There is a saying in Romania that, if you walk thirty minutes in any direction, you’ll find an impoverished Gypsy. In the back-country around Pitești, the saying sounds about right. The Romani were the first to be laid off in the industrial collapse that followed the end of Communism, and most have been reduced to the odd and occasionally dangerous scrabble for a living that they knew before the Communists came to power.

Firewood gathering is a major enterprise, both for sale to each other and to heat their own dwellings. You see the carts late at night on the country roads, often with a police official questioning the driver on the source of his wooden loot. A wrong answer will get the thief eight to ten years in a local jail, although fortunately not the political prison, Experimentul Pitești, that made this town infamous until its shutdown in 1952.

The term Gypsy, by the way, is no longer acceptable usage for the Romani people. It has a connotation somewhere near the epithet nigger for a black person or wetback for a Mexican-American. You still find the word in contemporary speech and literature, but its usage seems to be declining. If the current trends continue, bigots the world over will run out of acceptable insults. Maybe they’ll have to just shut up and say nothing at all?


Categories: Europe, Romania