I heard that line in a movie with George Clooney. His character was saying it to a German business man who seemed to be very efficient at running a trucking company for shady Russian interests.The movie also starred Marcel Iures, one of Romania’s best actors, as the bad guy.
But I digress. What I’m about to discuss has nothing to do with terrorists, or actors. It has, however, to do with Germans, as it were. And Romanians. And Texans, yes indeed. Here’s why that movie line popped into my head:
I got this email a couple of days ago, from an old friend in Texas, with a link to a New York Times article, and a question made out of three letters: “WTF?”
This would be her way of saying something like “y’all are finally getting your sh.t together?” — being genuinely happy to see some good news finally coming out of Romania. In the mainstream American media, no less.
“Grim Romanians Brighten Over a German Connection.” is the title of the New York Times article she was prompting to me. For some Romanians, the article might appear slightly tongue-in-cheek. Luckily, it’s gotten its facts straight: Klaus Iohannis, the hands-on Mayor of Sibiu, is being considered as the next Prime Minister of Romania. This, for his stellar achievements as Mayor, rather than his political affiliation, which in itself is no small feat. In his nine years running this beautiful Transilvanian city, his goal was to make it one of the most impressive in the country, for its inhabitants as well as for its visitors.
“he built his reputation among voters by building roads and bringing heating to once-unheated schools in town, and for showing up personally for spot-checks at municipal offices and building sites, a form of hands-on management that he conceded in the interview would be impossible on a national scale.”
So says the NYT article. As it turns out, Iohannis achieved more than his goal. Under his reign, in 2007, Sibiu was designated by the European Union as “The Cultural Capital of Europe”, in tandem with Luxembourg — no small achievment in a continent brimming with cultural and historical treasures.
Back to Amy, my dear friend from Texas: I met her in my last year of Journalism College in Bucharest, Romania. She had come to help improve the life of institutionalized orphans in the years immediately after the fall of Communism. Since then, she has always kept a soul connection with my birth country. Sometimes I like to think that might be in small part due to our budding romance, even though it never really quite blossomed.
Yes, her email brings back memories. Also, new energies, and an initiative. The night I read it, shortly after I answered back to her, I started writing my first “article” for Romanian Link. As of right now, that piece is still a “work in progress.”
The year was 1995. At the time, there was still a lot of hope that many changes were to come, after Romanians were to fully “wake up” from the communist nightmare. Freshly arrived in Bucharest, Amy was surprised to discover that ours wasn’t at all a “grim country” and the people were full of zest for life, creative to the gills, resourceful and hard working, always keeping their sense of humor, despite their daily hardships. Yours truly, of course, being one of them 🙂 “Romanians are awesome. It’s their leaders that suck.” Pretty astute observation, for a twenty-one year-old Texan ice cream shop employee turned international charitable worker.
Naturally, in those first years of timid democracy, life was anything but rosy, and some pessimism was inevitable, especially in light of the mounting corruption scandals and political mishaps that seemed to become more and more the order of the day.
After living in Romania for several months, Amy started to share some of that pessimism herself. I had left for the US in 1995, so my optimism was still untouched. Unfortunately, as years passed, many things have changed for the worse.
Being away from my country for so long, I always get slapped in the face with “sure, you can afford to be optimistic, you’re THERE, we’re HERE!” – each time I try to encourage or instill some hope into a long time friend or a relative back home.
Let aside the fact that my years “here” (in the USA) were full of their own struggles and personal battles, I won’t go as far as saying that my friends are wrong. Surely, “making it” in America, while not as easy as it might seem to them from that distance, is a much better experience than in Romania, I won’t deny it. The American version of that experience comes with the image of the “easy life”: having the perfect job, house, car, and family. In the Romanian version, it often means simply surviving. Realistically, both versions are exaggerated.
So here we are again, in the lime light, with yet another perfect example of a Romanian achieving something in Romania. Wait, what? Didn’t you just say he was German? Why, sure, Mr. Iohannis does belong to the Saxon (sachs) minority population of Transilvania, but so what? He’s not there to make the lives of “zeh Germans” better, at least not only theirs. Besides, those of them living there are still Romanian, aren’t they? Let’s learn to live with diversity, even if it means something good, I dare say.
Granted, thinking and acting like a German seems to help. But merely having ONE of them as a Prime Minister, I’m afraid, won’t change things too much.
I emailed back to Amy: “We don’t need a German prime-minister, we need a bunch of German mayors allover the country, or like-minded people. Then we can talk democracy, market economy, change of mentality!”
In my years in Romania I’ve always known people like the Mayor of Sibiu, and let me tell you, none of them was German. They were the hard working, smart, assertive and creative people that give Romania a good name, much like those who take the Amy’s of the world by surprise when they first visit our country. Yes, many of those capable people saw no other way to reach their potential but by fleeing the country. Some would argue that I am one of those, even though I didn’t really flee the country, and I’ve hardly reached my potential. But most of the others are still there, in Romania.
With the advent of the most powerful communication tool in the history of the world — the internet, I’m starting to see more and more good news about Romania and Romanians. The world is starting to take notice. There are more and more stories about people of success in arts, science, sports and business, who are from Romania. Heck, even some of the most popular Hollywood figures share our heritage. What better reason to hold your chin up high when you say: “I am Romanian!”
Sadly, there are enough people who don’t really feel much reason to be proud of calling themselves Romanians. They lead lives of hardship, but they forget to see that what makes them cope, and often beat those hard times, are the same innate qualities that made the “others” they hear about in the news, succeed and stand out.
In huge, tremendous and unbelievably overwhelming part, this mournful attitude is due to the heavily slanted news coverage. The success stories seldom seep into the mainstream media, and when they do, they certainly don’t get their due attention or priority. If you’re a “media person” please, don’t come to me with that brainwashing mantra: “if that’s what happens, that’s what we give them!” If you’re a good reporter, you dig deeper, it’s your duty to “bring balance to the force”, get off the police scanners and ambulance chasers and do some real legwork for a change. You’ll be surprised what might turn up to brighten your day.
For years I’ve been wondering if having those positive, uplifting stories in one place wouldn’t make a difference, not only in the way Romania is perceived in the world, but, more importantly, in the way Romanians perceive themselves.
In my first years in the US, I often found myself daydreaming that I was at the forefront of a prestigious news institution back home, be it newspaper or radio, “bringing balance to the force” of the press with my own poised attitude, sound judgment, and outstanding talent as a communicator. Right. That I ended up “stranded in the land of the free” by other forces, those of personal circumstances, is a story for another time and place.
Still, Amy’s email brought some of those dreams back. Leader or not, here or there, instead of bugging others to take initiative and do things that would improve their lives, why don’t I take a dose of my own medicine and get off my own arse? There’s something I know full well I can do: create that one place where the good news abound, about Romania and Romanians.
As it is, I’m still struggling to make a living “here”, in the land of opportunity, and my personal circumstances still bear somewhat of a heavy weight, but so what? Why not start something NOW? I have the knowledge, the technical skills. I surely have the motivation — especially now, after that email.
Welcome to Romanian Link!
For as long as I am able to call myself an internet marketing professional and a Romanian, I can at least start building this place and work at keeping it alive, one day at a time, one link at a time, one little story at a time. I know I’m not the only one. There are quite a few other initiatives of the same kind in recent years. That only shows one thing: there are many other Romanians out there sick and tired of apologizing for who they are, just because others gave their country a tainted name. Maybe, slowly, I can bring others into the fold, and Romanian Link will grow to tell a better story altogether, surely a story that is much closer to the true face, soul and rich heritage of our people.
Who knows, one day, somebody, somewhere might end up uttering the line, in a movie or in real life:
“You’re the guy who gets things done. Smart. Put a Romanian on it!”