20 Ways To Love Thy Neighbor

The evolution of the traditions, cross-influences and mutual borrowings of the Romanians' centuries-old cohabitation with the 20-odd national minorities is worth looking into because it may offer spectacular surprises. Owing to the blend of very different nationalities since time immemorial, Romanians became adaptable and communicative, and Romanian history, culture and ways of life more colorful, despite the inevitable conflicts this has spawned. And even if one's own community still means a refuge in the safety of one's identity, the ethnic, cultural, religious, linguistic, or gastronomic diversity has left deep imprints on our way of thinking, speaking and feeling.

Recognition, respect, tolerance, understanding diversity and accepting alterity, have all become stringent necessities in a society exposed to almost unrestrained freedom of movement, massive migration, and terrible challenges. Can we propose a way of life? The Romanian model today relies on mutual respect of rights, liberties, traditions and customs, backed by laws that protect national minorities. It may not be original, but it is deep-rooted in a historical past that taught many a lesson. Analyzing our modus vivendi, one may discern as an inherited feature the Romanians' being accustomed to living together with other peoples. The mere acceptance of foreign customs, the association for various activities, friendships, mixed marriages – in short, the naturalness of these relations – have in time built a living diorama, like a small continent of sorts. Wise, passionate, elitist, faultfinding, humorless, stingy, or bohemian, good and bad, young and old, we have survived together through the inclemencies of history, psychological and political harassment, as the product of the same small, but nuanced, planet called Romania.

Aside from curiosity or keen interest, bringing together in a book significant samples from the life of national minorities implies, above all, good faith and the rejection of resentment, pride, prejudice and superstitions of any kind, or hyper-conservative mentalities, all part and parcel of a certain brand of excessive Balkanism. Diversity, a dominant trait of this geographic area, must be looked upon as a vital, perennial source of cultural wealth – a feeling that motivated this issue of Plural.

The heterogeneous Continent of Romania proposes a wide, inciting panorama speckled with Transylvanian rigor, Moldavian warmheartedness, Walachian wit – all in all, a unique mixture of Central European and Balkan flavors. Needless to say, the attempt to encompass in a book such a wide ethnic variety is, by necessity, fragmented and subjective. Despite the directory-like, alphabetical succession, which seemed a balanced option, The Continent of Romania may be, at times, a fascinating trip among sundry mindsets and lifestyles.

by Aurora Fabritius