My mentor Simona, a 35-year-old native of Romania, tells me life was better under communism.
“We had jobs, food, and stability,” she says emphatically over a cup of steaming hot tea. “As long as you kept your mouth shut, you had a good life. But now, we have homeless people and children are starving. Is this what you call democracy?”
I am rendered speechless by her accusation, having been taught in school quite simply that communism is bad and democracy is good. I never thought to question it.
I look at Simona over the rim of my teacup and see a fascinating albeit extremely complex individual. She is the personification of her country, really: intriguing and multifaceted. Her hair is short and dyed white, around her neck she wears a pendant inscribed with the words “Believe in Good.” She wrote her doctoral thesis on the devil in literature and loves to make friendship bracelets. The one room apartment she lives in is decorated with artifacts from England and books about ghosts and political correctness. It is hard to ignore the fact that under communism, her interests would have been regarded as highly suspicious. I want to point out to her the contradiction of defending such a system given her unique hobbies, but I hold my tongue. The tea is too delicious and I enjoy listening to her too much.
I listen to my students too. I have found them to be bright and inquisitive, a beacon of promise for the future of Romania, but the vast majority of them want to leave after they receive a degree. “There is nothing for us here,” they lament. One of my public administration students commented during class, “Our government has no clue what they are doing. They are destroying any future for this country. We must leave to succeed.” The most intelligent minds are looking outside of Romania to attend university and to find work if they are able.
Romania is not so much modernizing as it is recovering from many harsh years under communist rule. Contrary to many other countries in the Eastern Bloc, Romania’s transition into democracy was bloody and violent. Decades of hatred for Nicolae Ceausescu simmered underneath his oppressive regime until 1989 when thousands of Romanians stormed the People’s Palace in Bucharest, removed him from his position of power and eventually executed him, broadcasting the event live for the entire world to see.
That was 22 years ago.
Against this backdrop, however, most Romanians have a kind, warm personality and a penchant for good food and fun times. They place a great emphasis on family and their generosity knows no limits. From being given six bottles of homemade zacusca to receiving a six hour long tour of the city, I have felt welcome from the moment I set down my bags in Bucharest. Whenever a problem arises, Simona comes to my aid. I have only known her for five months, but Romanians are loyal to a fault.
In truth, I am simultaneously amazed and distraught by Romania. But I wholeheartedly believe the amount of promise this country has is staggering. The potential lies in the people. In 22 years they have managed to slowly progress in spite of their tragic history. Romania’s acceptance into the EU in 2007 is just one piece of the puzzle.
I want to be here. And more importantly, I need to be here. I have so much to learn.
Laura Evers graduated from William and Mary in 2011 with a major in History and a minor in Sociology. Currently she lives in Suceava, Romania, where she teaches at Universitatea Stefan cel Mare on a Fulbright Scholarship. Her passion for studying education in a global context led her to Eastern Europe, and she hopes to continue her studies in graduate school once she returns to the United States in July 2012.