In a perpetual identity crisis at the border of major empires and civilizational blocks, Romania is tormented by the specter of bad image it has in the world. Especially in the last decades, when the borders have opened for us and we had access to international media, we lived with the feeling of being profoundly misunderstood by others.
That is not to say that the bad image is always unjustified. Just that we feel there’s more to us than what has surfaced in the recent years. Some foreigners from Western European countries might have good reason to have bad feelings about this country, as some towns were assaulted by waves of low skilled noisy workers from Romania and even worse, by petty criminals and beggars from the Gipsy minority. It’s natural to be turned off by such individuals, especially if you don’t get the chance to meet the rest of Romanian immigrants, who might be respectable doctors, IT specialists or students in top universities.
But there was a time when Romania had its share of international popularity. I will give you just three examples I came across recently on the internet, but there are plenty of others like this. Not necessarily caused by some exceptional athletes or music performers.
The first one is back in 1926. Queen Mary of Romania visits New York and is received with a wave of admiration. For a few seconds you can see the sidewalks of Broadway overcrowded with enthusiastic crowds of Americans, curious to see this exotic royalty. And mind that back then, Romanians had almost no diaspora around the world, those are not migrants waving.
It was one of our best historic moments. The country was ruled by a German dynasty who just decades ago obtained its independence from the Ottoman turks and less than a decade ago had achieved the unification of its constituting provinces (Transylvania and Moldova, among them). Married to the German king Ferdinand of Hohenzollern, queen Mary was born in Britain, in Kent, somewhere between London and Dover (the town that connects UK with France through the tunnel). She was the grand daughter of Queen Victoria and, prior to becoming queen of Romania, she inherited the title of princess of Edinburgh from her father. A charismatic figure and a voluntary nature, Queen Mary managed to overshadow her discrete and shy husband in many historic events, including the first world war and political struggles.
The second one takes place in 1984. Romania was in one of its worst decades. Occupied by the Soviet Army at the end of world war two, who had imposed a communist regime, the country was cut out from free Europe. After a genocidal repression of its elite in the 40s and 50s and a failed industrial leap in the 60s and 70s, the country had just went bankrupt. But the weird dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu discovered his taste for independence and made a U turn from being an internationalist communist to a hardcore nationalist. For that, he defied his former protector, the Soviet Union, which had brought his regime into power, in at least two occasions. In 1968, Romania was the only country in the Soviet block not to take down in the invasion of Czechoslovakia, openly condemning the repression of „Prague Spring” by the Red Army. In 1984, USSR and all its allies in the East decided to boycott the summer Olympics held in America. It was a just a payback for the American boycott of the Olympics in Moscow, four years ago (a protest for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan).
So Romania joins the other rebel in the East, Tito’s Yugoslavia. Here is the reaction of the American public to the entrance of Romanian delegation. As the commentator observes, Romanian delegation receives standing ovations and more than a warm welcoming. You can see the amazing reaction for about one minute after 2h:00 of this footage.(press play and it will take you to that exact moment).
Finally, a moment somewhere in 1990. It was right after the fall of the Berlin wall. The communist system had collapsed in Europe, one by one, the satellites of USSR freeing themselves from its grip. The Romanians were the last to break free, but the only ones who did it in a spectacular way, in a full scale revolution. In a concert in Dublin, Ireland, taking place on December 31st 1989, Bono of U2 honors these countries recently liberated from communism. You can hear the amazing reaction of the public after each name is pronounced and you can understand how admired the country was in that particular moment.
(You can hear that moment at h 1:10.00 of this video).