Tree of Life and Death

ANDREI CODRESCU

April 27, 1992|By ANDREI CODRESCU

They found a tree in India, called a NEEM tree, which is capable of producing anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-viral substance while simultaneously being an insect repeller and a ,, powerful non-polluting pesticide. In fact, the NEEM can do so so many things it may be the ultimate cure.

We had a tree like that in Transylvania when I was growing up. It was called the Tree of Life and Death. If you ate its bark you were cured of ailments and got to live forever.

The catch was that only Gypsies could pick its bark. And the truly strange thing was that the Gypsies could pick it, but it didn't do them any good. They had to hand it over to whoever wanted it, mainly because whoever wanted it was usually holding a sword over their heads.

It's still like that. Romania, where 2.5 million Gypsies live, is coming up before the U.S. Congress for renewal of its most favored nation status. But after 500 years of slavery, and a few dozen years of quasi-slavery, the Gypsies are still being persecuted in Romania.

Since the fall of Ceausescu's Communists and the regime of Iliescu's neo-Communists, Gipsy homes have been burned, their possessions destroyed, they have been chased out of villages and, in certain areas, have not been allowed to return to their homes. Many have been killed.

The so called ''miners'' who beat up anti-government protesters on several occasions spent much of their drunken enthusiasm on terrorizing and harming Gypsies. Helsinki Watch has issued a sobering report on the situation, entitled, ''Destroying Ethnic Identity: the Persecution of Gypsies in Romania.''

We need to look closely here at the Romanian tree of life and death before we start buying up the bark. It seems that the ancient tree still has its bark picked by people under the sword.

Romania shouldn't be able to trade freely until it improves its human rights record.

Andrei Codrescu's book, ''The Hole in the Flag,'' about his return Romania after 25 years in exile, is published by William Morrow.

5/8

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