First off, I have absolutely no intention of drawing a sociological or psychological profile of all Romanians. However, more and more lately I've been asking myself: "In what ways am I really Romanian?" Next year, the country celebrates 100 years of existence in its current form. I have no doubt many of us will come out to explain with more or less pathos how proud we are. That is not my intention here. Below I try to make sense of the question for my own sake.
I am also writing this in English because, as confused as we are, foreign audiences are even more baffled. If you are not a proud descendant of Rome and Dacia, this will either confuse you further or bring you one step closer to enlightenment. Let me know which.
- I distinctly remember the look of dread of my grandmother's face when I sheepishly told her that I don't think I believe on God and all that. We were watching an absolutely forgettable TV program on the subject and I must've been around 12. Her reaction and subsequent mumbling told me a lot about how important the Orthodox Church is to Romanian identity, especially for older generations. I don't get to tick that box.
- Years later, I moved to Japan and very early on I came to the realization that most natives hadn't a clue what Romania / ルーマニア was (more on Japan's literal and figurative insularity some other time). I had to explain that it was a country, and that it was a country in Europe, and that we don't speak English over there, and other things of this nature. It was unbelievably liberating. Before this I had lived in England and the Netherlands, countries where my tribe's reputation is not the best. I often felt I had to overcome certain first impressions I made by announcing my place of birth. No, we're not all thieves, yes we speak foreign languages rather well thank you very much, and so on. Whereas with no preconceptions of Romanians I felt freer in a country halfway across the world where I didn't speak the language. There is definitely some lesson in here but I haven't yet managed to find it.
- Another constant in my interstellar journey as a Romanian is that I've always hated domestic politics with a passion, but never managed to fully detach myself from it. Not matter how close I get to saying "I'm done", I always come back for more. Maybe because of masochism (defining national trait?), but more importantly because there was always an inkling of hope that things might get better, that one day the country might overcome its tradition of cronyism and poor governance and develop, becoming European in the true sense of the word. This spirit of aspiration in the millions who are willing to take to the streets to protest for a better government is without a doubt European.
- Speaking of poor governance and cronyism - is Romania a Balkan country? There was a time when I would've answered "no" with a certain amount of indignation. In the meantime I've gotten to know the Balkans a bit better and I feel a certain sense of brotherhood with Croatians, Bosnians et al: along with notable flaws, we share traditions, we eat the same food and drink the same booze and in quantities which defy reason, and at our best we can embrace outsiders with a warmth and passion which I've rarely seen anywhere else. If there's no place in our European identity for that, I'm not sure I want it.
I have other thoughts on this, but none fully baked. I'll leave it at that for now.