Symbolically separated from the rest of the city by a polluted stream and
connected by only a wooden pedestrian bridge, the Roma community of Craica in
the city of Baia Mare, in northwestern Romania, embodies the plight of a
troubled ethnic minority.
In August 2011, local authorities decided to build a concrete wall around a
Roma-inhabited housing area on Horia Street. “We felt like they wanted to hide
something behind this wall,” Alex Banta, the self-proclaimed leader of the small
community, told SETimes.
About 120 families squeeze in the squalid slum that is in stark contrast to
the neighboring renovated housing blocks. The Roma accuse City Hall of having
abandoned their housing needs in order to force evacuation.
The slum is home to 300 households. In May 2012, just few days before local
elections, about 200 Roma from Craica were moved into the former offices of
Cuprom, a copper wire manufacturing company that was the second-biggest polluter
in the country when it closed in 2006.
Since that time, twenty of the relocated Roma have sought medical
assistance apparently suffering from exposure to toxic chemicals. “We live in
dire conditions. Our only income is the maternity indemnity,” Alex Banta, father
of 14 children, said.
The Baia Mare City Hall believes that local Roma children are kept out of
school by parents who would rather have them beg. “We have an education plan for
these children. We will send them to different schools in the city so they are
not ethnically isolated,” Mayor Catalin Chereches told SETimes.
Adjacent to abandoned railway tracks separating the town of Craica, there
are roughly 20 hectares of land owned by the Ministry of Defense that the City
Hall hopes to build a new planned neighborhood with assistance from the Soros
Some of the Roma believe they were forcibly relocated to Cuprom. “They cut
off the power so we had no choice but to leave,” Rodica Marcovici told SETimes.
Chereches denied the allegations. “We brought them to see the location first. We
even let them move their shanties to recover as much building material as
NGOs have accused the mayor of wanting to relocate Roma families near a
former chemical waste dump. “The area is very toxic, especially in the evening
when one has to wear a mask to avoid feeling sick,” Robert Vaszi, of the Equal
Chances NGO, told SETimes.
Many Roma are divided about leaving Craica, but Robert Antal, who
represents the Roma in Craica in official meetings with local authorities, said
the Roma cannot go on living in the squalid conditions. “We have to think of our
children first. This is for their best,” he said.
Eugen Gaspar, a Roma retiree, said living in the former administrative
offices is a tremendous improvement. “Do I like this place? Do I like a place
where there are no rats, where the roof doesn’t fall during heavy rains and
where the kids can go to school without having to change their shoes before
going into the classroom? The kids even have a playground here.”
Hundreds of meters away, the city in June opened the Romani Center, a
daycare center for the Roma children. About 80 Roma children are given free
meals every day provided they bathe prior to eating. The center also has a
library and a media hall and occasionally receives lecturers.
Within a year, approximately 2000 Roma in the four poverty hotbeds in the
city are to be relocated to new homes, Chereches said. “We will discuss these
projects to every single Roma family because we want to avoid their corrupt
leaders,” he said.
The Roma hope the words will one day become reality. “All the doors have so
far been closed for us. I hope they will open one day,” Banta said while
returning to the community he shepherds. “I am turning 50 today and I can’t even
put bread on the table.”