Romania PM Escapes Censure in Autism Comment Row :: Balkan Insight

Romanian PM Viorica Dancila. Photo: Bogdan Cristel/EPA.

Romanian human rights activists expressed anger on Tuesday after the country’s anti-discrimination council decided the previous day that Prime Minister Viorica Dancila did not offend people with autism spectrum disorder when she called MEPs “autistic” for opposing changes to the country’s justice system.

Romania’s National Anti-Discrimination Council decided on Monday that Dancila did not go beyond the limits of freedom of expression and ruled almost unanimously to not sanction her.

The only member who voted against the ruling was the head of the council, Asztalos Csaba, who advocated that Dancila should at least be given a warning because, as an official, she used the word “autistic” pejoratively and indirectly caused offence.

“There is hate discourse in society and this label, coming from a senior dignitary, is a negative signal,” Csaba said on Monday.

Two weeks ago, Dancila accused Romanian MEPs who opposed the ruling Social Democratic Party’s bill aimed at curbing prosecutors’ independence and influence of “knowingly spreading disinformation at the EU, despite knowing the truth,” and called them “autistic”.

The statement angered rights activists and 20 organisations filed a complaint to the National Anti-Discrimination Council, despite the fact that Dancila apologised the next day in a press statement, saying that she did not mean the comment to be offensive.

The rights groups however said that although they knew Dancila’s statement was not made with negative intentions, they regretted that the council decided not to punish her.

They argued that Dancila was not the only politician who has made offensive statements about autism and that institutions should hold officials responsible for the negligent use of offensive terms in public speech.

“We did not want to crucify a dignitary in the public arena for not knowing the sense of the words he/she uses and, maybe, even worse, not knowing the stigma implications of using the word ‘autism’ in this way,” Ana Dragu, the head of Europa Autism Association, wrote in a Facebook post on Monday night.

“Nobody knows they are doing, nobody intends to offend anyone when they do offend someone, nobody wants to stigmatise when they stigmatise, nobody answers for anything,” Dragu added.

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