• Sweden's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Romanians go hungry as mega-cathedral rises

The Local · 23 Dec 2014, 12:41

Published: 23 Dec 2014 12:41 GMT+01:00

The warmth of my down jacket is a welcome embrace as I walk through Stockholm’s cold and dark streets. The bags full of Christmas presents weigh heavy however as I pass by what has become a feature of streets across Sweden in recent years - the sight of the Romanian beggars. Outside supermarkets, liquor stores, pharmacies and on street corners, they sit wrapped in blankets trying to ward off the early winter chill.

I despair when I think about how the Romanian government prioritizes the construction of churches ahead of the welfare of the Romanian people.

I have witnessed with my own eyes the sheer misery from which the beggars lining Stockholm’s streets have fled. Last spring I was part of a delegation together with EU minister Birgitta Ohlsson on a visit to Bucharest. The purpose of our visit was to meet representatives for the Romanian government and to express our wish to make use of EU structural funds to fight poverty.

Impressions gathered from rural Romanian villages remain with me - hovels, mud, and emaciated horses dragging carts. I will never forget Nicoletta who lives in a tidy shack devoid of running water with four young children and a handicapped son. The wood-fire, the only source of heat, is warmed with sticks collected in the woods. There is no money for wood. Meals are almost exclusively cornmeal.

“How can this be part of our European Union” we asked each other in the car on the way home.

Human rights are the foundation of the European Union. In central Bucharest, when we passed by the dictator Ceausescu’s monstrosity of a palace, our Romania colleagues pointed to a building site and said: “Here they are building one of the world’s largest orthodox cathedrals”.

The almost pharaoh-like project was begun in 2010 and is due to be completed within a couple of years. The costs remain undetermined but will be measured in hundreds of millions of euros. French newspaper Le Figaro estimates that the figure is likely to reach a billion euro ($1.2 billion). 

In one of Europe’s poorest countries there are resources to build a 125 metre tall cathedral complete with golden arches at the same time as a mother and her four children are forced to live in a shack without water or electricity.

The Romanian state is contributing financially to the cathedral but the exact figure is unknown. According to the BBC the Romanian state hands the church €100 million per annum to pay for clergy salaries and to fund renovation and church construction. New churches are being built across the country.

Politicians are dependent on the support of the clergy in their election campaigns.

We must of course express understanding for the legacy of the communist dictatorship when religion was targeted and cultural heritage neglected. But we should also criticize a situation when a poor EU country prioritizes churches ahead of homes for freezing children. Especially considering the opposition faced by other areas of the Romanian society, such as the LGBTQ community.

According to Eurostat some 40 percent of Romania's population is classified as poor. According to the United Nations, the Roma are the most vulnerable and whose living conditions can be equated to those in sub-Saharan Africa - some of the poorest people worldwide. The political leadership obviously lack the ability, will, and perhaps empathy to take a serious approach to help, despite the availability of EU funds.

Greece was obliged to accept expert help from the rest of the EU in connection with the economic crisis. In Romania there is an ongoing humanitarian crisis which requires a Marshall Plan-like initiative. The EU should demand that Romania accepts teams of international experts for the longer term. This help could extend from social work to housing.

It is unsustainable for millions of EU citizens to be living in despair. If Romania's politicians don't show a genuine desire for change then a discussion needs to be had over the country's future in the union as the Copenhagen criteria for membership are clearly not being met.

The enormous cathedral in Bucharest is devoted to Christ. I am utterly convinced that Jesus the carpenter would prefer that Nicoletta and her children would get to live in a warm house.

Story continues below…

Jenny Sonesson

Social worker and former political adviser in the Cabinet Office (Liberal Party)


 

For more news from Sweden, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Ibrahimovic makes United debut in front of Swedes
Ibrahimovic endured a terrible Euro 2016. Photo: TT

”Everybody has been waiting for this,” says Mr Modesty.

Sweden to investigate citizens' sex lives
It has been 20 years since the last in-depth study of the sex habits of Swedes. Photo: Tammy McGary/Flickr

The Swedish government is to launch a major study of the sex lives of its citizens after reports that lovemaking is on the wane.

Russian 'terror suspect' held at Swedish airport walks free
File photo of Arlanda Airport. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

UPDATED: A 35-year-old man has been released from police custody after being arrested at Arlanda Airport in Stockholm on Friday morning.

Northern Dispatches
'Moving to northern Sweden was the best thing we've done'
Photo: FB

In his farewell column, The Local’s northern Sweden correspondent, Paul Connolly, looks back at his first four years in Sweden.

Bear family just hanging out on Swedish golf course
Not the bear cub in question. But isn't he cute? Photo: AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko

A bear family has been roaming a Swedish golf course, and the best thing of all is that no one cares.

The Local investigates
What do we actually know about the violence in Malmö?
Police investigating an explosion in Malmö on Thursday. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

International media have presented a "distorted" view of a spate of Malmö shootings and an explosion, a senior police boss has told The Local.

The Local List
Reasons why Stockholm Pride is simply awesome
Photo: Annika af Klercker/TT.

Stockholm's Pride festival culminates on Saturday with a parade – and more than a few parties. Here's why we think it's pretty amazing.

Cashless Swedes sitting on old bills worth billions

Old Swedish bank notes worth 1.4 billion kronor are still circulating, according to the country’s central bank, despite them having been declared invalid a month ago.

Homes
In pictures: Why is Nordic design so hot right now?
Scandinavian design. Photo: House of Beatniks

Design agency Studio Esinam investigates together with Houzz.se why the world is falling in love with Nordic style.

Stockholm one of world's best places to live: magazine
Living the dream. Photo: Hasse Holmberg/TT

Stockholm is the tenth best city in the world to live in, reckons this British magazine.

Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
National
Swedish cop makes arrest of the year
Sponsored Article
Five easy ways to travel more often
National
Anyone for a bite of 340-year-old shipwrecked stinky cheese?
Gallery
People-watching: July 27th
Blog updates

26 July

A summer of change; a summer of beauty (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"You would have had to try hard to miss the political upheavals in the UK after…" READ »

 

22 July

After the horror, carry on regardless (Globally Local) »

"This time last week, we were just digesting the horror of the Nice killings, in which…" READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
Why you need a EuroBonus American Express Card
Politics
Why Sweden's high taxes are not as high as you think
Sponsored Article
What can newcomers learn about Sweden at Almedalen?
National
What's haggis in a condom doing on Swedish children's TV?
National
Meet the northern Swede who is the world's best mosquito killer
National
Sweden's Hollywood star Alicia Vikander puts her pen in the bottle
Sponsored Article
Gran Canaria: Where Swedes go to work (and play)
Gallery
People-watching: July 22nd-24th
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
The Local Voices
The Jewish Syrian who dreams of rebuilding his country
National
Watch this Swedish weather host leave his fly open... on live TV
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
The Local Voices
'I fled war in Syria. I never expected to be beaten in Sweden'
Sponsored Article
'Sweden's Lauryn Hill' touches the country's musical soul
National
WATCH: Asylum seeker brutally beaten by Swedish bus driver
Technology
Why everyone is talking about Sweden's GTA pride parade
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
National
EU hits truck cartel with record price fixing fine
Sponsored Article
Local guide: the best of Berlin
Society
OPINION: Why Sweden is the most extreme country in the world
The Local Voices
'There is equality in accommodation in Sweden: Everyone is suffering'
Gallery
Property of the week: Gräsö, Östhammar
Gallery
People-watching: July 15th-17th
National
How to make sure you're not caught out by Sweden's old bank notes
Business & Money
Why Sweden has been named the most innovative country in Europe
National
Terror attack: what should you do?
National
French expat on the moment he was assaulted by a Stockholm bouncer
Technology
Gunman? Nah, smartphone Swede
The Local Voices
'If the war in Syria ended today, would you go back?'
The Local Voices
‘I feel like I’m living in a grave!’
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Sweden's Princess Victoria celebrates 39th birthday
Gallery
People-watching: July 13th
National
Swedes discover surprise mountain
The Local Voices
'Even xenophobic Swedes can be polite’
The Local Voices
'The best time to be smuggled to Europe is August 20th, 2015'
The Local Voices
Swedes: Stop obsessing over your material life and start talking to strangers
3,390
jobs available