Mita

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Mita
Informal practice commonly found in Romanian Gabor Roma
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Map of Romanian Gabor Roma, where Mita commonly takes place.
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Flag of Romanian Gabor Roma.
Entry written by Péter Berta.
Péter Berta is affiliated to School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London.

Original Text: Péter Berta, School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London

Among the Romanian Gabor Roma, mita is a sum of money that, depending on the context, can be interpreted as a wage (to a broker, etc.), a success fee, a compensation, a gift as an expression of gratitude, a gift for persuasion (bribe), and a gift as a representation of joy. The word mita entered the Romani dialect of the Gabor Roma from the term mítă of Slavic origin. In Romanian language, the word has negative connotations, and correspondingly, offering, giving and receiving a sum of money called mita is regarded as a negative or at least a morally ambivalent practice. The Dictionary of the Romanian Language defines mítă as a ‘bribe’, or ‘sum of money or gift received by someone or offered to someone in order to win her/his good will, especially to persuade her/him to fulfil (more diligently) or to violate work obligations (…) Without bribe = honest, just, incorruptible.’ (Academia Română… 2010: 637–638)[1].

Instances of cash gifts for persuasion (bribes) can be found both among members of the majority Romanian society and the Gabor Roma (Precupeţu 2007; Moldovan – Van de Walle 2013)[2][3]. A significant difference is that among the Gabor Roma mita also has meanings that are morally unmarked (wage, success fee) or valued positively (compensation, a gift as an expression of gratitude, or a gift as a representation of joy). In the following only two meanings attached to mita by the Gabor Roma will be analysed: a gift given informally for persuasion (bribe), and a gift given as an expression of joy.

Offering a cash gift for persuasion (bribe) is a practice occasionally used in order to assert economic and social interests (to handle situations of economic competition, for conflict management, etc.). In situations of interethnic encounters between Gabor Roma and non-Roma, a gift for persuasion can speed up administrative procedures, help to circumvent formal proceedings for minor misdemeanours (such as traffic offences), and in some cases can also help to place individual Gabor Roma building contractors in an advantageous position in the state or local government tenders for construction work.

In interactions between Gabor Roma, cash gifts for persuasion are generally given as part of competition for prestige among individuals and families (Ŕomani politika in Romani – ‘Roma politics’ (Berta 2014; Szalai 2014)[4][5]). This strategy is often used in the politics of marriage. The Gabors practice ethnic endogamy, and arranged marriage (often of children) is organised and supervised by parents and grandparents. The Gabors practice ethnic endogamy, and child marriage is arranged and supervised by parents and grandparents. When a marriage is arranged it establishes a multifunctional marital alliance between the families of the young couple (xanamikimo in Romani). There is often very strong competition between Gabor Roma parents/grandparents for marital alliances with prestigious and influential families, who likewise seek an appropriate marriage partner for their child/grandchild and allies for themselves. In such competitive context, a secretly offered cash gift is frequently used as a means of inducement for a potential co-father-in-law (xanamik in Romani). Mita is given with an intention to persuade the recipient to accept the giver’s proposed marital alliance and not that of someone else. In proprietary contests for marital alliances with extremely high reputational profit, the secretly given gift for persuasion can amount to several tens of thousands of US dollars. Mita-giving is thus an informal practice that can be interpreted as a source of dynamism characterising the marriage politics of the Gabor Roma.

Photograph depicting a celebration that involves the informal practice of mita. Artist: Peter Berta

Strategies of informal offering of a cash gift for persuasion also take place in other contexts of intraethnic social and economic competition among the Gabor Roma. For example, mita may be offered to persuade the recipient to give up his intention to buy a house or a building site that the giver would also like to purchase.

In certain cases, Gabor Roma’s mita is regarded as a gift given as a representation of joy (ărămajandîko in Romani). Such gifts are normally given on the occasion of a marriage or engagement, or as part of certain economic transactions (mainly the purchase of antique silver beakers or roofed tankards regarded as prestige goods, and credit deals involving the pawning of such prestige objects (Berta 2014)[6]). A common feature of these gifts is that they are handed out publicly.

The distribution of mita as an expression of joy handed out at weddings is governed by a certain informal code. The sums of money for this purpose are pooled by the parents of the young couple, and the host generally requests an older, influential man to distribute them. The latter does this by making an unspoken classification of the guests into gender and age groups. The most important principles of distribution are: (1) men can expect to receive a larger sum than women of the same age; (2) the gender groups are also differentiated by age: the biggest sums go to the oldest men, middle-aged men receive less, and the young men even smaller sums, with adolescent boys and male children at the end of the line with the smallest sums. The same age/generation principle is applied in the case of women. Sometimes the person trusted with distributing the sums names the exact amount aloud when the cash gift is presented so that everyone present can hear.

According to the Gabor Roma ideology, the purpose of gift-giving at weddings is to enable the parents to ‘publicly share with the guests the joy’ they feel about the marriage and the marital alliance. The distribution of cash gifts is also a practice thanking the guests for coming, and often serves to establish, demonstrate and reproduce social closeness and solidarity between the giver and the recipient. Furthermore, gift-giving at weddings is a widespread form of conspicuous consumption or display of economic prosperity and a socially required and rewarded strategy of maintaining public image. Through mita-giving, parents marrying off their children demonstrate to the assembled guests their commitment to the Gabor Roma ethic of sociability. It is not unusual for the total value of such cash gifts at a wedding to approach or exceed 2,000 Euros.

Although these wedding gifts are presented publicly, the scope of publicity is limited in respect of both ethnicity and social distance. With a few exceptions – such as the presence of the anthropologist – only Gabor Roma attend Gabor Roma weddings, and participation is usually restricted to those who have been invited in advance by the parents of the young couple. Consequently, from the perspective of the Romanian state, the distribution of mita given as a representation of joy at a wedding is an informal, invisible transaction, similar to the giving of gifts for persuasion (bribe).

The set of tropes (see below) used by the Gabors and associated with cash gifts for persuasion (bribe) and cash gifts expressing joy draw special attention to two dimensions of mita-giving. One is the relationship of mita-giving to publicity, and the other to the Gabor Roma ethics of managing social relations and interactions (i.e. morality).

Gabor Roma attach two attributes to mita when given publicly: table (that is, the mita is given at or above the table; here the ‘table’ is a reference to the hospitality accompanying joyful events); and parno (‘white’). In contrast, mita given in secret is associated with such attributes as čordani (‘stolen, concealed’), and kali (‘black’). The set of tropes constructed by the Gabors represents the moral dimension attached to the gift-giving by linking parni (‘white’) to the noun mita in the case of morally approved gift-giving, and kali (‘black’) for gift-giving that is morally stigmatised or is considered to be morally ambivalent. Thus the attributes ‘black’ and ‘white’ may refer to gift-giving in the context of both publicity and morality.

To sum up, cash gifts interpreted as expressions of joy among the Gabor Roma are linked principally to arranged marriage (often of children) and marriage politics, and to the prestige consumption organised around antique silver beakers and roofed tankards. Such practices are informal, ethnicised, and gendered elements of the post-socialist Romanian society and economy. The distribution of cash gifts representing joy is a widespread phenomenon among the Gabors, playing a significant role in the conceptualisation of certain social identities and relations. Due to their multifunctionality and social significance, Gabor Roma interlocutors often refer to the giving of mita (in the sense of an expression of joy) as an ethnic identity practice symbolically distancing and differentiating them from the Romanians and Hungarians living in Romania.

Notes

  1. Academia Română. Institutul de Lingvistică „Iorgu Iordan – Al. Rosetti” (2010) Dicţionarul limbii române. Bucureşti: Editura Academiei Române
  2. Precupeţu, Iuliana. 2007. ‘Corruption and Anticorruption Measures in Romania.’ Calitatea Vieţii XVIII(3–4): 383–398
  3. Moldovan, Andrada and Van de Walle, Steven. 2013. ‘Gifts or Bribes? Attitudes on Informal Payments in Romanian Health Care.’ Public Integrity 15(4): 383–399
  4. Berta, Péter. 2014. Proprietary Contest, Business Ethics and Conflict Management: A Multi-sited Commodity Ethnography. In: Wood, Donald C. (ed.): Production, Consumption, Business and the Economy: Structural Ideals and Moral Realities. 31–64. (REA 34.) Bingley: Emerald
  5. Szalai, Andrea. 2014. ‘Ideologies of Social Differentiation among Transylvanian Gabor Roma.’ Acta Ethnographica Hungarica 59(1): 85–112
  6. Berta, Péter. 2014. Proprietary Contest, Business Ethics and Conflict Management: A Multi-sited Commodity Ethnography. In: Wood, Donald C. (ed.): Production, Consumption, Business and the Economy: Structural Ideals and Moral Realities. 31–64. (REA 34.) Bingley: Emerald