Dana Papadima – Educational Director at Avenor – is a benchmark for us when it comes to Romanian language and culture, values that we try to preserve and develop throughout the entire community. Every year, around December 1st, we invite Dana to talk to us about Romania, the Romanian language and what it means to be a good Romanian – ingredients that contribute significantly to a proper celebration of National Day. We invite you to read this year’s interview, which offers us a very authentic perspective on what Romania means.
I have often felt that religious sentiment, patriotism, and private relationships are matters that are strictly personal and intimate. I don’t quite understand the display of these feelings or beliefs in public spaces; displays such as humbly crossing oneself when passing by a church or public demonstrations followed by the well-known chest-beating about “my country,” or even revelations about private life. These are delicate, purely personal feelings deeply connected to one’s values and beliefs. I don’t strongly desire to share them with the “world,” whoever that may be. I believe patriotism is less about a traditional shirt or a tricolour headband displayed on Facebook and more about doing well on this earth during the days you have. However, I have read enough Romanian poetry with a patriotic message (I have an issue with music…), from classics to modern works. Ana Blandiana has written some wonderful poems on this topic as has Nichita, and my child’s soul still softens when recalling Peneș Curcanul or Sergentul or Trei, Doamne, și toți trei. Not to mention some classics like Alecsandri and Coșbuc.
The achievements of David Popovici however don’t fill me with patriotic sentiment, I instead consider him a product of talent, personal dedication, and the efforts of his parents and educators.
December 1st was designated as National Day immediately after the events of December 1989, as a reparative gesture after the hypocritical date of August 23rd from the communist era which was decided with no input from the public or professionals of our country. And so it remained; no one bothered to question why this date and not another under the idea that it symbolically represents the great reunification. My innocent objection is rather related to designating “Deșteaptă-te române!” as the national anthem, partly because it has a profoundly vengeful message and, on the other hand, because, although the melodic line is beautiful (composed by Anton Pann), it is originally a religious song, with a serious and descending tone, a Byzantine melody, in my opinion, less suitable for a national anthem and very, very difficult to sing other than by professionals. Both ‘singability’ and message should be the aspirations of any national anthem.
Furthermore, there is a persistent confusion here that started in the Romantic era, that a national celebration is necessarily an occasion to honour the bellicose past and the sacrifices of our ancestors. I would separate these two things: honouring heroes, military parades, the solemnity of speeches and church presence, and a day dedicated to celebrating National Day, where people can enjoy and watch stunning fireworks. But, as they say, that’s all we could achieve…
Starting from the reflection on what it means to be a good Romanian, I would also bring up a perpetual identity debate: either we Romanians are the best, the toughest, the most unjustly treated in the world, and our virtues are not adequately recognized, or we are a people of nothing, of bare elbows, of contextual survivalists. It doesn’t seem fair to me, and all these discussions about what would be called Romanian exceptionalism (for better or worse, as I have seen), I don’t know to what extent they help us understand an identity matrix, of the type ‘we are what we are’. An interesting people, at the crossroads of fascinating cultural and linguistic influences, a culture small in relation to the great civilizations but full of creative impetus. Caught between anachronism and modernism, between the Carpathians and the Balkans, between Europe and non-Europe, between tradition and revolution. Eternally between worlds, but precisely for this reason, interesting. Let’s not look for overarching labels, but let’s be satisfied with what we are.
Philosopher Constantin Noica has a volume, splendid in style, of cultural essays titled “Sentimentul românesc al ființei.” At its release, the book was highly praised, serving as a cultural touchstone for many. With one exception, the malicious ones among us. The other philosopher and colleague living in exile in Paris, Emil Cioran, sent Noica a congratulatory letter that ends with the following remark: “And now, what about the Paraguayan Sentiment of Being?” Subtle irony, by no means malice, an encouragement for a better consideration of identity exceptionalism…
My patriotic experience occurred only when I lived away from Romania and it was not Romanian people I missed but the Romanian language itself. For a few years, I lived in the midst of Western civilization, in conditions incomparable to Romania at that time but was forced to use, at times German, French and of course English. That’s when I realised that I could replace beautiful landscapes with other beautiful landscapes and visit close friends from time to time. I never shed tears of excitement for the national football team’s victories, no more than I cry at the victory of any sports or artistic star, no matter where they come from. But my authentic existence, in joy and fullness, could never settle without the Romanian language.
National Day is, for me, the Romanian language. That’s why I celebrate it every day.