October marks 635 years since the first written attestation of the enslavement of Roma people in Romania. In October 1385, Dan I, prince of Wallachia and an enslaver, gifted to the Tismana Monastery 40 Roma families, among other “assets”.
Roma people were coerced into this system of chattel enslavement beginning in the 1370s or perhaps earlier by three types of enslavers: the Crown (and later, the state), the Orthodox church, and the nobility. By law, the enslavers owned the slaves as their property or possessions, and slaves without a “master” would become the “property” of the Crown. The Romanian enslavers did see and treat Romani enslaved people “a little bit better than animals”.
The institution of slavery ended in 1855 in Moldova and 1856 in Walachia. After the final act of abolition in 1856, the 250,000 Roma slaves who became legally free, some 7 percent of the Romanian population, received no reparations for the inhumane treatment they had suffered.
The Orthodox Church have shown little interest in taking responsibility for Roma enslavement. They have not even issued a formal apology for the enslavement. Many of its churches and monasteries have been built using the free, highly skilled Romani workforce. For instance, the Cașin monastery in Bacau was built in the 1650s by 800 Romani slaves. Should the Orthodox Church not pay back the Roma for having built Cașin and other properties from scratch?
A large portion of the wealth gap in Romania stems from this little-known history of economic exploitation. The forced labour of Roma slaves constituted a central element in the development and growth of the Romanian economy; it was a critical source of wealth for the Romanian state, the Orthodox Church, and the aristocracy.