Work in Progress
I ended my Bulgarian adventures in Varna and will continue my European mission in another `fresh` EU member state. Romania lived through many ups and downs during the 20th century is currently undergoing massive changes by its attempts to lift its economy and political system to European standards.
Road and train connections between Bulgaria and Romania are quite poor and they make a good excuse for the many Bulgarians who have never been to Romania, and for the Romanians vice versa. Opinions about the neighbour next door are hardly ever flattering. Many Bulgarians with whom I inquired about Romania during the past few days thought of it as an uncivilized country, while the average Romanian seems to have similar prejudice about the people living on the other side of the border.
..is eager to show the positive sides of Romania
Similar yet different
Although visual differences between both countries are subtle, Romania makes a more colourful and extrovert impression than Bulgaria. That doesn`t however prevent it from having equal amounts of garbage piling up just about everywhere. Still, in Romania more so than in Bulgaria, a feeling of forward movement can be felt just by looking at the many construction sites for private property. Whoever is not investing in newly built property seems to work on the refurbishment of existing residences.
Romania is several times bigger than Bulgaria and it has more historical and diplomatic connections with Western Europe. The path of foreign investors seems to touch upon Romania before making it to Bulgaria. During the past years, big malls and hypermarkets have risen from the earth. International retail chains and banks have extended their empires into Romania, posing a big threat to original commerce.
Romanians have very different ways of describing their country. Like many others, Dinu (3) is proud of Romania`s local traditions, the local food, the variety of the landscape and the strong feeling of belonging to the family: `We still have natural products, even though our market is now starting to get flooded by genetically modified rubbish from the West. Evidence may suggest that such artificial products are not harmful to people`s health. I think it`s obvious that they will be harmful in the long run.`
Dinu is also proud of the role Romania has traditionally played in international history: `We have always been like a cameleon. Our diplomats have been able to form a bridge between Russia and the United States during the cold war, and we still today play an important role in mediating between countries that are not each other`s biggest fans.` Throughout the years, Romania has hosted several international leaders who used the country as a neutral ground to ease their oftentimes troubled relations. The upcoming meeting between George Bush and Vladimir Putin, set for early April 2008 in a Romanian beach resort, is another example of Romania`s desire to serve as the missing link between opposing powers.
Ramona (29, photo) thinks that Romania is going through a period of quick and drastic changes. `I work on a cruise ship and only spend a few months a year in Romania. Whenever I get back from a trip, I am amazed by the amount of new buildings and the rise in prices. I don`t mind that the prices go up, just as long as the salaries will also reach European standards before we join the Euro zone. I hope they will value people`s experience abroad. Whoever saw a reasonable chance to escape Romania after the 1989 revolution ran out of the country as quickly as they could. Those people are now starting to return and they inject Romania with new knowledge and experience. Nevertheless, they still have to fight an incredible bureaucracy before being able to set up in here. The old communist mentality is a legacy that, still today, weighs on the shoulders of the young generation and their ambitions.`
Michaela (28) thinks that the drastic changes in Romanian society are closely linked to the country having joined the EU in 2007: `Our traditions are influenced by Western standards that we have not yet got used to. Us Romanians were unable to travel until 1990 and still needed visa for most European countries up until January 2007. We now have more opportunities, but it also means that our traditions will mix with what foreign visitors will bring in. It`s no longer expensive nor difficult for them to get to Romania, nor is it for us to go see what`s happening in the countries around us.`
Sanda (22) describes Romania as a country of beautiful women and bad politicians. She has traveled to Greece and Italy and was quite impressed by Italy but not by Greece: `It`s just as chaotic as Bucharest and just as dirty.` Sanda is concerned about the reputation Romania has abroad: `We are known to send out many beggars into the EU and if people hear about Romania in the news, it`s often about children who are abandoned by their parents and have no future in society. The other news is about individuals who become famous abroad: scientists, artists.. There`s so much inbetween those extremes and it would be nice if we got the chance to show that to the world. Romania has lots to be proud of and we have lots of talented people in different domains. It would be nice if we could get that image across to the outside world.`
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