Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Stuff: But you can still write off that eye of newt.


In 2010, possibly fearing occult reprisals, the Senate of Romania rejected a proposal to impose a tax on professional witches. But it would seem that, just like us more mundane folks, witches can't avoid those inevitable taxes forever. The New Republic reports that Romania's new legal definition of self employment will require that withes fork over 16% of their income to the state. That's right, Brumhilde, the tax man cometh.

As goofy as this sounds, there's two strange and noteworthy undercurrents here. First, there's the unsettling degree to which the Romanian government seems happy to concede to widely held superstitions. If this were just a case of widespread magical thinking, it would be unfortunate enough; but the larger danger is the conspiracy-minded thought this kind of logic leads to. In 2010, after receiving a surprisingly thorough beating at the polls, then presidential candidate Mircea Geoana blame his defeat not on policy positions or the will of the people, but on an attack by occult forces:

Not only did Geoana snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, however, but he proceeded to invite ridicule upon himself and his party by claiming that he had lost the ballot after being attacked with “negative energy” by a parapsychologist employed by the wily [incumbent, Traian] Basescu.

This occult assault wrecked his concentration during a televised debate, he complained, and was part of a strategy by his rival’s election team to harness the mystical “power of the purple flame” by wearing purple ties, socks and other accoutrements on certain important days.

Second, there's the unfortunate specter of ethnic unrest. TNR reports:

It's no surprise that the Romanian government has been eager to tap into this sometimes ostentatious stream of wealth for years. But could its new tax on witchcraft be motivated by more than money? Witches' main activity is fortune-telling, an occupation that has long been associated with the Roma population (often called "Gypsies"), toward whom prejudices run deep. A 1991 poll revealed that 41 percent of Romanians believe that the Roma should be "poorly treated," and a 1994 study found that Romanian newspapers might have directly incited hatred toward the Roma. And this negative attitude toward the group has shifted little since then. As far as I am aware, the Romanian government has not drawn any connection between the new tax legislation and anti-Roma politicking—and the Romanian embassy did not respond to my phone calls or e-mails—but some Romanians still think that the new taxation is an attempt to satisfy latent prejudice by drawing attention to and taking money from a marginalized population. As writer and poet Andrei Codrescu sees it, the new law represents "a cheap populist, nationalist move" that "plays well to the yo-yo's."

3 comments:

Adam said...

Hats off to you for contacting the embassy, sir. The spirit of good old fashioned shoe leather journalism clearly lives on in this corner of the horror blogosphere.

CRwM said...

Darn missing ital tags! It was only my coding laziness that made me seem like a tireless warrior for truth, but - as the corrected article hopefully shows - the National Review reporter deserves the credit for this, not I.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid, I don't find the argument too convincing - Geoana was widely ridiculed for his remarks even in Romania, Roma are pretty much dispised throughout Eastern Europe (and nowadays also in Germany, France and pretty much every other Western European country that has come into contact with them since the travel restrictions for Eastern Europeans were loosened) for various reasons, but mainly for their outright refusal to accept any kind of legislation and their habitual engagement in theft, robbery, burglary, prostitution, kidnapping, begging, etc. and the taxing of withces also makes perfect sense to me, assuming it is a widespread phenomenon and the main source of income for many self-employed people (astrologers, fortune-tellers, surreal painters (no real income) etc. are also taxed, so what's the difference?). The government probably doesn't care if these people are "real witches", what matters is that they generate real incomes and I see no reason why they shouldn't be taxed just because their chosen profession is somewhat unusual.

Btw.: Hope this post doesn't sound too racist, but Roma really do have a terrible reputation in Europe and unfortunately, from what I've witnessed so far (and the general reaction pretty much anywhere), it certainly appears to be more than well earned.