Sitting down at my computer, I was ready to take my country apart, rip it to shreds. I’ve just finished reading Lucian Boia’s “Romania, tara de frontiera a Europei” (Romania, borderland of Europe) and felt a surge of anger at the teachers that shaped my childhood and at myself.
Some context first. I’ve not read anything of Boia before (he is a history professor at the University of Bucharest) or heard much about him. I picked up the book last winter on a visit home because I had become haunted by the question of Romania. What is Romania? It was a natural progression after asking for more than two years: “What is America?” As the answers to my second questions kept coming I realized I lacked that knowledge about my country. I wanted to be able to grasp intellectually what my country meant and needed some material to turn to.
Boia sets out to answer this question in his book and in my mind, he does a decent job of it. What he says is something I have been feeling but probably never articulated quite so forcefully: Romania is not a mythical entity, nor a chosen land with a people tricked by history, nor an idea always persecuted and undermined by the vile West. It’s just another country with its ups and downs, highs and lows, succeses and failures.
In dissecting the historical record of the language, the people, the territories, Boia doesn’t necessarily bring out new facts to life, but he offers a non-partisan and non-nationalistic view of the Romanian nation. This is not a patriotic treaty of victimisation, and it is its straight forwardness that has sparked my anger.
Not at Boia, but at the people who taught me I should believe in rotten revisionism, the story of a country that could have been more if it weren’t made to fight off invaders and protect Europe. What loads of bullshit. Certainly, every country has its myths and every country cultivates nationalism to various degrees. Still, I can’t help feeling betrayed by communism and the first decade that followed its toppling for wanting to eliminate my capacity to be critical of my country, its history and its culture.
When this winter I criticized my country in an op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor, I was branded as a traitor, someone who doesn’t respect or love the homeland. It is this victim-prone heritage and the incapacity of being self-critical that Boia criticizes (he has been in turn branded as being anti-Romani) and that many of my fellow countrymen lack.
I wanted to expand on some of his ideas and take apart the blind right-wing nationalistic instincts some Romanians have. But I won’t. Why? Because I realized that I had done something similar in the past, albeit in a more naive fashion. Here you can find the first of three essays that speak about Romania–they all appeared on dbrom.ro.
My apologies to English speakers–they are all in Romanian. But you could always enjoyed our national obsessions–as seen here in a self-serving (failed attempt at satire) beer commercial.