Romanian Gypsies celebrate 150 years since emancipation

Romania's Roma community and activists called on the Orthodox Church and the government Monday to issue a formal apology for subjecting them to forced labor until 1856, as they celebrated 150 years since being freed from slavery. About 100 activists took part in an anti-slavery march which ended in front of main Orthodox cathedral in the capital. They handed a letter to the church asking it to take responsibility for its past and help the country's Roma community cope with social problems.

Some 250,000 Roma, or Gypsies, were enslaved in regions which are now part of Romania, forced to work in Orthodox monasteries, for rich landowners and local princes. They were freed during a lengthy process which ended in 1856, at a time when the country was carrying out sweeping social changes inspired by democratic reforms in Western Europe.

Officially, Romania's current Gypsy population numbers about 500,000, but polls have put the actual figure at more than 1 million. "The church has committed an immoral act for five centuries" by holding slaves, said Ciprian Necula, a Roma activist taking part in the march. "We want the church and the government to apologize as a moral reparation."

Nicolae Paun, who represents the Roma community in parliament, called for an official day to commemorate the thousands of Roma who died under slavery. "Slavery was not only economic. Many virgins passed through the landowner's bed the night before they got married. Slavery was an outrage for civilization," he said.

Paun said too little has been done since emancipation to help Roma integrate into society, with most still living in dire poverty. "We are not slaves anymore legally, but we are still in a state of 'social slavery,"' he said. "After 150 years the state has still to recognize its wrongdoing."

Participants also called on authorities to fight widespread prejudice and discrimination against Roma and include the teaching of Roma history in schools. History textbooks make little mention of the Roma, and Education Ministry officials have pledged to make improvements, reports the AP.


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