I want to help her, give her social benefit for illness, but she does not have any documents, neither ID card, nor anything else. And she does not want to cooperate.

Without civil servants’ self-attributed benevolence, the reality on the ground would be far worse. With a hierarchy of citizenship to select the desirable and deserving people, and exclude the undesirable and undeserving, it is the state officials’ discretionary power that determines who are the “well-behaving subjects” to whom the state issues identity documents, thus allowing access to rights and provisions. Conversely, “misbehaving and undesirable subjects” are sanctioned by withholding the issuance of identity documents.

Conclusion

This article has demonstrated how the tactics of illegibility for population control and containment are similar to those of a strong, legible state. Instead of considering a clear division between the legible and illegible state, the article has shown an occasional and conditional need for legibility. The state routinely (re)enacts processes of nonrecording (by not issuing birth certificates), dedocumenting citizens (through evictions and the use of temporary ID cards), and redocumenting some people (by effect of external factors such as NGOs’ actions and nonstate financing). The corresponding effect of nonrecording and de- and redocumenting citizens is derived from administrative requirements and local practices.

These practices of non-, de-, and redocumenting citizens prove feasible, unchallenged, and in line with political efficiency measured in terms of costs (the penalty falls on the citizens to acquire the necessary documents), time (the more time is needed to solve an issue, the more complicated the issue becomes and the higher the costs), and legitimacy (the sovereign state can impose any regulation in order to register a citizen).

This article has examined the state’s ability to shape formal identities and territorial belongings that are, in turn, considered visible or invisible to the state. The obscurity of the legal order is specifically left to be clarified by bureaucratic decisions and local practices, which ultimately give discretionary power to civil servants. The logic behind this reveals the imaginary state: if you cannot deal with bureaucratic life, then you are a nondeserving citizen; if you manage to find your way through the maze of regulations, it is because allegedly benevolent civil servants helped you (for this, you should be grateful and not think it is due to your merit).

Examining the state’s recording procedures has demonstrated their legality. Hence, it is expected that the nonrecording practices of the Romanian state will extend beyond its borders into other European states. Emphasizing the power of bureaucracy sheds light on the state’s capacity to record its own citizens and, if necessary, fully substantiate their citizenship rights.

Despite the literature on state legibility and the common understanding of a highly regulated society, this article has exposed the efficiency of another state’s governing modality. Through the practices of nonrecording, the state hides its obligations toward those considered undesirable and, at the same time, controls them more efficiently by containing their mobility both inside and outside national territory. By withdrawing the responsibility it has to the lives of those categorized as undeserving, the state makes a political and moral claim using illegibility as a civil boundary.

Acknowledgments

I want to express my gratitude to Barak Kalir and Willem van Schendel for organizing the stimulating workshop “Unauthorised Persons and Non-Recording States” and for initiating this theme section, as well as for their valuable comments and insightful feedback on a previous version of the article. Special thanks to the two anonymous reviewers from Focaal who helped me strengthen my argument. This research was supported by the European Research Council, Starting Grant 336319 “The Social Life of State Deportation Regimes: A Comparative Study of the Implementation Interface.”

Notes

All translations of Romanian references are the author’s unless otherwise indicated.

1

Although not elaborated here, redocumentation indicates legalizing citizens by providing them with valid documents, making them visible to the state.

2

In this article I use the denomination of “Romani ethnics” for the self-identified people of Romani ethnicity.

3

Nonrecording is a practice used by other states, too, such as the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina toward newborns or Lithuania toward ethnic Russians.

4

Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons (1954) and Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (1961).

5

The citizenship law of 1991 and further amendments in 2000, 2002, 2003, and 2013.

6

The laws for restructuring the Department of Population Registration and other regulations concerning identity documents can be consulted at http://depabd.mai.gov.ro/baza_legala.html (accessed 6 January 2017).

7

Law 1260/2006 regarding the methodology for the organization and functioning of the one-stop shop (ghișeul unic) within the local public service of population registration.

8

Except a few studies done on specific Romani populations in a limited area (Mayor of Bucharest, District 6, and Roma Party 2013).

9

To maintain the anonymity of my interlocutors, I use pseudonyms throughout the article.

10

OUG 97/2005 and Law 290/2005, in addition to subsequent modifications.

11

There might be the presumption that the school managers will accept children without a birth certificate or children whose parents have a temporary ID card without residence, but it is at their discretion to do so and no law or regulation constrains them (see HG 3158/2016).

12

The politics of exclusion have ranged from denying asylum through an “administrative abdication,” as Caroline Sawyer and Braz Blitz (2011) called the refusal of refugee status for Romani coming from Eastern countries, to sheer expulsion and deportation (e.g., Belgium, Germany, France, Italy). Undoubtedly, Romani figure among those affected by Eastern European states’ direct actions of nonrecording people in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, post-Yugoslavian countries, Ukraine, and Hungary. Various scholars have pointed to the state’s fragmentation, which allows newly formed states to reject undesirable citizens (Cahn 2012; Galasinska and Krzyzanowski 2009). For example, in former Czechoslovakia thousands of Romani ethnics are caught between two states, Czech Republic and Slovakia, that have refused to recognize their citizenship for years. Hungary’s notoriously high level of marginalization of Romani communities includes various segregation politics (Messing 2014). In Romania, many scholars have shown the modalities of the state’s marginalization of Romani ethnics through ghettoization, sociospatial segregation, and exclusion from the state’s protection and benefits (Alietti et al. 2015; Cace and Vlădescu 2004; Vincze 2013). In addition to these practices of nonrecognition, I tackle the nonrecording processes permitted by recent legislative changes.

13

The methodological norms establish that there is a possibility to register the residence of a person based on a “your own risk” statement from that person doubled by a local police check and confirmation of the person’s existence at the indicated address regardless of the legal status of that place, public or private property (Government Emergency Ordinance 97/2005, republished and approved by Law 290/2005 and Civil Law 71/2011). However, the law and methodological norms do specify that the residence should be a formal dwelling place (see Government Emergency Ordinance 97/2005 art. 28, lit. c, followed by the Governmental Decision 1375/2006 art. 21 and art. 73/1 lit. b and c, and 73/3). Consequently, the local police can only confirm the registered dwellings and not the informal or improvised dwellings.

14

National Institute of Statistics, http://www.recensamantromania.ro/rezultate-2 (accessed 6 January 2017).

15

From 2002 to 2004, the Phare projects registered Romani ethnics. Recently, the National Agency for Roma (NAR), the Roma Party, and local authorities have all begun to deploy specific recording programs. One program estimates that in 2013 there were around 700 undocumented Roma ethnics solely in District 6 of Bucharest city (Mayor of Bucharest, District 6, and Roma Party 2013).

16

The literal expression in Romanian is “to put someone in legality.”

References

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  • Kalir, Barak, and Lieke Wissink. 2016. The deportation continuum: Convergences between state agents and NGO workers in the Dutch deportation field. Citizenship Studies 20(1): 3449.

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    • Export Citation
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  • Morar-Vulcu, Călin. 2015. Becoming dangerous: Everyday violence in the industrial milieu of late-socialist Romania. European History Quarterly 45(2): 315335.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pittaway, Mark. 2004. Control and consent in Eastern Europe’s workers’ states, 1945–1989: Some reflections on totalitarianism, social organization, and social control. Social Control in Europe 2: 343.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Romani CRISS. 2006. Bune practici in lucrul cu persoanele fara acte de identitate [Good practices in working with people without identity documents]. http://www.romanicriss.org/brosura_bune%20practic%20acte%20de%20identitate%202006-1.pdf (accessed 6 January 2017).

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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Crossref
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    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Shelley, Louise I. 1996. Policing Soviet society: The evolution of state control. London: Routledge.

  • Szreter, Simon, and Keith Breckenridge. 2012. Recognition and registration: The infrastructure of personhood in world history. In Keith Breckenridge and Simon Szreter, eds., Registration and recognition: Documenting the person in world history, pp. 136. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Tucker, Jason. 2014. Questioning de facto statelessness. Tilburg Law Review 19(1–2): 276284.

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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Verdery, Katherine. 2009. Abusive cadres in a voracious Party-state: Romanian collectivization in the 1950s. Seattle, WA: National Council for Eurasian and East European Research.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Vincze, Enikő. 2013. Socio-spatial marginality of Roma as form of intersectional injustice. Studia Universitatis Babes-Bolyai-Sociologia 2: 217242.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Vrăbiescu, Ioana. 2016a. Evictions and voluntary returns in Barcelona and Bucharest: Practices of metropolitan governance. Intersections: East European Journal of Society and Politics 2(1): 199218.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Vrăbiescu, Ioana. 2016b. Roma migrant children in Catalonia: Between the politics of benevolence and the normalization of violence. Ethnic and Racial Studies, doi:10.1080/01419870.2016.1229491.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

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Contributor Notes

Ioana Vrăbiescu is a postdoctoral researcher in the ERC project SOLIDERE: The Social Life of State Deportation Regimes at the University of Amsterdam. Previously she was a Roma Initiative Office Fellow at the Open Society Institute and a visiting scholar at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, supported by an InGRID program grant. She holds a PhD in political science with a background in gender studies and international relations. Ioana is also the vice president of the Romanian Women’s Lobby. She is a feminist activist and a founding member of the feminist association FRONT and editor of the **www.feminism-romania.ro. E-mail: I.Vrabiescu@uva.nl

Focaal

Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology

  • Alietti, Alfredo, Martin Olivera, and Veronica Riniolo, eds. 2015. Virtual citizenship? Roma communities, inclusion policies, participation and ICT tools. Milan: McGraw-Hill Education.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Anderson, Bridget, Isabel Shutes, and Sarah Walker. 2014. Report on the rights and obligations of citizens and non-citizens in selected countries. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bhabha, Jacqueline. 2011. From citizen to migrant: The scope of child statelessness in the twenty-first century. In Jacqueline Bhabha, ed., Children without a state: A global human rights challenge, pp. 142. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Brewster, Christopher, and Dougald Hine. 2013. Legibility, privacy and creativity: Linked data in a surveillance society. In Proceedings of the society, privacy and the semantic web–policy and technology workshop, vol. 11, pp. 5869. CEUR-WS.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cace, Sorin, and Cristian Vlădescu, eds. 2004. The health status of Roma population and their access to health care services. Bucharest: Expert Publishing House.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cahn, Claude. 2012. Minorities, citizenship and statelessness in Europe. European Journal of Migration and Law 14(3): 297316.

  • Chelcea, Liviu. 2006. Marginal groups in central places: Gentrification, property rights and post-socialist primitive accumulation (Bucharest, Romania). In György Enyedi and Zoltán Kovács, eds., Social changes and social sustainability in historical urban centres: The case of central Europe, pp. 127146. Pécs, Hungary: Centre for Regional Studies of Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Council of Europe. 1997. European convention on nationality. Treaty no. 166. https://www.coe.int/en/web/conventions/full-list/-/conventions/treaty/166 (accessed 6 January 2017).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Desch, Michael C. 1996. War and strong states, peace and weak states? International Organization 50(2): 237268.

  • Dhupelia-Mesthrie, Uma. 2014. Paper regimes. Kronos 40(1): 1022.

  • European Union. 1957. Treaty establishing the European Community (consolidated version), Rome Treaty, 25 March 1957. Available at http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b39c0.html (accessed 6 January 2017).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Fassin, Didier. 2012. Humanitarian reason: A moral history of the present. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  • Florea, Daniel. 2016. Ciprian Necula (MFE): În România există, în prezent, 160.000 de persoane fără carte de identitate [Ciprian Necula (MFE): In Romania there are currently 160,000 people without ID card]. Agerpess, 23 June, http://www.agerpres.ro/social/2016/06/23/ciprian-necula-mfe-in-romania-exista-in-prezent-160-000-de-persoane-fara-carte-de-identitate-14-47-47 (accessed 6 January 2017).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Foucault, Michel. (1979) 2010. The birth of biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978–1979. Trans. Graham Burchell. New York: Picador.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Galasinska, Aleksandra, and Michal Krzyzanowski, eds. 2009. Discourse and transformation in Central and Eastern Europe. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • General Council of Bucharest City, General Direction for Citizens Registration, Bucharest Mayor Hall. n.d. Documente de interes public [Documents of public interest]. http://www.dgepmb.ro/documente-de-interes-public/8 (accessed 6 January 2017).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Goldsmith, Andrew. 2002. Policing weak states: Citizen safety and state responsibility. Policing & Society 13(1): 321.

  • Gupta, Akhil. 1995. Blurred boundaries: The discourse of corruption, the culture of politics, and the imagined state. American Ethnologist 22(2): 375402.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hagi, Cristian, and Flavia Drăgan. 2013. Evacuare cu scandal la Eforie Sud: 55 de copii romi au dormit patru zile sub cerul liber [Eviction with protest in Eforie Sud: 55 Roma children have slept four days without roof above their heads]. România Liberă, 3 October. http://www.romanialibera.ro/actualitate/eveniment/video--evacuare-cu-scandal-la-eforie-sud-55-de-copii-romi-au-dormit-patru-zile-sub-cerul-liber-314236 (accessed 6 January 2017).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hull, Matthew. 2012. Documents and bureaucracy. Annual Review of Anthropology 41: 251267.

  • Ionescu, Mariea, and Sorin Cace. 2006. Politici publice pentru romi: Evoluţii şi perspective [Public policies for Roma: Developments and perspectives]. Bucharest: Expert Publishing House.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Isin, Engin F., and Peter Nyers, eds. 2014. Routledge handbook of global citizenship studies. London: Routledge.

  • Kalir, Barak, and Lieke Wissink. 2016. The deportation continuum: Convergences between state agents and NGO workers in the Dutch deportation field. Citizenship Studies 20(1): 3449.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Marin, Carolina. 2015. Ending childhood statelessness: A study on Romania. Working paper 01/15. London: European Network on Statelessness.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mayor of Bucharest, District 6, and Roma Party. 2013. Proiect “Actele de identitate o şansă la integrare a cetățenilor de etnie romă din comunitatea Sectorului 6” [Project “Identity documents, a chance to integrate citizens of Roma ethnicity in District 6”]. http://www.primarie6.ro/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Anexa-HCL-S6.pdf (accessed 6 January 2017).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Melikian, Lia G. 2014. No country for some men: Statelessness in the United States and lessons from the European Union. Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law 43: 281308.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Messing, Vera. 2014. Apart or together: Motivations behind ethnic segregation in education across Europe. In Julia Szalai and Claire Schiff, eds., Migrant, Roma and post-colonial youth in education across Europe, pp. 1733. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Milbrandt, Jay. 2011. Stateless. Pepperdine University School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper Series 6: 130.

  • Morar-Vulcu, Călin. 2015. Becoming dangerous: Everyday violence in the industrial milieu of late-socialist Romania. European History Quarterly 45(2): 315335.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pittaway, Mark. 2004. Control and consent in Eastern Europe’s workers’ states, 1945–1989: Some reflections on totalitarianism, social organization, and social control. Social Control in Europe 2: 343.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Romani CRISS. 2006. Bune practici in lucrul cu persoanele fara acte de identitate [Good practices in working with people without identity documents]. http://www.romanicriss.org/brosura_bune%20practic%20acte%20de%20identitate%202006-1.pdf (accessed 6 January 2017).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Public Direction for Citizens Registration and Civil Status, District 1, Bucharest. n.d. Înregistrarea naşterii [Birth registration]. http://www.starecivila1.ro/inregistrare-nastere (accessed 6 January 2017).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sawyer, Caroline, and Brad K. Blitz. 2011. Statelessness in the European Union: Displaced, undocumented, unwanted. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Scott, James. 1998. Seeing like a state: How certain schemes to improve the human condition have failed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Shelley, Louise I. 1996. Policing Soviet society: The evolution of state control. London: Routledge.

  • Szreter, Simon, and Keith Breckenridge. 2012. Recognition and registration: The infrastructure of personhood in world history. In Keith Breckenridge and Simon Szreter, eds., Registration and recognition: Documenting the person in world history, pp. 136. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Tucker, Jason. 2014. Questioning de facto statelessness. Tilburg Law Review 19(1–2): 276284.

  • United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). 2013. A passport to protection: A guide to birth registration programming. New York: UNICEF. http://www.unicef.org/protection/files/UNICEF_Birth_Registration_Handbook.pdf (accessed 6 January 2017).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Verdery, Katherine. 2009. Abusive cadres in a voracious Party-state: Romanian collectivization in the 1950s. Seattle, WA: National Council for Eurasian and East European Research.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Vincze, Enikő. 2013. Socio-spatial marginality of Roma as form of intersectional injustice. Studia Universitatis Babes-Bolyai-Sociologia 2: 217242.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Vrăbiescu, Ioana. 2016a. Evictions and voluntary returns in Barcelona and Bucharest: Practices of metropolitan governance. Intersections: East European Journal of Society and Politics 2(1): 199218.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Vrăbiescu, Ioana. 2016b. Roma migrant children in Catalonia: Between the politics of benevolence and the normalization of violence. Ethnic and Racial Studies, doi:10.1080/01419870.2016.1229491.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

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