Bogdan Marcas, who arrived in Aberdeen, Scotland when he was 5, recently graduated in Economics, and is now heading to Romania for a gap year. Guest writer Matt Sampalean talked to him about life outside Romania and the prospects of ever coming back home.
What are your most vivid memories of Romania?
The experience of the Bucharest's metro system has been imprinted on my memory since I was four or five. The old leather seats of the "Personale" trains and the way train journeys lasted eternities when I was a child. Picking potatoes in the Romanian countryside, and eating as many chips as I can (the Roman in me). Staring at stars, also in the countryside, while drinking hot milk.
Do you visit often, or stay in touch with friends here?
I visit Romania every summer, mostly to visit relatives however. I've just graduated, and I'll be spending a gap year there now, partly teaching economics in Bucharest (voluntarily), partly in the countryside.
Are there any similarities between Scotland and Romania -or the Scots and the Romanians?
I wouldn't dwell on the similarities between the Scotland and Romania. The differences are most interesting; Romania's landscapes remind me of Grimm's Fairy Tales, Scotland's remind you of Wuthering Heights. Romanians are old-fashioned conservatives, the Scots are social libertarians. The Scottish are left-leaning relative to the rest of the UK, whereas Romania believes that the government that governs best is the one that governs least...
What do you study and what do you consider to be the most striking differences between the education systems?
I study Economics. Romanians are not afraid to use the term stupid. Half or so of a high school cohort in Romania fail their Baccalaureate. This used to be the case in Britain fifty years ago. You have to admire Romanians for not dumbing down their curricula.
What perception do Scots -or other students you meet - have about Romania? Do you agree with them?
If you are a reader of "newspapers" like The Sun, then you're likely to believe Romanians have come to claim benefits, or steal jobs from the British working class, (there's also the case of maintaining national identity, but I omit this). But what bothers me is not economic 'debates' with no logical consistency. It's that the British fail to see that Romania is not a grim country somewhere in Eastern Europe. At the very least, it is like Italy, with a countryside that it has inherited from the Middle Ages. Beyond this, you can appreciate its food, its openness, its films, poets like Bacovia, for example.
If you were able to find work in Romania after graduation, would you work here?
I would like to have that option. I'd like to get into policy-making, or academic research. Neither happens in Romania, if I may be blunt.
What would you change about Scotland? What about Romania?
In Scotland, the main thing to tackle is gross inequality. British visitors to Romania comment sadly on the Communist architecture, for such sensibilities, one might think they'd notice the slums of Britain--the British poor are much "poorer" and socially-excluded than the Romanian "poor". As for Romania, I'd reform education. Reduce bureaucracy, taxation. Firstly of course, corruption should be properly tackled. For instance, I cannot find a reason why paper money cannot be eliminated and debit cards used for payments, as in Britain. Then regulate the banks to make them monitor all incomes entering the bank accounts of doctors, postmen, policemen, judges, politicians, as well as that of their relatives. Eliot Ness faced off Al Capone with a group of men called the Untouchables. Famously, they could not be bribed. I think an anti-corruption agency should be set up that intentionally bribes other public officials, and dishonest officials should be prosecuted as if their duties had actually been compromised.
In your mind, what are Romania's strengths and weaknesses?
I have a black and white view of Romania's potential. For its natural resources and human capital, Romania should, after many critical reforms, attract international capital and quickly develop into a far, far richer state, as it should be. At the moment, nothing is changing. I have seen many people suffering, living lives they would not have, had they been born in a different country. I am not callous towards their suffering, but where's the anger? Where are the protests, the riots? When you ask the young Romanian about their political beliefs, and they readily and passionately give you answers, that's when Romania will change.
Finally, would you ever live in Romania? Why or why not?
No, because the countryside, the mountains, Lugoj, and all the other things I love about the place will be there for me when I visit Romania. To live in Romania implies working there (since, it's too early to speak about retirement), and having to depend on the country's institutions. I suspect I can't do this and keep my sanity. For instance, I refuse to purchase anything when shop-keepers offer me sweets instead of change, or don't give me receipts.
By Matt Sampalean, guest writer