National Day

nationalismOn the first day of this month, Romanians celebrated their “National Day”, the day Transylvania united with the rest of the country. According to the state-owned national channel TVR1, it was a day to celebrate Romanian culture and Romanian values such as “faith and family”. There was a lot of patriotic songs, folk music, dancing and nostalgic displays of affection towards Basarabia, a former region of Romania that was taken by the Russians (oh, the Russians…) during the Soviet expansion and is still rather influenced by them, nowadays known as the Republic of Moldova. It was all very positive and peaceful but I must say one thing kept bugging me: there was no mention of Hungarian, Saxon or Gipsy (confusingly also known as Romi or Romani) culture. All significant minorities in terms of number and cultural contributions to music, architecture etc.

What does nation and nationality mean anyway? The more I think about it the more it seems to me like it’s one of those words that mean such different things for different people that it loses its value as a communication device. In all the languages I know there is a difference between nationality and citizenship. The almost universal adoption of the concept of citizenship serves a rather pragmatic purpose, but the idea of nationality seems vague and abstract. Still, however loosely defined and legally irrelevant (especially in the New World), the sense of belonging and of a national identity is still an extremely relevant aspect of the human experience and many continue to wage war in its name, with people separating and killing each other on the basis of language, religion, place of birth or whatever sort of tribalistic us/them dichotomies they find.

Of course, not always does nationalism turn into bloodbath. But sometimes I wonder, doesn’t it happen often enough? Not enough to ban any sort of national identification, of course, but to at least question it more. I grew up in Brazil, a rather homogenous place in terms of national origin, with rather few first-generation immigrants at least during the period I was growing up. I only knew one foreigner before I left Brazilian soil for the first time, so it makes sense that this wasn’t the hottest topic over there. But after studying in Canada, living in Sweden for one year, in Romania for another and meeting people from all over Europe and the rest of the world, I realize that it’s not really that much of a popular subject anywhere. Unlike us Americans (i.e. people from the Americas), most Europeans have a national identity that is detached from their citizenship, but most seem to just take it for granted and don’t really question it.

Hungarians

“He’s Hungarian”, they say. What does that even mean? I wonder. They were born in Romania, not Hungary. They have a Romanian citizenship, not Hungarian. They speak Hungarian at home with their parents. Does that make them any less Romanian? If it does, it’s a bit confusing that the country was named Romania and it’s inhabitants granted Romanian citizenship. Especially considering that Hungarians aren’t the only non-speakers of Romania who’re nonetheless native to this land. But what about the Hungarians? Do they feel excluded? Do they want to belong in the first place? Many don’t. Some regions with a predominant population of Hungarians even want independence.

The situation with Romanians and Hungarians is particularly complicated because the Romanians see themselves as the peaceful peasants who were ruthlessly attacked by the powerful and oppressive Austro-Hungarian Empire. But now they’re the ones in power. So it’s not the typical “dominant vs. oppressed” situation as it kind of is in Brazil with the upper-class white with European background and the less privileged black of African ancestry. In Brazil the relationship of dominance and privilege has remained constant, in Romania it has reversed throughout history. But historical resentment and thirst for vengeance is one of the most dangerous phenomenons of human behavior I can think of. And it’s about time we learn this and make sure to teach it to the newer generations.

In any case, the hostility goes both ways, and blaming the other for having started it is childish and non-constructive. As an outsider I understand that Romanians have resentments and expect the Hungarians to have the initiative and be more positive about Romania. But I also have to understand if Hungarians feel excluded. How could they not?

Piața Unirii, aka Matei Corvin, in the main square of Cluj–Napoca, the largest city in Transylvania and second largest in Romania. Of mixed Romanian/Hungarian ancestry, Matei Corvin is considered by Hungarians one of the greatest kings of the Kingdom of Hungary, which included Transylvania.

Saxons

While there’s tension with the Hungarians, the same cannot be said about the Saxons, the German speaking population. There are much fewer of them, since most left to Germany during communism, and given the prestige the German language and people have in Romania (like US-Americans or Western Europeans in general have in Brazil), I’m sure it’s no misfortune to be born a Saxon in Transylvania. To reinforce my point, it’s worth mentioning they just elected a Saxon for president, the first of “non-Romanian” ethnicity (whatever this means). In spite of all this, and of having marked their passage in the region with beautiful architecture and pittoresque cities and fortresses, they are granted no mention in the Romanian National day.

Piata Mare, Sibiu
Piața Mare (the big square) in Sibiu, the former centre for the Transylvanian Saxons. Its old city region was ranked as “Europe’s 8th most idyllic place to live” by Forbes.

Romani

So the historical enemy and the prestigious minority get no recognition in the national day. What about the Romani? The ones at the very bottom of the social hierarchy? You guessed it. Of course not. Romania holds one of the largest populations of Romani people in Europe and one of the highest percentages in the world and, for better of for worse, are internationally known for that.

Romani in Europe
Distribution of the Romani people in Europe (2007 Council of Europe “average estimates”, totalling 9.8 million)
Țiganca – Theodor Aman
Țiganca – Theodor Aman

The extent to which they have influenced Romanian culture may be debatable, considering they’re not a very open and integrated group, but some influence is undeniable, a good example being in music, both traditional and contemporary. They play essential roles in cerimonies such as traditional weddings, where they’re employed as “lăutari”, a sort of “Gipsy Wedding Band” which is a characteristic element of the celebration in Eastern Europe. Their music was also a strong influence for George Enescu, considered Romania’s greatest composer. Moreover, having been a rather constant presence in the history of they country, they have naturally been often depicted by local artists. Still they get no mention in the National Day.

Romanians

What are Romanians anyway? The truth is that our nationality is what we want it to be. There is no definition of Romanian, Swede or Portuguese as an ethnical group written anywhere, and even if there was nobody has the authority to rigidly define these words and protect it from change – I would use Brazilian as an example but I don’t think anybody even thinks of this word as something else other than citizenship. Certainly nobody claims there’s such a thing as “Brazilian ethnicity”. While some words are arguably “stable” and less likely to change, such as “triangle”, others are unstable, and more vulnerable to a shift in meaning. Many words have changed throughout history, it’s inevitable. The word awful, for example, used to refer to things worthy of awe. Sort of a synonym for awesome. At one point it eded up meaning horrible for some reason (check this link for more words that changed meaning). Citizenship is like triangle. It is formal, bureaucratic, clearly and legally defined. Nationality is not. It’s more like awful.

At one point black slaves didn’t have the right to citizenship in Brazil and the US, for example. They weren’t even considered the same class of people. Nowadays, although they still suffer the stigma of an oppressive history, it would be outrageous to suggest that blacks are any less Brazilian or less American. Black culture is actually largely embraced as a characteristic element of “Brazilianess”, and is heavily exploited touristically for the exotic appeal it has for Europeans.

It was interesting to see the music, dances and traditional clothing characteristic of speakers of Romanian in different regions of the country. It was disappointing not to learn anything about Gipsy, Saxon and Hungarian traditions though. Wouldn’t it be nice to have at least one song by each of these groups? Wouldn’t it help achieving a better integration of underprivileged groups at least a little bit, by lifting their self-esteem? If it worked for Jane Elliot students, why shouldn’t it work for at least some of them?

Some say the attitude is nice but doing it on the first of December would be too inflammatory because of the symbolic importance of the day both as a victory for Romanians and as a loss for Hungarians. It is a bit scary to think that things are that tense, but even if this is the case, I still think this is a goal to be aimed for the future. If intermediate steps are necessary in order to avoid a backlash, that’s fine. But just turning a blind eye and leaving the things the way they are sounds like a pretty awful idea. I’m pretty sure things can be much more awesome.

9 Replies to “National Day”

  1. I loved the post. It hit me very hard – can you imagine I never really noticed what you just said about our national day ? You are right, there should be more efforts made towards inclusion. But, man, it’s very hard to go about it without ending up in a pile of outrage from all sides.
    When I went to university ( in Targu Mures ) the Romanian and the Hungarian students had different representatives for the Student’s League, different rooms set up inside the dorms for going online ( I went to school during 1999-2005 – so not many had a personal computer ), different parties for the beginning and ending of the university, different clubs for when going out. It was for all intents and purposes hard to mix.
    The animosity is there and it’s palpable and it’s scary because it gets to you – even if you think you are chill about it all, all it takes is a few insults to realize you feel it too, that nationalistic bullcrap. I am from Constanta and before going to university I never questioned my belonging to this country, my being Romanian and what that even means. When i started university i had a shock because my belonging to this country has been questioned by romanians and hungarians alike….. maybe by romanians even more. I am from Constanta and from day one at uni I was told i am a “ragateanca “- meaning a person from the old kingdom, before Transylvania joined. I was told that “my people ” are not as good as the Romanians from Transylvania.
    So, tribes exist in so many shapes and forms. Tribalism is still showing everywhere.
    After my experience of 6 years in Targu Mures I find it a bit easier to understand feeling left out. I formed good friendships with 2 Hungarian girls and they explained to me their own feelings of being left out, of not belonging, of not really having a country and the weird feelings this entails. When it comes to feelings, it’s very hard to go beyond. My friends told me they feel this country doesn’t want them, doesn’t love them – and even if experience shows that what they lack as a person living in Romania is similar for Romanians and all minorities ( we all want better politicians, better medical system etc ), they also have an extra burden that they can not really explain with logic, but that is there nevertheless. One of my friends told me she feels guilty that she speaks Romanian so well and that she feels like speaking it at home too, because she knows her parents feel betrayed. What do I even say to that? She knows that that makes no sense, there is no logical argument needed, but damn it must be hard for her.
    So I understand it a bit better and yet when faced with insults my go to reaction is one that has something to do with tribes. Tribes offer a sense of security. It’s so hard to fight. It’s also kind of sad…
    Sorry for the extremely long rant…..

    1. Hi Irina, no apologies needed 😉 The reason I started this blog was exactly for this: initiating discussion. But true, this Trasylvanian pride is typical, I forgot to mention that. But I guess it’s good because I’ trying to avoid writing kilometric texts, there are too many already, I intend to break them in more parts now so this will be a good subject for another post. I didn’t even know about this term “ragateanca”, very interesting. In any case I’m glad somebody found the text constructive =)

  2. mate, you seem focused on race too much… and you cannot see the image because you do not know the history

    1. we are not racists… because we

    – do not invade no one ever

    – do exploit or go out to exploit others

    – do not enslave anyone (except some of our boyars and the church, but back then ALL OF US were slaves to them (serfdom was the norm)

    2. in our entire history we got invaded almost each century or more, and enslaved, and pillaged, and occupied

    3. you love to talk about other “minorities”… but here, in Romania, each minority has free access to education (positive discrimination), free parliamentary representation (positive discrimination), free access to the national television…

    the Hungarians… that occupied our Transilvania for about 600 years… they got a lot of freedom for a minority. They have their own town names, their own university, schools in their own language and culture… local authority and such..

    Germanic people are all but gone… they got back to Germany en masse… but they got a ton of freedoms that most of us did not got…

    each and every minority on this land has a share on it

    parliamentary representation, local representation, education in its own language, and cultural identity

    BUT

    we, as romanians, we hold each and everyone to the same standard

    regardless if you are a gipsy, a hungarian, a turk or a romania

    if you STINK… and you ROB PEOPLE… and STEAL… then you are ACOUNTABLE

    for example our gipsies have their own tribe leaders (bulibasa) and their own tribunal (stabor)… they are accountable AS A WHOLE…

    they want this… they say “let us deal with our kind”… and when they fail… we deal with them..

    if a Romanian say “filthy gypsies”….

    is because he personally seen many times gypsies that are extremely filthy..

    but a romanian may say “look at that nice gypsy girl”, if a nice gypsy girl is near….

    so again…

    we are not racists…

    we give all minorities a fair place AND a fair chance to excel

    BUT

    we are sick entirely by some say that beggary, thieving and stealing are “cultural”….

    if that is cultural

    then our sick of them is also cultural…

    now please google

    “uk romma” “france romma” “italy romma” “swedeen roma”…

    and see what OTHERS think about this “culture”…

    and don’t dare to give me any of that “if they are look down they behave this way”… they are extremely and openly positively discriminated for decades

    before criticism us on “race”…

    learn about our history…

    google “ottoman slave trade” “ottoman wars in Europe”, “tatar invasions”,”soviet invasion”…”nazi invasion”….”balkan war”…”hungarian horty romania”…

    then come back and tell me who is racist… and why

    1. I think you misinterpreted me, I didn’t accuse Romanians of being racist. In any case I don’t think a country needs a past of imperialism in order for its people to be overall racist, and pointing out a history of struggle and victimization doesn’t entitle a country to do whatever it wants. It’s like Israel pointing out to the history of anti-semitism in the world in order to justify their zionist, nationalistic ideologies. I have a rough knowledge of the history of Romania, you didn’t say much that I didn’t know. I just don’t think Romania is off the hook because of it.

      1. do you think that a native Indian has the right to be AWARE towards those that massacred his family, enslave his people and destroy his culture?

        same goes for anyone living in E Europe vs anyone from Islam, Russia and Germany…

        they say to us “don’t be racist”… we say to them “stay the fuck there in your own countries… how about that?”

        is it fair to demand others to leave you and your culture alone after centuries of invasions and oppression? Do we have to bow before another empire in full expansion again? I think now.

        Many people confuse racism with nationalism… and nationalism with nazism… how about no?

        When someone invades a country, you can blame all the natives of being “racists” because they want to stop the invasion? How this works mate?

        Sorry, but if the entire world become nationalists… that really took pride of their own culture and nation… then no one will bother anyone else… because each will be content with that they got.

        Imagine a nationalist from Spain talking about the conquistadors
        “why do we go there and massacre them? THAT IS NOT OUR COUNTRY!”

        yeah… damn racist…

        just because in the last 60 years some in west started to use mass emigration as a tool against their own people does not mean that we should all accept this form of abuse

        yes, I get it… the west used slaves… then migrants… got it…
        we did not want that… can we just be left alone to be as we are?
        yes… maybe we are the dumbest people on the planet… but at least we are not whoring ourselves for money like the west does for centuries…

        sorry to be so upset… but so many idiots from the west blamed E Europeans of “racism” because they think we are “white” like them, and therefore we should all have the same “white guilt”

        Hell no! We from East got the “white pride” because, unlike others, we had to fight to keep our culture and religion against invaders… and I damn to hell anyone from east that dares to feel guilty about west’s wrongdoings!

        And yes, we must not be “racists”… but we will define what “racist” means in our terms… the west proves us everyday that they got the issue all wrong…

        Importing their on PC crap to east will do us no good… and if the west will not wake the hell up they will suffer a lot more in the future… but is their business and as a moderate nationalist… I do not care what each does in his own country!

        Each should try to make his own country better, and welcome all others that want to share the same values. No one forces anyone to come here… or to stay! And we shall never force another country to do something against their own culture.

        How about that?
        No one should force another change his culture… in his own country…. and everyone should live happy on their own culture and country, visiting other cultures and even moving where he/she feels more welcomed.

        1. Oh, btw… I have nothing against the Jews making their own country…
          Actually I praise all Jews that help the cause, they are an example to all of us…

          Yes… the Palestinians are there too… so what?
          did jews did not exists there? how come?
          if they exist then they have the RIGHT to have a country of their own

          Also, I strongly support any Palestinian that wants his own country!
          They must have a country, just like the Jews….they exist on that land for generations and generations… they must have a country of their own!

          Any nationalistic palestinian or jew is right…
          if they decide to separate… I will welcome their decision an celebrate it with them

          if they decide to stay stuck together… well is their choice…(I favor separation as the only true solution)

          Same goes for Kurds and Iraki Shiites and Sunites.

          As long as they have a historic right, any nation should be free to become a state.

          Hopefully without conflicts…. but I am not deluding myself….

    2. As for the legal rights of minorities, I assure you that Romania is not the best example of social inclusion, but I’ll grant you that it’s far from being the worst. But the point of this article wasn’t even this. I didn’t suggest any specific legal measure. I just think society as a whole should be less tense and segregated, and that the minorities should be accepted as Romanians in usual language. Not all social change is done through legal action.

    3. As for the discourse that “roma culture should be respected”, believe me, I know it can be abused, and I feel you when you complain about it. But we should be careful not to end up in the other extreme. Stealing and begging are cultural? Maybe, but it’s irrelevant. What we know is that it should be discouraged and any culture that promotes it should be openly questioned and educated so that it can grow and adapt to the 21st century. But educating and changing a problematic group is very different from bashing and persecuting them. I talk about this a bit more here: http://ghostlessmachine.com/en/2015/03/everyday-hate-speech-romania/

      1. I forgot to reply you about the gypsy…

        Mate… you got it all wrong… no one in Romania persecutes gypsy… not only that… but in most cases of “violence” a Romanian is the victim…

        The idea that they are a minority and therefore they had to be persecuted in some way is extremely toxic…

        They are one of the most free people on this land, and I think, on the entire Europe. They go where they please, they settle on public or private land, they obey no rules and don’t care about no one…

        Who in the world is persecuting them?

        You may think… “yes, but decades of persecutions made them poor and that is why they behave like this… they lack education… and chances… and all that”….

        Mate… no…

        I was on the same bench at school with a gypsy guy… in 1-5. He was FORCED to come at school… and he was quite pissed about for a while… We got a lot of great time together… but one day he told me…
        “I will no longer come…. I have to marry”

        mate… he was 10 ffs… he stopped coming to school for about 1 semester… then when he finally returned (cops got him back)… he showed me his engagement ring… (quite a lot of gold there)…

        he skipped classes like there is no tomorrow, and to this day he cannot read or write… (I still meet him from time to time)…

        No one… NO ONE… ever say a bad word to this kid… Our teacher lady was particularly fond of him… she tried… trust me…he did manage to learn some letters… but he was constantly missing classes… eventually everyone just passed him in order to give him some kind of degree…

        their culture is extremely exclusive… I live next to them, I know them up close…. what happens is 99% their fault…

        But now things are changing… more and more gypsy girls are attending school (they were forbidden to go to school, according to their tradition)… and as long as they are willing to STAY in school, they WILL manage to find work.

        But there is another aspect…
        They are NOT poor… even if they have zero education and zero work experience…

        No gypsy ever died of hunger… is a say.. and is true…
        search “Romanian gypsy wealth”… and see for yourself..

        as long as this country pays for them to sing at weddings, and as long as this country uses manual labor in rural areas… and as long as this country lets them collect trash… they will survive.. without education…

        and this is sad… but also not sad…

        it is sad, because they lack any kind of motivation to stay in school…
        it is not sad, because they are NOT poor…

        people use them and their skills and trade…
        the “gabor” gypsy is a master craftsman that is in high demand in the rural areas…
        the “spoitor” gypsy is a master garbage collector and recicler…

        the “lautar” gypsy is a superb song interpreter and writer…
        the “aurar / argitar” gypsy are great jeweler makers
        … and so on

        their trade makes them rich without any education…
        and as a side-note… all the “manele” singers are “lautar gypsies”… 😉
        they don’t look poor don’t day

        maybe Europe should know more about them, and understand that is they, not us, that do not want education or employment…

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