A new cultural age is dawning for Romania, and the West is taking notice
“After death, you go on a very long way, that is going up. As you go, little by little, your features change. A dead man is now looking at you through my eyes.”
So wrote Mircea Cărtărescu, a Romanian author regularly rumoured to be on the shortlist for the Nobel Prize in literature, aptly reflecting the zeitgeist of a nation coming to terms with its past and gradually dawning on our horizons.
In his widely translated work Nostalgia, Cărtărescu reflects on adolescent life under an oppressive communist government. It is this feeling of simultaneous resistance and acceptance that characterises Romania’s evolution. The “dead man” that was its cultural heritage and freedom is being resurrected to confront Romania’s muted past and a world that has historically ignored it.
This year, Oxford appointed its first Lector in Romanian language and linguistics. Dr Oana Uţă Barbulescu of the University of Bucharest will be sponsored by the Romanian government and the Romanian Language Institute of Bucharest.
Romanian, which developed in isolation from the other Romance languages, is the closest language to Latin in existence; no study of Romance linguistics or Balkan history would be complete without it. The fact that one of the world’s leading academic institutions has only this year introduced Romanian to its programme of study suggests a long-overdue shift in academic priorities. It is a shift that readdresses the severe neglect of a cultural and linguistic heritage, and can only boost our understanding of European history and literature.
Martin Maiden, Professor of Romance Languages and Fellow of Trinity College, Oxford, describes Romanian as “a long-lost sister of other, better-known Romance languages. It is time that we brought her home, so to speak. The new Lectorship will help us to do this.”
This academic shift also indicates Romania’s realignment with the Western political agenda as diplomatic bonds are strengthened and cultural integration is enhanced. With a literary legacy that has produced legends such as Eugène Ionesco, Emil Cioran and Gabriela Adamesteanu, it is heartening to see the West wise up to the intellectual wealth and uniqueness of a country long hidden behind the Iron Curtain.
In a recent Guardian article, English author Georgina Harding reflects on her adventures in Romania, a country in which she sees “the beauty of the landscape and the bleakness of the history, the charm and the horror side by side,” and asks her British readers: “What do we know about the place, besides the Dracula myths?”
As for myself, walking along the streets of Bucharest under a drizzly autumn sky in early 2000, it was not difficult to understand why Romania had been forgotten for decades. This is a country whose identity was not only buried under the rule of Nicolae Ceauşescu during the latter half of the twentieth century, but actively destroyed by it. Foreign aid from Britain and the US unknowingly funded a brutal regime that killed thousands whilst crippling the economy, and repressive politics suffocated Romania’s traditional culture.
It is little wonder, then, that the Dracula myths pervaded in the West, filling the vacuum of an unknown history. This was a history that, in the aftermath of the 1989 revolution, was frantically pushed away by its own country in an effort to soothe a residual sense of shame.
Thanks to a more stable political regime, greater European involvement and a stronger sense of direction, Romania is finally embracing its own cultural heritage and sharing it with the world.
After joining the EU in 2007, Romania’s economic growth was amongst the fastest in Europe; in 2008 its economy grew more than three times faster than the EU average. Yet the greatest impetus for reinvigoration comes from the new generation of students and workers that are able to freely enter the UK, leading to a cultural explosion in the arts with Romanian exhibitions and events becoming popular across the UK.
As for Romania’s future, Dr Barbulescu hopes, “Romania will reach the same standard as the West. The higher the economic standard, the better chance Romania will have of investing in its culture, and particularly in its education, to achieve the image it deserves.”
“The image it deserves.” Romania has a great deal to be proud of, and where politics was once its oppressor it now looks set to propel Romania’s image into the twenty-first century.
Original source: oxonian globalist