A few days ago I saw a video clip from the 1980s in which a government representative was addressing the nation, one of today’s EU member states. Two things caught my attention: the frequency with which this was happening in that country (very rarely) and the confidence with which the speech was delivered, despite the fact that the news transmitted was, in the most part, a description of a very difficult economic situation.
After outlining the problem, in a way that even a stranger would say reflected reality and made no attempt to play down the gravity of the situation, what the speaker proposed was even more interesting. The proposal was not a legislative one, a government reshuffle or similar, to show that the situation was understood and that we should immediately act to remedy it, in an attempt to improve the tactics and deal with the problem without understanding the causes.
He proposed the construction of a common goal, a national one, to which all those interested may contribute. This proposal had a double meaning. The first one was a public acknowledgment that those who were in charge had no solutions to the problems in hand, a very clear “we do not know” which paradoxically increased the robustness of the speech, and secondly, an admission that no single part of society, not even the government, is the depository of all knowledge required to find a common national objective behind which people rally.
Of course, I did what we often do when seeing something we would like to happen in our country, namely compare and then wonder why it is not possible for us, in the same way that it seems to be possible for others. Why are other countries magnanimous enough to recognize and describe their situation clearly and simply, without fearing that they are making things worse for themselves? And why does this boost both their internal and international position?
What is preventing us from building a new national goal? One idea or aim – whatever we call it – around which everyone living in our country can coalesce, creating new perspectives and hope for us all. After the milestones of 2004 – NATO entry – and 2007 – EU accession – it seems that we have overlooked, in all the short-term words and deeds, the subject of what kind of country we want. Although we are part of major economic, political and military alliances, we need to go our own way. Inside these alliances, we must decide what kind of country we want; we must choose our path.
This can be done only if we recognize that Romania’s recent history is different from that of most European countries, that the first universities in the Romanian Principalities were founded in the 19th century, several hundred years later than in countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic, that we will celebrate 100 years as a country in its current form in 2018, and although we measure the economic gap between us and the European average and try to reduce it, we will never become a country like France or Germany for one simple reason: for hundreds of years we did not go the same way.
At the same time, it is essential for our future to build and earn a national reputation, to reassure others that it is safe to invest – both emotionally and financially – in this country. For years after 1989, the main source of foreign direct investments in Romania was compatriots, who have chosen to live and work in other countries, and who send home substantial sums each year. Today this money has decreased from a few billion euros a year, to several hundred million, perhaps 10 times lower. One reason is economic: after 2008 their income fell. The other reason is emotional – they are beginning to lose their belief that our country offers a good enough future for their children.
That should give us pause to reflect. How is it possible that during a period of peace – in which Romania has been part of the biggest political and economic alliances, and part of the biggest military alliance on the planet, treaties that give us hope that we are on the winners’ boat – some of us are beginning not to believe in ourselves? It is the responsibility of all of us to admit that, despite the favorable conditions, we do not seem to have found the formula that makes us glad that we live in our country, our home. Maybe until we get a better and more complete idea, we can all rally behind the desire to regain individual and collective dignity. Some worthy and proud people, serious and competent, can perhaps rebuild our national prestige without additional material resources.