For the rest of the world, Romania pretty much means poverty, vampires and, if we are really lucky, gymnastics and polenta/mamaliga (in picture). Positive stereotypes are actually not much better than the negative ones, as they also reduce the complexity of a nation to a couple of aspects, glamorous as they might be.
In an era when we as Romanians seem to not really know who we are anymore, it may be a challenge to find the “right” way to introduce ourselves to the outside world. What defines us a nation? Is it bloodthirsty medieval rulers? Is it the stray dogs? Is it our impressive yet controversial Parliament building? Is it the hackers or petty thieves? Is it Nadia Comaneci’s magnificent 10? Most probably, the answer to all is no.
Maybe Romania’s best ID is its cultural background. Maybe our history and culture tell much more about us and define us in a much deeper manner than we’d imagine. Maybe knowing more about our history and culture could help both Romanians and the rest of the world understand Romania and its psyche better, way beyond the stories of bloodthirsty nobles.
Historian Ioan Aurel Pop (member of the Romanian Academy) once wrote: “Romanians crafted their history the way they knew best, that is not better nor worse than other nations. Their history wasn’t pure or immaculate, but it wasn’t horrendous or disaster-filled either. It was diverse, just like life is, because history means life. It’s important to know that the Romanians exist amongst world’s nations, that they have a state- maybe even two (the second would be Moldova, ed.) of their own, with a rich past, with The Danube and The Carpathian Mountains, with the peasants of Maramures, who seem to stand forgotten by time, with Moldavia’s painted monasteries, with the Danube’s Delta and the Black Sea, with the cellars of Cricova, with Eminescu, Blaga, Enescu or Brancusi, with people who are waiting to be discovered. They have a message to send to the international community and they deeply care for this message.” (Ioan Aurel Pop, Istoria Românilor, Editura Litera, 2011).
I admit, it could be a bit tricky to evoke the former glories of the past, because it could give the false impression of bias. But, the way I see it, knowing your history and culture doesn’t mean at all denying the challenges that your country faces in the present time. It will just give you a precious insight on finding an answer to the never-ending question of who are we?.
Could more knowledge of its history and culture change Romania’s image from one day to the other? Hard to tell, but it could surely help foreigners understand us a bit better. Maybe we are not who you think we are.
The Association for Contemporary Cultural Identity (AICC) aims to translate into English a series of books that the NGO considers meaningful for the Romanian culture. The books are “Istoria românilor”, an easy-to-read history book written by Ioan Aurel Pop, “Dacii în sculptura romană” ( a study conducted by Sorbonne alumni, dr. Leonard Velcescu, that analyses the dignifying way in which the Dacians, Romania’s ancient inhabitants, were depicted in sculptures erected in Ancient Rome) and “Dimensiunea românească a existenței” a deep overlook on Romania’s psyche, written by prominent Romanian philosopher Mircea Vulcănescu (1904- 1952). For more information on AICC and its projects, visit: iccromania.org
By Ana Soviany, guest writer
(photo source; arhivafoto.ro)