Two venerable Romanians “shuffled off their mortal coils” this month – first ex-King Michael who had been forced to abdicate at gun point by the Communists in December 1947; some 10 days later at age 101, the more significant figure of Neagu Djuvara, émigré, academic, journalist and still active historian. Having fought on the Eastern front, he was briefly charged to explore surrender possibilities with Russia before the communist takeover forced him to seek refuge in Paris…..
Djuvara returned to Bucharest in 1990/91 to an academic and writing career (his Brief Illustrated History of Romanians is one of books on my short list of “beautiful books”) and was, fairly exceptionally for this highly politicized and divided country, warmly regarded by all shades of opinion
He was a critic of what he perceived to be an excessively pro-Western attitude in Romanian politics,..
He also wrote about what he called the "American hegemony" and its premises, analysing the influence which the United States and its foreign policy have had on the World and, more specifically, on Europe. He characterised the efforts of the United States to establish what resembles a hegemony in Europe and other parts of the World as a "Seventy-Seven Years' War" waged throughout most of the 20th century.
Neagu Djuvara can be seen as a populariser and "de-mystifier" of history, having published books aimed a younger audience as well as books seeking to explain the historical basis for mythical figures such as Dracula or Negru Vodă. He also published memories from his exile, recounting his life and work in Paris and Africa
More recently, he was constantly warning of the dangers of Romania’s demographic decline
" For me, the greatest drama that Romania is currently experiencing is that the young people want to leave this country, and if they go abroad and find work there they will not return to Romania. We, my generation and all my predecessors, the three or four generations that preceded me and who studied abroad, none of them was going to stay there after finishing their studies. He was returning with that intellectual baggage and, in his eyes, with the image of other urban landscapes than in Bucharest, and trying to do the same thing at home. But they never thought about leaving or leaving the country. So my message is: "Young people, if you can, even if you do it worse in our country, it is a supreme duty to return and rebuild Romania " .
He would have enjoyed the bluntness of a long article on his country – Romania Redivivus - in the current edition of "New Left Review" which argues that
..... Of all East European countries, Romania is endowed with the greatest variety of natural resources. The Carpathian Mountains which wall off the northwestern province of Transylvania from Wallachia, in the south, and Moldavia, in the east, boast some of the last primeval forests of Europe. The Danube Delta offers a fabled reservation of endangered bird and fish species. The Ploieşti oilfields contain the oldest commercial well on earth—Bucharest’s streets were the first to be illuminated by kerosene—and still hold unknown reserves, closer to ground level than in any other country ringing the Black Sea. The fertility of the soil is legendary.
The Rape of the Country; But little of the country’s potential wealth has found its way into the hands of its people. Arguably the last real peasantry to be found within the EU works what was once the breadbasket of the Ottoman Empire: two in five Romanians live in the countryside; one in three survive off agriculture; many have never left their villages and only a minority have access to mechanized farming equipment.
The value of their land, however, has not been lost on Brussels, which has overseen the funnelling of Romanian wealth westward for a generation. Prior to its EU accession in 2007, entire sectors of the economy were picked off by multinationals.
- The Romanian banking system was taken over by Société Générale, Raiffeisen and the Erste Group.
- Its energy sector fell to Österreichische Mineralölverwaltung of Vienna and C˘eské Energetické Závody of Prague.
- Its steel manufacturing went to Mittal, its timber production to the Schweighofer Group, its national automobile, the Dacia, to Renault.
- Much of what isn’t yet owned by Western concerns has been laid bare for their disposal. In 1999, the Canadian mining company Gabriel Resources won dubious rights to excavate Roşia Montană, the largest open-pit gold mine in Europe. Its exploitation requires the stripping away of its status as a unesco heritage site, the demolition of four surrounding mountain peaks and a handful of nearby villages, and the carving out of a pit half the size of Gibraltar for holding cyanide-laced run-off; the Romanian state is being sued by Gabriel Resources for $4.4 billion in profit losses for forestalling this process.
- By 2010 the largest private owner of trees in Romania was Harvard University, which six years earlier had started buying up enormous swathes of forest that had themselves been seized by mafia intermediaries on bogus claims of pre-communist ownership; sold off to Ikea, tens of thousands of acres were sawn down, probably never to be recovered.
- In 2012, residents of some fifty villages in the Banat, the fertile corner of western Romania that brushes up against Serbia and Hungary, woke up to find that their ancestral plots of land had been seized through another legal subterfuge by Rabobank of Utrecht.9 There are dozens of such cases. Few have been compensated.
The tentacles of the Deep Security State. Meanwhile, beneath the surface of democratization, the authoritarian tenor of Ceauşescu’s rule persists in Romania’s powerful security forces. The Securitate, the most ruthless police force in the Warsaw Pact, has been rebranded and is now run by a generation of operatives whose average age is 35, trained at special intelligence universities. They are, in many cases, the children of the 16,000
Securitate members who provided the backbone of the Romanian state after 1989, having emerged as the undisputed winners of the ‘revolution’ of that year. At least nine of these new services exist. The predominant one, the Serviciul Român de Informaţii (sri), monitors Romanians internally; with some 12,000 operatives, it has double the manpower of any equivalent agency in Europe and, with military-grade espionage equipment, conducts upwards of 40,000 wiretaps a year.10 The older generation of Securitate agents managed the privatization schemes of the 1990s; they are now shielded by the younger cohort from legal oversight.
This interlocking of economic influence—four out of the five richest Romanians have a Securitate background—and legal inviolability—Romania’s judiciary is too dependent on the sri to prosecute it—allows the deep state to operate with impunity. The security services have vast stakes in telecommunications and big-data collection. They oversee their own ngos, run their own tv channels and have their people on the editorial boards of the major Romanian newspapers and across the government ministries.
The permeation of the state by these networks comes to light only occasionally. In October 2015, a nightclub fire in Bucharest killed sixty-four, more than half the deaths due to infections contracted later at a local hospital. Why? The hospital’s disinfectants, concocted by a company called Hexi Pharma to which the government had granted a monopoly"
By coincidence, I'm rereading Tobias Jones' "The Dark Heart of Italy" (2003) and am struck by the uncanny parallels of the insights of that book about the Italian system with the current situation here in Romania - not least the systemic corrupt-ness, amorality and politicisation....