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SERBIAN Letter

Dear Marius,

I recently heard an interesting theory that there are four things that shape our social behaviour: the way we see ourselves, the way others see us, the way we think others see us, and what we really are. Only by discovering the first three can we get closer to finding out the fourth - our true identity. National identity, although often proclaimed to be a thing of the past in today's Europe, is still very strong, and not only in ‘our corner of the world'.

In Serbia you can often hear ugly stereotypes and unfair jokes about almost every of our neighbours, from Bulgaria to Croatia and Hungary, all of them based on some kind of prejudice. When I learned about ‘Dear neighbour' project, I asked around and found out that Romania is somehow left out of those stories. When I tried to find out why is that so, I discovered there are both positive and negative sides to the story.

You see, when I asked people, especially young people, what they think about Romania and Romanians, they couldn't answer. That's because they don't know a thing about Romania. It is rather shameful for me to admit that I am among them. The number of facts I can tell you about Romania doesn't go above 15, and I'm counted as well informed. It wasn't hard to find out why this is so. Throughout our education we hardly learn anything about your country. In our history textbooks its territory is mentioned only five times (I've counted). The first is Trajan's war against Dacia barbarians in the 1st century. It's mentioned as the moment when the wild tribes were romanised, when Romanians started to be what they are today. And then we suddenly appear in the 20th century and we are told about the Romanian role in the Balkan wars, as well as World War I and II. In the Balkan wars we were allies and cooperated very well. In the First war, you are described as rather cowardly and militarily weak. And in the Second one - you were the enemy, right? Right up until the end. And the last fact is about the fall of Ceausescu's rule in late 80s. There was also one lesson about national movements in Walachia and Moldavia in the 19th century, but our history teacher told us not to read it, because "it's not important for us". I find this terrifying. I mean, to have that kind of ignorance of a neighbouring people is not a small thing. You'd probably ask why it's important for me at all. Well, we are ‘across the border', but we are not isolated (or at least we shouldn't be), and to understand historical and cultural events and movements in this part of Europe, we must be aware of each nation's basic facts. But we aren't, and that's why we have a Hollywood picture of Romanians - strange people in the mist and the mountains, with their strange language and Draculas. That picture is promoted everywhere, from Bram Stocker to J. K. Rowling in literature, and in so many versions of Dracula, with veiled women and armed men in the fog. Scary? Strange? Right...

MILaN Vukasinovic

Milan recently began studying History in Belgrade. He won first prize in a Serbian history competition in 2005 with an entry named "The Hairy Seventies - Hairdressers and Hairstyles in Leskovac in the 70s". Besides history, he's interested and involved in the arts, especially drama and literature.

Fortunately, I succeeded in finding a few people who could actually tell me something about your people. But their knowledge was based on prejudices, both positive and negative ones. Some, mostly elderly people, believe that we have always been friends, that we had common interests, common enemies, and no conflicts at all. According to them that was proved when Romania didn't recognize the independence of Kosovo. Then you could have seen Romanian flags (along with Spanish, Czech, Russian and some others) on billboards and buses all over our capital, saying "They are with us". The other ones, somewhat younger, said that Romanians were mostly dirty and cheap labourers. That image was created in mid 80s, when both of our countries were in crisis, only the Yugoslav government succeeded in maintaining the illusion of prosperity. That's when many people from Romania came to work in Belgrade; they sold cheap knick-knacks and took small wages. And since then our parents have prejudices that Romanians are "poor and dirty". That's why many here were surprised when Romania got into the EU last year, long before us. My friends still can't believe that we need a €35 visa for Romania. They wonder how we could be any worse. Yes, they're unfair...

One thing is certain - most Serbian people are ignorant of what has happened and is happening in their neighbouring country. None of the things above are untrue, but they are unfairly exaggerated. And that's why they've become modern myths and stereotypes. Stereotypes are common phenomena - the problem is when they lead us to uncivilized and aggressive behaviour. And we have witnessed that people here have that tendency. Because of that, knowing too little in the Balkans leads to no good.

Now, it remains unclear why the Serbian vision of Romanians is so dim. Is it because of the long-term isolationism of both our countries, the will of the political and diplomatic elites, or some other historical factor yet to be discovered - I cannot tell. Only the Danube knows...

Bun rămas,

Milan!


Romanian Answer

Dear Milan,

A very common cliché says that we, the Romanians, are surrounded by only two friends: the Black Sea and the Serbs. I wonder if the cliché mentioned above is really believed in by the Romanian people, or whether it's just a way of speaking which sounds good when it comes to the possiblity of recovering something unknown and unclear: the common past.

The cliché seems to be true, at least on a superficial level. It looks as if in "the top ten of Romania's best ever neighbours", the Serbs come first. Looking closer, one can see that this is not because they are thought of positively as "the good neighbour", but because there is a lack of information about them.

In order to answer your letter and to see how the younger generation perceives Romania's south-western neighbours, I asked some friends to list all the states (including the capitals) of the former Yugoslavia and then to draw a map of them. None of them succeeded in fulfilling my request. They told me that this part of Europe looks like a puzzle with too many small pieces and with too many pieces missing or incomplete.

MARIUS DRASOVEAN

Marius is a History graduate and is currently studying for an MA in Mass Communication at the Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Bucharest. He has taken part in two Romanian history competitions, and not without success: he was awarded second prize in 2000 and first prize in 2002.

When I asked them to characterize the Serbian spirit they told me many general adjectives ranging from hot-tempered to patriotic, strong-willed to stubborn, proud to brave, and to generous. Having little interaction with the Serbian people, they rely in this labelling process only on what they have heard, seen and read and less on what they have experienced.

A few days later, when watching the Opening Ceremony of Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, we saw the delegation from the Republic of Montenegro. And one of my friends asked me: "It should have been the delegation of Serbia and Montenegro! When did they split? It is only for the Olympic Games?"

I wanted to find some reasons for this lack of information among the younger generation. So I opened several text-books of History and Geography.

In the history text-books there is just a little information about the Romanian-Serbian interactions in the past. We learn about the Kosovopolje battles in the Middle Ages, about your kings Karagheorghe and Obramovici, about the two Balkan Wars, about the fact that the crime of a Serbian student triggered WWI, about Josip Broz Tito's regime, about the war in Yugoslavia in the ‘90s. Since all of these are only political or military actions and are not considered very important, usually one can skip them without a thought. The lack of explanation and the neutral, descriptive style used when presenting the Balkans creates the image of an area which has only ever generated trouble and disorder and is thus labelled "the powder keg of Europe". Personally, I started to be interested in your history when taking part in a workshop where we were asked to discuss a brochure with the title: "Yugoslavian Childhood in the 20th century". That was the moment when I realised that the culture, the civilisation, and the society are aspects which certainly are more interesting to discuss and learn.

I want to finish with a comment on some information listed in the Geography text-books. Pupils are learning that Romania is considered part of South-Eastern Europe and Serbia part of the Balkan Peninsula. Inevitably, this made me wonder: since on the map we are so close to one to each other, are we part of South-Eastern Europe or part of the Balkan Peninsula? The answer came a few days later. I have never been to Serbia, but one of my university teachers told me that, indeed, on the map, for example, Serbia seems to be very close to Romania, but in real terms (time and space), it takes many hours to travel by plane (via Wien or Munich) or by train from Bucharest to Belgrade. And for all of these routes you need visa.

<table class="profileBox_right">\ <tbody>\ <tr>\ <td>\ <p><strong>This initiative is supported by:</strong></p>\ <p><a href="http://www.eustory.eu"><img class="smallimageright" style="border: 0px none; float: right;" src="UserFiles/File/ABOUT_US/PARTNERS/eustory.gif" width="120" height="68" /></a><span style="line-height: 20px; -webkit-border-horizontal-spacing: 0px; -webkit-border-vertical-spacing: 0px; font-size: 12px;"> </span></p>\ </td>\ </tr>\ </tbody>\ </table>Do viđenja,

Marius.

Comments   

#16 Silviu 2013-11-12 07:27
The younger Romanians in these regions adapt quite well to both Serbian and Romanian culture, but they ultimately identify as Romanians. Most follow post-secondary schooling in Romania. Many of my friends have stated that, because the dialect is different from the Romanian spoken in the large cities, Romanians tend to classify Serbian born Romanians as purely Serbian. They are quite often seen as farmers, or peasants, even though in many cases they are quite wealthy
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#15 Silviu 2013-11-12 07:26
This is a common occurrence in Serbian-majorit y locals (effecting Hungarians, Slovakians, Romas,etc) Yes, some Romanians have rights (Not all do - Vlach) but these rights are seen as deifying the status quo in certain cases. When a Romanian folklore festival occurred in the region, it was reported that Serbian hooligans set the Romanian flag on fire. Tensions also do persist because generally speaking, Romanian minority groups in Banat maintain a lot of wealth earned from working in foreign countries (Switz, US, AUS,).
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#14 Silviu 2013-11-12 07:10
Greetings,

As a Romanian minority in Banat (Vojvodina) Serbia, I think that I can shed a bit of light on the relationship between the two ethnicities through my personal upbringing. I do also need to mention that because I moved to Canada around 2001 and only visit Serb/Rom during the summer months I am not an expert on the relations. Nonetheless, I have experienced exclusion and ethnicism from both sides. Although, generally there is hardly ever tense conflicts, the way in which minority Romanian groups in Serbia are represented is quite disappointing. Because my grandparents are from a strictly Romanian only village, it is natural that their Serbian is not going to be as good as their first language. I specifically remember the attitude that the nurses at a hospital in Vrsat gave to my grandmother when she had difficulty responding to their complex questions. They pitied her and looked at her as if she is another intrusive minority..... >
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#13 adriaan 2013-10-21 16:41
And,yes,the poorer ines are you!Romania is more than 4 times stringer economically! check google!!turski cigani..
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#12 adriaan 2013-10-21 16:39
"cowardly and militarily weak",romanians in WW1??!! we hold the front line,you ,serbs,did not!You lost all Serbia,we held on in Moldova!!you occupied the Banat,despite the fact it was promised to us,also because we were majority there! It almost came,because of your traditional agressivity and slyness,to war between us!Pity it didnt happen!
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#11 adriaan 2013-10-21 16:30
Great!you have no clue of history,dont you? The serbs stole our West-Banat and Tribalia/Timoc, are persecuting tomanians in East Serbia! They started the jugoslav wars,butcherd thousands of innocents...fri ends my ass..if you have friens like them,you do not need ennemies anymore..
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#10 adriaan 2013-10-21 16:26
What about the 300.000 romanians in Eastern Serbia/Tribalia ,who are denied elementary rights by he "butchers of the Balcans",the name the serbs are known in the region??!!Ni,se rbs are not our friends! Only the Black Sea os..and maybe Georgia..And,su rely,USA and France, and hopefully,Israe l!
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#9 Romammystr 2013-10-20 00:17
As a romanian I know little about the serbisn socio-political reality of today, because I cannot afford to visit Serbia, which I wish I had yhe money to do it.
But from a historical point of view, everyone I know in Romania only has great words about Serbia.
I wish Serbia solves its problems, just like Romania needs to solve its problems.
Actually I want a pan-balcanic alliance Greece-Serbia-R omania(+Moldova ). Greece and Serbia are my favourite countries.
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#8 Romammystr 2013-10-20 00:12
@Attila

You are wrong to take Eurovision into account.

Neighbours vote or don't each other at Eurovision only if the song sangby the nneighbour is mediocre.
Couple of years ago Romania finished third at Eurovision. You can't really say that Romania is loved or at least respected in europe can you?

But europeans voted the romanian song. Why? Because is was a great song.
If Hungary will produce a top notch song, even though romanians dislike/hate hungarians, they will vote for Hungary. Otherwise if the hungarian song is mediocre, romanian votes will go the usual suspects: Moldova, Serbia, Scandinavian countries
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#7 Attila 2013-07-22 20:26
From the other side I must confess the Hungary could never recognize his true enemies or the ones that claimed themselves friends but betrayed Hungary at the first time. These were in order France, USA and practically Austria - but this is again politics/history.

Actually if you want to measure how much is a country/nation on his own you better check the votes on the Eurovision. It clearly shows the situation and proves that the recent conflicts do not really count but so much more the collective unconscious and the language understanding.
And check the number of votes that Hungary received in the past years :)
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