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British ambassador: Ignorance about the past of Roma slavery - a major obstacle to lesson learning

Inquam Photos/ Octav Ganea
Andrew Noble

Most Romanians are unaware that the Roma were enslaved in the past, British ambassador in Bucharest Andrew Noble said on Thursday, stressing that ignorance about the past of slavery is a major obstacle to lesson learning.

The British Embassy in Romania marked on Thursday 165 years since the emancipation of the Roma in the Romanian Principalities and 50 years since the Orpington Declaration on Roma Rights adopted at the First World Romani Congress held in April 1971.

We need to mark and commemorate this date because there is still much to be done. When you abolish slavery, equality is not created overnight. We know from America that the legacy of slavery has lingered on for decades, if not centuries. What we have not yet learned from other situations is that the legacy of slavery goes on in absence of important and sustainable steps to combat it. That's why the 165th anniversary and commemoration of the abolition of slavery in Romania matters. It is also true that most people in this country do not know that the Roma community has been enslaved, the British ambassador said, also noting that the Orpington Declaration was the first declaration on the rights of the Roma community.

The diplomat also said that the Roma community was disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and cited a survey conducted by the British embassy on written media in 2020, which revealed a significant increase in attitudes of exclusion, discrimination, hate speech and intolerance against minorities in general, but particularly against the Roma community.

Deputy Catalin Manea, the representative of the Roma minority in Parliament, highlighted the importance of measures to improve the community's living conditions and presented the main landmarks in the history of the Roma community, which was kept enslaved for more than four centuries. He stressed the importance of remedial measures for the Roma community, noting also that there is no recognition of the fact that the Roma have fought in the First and Second World Wars.

Just like the Jewish community, the Roma minority should also have a dedicated museum. We should also have a theater of the Roma minority, and I don't think this requires too big a budget effort, he said.

Sociologist Gelu Duminica, director of the "Together" Community Development Agency, said that the agency's role will be to make sure that the government and political parties do what they have pledged to with regard to the Roma community.

This is what we, as a non-governmental organization, plan to do, push the state to do its job for all its citizens, taking their identity into account, Duminica said.

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