“We ought to be more European!” This is a phrase with which, as most modern and outward looking Romanians, I would have agreed. That is until I came to the startling realisation that my country was not in fact on Mars; and while we may have been culturally severed from the continent by the Soviet Union, our European roots never changed.
Given this, why do so many of my compatriots choose to utter this seemingly useless phrase? I do wish that it were just plain ignorance, that would make this discussion much easier. But no, this seeming harmless sentence comes from an ugly and deep-rooted sentiment.
“We ought to be more European!” is most commonly heard as part of heated discussions on the innumerable shortcomings of the Romanian government. Shortcomings which even I, an emigrant of thirteen years, am painfully aware of. The issues do not begin to arise from Romanians criticising their government, but from the conflation between the West and Europe.
Since the West is what we measure ourselves against, Europeanness becomes something that is only found outside. Furthermore, when we re-joined the European order after the overthrow of communism it was hard to remember who we had been before. This leaves us in an awkward position where Romania is a cultural other, a place that does not even deserve the characterisation of ‘European.’ I cannot accept this for the following reasons.
Firstly, we cannot give the West a monopoly on what it means to be European, they are not the only Europeans. Secondly, the West too has its own imperfections, every emigrant knows this. We miss the things that we just do better at home.
Given that we are not in fact brainless jellies, I believe it would be helpful if we took a more pragmatic look at the West. If we took the time to examine what is done well, what is done poorly, and then acted accordingly, we would be liberated from living in a second-rate version of France.
Perhaps more importantly, however, before we attempt to imitate anything western (or of any foreign origin) , we should first consider how compatible the measure in question is with our national character and culture. It is pointless to implement foreign practices, as effective as they may be elsewhere, if they will only backfire due to our ignorance of who we are.
Fundamentally, what Romanians want is to live in a civilised country. The West offers a path, but it is not the only path and it may not always be the best for us. We should strive to find our own way, through the process of learning from others and diverging where we see fit. Through this process we may one day overtake the West and redefine Europeanness. This is something we could never achieve as simple imitators.
In any case the self-doubt must stop before it reaches its zenith; a world where our country is left with little more than Dracula merchandise sales. While I may have written this from a Romanian perspective, I have become aware that this problem exists in all of eastern Europe.
To defend your culture and oppose its forceable conformity with western standards, I urge you to be spurred on by the mental image of the most ignorant reduction of your own culture. By keeping this culturally simplfied bastardisation in your mind, you will be well equipped to stand up to those leading the charge with the perverse and ubiquitous phrase “We ought to be more European!”