VIDEO: Ostentatious homes built by Roma community in Romania reflect their desire for prestige
Agence France-Presse has reported on the architecture of homes that have been built by Roma community members in Romania in the countryside and on the outskirts of cities. Asian-style pagodas with pyramid-shaped roofs reminiscent of "palaces" are just some of the unusual architectural elements used, reportedly expressing the marginalized minority's desire for social prestige.
Romanian architect Rudolf Gräf, the author of a study of the "palaces", says they bring into sharp focus some architectural elements that are typical of Romanian style. "Frequently these are executed in such a way as to be absurd and kitschy, but this Roma architecture paradoxically reflects a part of Romanian history, unlike the contemporary architecture being built by the Romanian state itself," he says.
The "palaces" feature impressive dimensions, richly decorated facades, gypsum statues, marble columns, and sometimes feature dollar signs or the logo of a famous German car brand. The buildings differ by region: In central Transylvania they are inspired by Catholic churches, in the Banat in the southwest they copy neo-Classical constructions, while in the south and east they reflect a neo-Romanian style reminiscent of the traditional homes of boyars or villagers, Gräf emphasizes.
Sometimes the homes are copies of official buildings that have somehow affected the owners' lives: In the village of Buzescu in the south of the country, Dan Finutu, a moneyed Roma man who passed away in 2012, built a replica of the courthouse where, in the 1990s, he was convicted and sent to prison for racketeering. The beginning of the building of these "palaces" is closely connected with the fall of the Ceausescu regime at the end of the year 1989 and reflects an attempt by the Roma builders to anchor their own identity after centuries of enslavement and then forced assimilation during communism.
"The first palaces were erected in the 1990s when some of the gold the Communists had confiscated from the Roma was returned to them," says Costica Stancu, a Roma community leader in Buzescu. The communist regime, on the basis of a decree in 1978, confiscated the gold jewelry that Roma women had been handing down within their families over the generations.
Other Roma made their money at that time by selling scrap iron or moonlighting and then built homes with facades that were meant to shimmer, to evoke respect, and to reflect the social hierarchy within the two million strong minority, most of whom still live in poverty. These "palaces", according to Gräf, are not just meant to express their owners' prestige and success, but are also a kind of competition between neighbors: More floors, more towers, and even more imposing columns are added to the original building depending on how rich the owners become and how their tastes change.
With a few exceptions, architects remain unaware of these buildings. "Their maintenance is very demanding. Many buildings in Buzescu already appear abandoned and some palaces under construction will not be completed for lack of money," says Stancu, who himself lives in a small single-family home with a little garden.
More than four million people have emigrated from Romania in recent years, and some villages are now inhabited just by the elderly. "It's not like it was before. People left, some went to Bucharest, others abroad. They want to make money there, to remain there," says 60-year-old Lidia as she stands in front of the imposing entryway to her own "palace".
- Romania loses at the European Court of Human Rights, must compensate Roma family for police brutality
- Romania: 900 protest recent violence against Roma in Italy and Ukraine, more demonstrations in other European countries to follow
- Feminist Roma theater company celebrates the abolition of Roma slavery in Romania
- Romania: Romani Actresses Shine a Spotlight on Feminism
- Stano Daniel: Will a renovated nursery school have to close in Romania? Support for Romani child development is crucial
- Romania: Ethnic Hungarian mob commits arson against Romani children accused of stealing
- International Romani Union says offer to help Trump came from Rom facing traditional community justice procedure in Romania
- Austria: Arson attacks against Romani families from Romania
- Romanian film "Aferim!", set during era of Roma slavery, discusses various forms of honor
- Romania: Yet another vulnerable Roma community evicted in the capital
- Romania: Cif ad campaign gets rid of offensive, racist graffiti
- France, Romania sign treaty on repatriating Romani people who overstay
- Czech Romani group criticizes French and Romanian Governments
- Romania: Politician scores points by evicting Romani people, building wall
- The Roma narrative of Romanian media: racism, antiracism and symbolic scapegoating
- Romania to remove defamatory definitions for Jews and Roma from new dictionary
- Romanian Roma flagging people down at Czech-German border crossing
- Czech Republic: Driver runs into Romani boy in crosswalk, shouts racist abuse at him and drives off
- EU Fundamental Rights Agency to publish results of research with Roma and Travellers in six EU Member States
- Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion praises town for using EU funds to create social housing
- Czech director of "The Painted Bird": All it takes here is to be different and you've got a problem
- Michal Miko: Czech ministries are boycotting experts' attempts to introduce social housing
- Czech mayor who failed to tackle "white flight" publicly curses nonprofits and Romani people, Agency for Social Inclusion calls for dialogue
- Roma civil society members on Czech Govt Roma Council tell Labor Minister her anti-poverty measures will instead produce poverty
- Czech expert says haters' attention is fixating on Roma again, "migration" as a subject is over
- Czech Republic: Romani-occupied residential hotel catches fire, young family loses everything, 12 suffer smoke inhalation
- Czech President Havel protested against the wall separating non-Roma from Roma on Matiční Street 20 years ago
- Pavel Botoš: Who will stop the use of terms like "cigoši" in the Czech Republic?
- Iveta Bílková: Czech society should not tolerate words like "Cigán", "Cigoši", etc.