Bakers, priests and local and national politicians are among the protagonists of the drama unfolding in an until now anonymous village in central Romania.
Ditrau, a village in Harghita
county, has been making headlines for a few days, sparkling heated debates on
the political, civic and media scene. The officials in Bucharest have reacted
after the local community vehemently took against the employment by a village
bakery of two workers from Sri Lanka.
The locals protested in the street
because they say they are afraid of immigrants coming to their village and "imposing
their culture" and putting their safety in danger. The owners of the apartments
rented by the two workers received threats from the angry villagers who say
they will never eat "bread knead by black hands". The employer found
accommodation for the two workers outside the village, but said he would keep
them in their initial positions. Earlier, he said he would find other posts for
them in order to diffuse the situation, but this offer was also rejected by the
locals. The village's Roman Catholic priest, who joined the protest, was
rebuked by his ecclesiastical superiors, while the mayor, who tried to appease the
tensions, had a nervous breakdown and burst into tears.
The story is all the more strange as
a fifth of the inhabitants of the village work abroad. This horrible episode,
while similar to others reported elsewhere in Europe, from Scandinavia to
Sicily and from Madrid to Moscow, has much deeper connotations according to
commentators. The president of the Romanian Academy Ioan Aurel Pop speaks about
"exclusion, xenophobia and racism".
The setting to the drama, Harghita
county, is, together with Covasna and part of Mures counties, part of the
so-called Szeckler Country, the only region in the country with a majority
ethnic Hungarian population. Poor, isolated and conservative, the rural
population in these parts is in many cases monolingual, does not speak Romanian
and supports Szeckler autonomy. Hungarian TV channels have monopoly in this
area and some blame the attitude of the villagers in Ditrau on the
anti-immigration discourse of the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban. These
TV channels insist that the protest of the villagers is not against the Sri
Lankan workers but against the owner of the bakery, who is himself an ethnic
Hungarian. Former employees have complained that he treated them inhumanely,
paying them only the minimum wages and systematically forcing them to work
extra hours without paying them.
The labour minister Violeta
Alexandru has ordered an inspection at the bakery, the police have started a
criminal investigation and the National Council for Combating Discrimination
has taken note of the situation. A former deputy prime minister and former
leader of the Democratic Union of Ethnic Hungarians in Romania, the writer
Marko Bela says he regrets that "we have failed the test, because we demand
tolerance from others, but allow our communities to be intolerant".