The Roma who reached Wallachia and Moldavia in the second half of the 14th Century were met with a cruel reception. For the next 500 years, they were enslaved. They were bought, sold, and traded, their families torn apart, their very lives always at the mercy of their owners. Among these masters was the Romanian Orthodox Church, which used Roma as laborers on church lands such as those here at this famed monastery.
As a nation that also once permitted slavery, the United States has spent years coming to terms with a similarly dark legacy by first acknowledging, then abolishing, then apologizing for this shameful period in our history. A healthy democracy is one that can reflect on its imperfect past and take steps toward a better future. This is one such step. For this reason, I commend the Romanian government and the Archbishop of Craiova and Metropolitan of Oltenia of the Romanian Orthodox Church for having the strength and the humanity to acknowledge the facts of Roma enslavement, an often overlooked part of Romania’s history.
While Roma families still faced discrimination and violence after their emancipation, including their deportation and murder during the Holocaust, gaining their freedom was a vital first step on the road to integration, a struggle that continues even today. It is our hope that, one day soon, the prejudices of the past will be completely replaced with respect and equality for all.