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Last Updated: Friday, 5 March, 2004, 17:50 GMT
Death rite unnerves Romanian EU bid
Tom Mulligan
BBC Monitoring

Haunted by "strigoi" - the undead - villagers on the slopes of the Carpathian mountains exhume a corpse from the graveyard and drive a stake through its heart to banish the evil spirit.

Romanian villagers at exorcism
Will there still be a place for ancient beliefs?

They burn the remains of the heart, mix the ashes with water from the local well and drink it, to complete the macabre ritual.

Scenes from a shlock vampire B-movie? No; all this took place in February 2004 at a village in Dolj County, south-western Romania, according to Romanian Antena 1 TV news.

But the "Strigoi Show", as the TV dubbed it light-heartedly, has prompted such a stir about local customs and culture, the national press is questioning whether the ex-communist Balkan country will truly be ready to enter the European Union in 2007.

Under the headline "Ancestral habits at odds with modern European civilization," the independent national daily Evenimentul Zilei commented that such events were the "law of the land" in rural Romania.

Clash of cultures

The regions of Transylvania and Wallachia were "haunted by ancestral ghosts, evil spirits, and vampires"; medieval beliefs that were "at odds with sophisticated EU rules on measuring fruit and the size of bananas".

The paper has been a loud critic of the pace of Prime Minister Adrian Nastase's reforms needed for EU membership, and is quick to highlight criticism of Bucharest from Brussels.

Europe's preoccupations and debates, the paper said, were "totally out of tune with Romanian realities, where local barons make the law, enjoy privileges and export children to get favours from important people" in a "medieval fashion".

It describes Romania as a land of "sold girls" and "Romany kings fighting over gold coins", where pre-Christian faiths endure in spite of "internet cafes opened in villages in the old communist culture houses".

Criticism from Brussels reached a peak last month when the foreign affairs committee of the European Parliament threw a question mark over Bucharest's EU accession talks. MEPs have accused Mr Nastase's government of failing to halt adoptions of children by foreigners, or of putting a stop to bribery and corruption.

Shadows of the past

The national newspaper Ziua ran an editorial headlined "Communist Ghost Haunting Romania" saying Romania was "haunted by the shadows" of its past, particularly the Securitate secret police, which "Europe does not need".

Romanians are flabbergasted only because the EU criticizes such things
Ziua daily

Drawing comparisons between the Dolj County "strigoi" and more recent bloodsuckers, Ziua suggested "the ghost of the Securitate haunts every corner here" and that ghost was "showing its true nature to us: corruption, collectivism, state control, and bureaucracy".

The centrist national daily Adevarul argued the EU would "inevitably be weakened in the short term because it is bringing in the poor countries of the East".

In another column, Ziua commented that Romania was still a county that "sells" its children. It said such events were not even considered newsworthy, as "the monstrous has become an everyday occurrence". Romanians are "flabbergasted only because the EU criticises such things," it said.

But Mr Nastase is taking steps to show his government is heeding EU warnings to push on with radical reforms and not miss its target date of joining by 2007. According to news reports, he is sacking his justice minister after the EU complained of slow judicial reforms.

Smothering local customs?

The authorities took action last September amid an international outcry over the forced wedding of a 12-year old Gypsy bride in Sibiu, Transylvania, the daughter of a self-proclaimed Gypsy king. The media said the child protection agency separated the girl from her teenage groom, who may face charges, and returned her to school.

And Evenimentul Zilei says the government is "enhancing legislation in the field of child adoptions" based on recommendations of the National Authority for Child Protection and Adoptions, although belatedly.

"If we continue to work for our European accession, we will not even be able to beat our wives and children to death anymore," Ziua commented with irony.

Will efforts to ensure human rights, stamp out graft and enhance the legal system to EU standards result in the smothering of the "old Romania": its legends, folklore, its mix of religious and secular traditions?

Romania's metropolitan press may argue that its ancestral customs are out of line with "modern European civilization", but the new Europe may be all the poorer for it if they disappear completely.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.




SEE ALSO:
Q&A: EU enlargement
04 Mar 04  |  Europe
Country profile: Romania
22 Oct 03  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Romania
10 Feb 04  |  Country profiles
Inquiry into gypsy child wedding
01 Oct 03  |  Europe


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