ROMANIA – A No Man’s Land?

If you see in any given situation only what everybody
else can see, you can be said to be so much
a representative of your culture than you are a victim of it.

S. I. Hayakawa

Romania needs to take a break in its assiduous quest for foreign Western models and continuous denial of national heritage.

Accesion to internationalized structures of cooperation, such as NATO and European Union, is often criticized, especially by anti-globalization activists, as a seamless extension of the Western cultural imperialism, in the detriment of national identities, which become victims of the accelerating encroachment of a homogenized, westernized, consumer culture.

But, leaving aside this excessively pessimistic point of view, it is fair to say that none of this organisms require from their adherents denial of national identities, in favour of some uniform and artificial global values. Their quest in this regard refers to the effort of integrating national traits into a common cultural heritage, thus bringing an added value to the “European identity” as a whole –  a concept which should be understood in an inclusive sense, rather than an exclusivist one, representing a mosaic of diverse but convergent cultures, rather than an individual or nationalistic possesion.

What destroys national identity in the first place – referring particularly to Romania, without assuming that it applies necessarily to other states too – is the Romanian people itself, benevolently renegating its own culture without anyone asking for it, and not necessarily those cultures in the mainstream of the flow of capitalism in Western Europe and United States, maliciously fancied as propagators of globalization and cultural imperialism.

Overcoming the everlasting cliche

It is not surprising to say that Romania’s identity, as perceived from the outside, is problematic, that the “image” that Romania reflects of itself is deficient. In fact, our tendency is to forgo the effort of grubbing for the real state of things and look at the prejudice from one-side only, as described across borders.

Our reality is designated, more or less justified, by articles in the foreign media, addressing a limited specter of issues: abandoned children in orphanages, dogs in the street, Romanian workers invading labor markets abroad, pickpockets and beggars of Romanian origin crowding all big European capitals, or well-known Romanian businessmen, political leaders, etc being accused of severe acts of corruption.

To such an affirmation, severe retorts will be made on the spot by, unexpectedly- Romanian readers: “this is the real state of things, this is Romania and there is no point in hiding it”. Actually, Romania is not just this – abandoned children, street dogs, illegal immigrants, pickpockets and beggars – these are only aspects of Romania, real indeed, but not the only aspects of Romania and not a product exclusively “made in Romania”.

A cliche is what you make of it

We, Romanians, feel ill-treated when the foreign media points its finger to the misery we are often living in, or to the discrimination that our nationals show, and offended when foreigners locate the capital of Romania in Budapest or when we are treated by the custom officers of Western countries as possible delinquents.

But this faulty image should not surprise us, since the same one exists in the eyes of most of our nationals. The problem is one of the inside to the same extend as one of the outside. The theory, saying that the worst things result from the deficiencies of the product itself, not from the outward, applies in this case too.  

Needless to point out how important is that Romania continues its way towards becoming part of the European institutionalized community – to express it metaphorically, follow its “European destiny”. But achieving that does not mean renegating its own land in order to be recognized, in reward for its loyality, as part of the European land. Nor does it mean intentionally mistaking cultural integration for cultural assimilation, in order to justify an unexplained perseverance in minimizing distinctive features of the national culture until disappearance altogether.

European Union does not seek for an uniformization of cultures. The assumption of integration,  the making into one society, does not mean rejecting self-identities – after all, it is not by chance that the Union has chosen its slogan to be “United in diversity!” – this depends on the option of each nation, on the way each society understands to integrate itself into the European community.

Photo by Liviu Suciu

Romania – take a break! 

A break out of the assidous quest of defining itself by assimilation within the West. A break in order to revitalize its cultural identity, to revigorate the fainted individuality of its people and to regain the pride of its cultural heritage. A break from its democratic reformers engaged ever since the 1990s to undo the legacy of fifty years of rule by former communists, to transform the peasant state into an industrial powerhouse; but which, in their efforts of dismantling the former economic and social structures,  taken by the downstream, have been strangling on the way the soul of the nation, too.

What Romania longs for is not a “new image”, created on the spot to throw an artificial light over its precarious body, nor a synthetic sparkle, bursting out of some unexpected intelligence, to come and clear everything up with its magic. But a long-term investment in cultural policies, in institutionalized creativity, able to generate innovative approaches and original “brands”.

The challenge consists in elaborating public policies for the cultural sector that would restore the balance between identitary representations and the European interest, aiming for cultural diversity and productive communication. In the absence of a new type of discourse, valuing concepts like “memory” and “identity”, delivered through education by civil society organizations and institutions, any type of “re-branding” activity is pure illusion. It is impossible to remodel national identities that would fit the larger context of the European world while refusing to assimilate an open, flexible, pluralistic vision on the notion of “cultural identity”.

Photo by Liviu Suciu

Re-branding RO – mania

How do we, Romanians, read our own image? To what extend are we capable of discussing and bringing out to light the taboo topics of our national history- the Revolution of December 1989, the different forms of social exclusion and discrimination experienced in Romania, and many others? By ‘rebranding’ ourselves, by putting on newer and fancier clothes every time to cover old ones, do we become better or, at least, more attractive to the international market?

I stubbornly hang on to the idea that is not enough to wonder through the world barely wearing a stamp on yourself, be it ingeniously picked up. You need to be something, before pretending to be something. Otherwise, sooner or later, you will be disclosed. Consistency in image is impossible, conditioned by hypocrisy.

Rather, it is time to resort to our own resources and see ourselves just the way we are, learn to live with each other, for better and for worse, and work together to fill up the hollow image of our country, still lacking substance and content. Aiming to become Europeans, we need to revigorate the soul of this country, to grant it the real value of its people, its culture, its identity, if we want it to enter Europe proud and valuable. Before it is too late, we need to turn our look from foreign lands towards our own, or we risk to discover that, meanwhile, it has become a no man’s land.

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