Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 11
20 March 2000

Catherine Lovatt M I O R I Ţ A:
Theoretical Consequences of Western Assistance in Romania

Catherine Lovatt

Ten years ago Romanians found themselves in a dangerous and bloody battle to remove the Communist dictator, Nicolae Ceauşescu, from power. There has been wide speculation on the origins of this 'revolution', however, the mass feeling of national sentiment was obvious. Ten years later, Romanians find themselves largely reliant on outside assistance, pursuing a goal that would have been inconceivable a decade ago - European Union membership. Theoretically, the consequences of Western assistance in Romania are challenging perceptions of Romanian national identity.

The Communist era brought with it periods of intense nationalism. Much propaganda was aimed at being 'Romanian' and minority groups often suffered. In the 1980s, Ceauşescu had embarked upon a policy of 'ethnic homogenisation' - a hate campaign directed against ethnic non-Romanians and aiming to assimilate them into the Romanian culture. To a large extent minorities were excluded from the Romanian nation. In 1989 the mobilisation of mass national sentiment resulted in the overthrow of Ceauşescu and his nepotistic system of rule. After such a massive surge of national feeling from all sectors of society what was to come next?

The immediate aftermath of the 'revolution' saw a continuance of the national upsurge. However, instead of maintaining the unity that had amalgamated the nation against a system of government, ethnic group contrived against ethnic group. In Transylvania Hungarians and Romanians clashed violently in Tîrgu Mureş over the use of the Hungarian language on a shop sign. Predictions suggested the possibility of future clashes but they have not materialised. Although currents of nationalism remain the mass expression of a national force has petered out.

The collapse of Communism raised Romanian aspirations and desires to pursue the 'Western ideal.' The west was associated with prosperity, wealth, freedom, everything that had been concealed, prevented, or restricted in Romania. The political, social and economic weaknesses that Romania now faced encouraged them to seek Western assistance, rather than turn to their old ally and bastion of Communism, the disintegrating Soviet Union. A decade later Romanian nationalism has been confronted by the overwhelming desire to join a union of European nations.

The breakdown of the Warsaw Pact established a vulnerable situation for the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. For a short period they became isolated concentrating on the turmoil of their own nation. However, the security and economic benefits gained from such an organisation coupled with the desire to establish a 'Western-style' democracy encouraged reforms to enhance the possibilities of joining Euro-Atlantic institutions, such as the EU and NATO.

Romania has recently received permission to join accession talks for second round expansion of the European Union. Despite their support for NATO during the Kosovo conflict and despite promises of fast-stream entrance into NATO, the issue has become 'flat' and 'Romania has to raise the dynamics' in order to encourage the issue. (Petre Roman, Press Conference, 7 March 2000, London). Theoretically, the drive for membership into the Euro-Atlantic institutions could threaten perceptions of Romanian national identity. The EU, the World Bank, NATO, and the IMF are all setting conditions for entry. Often the conditions clash resulting in further economic, political and social hardships for Romania. The massive push for membership, at any cost, could have links with the same mentality that influenced the overthrow of Ceauşescu. It is conceivable that the perception of Romanian national identity is altering. Rather than being defined within its own national boundaries, it is transforming to include a wider 'European identity'

As the political and economic foundations are undergoing a process of transition towards democracy and a market economy, the perception of Romanian national identity is changing. The gradual acceptance of 'European identity' does not mean that Romanian identity is forgotten. It is plausible to have a union of European nations, each nation with their separate national identities but encompassed within a wider European community in which a 'European identity' could develop. Nonetheless, the collapse of Communism left a state structure that was now redundant. The state had influenced perceptions of Romanian national identity. Once the Communist state ceased functioning much propaganda that had driven the idea of 'Romania' and being 'Romanian' also ceased. Rather than being the domain of the state, national identity became the concern of individual political parties and the Romanians themselves. Consequently, perceptions of Romanian identity are in the process of relinquishing the extreme nationalism that had been enforced from above in preference for their own perceptions of their nation within the wider European community.

A decade after ten years of Western assistance, relations are very much improved. Romania is now on the verge of gaining membership to the European Union. However, this has affected the transitional process in Romania, not least within Romanian society. Perceptions of Romanian national identity are in the process of transformation. Euro-Atlantic institutions have influenced the direction in which Romania has developed. Consequently, they have indirectly influenced the development of Romanian national identity. No longer driven by Communist state rhetoric, perceptions of Romanian national identity are transforming to encompass the wider concept of a European Union and a 'European identity.'

Catherine Lovatt, 16 March 2000

Archive of Catherine Lovatt's articles on Romania and Moldova



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