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The Day’s Long Journey into Night

Writing my dissertation, I learned that thoughtfulness and restrained judgment differentiate the light-hearted liberal of today from the angrier intellectual I once was. But, I am happy to notice that I can still look back in anger at certain things, such as my recent visit to Romania, a small country occupying a geographical space north of the Balkans in the east of Europe.

Romania is a colony of many roots. First, it has been cannibalized by its own past. In the 19th century, when the burgeoning industrial classes realized that Romania could not offer the political structure their economic interests demanded, Romania facilitated the world debut of an imported kingdom-less monarch of German extraction: the Hohenzollerns. Briefly, Romania was established in “1862, after the Ottoman vassal states of Wallachia and Moldavia had been united in 1859 under Alexandru Ioan Cuza as Prince of Romania in a personal union. He was deposed in 1866 by the Romanian parliament which then invited a German prince of the Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen family, Charles, to become the new Prince of Romania.” As expected the monarchy facilitated the existing oligarchy further organize and develop.

Less than a century later, this weak monarchy was replaced with a stronger Soviet-backed presidency, which itself became replaced by a violently televised perestroika at the end of the 20th century. This revised governing structure settled into a political spectacle of unexpected local flavor: the then and now incumbent, Traian Basescu, was caught on tape slapping a kid at a rally and the electorate rewarded his unabashed masculinity with reelection.

Finally, a recent EU member, Romania is officially colonized by the EU older members: they decide Romania’s EU role, or worse its pay-back schedule for the privilege of being included in the club.

Within limits, Romania keeps its sovereignty. For example, Bucharest has a modern international airport building and unkempt runways. Giant billboards inviting guests to buy foreign stuff hang on either dirty or unfinished buildings. Downtown Bucharest is sad as only a developing country capital can be. Buildings are coming apart or are simply abandoned in a decade-long attempt to identify owners who have long died or fled to foreign countries.

Don’t think that nothing has been built or changed: a majestic bridge over no easily identifiable body of water – except when it rains heavily – appeared in Bucharest sometime within the last decade. For the rest of the country the change is evident more in what is missing:  oil wells have disappeared and with them, the entire Romanian supply of oil, despite the oil embargo during the 1990’s war in what used to be Tito’s Yugoslavia, embargo, which for many means no increased exploitation nor exportation of oil.

Who and why and what do not seem to be asked by either journalists or electors, or if they are no one seems to take them seriously. The result is pleasing because unlike in the neighboring Mother Russia, Romanian politicians and journalists do not disappear: they receive better appointments, usually outside the Romanian borders.

This does not mean that it is necessarily worse than back home, though. Reading the news, it appears that who and why and what are not asked in the USA either: President Obama has successfully put his mark on our national intellect by limiting it to 140 characters in writing.

More interestingly, this thoughtless globalization may force our light-hearted liberals, as it did force me, to consider exploring other feelings than individual self-satisfaction.



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