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‘I had a Romanian friend and she told me that she never wanted to return to Romania; that there were really bad conditions’- that I was told while I was chilling with some friends in front of a glass of wine. I got also a look that was intended to prove worries over the future of my country.
To make matters sweeter, later that week a colleague goes like – ‘ your parents must be very happy that your boyfriend is not Romanian and he can take you out of Romania, out of the bad conditions’ (bamm, shock).
I get quite nervous when others talk about Romania (or other nationalities as a matter of fact) in negative terms.
Generally, chats about one’s nationality, turn only around cliches and bring about only frustrations. However, in these specific moments, they made me think – Where do these negative appreciations about Romania and Romanians come from? Where does the problem lay? Is it our own self-infliction and the joy we find in complaining, or the comfortable half-indifferent, half-superior cliche judgments of the ‘others’ that get the ball of ‘ Romania beings such a bad country’ rolling?
In the last months Romania suffered a couple of serious public relations damages; the horse meat scandal in Europe at the beginning of 2013 proved – among others – that the weak one is always the easiest to hit: ‘Of course it was Romania’ – pointing the finger in the direction of East Europe was as an easy solution for many researching into the source of the horse meat commercialization chain. One article from BBC remarks – ‘ You could almost sense the relief for some when, in the midst of the horse-meat scandal, the finger of blame was pointed at abattoirs in an eastern European state’. Even more, comfortable in the lethargy of their cliches, without having made the effort of conducting basic journalistic research, Western newspapers wrote total nonsense such as: ‘pushed by poverty, Romanians kill the unwanted horses and transform them in meat’ (read full article here). In Romania, horses are not slaughtered on the border of national roads, and at any case meat is not produced for commercialization if it has no or a doubtful proof of origin.
Approximately two months before, there was a campaign (which became quite famous in Romania) conducted by the national newspaper Gandul, as response to the intended British “Don’t come to UK” campaign (reported to aim at discouraging Romanians intending to emigrate in the UK).
The campaign has generated much (positive) attention on social networks, but triggered also far-fetching discussions about our image (as a nation). A blog entry labeled the campaign ‘sad’, arguing that it did not offer a real reply to the British one; it was just a concealed acceptance of our minuses and failures, as a nation, Ciprian Siulea says.
The arguments of the Romanian campaign are either patriotic – in a cheap way-, bragging the small prices of services, or the beauty of our women.
They do not even mention that Romanians actually have a right (as citizens of the EU) to live and work in the UK (as elsewhere in the European space) after 2014.
Besides, in many cases they even lack any sense humor, and in one case, they are chauvinistic.
For another blogger, the campaign also pin-pointed to the idiocy of our nationalistic, limited views; he says that the campaign creators live out of cliches. As a side note, he also gives an example of another campaign – made in this case in Bulgaria – that by comparison broadcasts some humor:
The comments of the bloggers aside, the campaign showed the degree to which Romanians desperately tend to cling to ridiculous details in order to convince (who? others or themselves?) about the value of their country.
When their country is pin-pointed for whatever negative aspect, Romanian people are likely to suddenly adopt a nationalistic attitude, and brag (humorless) about the smallest things. Personally, I am extremely tired of those Facebook groups, or Internet forums with titles as: “You are Romanian, so you are the best” (original in Romanian: “Esti roman, deci poti”).
However, when no one is watching, they go around complaining, and complaining again. They leave behind impressions as the one of my friend, described at the beginning of this post.
We juggle between complaining and going around saying negative things about our country, and tumultuously exaggerating and praising its qualities in order to cleanse the image that we selves created beforehand. It is a vicious-circle.
Wolfgang Scheida – who lived and studied in Romania, and since 2007 works at Die Welt- wrote a column shortly after the Romanian movie ‘Child pose’ was awarded with a Golden Bear.
The case of the ‘Child pose’ movie makes another case for the eternal hesitation between a self praising and self inflicting attitude among Romanians.
Prior to the award, the movie had received virtually no attention from the national press. The victory at the Berlinale triggered a large discussion in the Romanian Public sphere, with many (almost out-of the sudden), rediscovering and acclaiming their pride for Romanian culture, as well as complaining over the eternal lack of support for the national industry, and the poor conditions the movie had to be produced in.
The article (Die Rumänen und ihr Gefühl, wertlos zu sein, approximate translation Romanians and their feeling of lack of value) notes that these extreme changes- from manifestations of pride to shame, are noted to be normal/ typical reactions to questions in cases of identity searche in countries in transition – After all, Romania is still only 20 years after the fall of the communist regime, and only a step into democracy.
Scheida appreciates that there might be no another nation in the world which is so marked by an inferiority complex, as Romania is.
This feeling of inferiority might be traced back to the time of the Ottoman Empire occupation; in Romania now, many still say that while others in the West were building churches, we, at the gate to Europe, had to stop barbarian invasion, and thus had no time and resources left to develop.
The Romanian success at the Berlinale proves that perhaps the only thing which can help against the Romanian obsession of being worthless and insignificant, is hard work. Hard enough to break a wall of cliches, misconceptions, and lethargy of the systems of thought- on both sides.
Just for the sake of documentation, I would like to add that there are other explanations, which may trace Romania’s bad image to the late 19th Century, ‘ when travelers returned from Transylvania with tales of a strange, forbidding land’ , or to the ‘recent past, as a Communist dictatorship’ (BBC, 25 February 2013).
There is a funny post on this here
Other reason might be, as BBC notes that ‘Unlike Poland, which forged close ties with the UK during World War II, Romania had few links with the UK before the fall of Communism’, which would put in context the lack of communication and the resulting transfer of imaginary negative attributes (BBC, 25 February 2013).