Kto i dlaczego

Rumunia - Romania - România

Who’s Had Enough of Romania, and Why?

Publication: 15 October 2021

NO. 12 2013



If there is such a thing as a special “Romanian casus” that is different to the cases of other nations and societies, it is the result of this suspenseful study of our national character. Herein lies our difference. Other societies react with greater equanimity – which is not to say satisfaction – at their own reflection in the mirror. Romanians, on the other hand, regard their collective portrait with irritation, and react to it with exaggeration.

Stereotypes have scarred our faces like wrinkles, we are captives of our own mentality – and then we have to pick up the tab for it. Like every other nation, the Romanians “are”, they “exist”, in their own inimitable way. Like every other nation cast on the waters of history, they have developed their own mentality, and the final account of the profits and losses this has generated certainly need not constitute grounds for formulating accusations. We often fall victim to unnecessary confusion in this context. There is nothing wrong in a noticeable, intense presence of collective reflexes and widespread behaviours per se – and even if there were, it is a trait common to people everywhere. Thus, it is not the obtrusiveness of these stereotypes or our sharply outlined mentality that differentiate us from other nations. Yet one of the most frequently cited “urban myths” claims that the Romanians’ cardinal sin is flaunting their identity. The Romanians are treated as a kind of etymon, a sociological find for the perusal of anthropologists driven in our direction by curiosity, intrigued by the cultural virginity of these humans as individuals and by the untainted backwardness of the community. This absolutely misdirected theory has become fashionable throughout the Balkan world. It has transformed this world into an anthropo-cultural menagerie, and has frequently caused it to be treated as one. All its nations are sociological and mental paradises through and through. Many of our future fellow members of the European Union might serve as eloquent examples of this[1].

Anyone who is misfortunate enough to be surprised how hardy Romanian habits are should know that, in terms of mores, none can compare with the English. Stereotypical associations and incurable mental fixations are nowhere in greater evidence than in England in 2006. The English are predictable, and repeat themselves to a degree bordering on the autistic. Their life cycle is extraordinarily short; devoid of surprises and pleasures, their existence is reduced to automatic gestures whose roots may be traced back to the dim and distant Anglo-Saxon times. Ritual rest periods also occur regularly, and invariably involve drunkenness, aggression and acts of vandalism designed to break up the ubiquitous monotony. At the same time, the life of society is suffocated by an excess of restrictions. Terror of regulations, and the hesitancy of the average individual to impose their will on others are universal and ubiquitous: in trains, offices, public places, even behind the painstakingly netted windows of their own homes.

An obsession with money as a virtue or professional skill, and a pragmatism in family and workplace relationships taken to the extreme in effect create a burdensome religion, a bank-focused Maoism in its purest form. Anything alternative, exceptional, individual or devoid of material value is viciously condemned. For the most part, people have the same opinions, or none at all, and they form queues at the drop of a hat – at bus stops, at the post office, at charity events, at the bank, always looking round nervously in search of the portable metal-post-and-retractable-band systems that show them where to queue. The conformism on view in the public space and in the sphere of “etiquette” is terrifying. No-one has ever taught these people that they may, or indeed should abandon themselves to pleasure, that they could formulate a thought or moot a hypothesis that need not serve any particular purpose. Will power and resilience (to change, to the weather, to the dire food, to alcohol) are the cardinal virtues. Improvisation and risk are condemned to exile beyond the English Channel and neither looks set to return any time soon. Family and amorous relationships are ruled by a brutal clumsiness that provokes an endless chain of public incidents and pathetic erotic and sexual inhibitions. Long-term multigenerational cohabitation is essentially banned; children leave the family home or are forcibly ejected from it at an early age, otherwise they metamorphose into pangs of conscience or become public laughing stocks. But the cruelty of this organised form of expulsion is such that once in a while it demands a reaction, a sobering up, after which the floodgates open, releasing a torrent of energy hitherto held in check. The universal remedy is drunkenness, although physical and verbal violence are equally popular. One piece of advice: steer clear of the centres of English towns and cities from Friday evening until Monday morning, or risk taking an unwitting part in a theatre of violence. Having said all this, the English are by no means an isolated example.

The Germans? Stereotypes about the German mentality are so widespread and entrenched that they have long been the butt of jokes, parodies and caricatures the length and breadth of Europe. German shops are ruled by military discipline, and every “Abteilung” must have its boss, who is, of course, adored by his underlings. Restrictions roam the streets, taking care not to cross on a red light. The Germans are one great ethno-psychological open-air museum. Even their “correctly” conducted modernisation (which is still alive, as it is among the English) has not succeeded in eradicating habits and mental reflexes from social currency.

In this respect, Romania is neither an exception nor even an interesting example. Nevertheless, there is a “Romanian casus”. Its uniqueness is due not to the persistence and impact of its schemas but to obsessive reference to them. In other words, stereotypes and the national mentality function naturally, but the attention and credibility they are afforded by academics and public opinion alike are artificial and suspect. Thus, if there is such a thing as a special “Romanian casus” that is different to the cases of other nations and societies, it is the result of this suspenseful study of our national character. Herein lies our difference. Other societies react with greater equanimity – which is not to say satisfaction – at their own reflection in the mirror. Romanians, on the other hand, regard their collective portrait with irritation, and react to it with exaggeration. Behind this behaviour is a long history that has had a dizzying career trajectory and to this day has lost nothing of its currency, despite the fact that it has produced no sensible conclusions or given rise to any way of thinking in the least inspiring. The only spectacular effect of this self-castigation has been the acquisition of a nervous tic, which has reduced contemplation on culture to a shouted reaction based on personal whims. Criticism of Romanianness as practised by Romanians themselves is akin to marketing a product called “a good opinion of oneself” in the form of a cheap generic with the name “the worst possible opinion of others”. It is a symptom of social dysfunctionality more deserving of police investigation than academic study.

Romanians’ most frequent observations are probably those concerning non-productive mediocrity. This has been addressed by Pompiliu Eliade and Nicolae Drăghicescu, as well as Eugen Ionescu, Emil Cioran and Constantin Rădulescu-Motru. Romanians are dizzying masters of the brief moment and craftily absent when it comes to the long haul. They are incessantly criticised for their incapability of seeing any serious social project through to the end, for their unreliability, undependability and carelessness. The Romanians’ true calling is to live in solitude, apart from society; as declared individualists they practise a kind of melancholy autism that leaves traces of brilliant rhetoric and a yawning void in the public space. Disorder and cacophony impose their own value hierarchy, which defies all the efficacy of social order. Every last critic has at their disposal numerous sayings that with one accord censure the Romanian art of boycotting all that is pro-society: “Where there are two Romanians, you have a quarrel waiting to happen,” “A thousand years wouldn’t be enough to bring us up to speed with the Czechs (Hungarians, Germans),” “Romanians are thieves (gobby, lazy).” Anything made by a Romanian is, of course “Romanian workmanship”, meaning a shoddy mess of fleece and sabotage, the antithesis of “German workmanship”. The Romanians have a vast number of negative opinions concerning themselves, almost all of them relating to indifference and egotism, which, apparently, form a typical, uniquely Romanian cocktail that produces a ubiquitous societal hangover rendering any form of focused activity impossible. Success is a matter of coincidence, and is always short-lived. This persistent criticism thus decrees the débâcle of community life, the lack of a solidarity reflex, and an avoidance of coordinated efforts by a larger group. Whence this intransigent critical reflection, and why is it focused on the issue of collective success? The answer to this question is simpler than it might seem.

The Romanians’ obsession with self-criticism, bordering on calumny, is above all a consequence of their isolation. Paradoxically, this criticism of their anarchic solitariness is in most cases a symptom, rather than a form of reflection. This obsession with the degraded form of Romanianness is yet another form of separation, the never-ending story of the constant dissatisfaction of the intellectual class with the “ordinary man”, who is incapable of enacting the noble ideas that the elites periodically toss his way. Opinion-formers and spokespeople of great ideas as the earthly emissaries of the Romanian elites tend ultimately to be overcome by disillusionment and scorn for the world, although on occasion they become martyrs and are sometimes rehabilitated on a wave of (belated and inconsistent) provincial sentimentalism. If we apply this logic, pashoptism[2] becomes a misunderstood ideal that was squandered by peasant lethargy. Bălcescu[3] dies in poverty far from his homeland, after which he is “discovered” by that same provincial nostalgia industry. Likewise, patriotism, and more generally the national interest, is discredited by the rapacious greed and primitive ignorance of the Romanian tavern keeper, street trader and bourgeois industrialist. The writer Mihai Eminescu is not understood in his lifetime and dies to all intents and purposes an exile, for public opinion is indifferent to the poetic ideal. Before long, however, his memory is revived, and transformed into a frenetic cult surrounding his person that persists to this day. Liberalism is another noble idea undervalued by Romanian society. Lev Trotsky, in the years 1910–1915 a press correspondent in Bucharest, sketches a very intelligent and explicit portrait of contemporary Romania as an oligarchic country. Liberalism is a cloak that there is no-one to wear, and Romanians lack the activeness and love of risk-taking that is characteristic of a nation that adores political sparring matches. Not even the Iron Guard movement won gratitude or serious treatment from the masses. The Iron Guard elite was constantly striking poses designed to distinguish it from the rest, and pointing an accusatory finger in the direction of the entirely undignified, corrupt Romanian politicking. As a “martyr”, the politician Corneliu Codreanu joins the ranks of the misunderstood figureheads; he is like a plant planted in the wrong place and the wrong climate. Communism proves to be the next “good idea”, that the Romanians are unable to implement. To every side of them the Yugoslavs, Czechs and Hungarians manage to create something digestible out of it, but they, clamped between the cowardliness and stupidity (non-Romanian, naturally!) of Nicolae Ceauşescu, end up the protagonists of a nightmare. This paradigm is essentially repeated irrespective of historical period and type of incumbent power; some great idea circles the world, but the Romanians, invariably inspired by a spirit of mediocrity and ungratefulness, bring it down and trample it. True history is where it always was, and only the list of charismatic personalities sacrificed “with cold indifference” continues to grow.

This version of history owes its existence to two myths that are in common circulation. The first is the myth of the flawed building, the annihilated structure personified by Manole – an artist misunderstood by others. The other is the myth of a plebeian baseness that destroys those who are sensitive, pure and unblemished, as we know from the conspiracy story recounted in the ballad of the lamb[4]. One can barely fail to recognise that this is all an exercise devoid of spontaneity, the product of critical, self-aware reflection. The Romanians’ bad reputation is the outcome of an adeptly managed cultural project based on the mythical motifs of futile labour and envy, plucked from the canon of folk texts, subjected to literary processing, and transformed into political tools. Whenever a renegade intellectual chides the Romanians for an incurable lack of depth and content, it is with a suggestion of his own superiority that sets him apart from the mass of society. Except that this exercise takes the form of a dubious literary reworking of folklore. Such a “top-down” criticism certainly does not draw on a different cultural source; its base in folklore and aestheticising method place it within the pre-scientific limits of national lyrical pessimism – at precisely the same point where the ordinary man, over beer or on the street, is inveighing for the nth time against the “Romanian curse”. The formula “the Romanians are worthless”, whether in its intellectual or popular variant, automatically indicates that the speaker awards himself – and only himself – the prerogative to be different. The phrase, “If we ourselves are incapable of reaching agreement…”, spoken in moments of crisis and at political turning points, plays the same role; it implies the existence of a pan-Romanian malaise that the parties to such a conversation may shed by concluding a pact. From the perspective of the psychology of the individual, the use of belittling judgements is almost always a sign of isolation, and of acceptance of that state. It’s a vicious circle. Criticism of Romanian ineptness indicates nothing but the intellectual engineering of a state that it purports to reject; it is part of the problem, not an alternative solution. What is more, if the hypothesis of intellectual agency and responsibility for social addiction is accurate, there is also the question of why such critical ardour has taken as its target misendeavours in the field of social co-existence? After all, it could have addressed other things, such as violence, of which there has never been any shortage in Romanian history and politics. On the contrary, conspiracies and coups d’état, repressions and contrivedly spontaneous street protests occur with uncommon and embarrassing regularity. The historical age of communism is defined by acts of extreme violence both collective and controlled. The year 1945 saw not only the Soviet occupation. Gheorghe Apostol[5] is entirely unconvincing in his rejection of accusations that the decisive role in the counter-demonstrations of November 1945 on Palace Square was played by communist hit squads acting with immense brutality. Forty-five years on, in January 1990, the new authorities smashed the first mass protest against neo-communism also using a brutal counter-demonstration. The mineriads[6], a name that is synonymous with successive miniature civil wars played out under the control of the authorities, were further proof of the Romanians’ remarkable talent for stage-managing acts of violence designed to force, or, conversely, curb the progress of specific historic events. And although this is a subject eminently worthy of profound analysis, none has been attempted. Instead, attention is drawn, with an obstinacy verging on the destructive and an unabating irritation, to Romanian messiness. There must be an explanation for the persistence of this trend.

One pointer external to the Romanian sphere that may help to shed light on this is the absorbing spectacle of polemic and self-castigation that has dominated German public life for the past 60 years and more. The German case – far better than the Romanian – lays bare the mechanism of the process initiated by the problem of an identity burdened with a sense of guilt. It will probably be a simplification, although not an inaccuracy, to state that German critical reflection on its “secret” and the “national guilt” has reached a degree of fixation that will be hard to follow. We should add, though, that this interest only evolved into an obsession, and analysis only superseded stereotype in the modern age, i.e. after the unleashing of the Nazi catastrophe. The evolution of Thomas Mann’s views is characteristic and relatively typical in this respect. He wrote his Reflections of an Unpolitical Man in 1918 as a German conservative and patriot, but Doctor Faustus, of 1947, is a masterpiece of German demonology. In time, under the influence of Marxist sociology and decidedly anti-capitalist cultural theory, the awareness of “German guilt” becomes a civic duty, and at the same time an officially recognised therapy, at times grotesque and comically severe. Since the war, successive generations of Germans have ended up on the analyst’s couch, invariably confessing the sins of their parents and promising to fight the danger – even hypothetic – of succumbing to “Germanism” again. Their lack of confidence in themselves and their suspicious treatment of all things German were entirely justified in the immediate wake of their catastrophe. Today, however, it has become an intellectual mannerism, a neurotic and belated form of lack of self-trust. It is certainly comparable to the much earlier and less rigorous brand of self-criticism practised by the Romanians. In the case of the Germans, the only thing to remember is the unique nature of the crisis that was the cause of this phenomenon. Like the English, the Germans offer a textbook example of succumbing to historical stereotypes; but in place of the relative calm with which the English survey themselves in the mirror, the Germans demonstrate nervousness and a rack of scruples. The reason for this is their undeniably immense collective failing. The collective skill at initiating a historic catastrophe and the inability to avoid it have radically altered the Germans’ way of looking at themselves. Rather than heading after the English in the direction of a harmless auto-irony, German self-assessment has evolved into an unrelenting polemic.

In France, where the Vichy episode brought the pathetic defeat of the nation state, trauma was averted by the use of a clever, illusive and typically French manoeuvre: the collective consciousness hurriedly invented a compensatory myth in the form of the résistance – an organised resistance movement against the occupying forces. The plan worked, and it was implemented with the aid of acts of violence against “collaborators”. Fast-track trials followed by prompt executions, and public humiliation created the spectacle that was expected. The much-publicised trials sanctioned the conviction of “the betrayal of the intellectuals”, and the number one traitor was Brasillach. The excellent book Marianne in Chains by the English historian Robert Gilde offers a convincing description of the unofficial history concealed by the official legend. Collaboration was a mass phenomenon, often on a voluntary basis, while resistance was more of an exception. The mythological rhetoric camouflage employed after the war shielded French society from awkward questions and internal fissures. Today, 60 years on from this mythological transcription of the historical facts, the revisionist leanings of a certain group of scholars have brought the matter back out into the open, but this type of “return to the scene of the crime” is like a glimmer of purely academic light that remains unreflected in public and devoid of any serious consequences. The French state edifice survived intact by producing proof that it is deserving of historic existence and that the means by which it did so are irrelevant. The important thing is that it gave the French peace of mind. The German case is incomparably more radical, because the nation had to face the complete collapse of its state. This is a case in which consideration of the relations between individual dissatisfaction with oneself and the failure of historical community structures is entirely natural. The Germans’ questions provoke frustration as an extension of their national failings precisely because they were born out of that immense catastrophe. The nation discovers its own faults from the chronicle of German projects, by attention to criticism of them, and the inability to make effective use of the institutions of a nation state engenders mistrust. This is also a likely source of the reasons for the Romanian desperation, which is at once a neurotic reaction to the country’s negative historical balance sheet and an accusation of Romanian society formulated in the name of some unspecified ideal.

Being Romanian is a simple fact, but the to-be-or-not-to-be of Romania remains an unresolved problem. Chancellor Otto von Bismarck once remarked: “The Romanians are not a nation; they are a profession.” This statement, made in a letter to King Carol, is virtually matchless in its eloquence, and usually misunderstood. There is nothing offensive about words that say something entirely different than what we usually read into them. Bismarck’s comment is essentially pragmatic, a piece of good advice given to a monarch grappling with the “Romanian question”; he is merely describing a set of circumstances. At that time the Romanians were not yet a society organised by a nation state, and the Romanian social reality was represented not by institutions but by a peculiar state of being, an individual mode of life and way of acting – in short, a profession. Bismarck’s “encrypted” advice, therefore, is simple: the king should “nationalise” that profession, so putting a stop to it. Individual talents and anti-talents should be replaced by the state and life within the national community. Carol probably well understood that which we today are incapable of perceiving. It was an irritating situation for him to be in, but he was bold enough to take action that laid the foundations for the age of institution-building. The structures, standards and operations of the state apparatus began to supersede the hitherto indisputably dominant moral standards.

Bismarck’s advice was aptly formulated, and interpreted as such. The Romanians’ problem is delayed modernity. Their natural historical state was an anarchic individualism, faith in the effectiveness of the coterie, and a lack of confidence in central authority and public organisations. Modern-day legal and administrative institutions set them harsh, elevated demands, among them the most difficult: trust, involvement, and responsibility. It was in this value space that the Romanian national drama has been played out thereafter. Communism, which arrested the brief episode of democracy (1866–1945), also brought a swerve away from democratic values, and pushed society back towards pre-modern times, dominated by a tribal mentality. The despotic state marched onto centre stage with its parades and ideological ceremonies, relegating social and political truth to the wings. This truth was the atomisation of a society which really preferred unofficial, quasi-tribal structures; it was also repression as a standard method of eliminating leaders and people who spoke out on behalf of independent thought.

Generally speaking, the modern history of the Romanian state may be divided into two relatively short interludes: proto-democracy prior to 1945, and dogmatic communism after that date. Neither of these periods brought decisive, watershed experiences or definitive solutions to the issue of the organisation of the community. In 1989, for the third time in the past 125 years, the cycle of history was interrupted and resumed by a revolution, of which the most that can be said is that it was more problematic than predicative of anything. Democracy once again became the official form of organisation of society, but before we were to see anything of a true democratic society, the only collective memory we have is that of half-hearted, unfinished projects.

The Romanians have a habit of referencing a millennial history with its roots in the Dacio-Roman ethnogenesis. It is here that they seek explanations and arguments when they hold forth on the traditions of the Romanian “pathology”. The “fairytale history” of Simion Dascăl[7] (1648) has a richer legacy than we might think, composed partly of the endless complaining of critics of the “Romanian spirit”, who stressed the Romanians’ innate flaws and, usually involuntarily, resorted to the position of historical naïve biologism initiated by Dascăl, calling into question rational hypotheses. Even if it were the case that the imperfections in the Romanian character are the incurable legacy of “bandits” released from Roman prisons, shameful birth is a rather poor hypothesis. A nation’s origins explain nothing beyond its origins. On that count, the Australians might have something to say: as a nation they are descended from British prisoners, criminals, dishonest debtors and all manner of other unworthy folk, sent to the back of beyond to be as far removed from Britain as possible. Their ignoble origins are nowadays of little consequence, barring the odd coarse remarks to be heard in British pubs; all that has been eclipsed by their success. Presumably the issue of their “innate criminal leanings” would be more popular if the felons from London had not very shortly managed to establish a smoothly functioning state.

The Romanian case provides confirmation of that conclusion. The over-developed analytic neurosis in the context of the shortcomings of the Romanian mentality was triggered by the unspectacular history of their state, which is in turn the consequence of a lack of continuity and the result of the failure of the community project. The pathological temporary nature of their actions very shortly led to a lack of faith in their own powers, which found an outlet in non-historical explanations either favouring a naïve interpretation of biology or taking the form of a persecution complex. The importance of coherence and the success of the community project, and the radical extent to which these factors can alter a nation’s self-assessment are visible in the diametrically different case of the Poles. They, too, created a vast body of literature devoted to dubious, pointless “national” traits. Their famed arrogance and permanently rebellious attitude is even easier to document than the character attributes of the Romanians. Yet in spite of these tendencies in its citizens, Poland has a remarkably intense history. The Polish state has vanished from the scene several times due to brutal treatment by history, but, at the price of vast sacrifices, it has invariably returned. This model of national and cultural self-realisation, which is the most significant event in the 20th-century history of Eastern Europe, has produced a positive self-confidence that the Poles would probably never have assumed had they taken their own doubts about their national character too seriously. The outcome of their most recent history has effected a radical change in Polish self-assessment; what could have augmented the repertoire of traditional complaints has become a source of pride, and even a barely concealed sense of superiority. The Romanians’ lot, by contrast, is failure in all manner of forms. The regularly repeated upheavals in the life of society and the existence of the state explain it all. Romania has no greater “curse” hanging over it than any other nation, but its many setbacks in its project to build a “common home” have led it to exaggerate the influence and role of the national character in history. The logical consequence of this was the cumulation of frustration in the centre of political life. It is no coincidence that the curse weighing on the Romanians was much less of an issue – or entirely absent – outside the centre. In Transylvania and partly also in the Banat, which were run by external state administrative bodies, none of these fears or traditional scepticism evolved; on the contrary, in these areas the Romanian element, developed energetically and with a rigorous positivism, generated a constructive political and cultural nationalism. On occasion their critical attitude brought contestation of the corrupt and irresponsible South, but it never became separatism, for this would have called into question the national idea and weakened the legitimacy of local Romanianness. In the other historical province, Moldavia, the question of the failings of the Romanian character attracted still less interest. This, however, was merely an indication of the total collapse of the former Moldavian centre after the period of nationalistic convulsions sparked by Corneliu Codreanu[8]. The present-day Republic of Moldova is an identical case of collapse precipitated by trauma. This is a fascinating, complex case in which the absence of reflection on the Romanian national character signals not the lack of a stance but a problem with being in the wrong place. Anti-Romanian feeling and the much-commented repulsion at the memory of the Ion Antonescu period are undoubtedly real, but external in provenance, something from the realm of experiences connected with the Soviet Empire. Effectively, Moldovan-Soviet anti-Romanianness bears all the hallmarks of propaganda and is an entirely artificial product. It has nothing in common with the type of migraine characteristic for the contemporary heart of Romanian politics, Bucharest, or, more broadly, for the South as a natural space for the cultural and political elites and oral folklore. One symptom of the latter is the famous Wallachian gabble, which is still very much alive in the capital and in the villages between the Carpathian foothills and the Danube. This neurosis is present wherever something is created and at once destroyed, where political experience connected with the status of centre is gained and wasted. Worry about the shoddy quality of Romanian material is essentially still the same symptom of a longing for achievements that never materialised, and whose lack is blamed by the political centre on the “weakness” of the human factor, which is incapable of transformation. In other words, this exaggerated negative portrait was created as a compensatory measure rather than simply to describe the way things are; it was always designed to assist in creating an ideology, not as an instrument for group therapy. The arguments cited by the tireless critics of Romanian weaknesses are repressive in nature rather than analytical; by decreeing unworthiness to be a typical Romanian trait they are ruining any chance of optimism in the future. Criticism of mental habits and stereotypical attitudes thus draws closer to politics, while losing its connection with critical observation as such, for it describes nothing, merely nurturing a resentment born out of failure. The real source of the Romanians’ dissatisfaction is not so much their character failings as their historical failures. Why have Romanians been unable to generate sustainable development? Why have their successes been short-lived and their relapses repeated with such regularity? Instead of desperately seeking answers to these questions, it would be better to mitigate their categoric tone. Modern Romanian society has a short history; less than a 150 years is too short a time to disseminate and entrench the experience of modernity, the more so that the greater part of this period was dominated by the “European civil war” (1914–1945) and its consequences (1945–1989). Moreover, the Romanian case cannot be taken in isolation from the longer-term context, which, however, did not guarantee ideal conditions for the nation’s development. The role of geography has often been underestimated and the spatial separation imposed by the Carpathians treated with impassivity typical for shepherding folk. Yet in terms of communication potential and the chances of creating a homogeneous organism, the obstacle that are the Carpathians has proven significant. The marked divide in the demographic and cultural space, so far from the conditions prevailing in lowland Northern Europe, meant that the historical Romanian communities settled on both slopes of the Carpathians. The development of these communities proceeded in predictable fashion: with the implementation of separate, rather clumsy projects, which significantly delayed the success of their common cause. These circumstances may be interpreted in various ways, but they must not be forgotten. Yet on the threshold of the modern age, the critics of the Romanian phenomenon formulated a theory that was basically a groundless accusation; they assumed the influence of a fatalistic agent where in fact they were facing a historical reality that was entirely normal, given the specific circumstances. The exasperation of those who have had enough of Romania is a learned reflex. Succumbing to the influence of ominous signs is also the de rigueur method of reading current events. We have the example of a very recent date right in front of us; the internal conflicts within the D.A. coalition[9] were interpreted and analysed using this same key, leading to the inevitable conclusion that every form of government in its Romanian version brings chaos and self-destruction, and that on coming to power the parties clash and compromise themselves. This type of analysis demonstrates a disarming stupidity, for it entirely fails to take account of the fact that stable government requires a large majority, and the only time anything of that nature was in evidence was under PSD[10]. A coalition that commands only a slim majority of the votes will fall apart under the pressure of internal conflicts anywhere, not only in Romania. The age-long closeness of civic reflection and the mythical belief in the existence of a curse forced a rapid readjustment of rational analysis into bickering and complaining. For too long the public space has been dominated by a whinging that before our own eyes is becoming a burden for successive generations.

Translated from the Polish by Jessica Taylor-Kucia


[1] This article was written for and published in the volume T(z)ara noastră. Stereotipii şi prejudecăţi in 2006, i.e. before Romania’s accession to the EU (all notes supplied by the translator).

[2] “48ism” – the revolutionary ideology of the Wallachian and partly also of the Moldavian Spring of Nations. The name comes from patru`ş opt (Eng. forty-eighth).

[3] Nicolae Bălcescu – writer and political activist, one of the leaders of the Spring of Nations in Wallachia.

[4] Master Manole and The Little Ewe: important Romanian folk ballads.

[5] Romanian Communist activist, First Secretary of the Romanian Communist Party between 1954–1955; in 1965 he lost the struggle for party leadership to Nicolae Ceauşescu, and became gradually distanced from power; in 1989 he was a co-author of the “letter of six” criticising Ceauşescu’s policies.

[6] Mineriads (from “miner”) – street riots in Bucharest caused by worker hit squads comprising mainly miners from the Jiu Valley; the miners were first called on to shore up Ion Iliescu in June 1990, when the opposition was questioning the neo-communist rule. The second mineriad, in 1991, overthrew the government of Petre Romano.

[7] The mysterious and controversial figure of the 17th-century Moldavian scribe, considered by some literary historians to be the co-author or even true author of Grigore Ureche’s Letopiseţul Ţării Moldovei (Chronicle of the land of Moldavia). He is attributed with including in the text of the chronicle the legend alleging that the ancestors of the Moldavians were criminals from across the Roman Empire settled by the Hungarian kings in Maramureș as protection against the Tatars.

[8] Corneliu Zelea-Codreanu (1899–1938) – the Moldavian-born co-founder of the Legion of the Archangel Michael, a nationalistic and anti-Semitic organisation that was later remoulded as the Iron Guard.

[9] A coalition of the National Liberal Party and the Democratic Party, formed in 2004 under the name Dreptate şi Adevăr, with which the author clearly sympathises; it collapsed in 2007.

[10] The Social Democratic Party (Partidul Social Democrat), the product of successive transformations of the former post-communist party, now the ruling force.

About authors

Traian Ungureanu

A journalist and political activist. He studied philology at Bucharest University, and made his debut in the student press as a sports commentator and music critic. In 1988 he left communist Romania illegally and spent many years as a journalist for the BBC’s Romanian office. Since 2003 he has been publishing his articles in the Romanian press (in papers including Cotidianul, Evenimentul zilei, Revista 22, Idei în Dialog). Since 2009 he has been a member of the European Parliament for the Democratic Liberal Party (PD-L); he is a supporter of the incumbent president, Traian Băsescu.


Copyright © Herito 2020