In the small Balkan territory where the Carpathian arc lies, between the Danube river and Black Sea, I witnessed the birth of a different kind of hate speech. It’s not a church bringing “God hates gays” signs to concerts, or white supremacists marching under the President’s watch — it is Romanians, turning their own country into a personal punching bag and blaming it as the source of all their problems.
I learned unpatriotism in the second grade. I was packing up my things after class when my teacher walked into the classroom with one of the school secretaries, telling her about something that’d happened in traffic that morning. She was upset, ranting her heart out, hand gestures and everything, but, when the monologue was done, her friend turned to her, bored and unfazed, and said: “What did you expect? This is Romania.”
I would fully understand what she meant by that sometime later, as I began to experience more and more of the “horrors” my little post-communist era country had to offer, but for the time being it had been enough and the bomb had been set. From that moment on, it was like I’d been stripped of my judgement, or sense of justice. Everything I’d ever consider wrong would no longer be surprising and I would no longer feel the need to take action when something bothered me – everything, from predator taxi drivers to prison-like hospital conditions, corruption and European-fund theft would all just be shrugged off with one word – Romania.
Everyone I know, including myself, has grown up with the idea that we “must get out of here immediately” deeply rooted into our mindset and everything we’ve done so far has been to get ourselves closer to the moment we pack our bags and go. We study and work until we’re numb, not for a personal accomplishment, but to obtain a scholarship of some sort and go to university abroad, only to never return — and we’ve been doing this since the moment we took our first steps. One of the things I’ve heard most often during my school years so far has, in fact, been, not words of encouragement, but “study hard and you’ll get out of here” or “I can’t wait to be 18 and just leave already.”
We fake patriotism every now and then, talking about how pretty Calea Victoriei is during the golden hour, how proud we are that teachers don’t take bribes at our Bucharest law school (that we’ve heard of), or that we at least have Sebastian Stan as somewhat of a Romanian icon abroad, but deep down inside, there’s a special kind of hatred growing, and nothing, at this point, can change that. We hate the government, we hate the corruption, we hate other people’s guts, we hate the lack of respect and organization, the lack of culture, the poverty in rural areas, that we’re ignored in European parliament, that our donations and tax money go towards a mayor’s car instead of a history museum. For these reasons and more, Romania has become the laughingstock and embarrassment of its own people. Many of us are scared and ashamed to answer truthfully when we’re asked where we’re from when on vacation, so we lie, not wanting to be associated with everything that one think of when they hear the word “Romania.” I only began to address my nationality with some sort of pride last year, after the 2017 protests took place in Bucharest, and my faith in this country was slightly restored.
Now, is the situation in Romania really that bad? Yes and no. According to Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index, we’re the fifth most corrupt country in the European Union, after Bulgaria, Greece and Italy, and at the same level with Hungary, and over the last few years, with the rise of political party PSD, things have gotten worse, however the situation we’re currently facing and the things we’ve faced in the past are not that unexpected. After all, Romania is a post-communist era, second world country and certain issues, especially after the fall of dictator Ceaușescu and the rise of democracy, will, of course, arise. It takes decades for some sort of balance to be found and our transition can be considered relatively smooth when compared to other countries such as Libya who failed to make the switch. The problem in Romania, of course, lies with the corruption and the government’s lack of action to change things for the better, however it also lies with the people and with their mentalities. We’re not united and since the revolution in 1989 and fall of communism, there has been a great lack of trust in our society. People have lost all faith in leadership and have abandoned the idea of a better, brighter Romania and have simply settled with what is being given, instead choosing to place their faith onto their children, whom they send away in a more developed country, “where there is hope.” This belief that there is nothing left to be done has been, in fact, harming the country even more, because people refuse to vote, refuse to protest, and generally oppose to idea of fixing things.
This new mentality and the hatred we share towards our own nation is also extremely damaging because it actually sets our country on the dark path we were so scared of in the first place. More and more young people are leaving Romania to study and find work abroad in western countries, leaving pensioners who cannot work and soon-to-be pensioners back home. The older generations who stay in Romania ask for higher pensions because they’re starving and there’s no way to live off 100 dollars every month, while the government begins to lack funds for pensions because there are no young people to work and pay taxes. We’ve begun a very dangerous cycle.
Mentalities are hard to change and we’ve learned that and we’re seeing that everywhere today as we try to fight racism, homophobia and any hate speech in general. It would take decades, if not centuries, for Romanians to finally learn to love themselves and their roots again, so now the ball lies in the court of the government. They’re approach to this ever-growing issue will determine the future of the country, as they can either chose to prevent a great spiral of depression and lack of motivation and work, or they can choose to ignore it, passing the problem onto whoever will come next. So far, it seems they have opted for the latter, leaving the rest of us, whose lives are in their hands, anxiously biting our nails and waiting to see whether we have no choice but to leave too.
Photo: Vadim Ghird/AP Photo