Hans Mayfield asked:
From the European Heritage Library
This is a rare inside look at the current cultural, ethnic, historical, religious, social, and linguistic dimensions of eastern Romania. It also investigates the issue of Islam in Europe. Click the link at the bottom and top of this article to view the images that go with this article.
English name: Romania/Rumania
Local name: Romania
Religion: Orthodox 86.8%, Protestant, 7.5%, Roman Catholic 4.7%, other (mostly Muslim) and unspecified 0.9%
Language: Romanian with Greek and Italian commercial resident minority
Ethnic groups: officially Romanian 89.5%, Hungarian 6.6%, Roma 2.5%, Ukrainian 0.3%, German 0.3%, Russian 0.2%, Turkish 0.2%, other 0.4%
Average fertility/woman: 1.38 per woman
Migration rate: -0.13 migrant(s)/1,000 population [Romanians are leaving]
Per capita average income: $9,100
Unemployment: officially 6.1%
Population below poverty line: officially 25%
Extant populations elsewhere of Romanians: Germany, Bulgaria, Hungary
Source: CIA World Factbook
Romania is one of the more unique nations of Europe, akin to no other. It is a nation with a long and disjointed history compounded by the rule of several world powers both via Jihad and European conquest alike. Its geography gives the region a complicated history with a variety of occupying ethnic groups, empires, and religious. Its original inhabitants were the Iranian-origin Thracian tribes of Thrace, pre-Slavic Bulgaria and Romania, and western Anatolia. The Roman conquest and Slavic invasion displaced this declining previous ethnic minority, but many Romanians and scholars continue to debate to what degree modern Romanians descend from either Slavs, Thracians, or both. It is largely a cultural blend of Slavic and independent, with a Latin-based language, a result of its volatile position between the Slavic, Romanic, and Greek worlds, as well as the center of Roman-ruled Dacia and Latin-speaking crusader empires after the 4th Crusade of the 13th century. It has a rich Orthodox Christian heritage. Its greatest historical heroes are today deemed by the new West as mass murderers of Muslims and Jews alike, including Hitler’s greatest and most loyal ally Ioan Antonescu and the mythified Vlad Dracul “the Impaler”. Its disunified states of Wallachia and Moldavia fell under the brutal rule of the Jihad of Islam by the Ottoman Turks for nearly four centuries, where many were forced to convert or face unlivable conditions or execution en masse. It made the most drastic transitions in the Cold War as a strong and willing Fascist state into a volatile and unstable Communist state under the Warsaw Pact. After the war, the northern part of Romania called Moldova also declared independence due to broken promises of the collapsed Soviet Union for additional rights, which today too is split between Moldova proper and the pro-Russian Transnistria (which is unrecognized). Therefore, due to its complicated and tumultuous history, we were some of the first to enjoy its allegedly growing tourist industry. We landed at Constanta (Constantza), which is often considered quite poor, but is it a precise indicator of the Gypsy situation and the poverty of Romania that cannot profit from the wealthier Hungarian influence in the west (especially Transylvania) or the commercial business of Bucharest.
Romanians in diaspora and in Romania alike often blame the calamity and sluggish hardship of their nation on a race that is hated in every country where it sets foot: the Gypsies. Upon arrival, I was amazed that these racist and degrading claims of this people as criminal, deceptive, and thieving were entirely true. These “Roma” or “Sinti” people, who descend from migrations out of northern India (and thus retain this cultural and, often, religious link in syncretism), settled for centuries along the Black Sea, where they were systematically annihilated throughout the Middle Ages by nearly every nation they lived. The Jewish settlers suffered a similar fate then and, along with them, during what is now called the Holocaust. They are viewed by Romanians as leeches and a bacillus that only drains the native Romanian economy; therefore, many Romanians view the Fascist leaders of the past highly as nonetheless brutal figures who saw a social problem and addressed it without remorse. One Romanian whom I asked why Romania does not address the Roma problem replied with, “How? Sadly, Antonescu and Hitler are dead.” This social characteristic makes Romania quite unique in this era of post-war world liberalism. Today, the Roma (Gypsies) walk the streets on every corner begging for money, many virtually naked (some adults and many children wear only an oversized shirt to cover genetalia, which often fails), pleading to alleviate their hardship and suffering that they have faced ever since they settled. They defecate in the streets. At least 5 of our cruise ship’s passengers were robbed by Gypsies, each losing their entire wallets. They do not wash their clothes nor hair, their clothes and food are taken from public disposal basins, they do not shave, and every one of them seems to be sick with a cough (possibly to inspire sympathy). They sleep on the ground or illegally in homes whose walls have been bombed or collapsed during the number of wars the country has been unable to alleviate. One corner we passed showed us a sick Gypsy woman laying on the ground — conveniently in full public view — coughing with a thick mucous report. Whether or not this is a legitimately oppressed and homeless people or a group of swindling leeches, most Romanians view them as the latter. Some Romanians nonetheless offer them coins from the Lei (which is a virtually useless currency), but most who fell for this alleged “act” tend to be tourists with sympathy. One Romanian told me that she regularly donated to the local Gypsies, all the time chastised by her brother, who later drove her to northern Romania, where she saw huge Gypsy homes that she called “palaces”; she considers this obviously a great lie and swindling of the natives. In one instance, I saw a child with dirty clothes and an unwashed face beg for coins to be greeted with sad tourists’ faces and open purses, only to walk away with a pair of headphones in his ears from an iPod or other listening device. Elsewhere, I saw Romanians actually pretend to hit the Gypsy children or parents, and one even spat at them. Outside of the Christian churches or mosques in Romania, Bulgaria, and Ukraine, they even stand outside the property with their hands open asking for donations whilst saying “God bless you” and emulating a Christian cross. This is entirely a falsity to inspire Christian philanthropy, as the Gypsies are not a Christian race but rather a syncretism of a unique native religion of India combined with the culture they infiltrate. It was interesting — all during a disastrous lunch of mackerel-type fish pizza (which was called a delicacy) — to see that Gypsy parents literally trained their children before they could even speak to panhandle Romanians and visitors. The same Gypsy-Slavic clash occurs in Bulgaria (see our Inside Bulgaria article).
Elsewhere, Romania’s Constanta seems to have a huge harbor due to the large military of the Axis period, thus Romania’s city seems quite plain and smoggy. Turkish military ships enter the harbor frequently, some with missile launchers oddly. Theft is considered common in Romania, as is corruption, though in reality (or by the belief of the locals), the former is attributed to the Gypsies and Muslims. The Communists are deemed more corrupt than now; the Communist dictator of the Warsaw Pact period mowed down some 7,000 homes and churches for his 12-room mansion apparently. Fascism is held in high regard in Romania, though many dislike it because of the ultimate fate it brought Romani
a (due to Fascism’s opposition to the Sovie
ts and Americans). Liberal democracy is also considered weak (though generally the best at this time) in Romania because of the fact that it has no ability to quickly alleviate the raft of problems Romania faces due to fears of inequality and lack of freedom.
Some 50% of the buildings outside of the city center are half-finished, demolished, with open ceilings or windows, or generally dilapidated. There are thousands and thousands of birds (especially swallows) flying everywhere (which was actually quite fun instead of irritating). Going through the city though it seemed that most of the parts that were objectionable and impoverished to an imminent degree had very few Romanians, rather Turks or Gypsies. Romania is nonetheless wickedly poor and dilapidated. I calculated that Romania is some 75% Romanian, 10% Gypsy, 14% Turkic, and 1% other even in this “resort city”. Romania was a lovely source to explore social conflict between different races and ethnicities, as well a complex political history in this world of democratic perceived ideal. The food is a combination of Indian, Turkish, Italian, Russian, and in some parts German. Restaurants are in the streets (open-air) generally, a fun characteristic that the Gypsies take advantage of sadly. Most of the people in the streets are either quite young (15-year-olds or so) or elderly. The youths don’t dress promiscuously generally, unlike in (as I saw for the teens) in Ukraine, Russia, and the United States. The cars are old and worn down. The grounds are unpaved; a pedestrian trips constantly as we saw all throughout the day. Drivers are relatively safe in comparison to horrifying Turkey, though in Bucharest traffic is so compacted it is almost nonfunctional. There are police and soldiers everywhere and by nearly every important building with machine guns. There are no Communist memorials in sight; Romania takes pride in its own heritage and history due to all it has endured for centuries. However, there is little trash laying in the streets except near Gypsy homes. There is seldom graffiti either, but some Swastikas and Communist signs can be seen throughout cities. The government seems to be making efforts to fix their country by repairing and constructing previous buildings, as well as large housing tracts and even aquariums. This is difficult due to the fact that Romania must develop its capital of Bucharest first, which ignores the remainder of the nation (which is a huge problem in Greece as well).
Romania’s currency of the past, the Old Lei, was so worthless that the government embraced a similar tactic of Mexico, Italy, and Turkey by slashing several zeroes from its value. The “New Lei” is relatively valuable by comparison to other currencies of poor nations, but Gypsies and local store owners exploit mathematical difficulties as well as the ignorant tourists to charge them double or worse. Almost no English is spoken, though for youth it is compulsory often. There are few shops for visitors because they do not expect any.
The role of religion was also interesting to see here. Romania and Romanian states of the past have always been staunchly Orthodox like their Russian and Ruthenian ancestors, though there is a presence of Catholism in parts due to the influence of their military allies against the groundshaking Jihad of the coming Muslims, including Catholic Hungary (and thus Hungarian Transylvania), Lithuania-Poland, and Germany. The history of influence by the Germans (a Lutheran-majority culture) has also caused Lutheranism to be common as well. There are gorgeous Orthodox churches everywhere that are quite beautiful, adorned atop with gold leaf and massive crosses with the traditional Orthodox diagonal bars. Despite atheistic Communist rule for decades (which Romanians rejected, as they were one of the few Soviet vassals to entirely overthrow the puppet government), Romanians are a religious people with a proud Orthodox heritage. Religion is used here as a binding familial duty as well as a central theme to Romanian cultural and historical heritage, which survived centuries of rule of Catholic Hungary and the Turkic Golden Horde and Ottomans only to emerge as staunchly Orthodox as before. As early as 0700 until 1600, Romanians can be seen flocking to the churches in the city during the week even. There are fewer basins for money donations, a trait that is common in the Catholic world (conveniently in several languages), and they seldom charge for visitors to light candles to celebrate the holy saints of Orthodoxy. The churches are minimalist in that there are none or few chairs for communion by a primal speaker like a priest or metropolitan. At all hours of the day, Orthodox popes await visitors. Entrants are required to wear long pants, whilst women must wear veils or headscarves and cover their shoulders; Orthodoxy is extremely conservative much like Islam. Christians who enter can be seen in public kneeling before a metropolitan, who covers their heads with a tie-like holy wrap from his chest, where the two engage in prayer aloud (yet quietly) for all to see this expression of faith. There are no confessionals like in Catholic religion. Entrants can be seen lighting candles for the saints, and bowing their heads whilst holding their hands against wonderful mosaics of the saints for prayer. Whereas in Islam the body faces holy Makkah (or Mekka), and in Catholicism it faces a large cross at the center, here prayer often faces ancient portraits of saints dating hundreds of years in age. This was a lovely experience, and revealed much about Romania’s unique culture, heritage, and history. Romania has sadly quite a long way to go to return to the former glory when they were a recognizable continental power against the Turks and against the Allies of World War II.
The role of Islam — ever controversial and heated in the Europe that fought against their Jihad for more than 1,200 years across the continent — was also fascinating here in Romania. The Romanians had resisted the threat of Islam for more than a thousand years even before Romania was unified after independence from the Ottomans. The Turkic Kipchaks (Penechegs), the Turkic Avars, and the mighty Sunni Golden Horde had constantly assaulted the region over centuries of Jihad, which caused Hungarian rule over the Romanian states to collapse. From the 15th century onward, the powerful Romanian states of Wallachia and Moldovia were quickly trampled under the boot of the world’s greatest superpower’s Jihad: the Sunni Ottoman Empire. Christian European nations like German Prussia, Hungary, Italian city-states, Transylvania, Balkan states still free of the Jihad, and Russia all joined the collapsing Romanian states to fight against Islam and the Turks. Wallachia’s prince Vlad Dracul became known as “the Impaler” (and Romania’s greatest hero) for his heroic defense of the natives against the Islamic invaders, where he is known to have slaughtered tens and tens of thousands of Muslim settlers, impaling them on stakes where he enjoyed his favorite local wine and delicacies, watching them expire. When the Jihad eventually obliterated central Romania, the state of Moldova offered a loyal and impressive defense before it too became annihilated; all of Romania was ruled by the Islamic Ottoman Empire from the 16th century until the 19th, when it rose up in a war of independence after which Romania was unified.
Due to this long history of brutal Islamic rule (and equally so the brutal massacre of Muslim settlers by the native Christians), one would expect a large Muslim population of Turks and converts alike. Fascinatingly, there are few. Again here, Romanians take pride in their endurance and resilience all whilst being in the very center of so many world empires’ expansionist efforts. Romanian culture is distinctly Christian Slavic and Greek. However, there is surely a large population of Turkish Muslims who settled during the centuries of foreign rule as well as in the massive foreign guest worker programs of the new Turkey in Europe (especially in Germany and Greece). There is
a small bu
t extremely faithful Muslim population, with some of them being white Slavs who were forced to convert to avoid execution, persecution, or completely unlivable taxes (the Jizyah) levied on Christian civilians (as the Jews were long dead or gone) who were barely able to survive or eat without them. There are several mosques in Romania (and two in Constanta) that made a deep impression on me. In poor places like Albania and Romania with little measures of defense against terrorism, walking around mosques is rather frightening for a Christian tourist or even native. One mosque was encircled by a series of Turks as well as Gypsies (oddly), from which we promptly steered clear for our safety. The other mosque in the center of town was quite glorious and huge. A huge minaret with a crescent as its centerpiece complimented the large dome of arguably the city’s most appealing building excluding the radiant Orthodox churches. Infidels are allowed to enter (unlike in Albania) if they pay quite a large fee of 5 Euros per entrant. The administrators of this mosque were white converts of the past by majority. Inside, an empty room is beautified by dozens of massive handmade rugs, with the walls decorated with fantastic flowers, vines, and Arabic passages (Surah) from al-Qur’an all the way to the top of the huge building. It was interesting that the only fully maintained and upright buildings in the city were either mosques or Orthodox cathedrals. Shoes must be removed, the legs and shoulders covered, and women must don veils or headscarves if entering the mosque proper. However, in this mosque entrants are able to experience something almost impossible anywhere else in the world: to climb the minaret (the spire pillars around mosques from which the call to prayer is sounded). From there, the entire city can be viewed, intentionally with the mosque towering over the Christian city. Later in the day, a very quiet call to prayer can be heard from the mosque. The Romanians appeared irritated by it, whilst the few ethnic Turks seemed to hurry by the dozens. Plaques in the mosque fervently thank a local Turk for paying for the mosque’s air conditioning system. A rare privilege, I tried to look into the mosque at the praying imams only to be expelled as an infidel by the owner. Islam is rejected here then and now, but the mark of the Jihad is firm in this far reach of the world’s greatest empire for centuries: the Ottomans.
Romania is approaching entry into the EU, which will allow them movement all throughout the remainder of the European Union member states. Europeans of other countries reject this because of the fact that Romanian immigrants generally do not work, bring crime and drugs, and are uneducated when in diaspora. Romania has a long way to go.
From the European Heritage Library
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