POPULATION: 22 million, of whom 91% are ethnic Romanians
RELIGION: Christianity (Romanian Orthodox Church; Greek Catholic Church; Protestantism)
Romania has a long and heroic, but tragic history. The ancient historian Herodotus writes that the territory that comprises Romania today was inhabited by the Dacians and Getae as early as the 6th century bc. The ancestors of the Romanians organized a separate country known as Dacia, which developed and prospered to the time of King Decebalus (ad 87–106). Dacia increasingly became a menace to the expanding Roman Empire. After a few futile attempts to subdue the Dacians, the Roman emperor Trajan fought two fierce battles with them between ad 101–106 and finally conquered Dacia in ad 106. The victory over the Dacians was considered so important in Roman history that a monument was erected in the Forum at Rome to commemorate the event. Known as "Trajan's Column," it depicts battle scenes in bas-relief of Dacians in their native dress and habitat. It still exists today and is considered "the birth certificate of the Romanian nation."
From 106 to 271, Dacia was a Roman province. Besides the indigenous Dacian population, a growing number of colonists from throughout the Roman Empire settled in this area. The province became one of the most prosperous in the Roman Empire and was known as "Dacia Felix" (happy and flourishing Dacia). As a border province, however, Dacia became increasingly difficult to defend against the barbaric invasions from the East. Therefore, Emperor Aurelian decided to retreat from Dacia with his armies in 271, ceding the country to the invading Goths. Most of the native population, which by this time was developing into a new nation, remained in Dacia. The use of the Latinized Daco-Roman language persisted in the region as a means of communication, commerce, and administration. This new language eventually evolved into the distinctive Romanian language. The language, religion, customs, dress, beliefs, behavior, techniques, tools, ideas, and many other vestiges of the early civilization prove without a doubt the Romanians' Latin origin.
The drama of Romanian history is that of a people blessed with a beautiful and rich country, but also situated at the crossroads of invasion routes for the first millennium of its existence. Fortunately, most of the invaders came and left. After the Goths left in 375, and the Huns left in the 6th century, there was a slow but steady infiltration of Slavs among the Romanians. Though most of them proceeded on south of the Danube, some of them remained and were assimilated by the native Romanians, adding some of their linguistic, cultural, and social influences to the cultural mix.
Beginning in the 10th century, there was a gradual but steady penetration of Hungarians, especially among the Romanians of Transylvania, the cradle of the Romanian nation, which became a Hungarian province and remained so until it finally reverted to Greater Romania in 1918.
Romanian political units were formed in territories inhabited by them beginning in the 11th century, including Moldova and Wallachia. They eventually became principalities in the 13th century. Muslim Turks had a firm hold on Romanian territories. Nevertheless, Michael the Brave, after a number of victories, was able to unite briefly all the Romanians under one rule in 1601. Though short-lived, this unification contributed to the strengthening of Romanian identity.
The Ottoman Empire imposed its rule over the Romanian principalities for nearly 300 years. In the 18th century, the Turks sent Greek Phanariots to rule the Romanian principalities, from which they extracted considerable sums. To get back the money they had invested, the peasants were heavily taxed and harshly oppressed.
With the help of Russia, which defeated the Turks, the Romanians were given more freedom and granted a new constitution in 1829. Finally in 1859, Wallachia and Moldova were united into one country, with Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza as ruler. Antagonizing some of the Romanian leaders, he was forced to resign, and in 1866 Prince Carol of Hohenzollern was invited to head the country. In 1881 Romania became a monarchy, and the new King Carol I ruled for over 30 years. After his death in 1914, he was succeeded by his nephew, King Ferdinand, who married Princess Marie, the granddaughter of Queen Victoria of Great Britain.
Romania fought on the side of the Allies during World War I and was rewarded the Austro-Hungarian provinces of Transylvania, Banat, and Bucovina in 1918, thus uniting most of the Romanians in one country for the first time in its history.
In 1940, General Ion Antonescu's government signed an alliance with Germany, which lasted until 23 August 1944 when the Romanians joined the Allies and the Russians entered the country. Two provinces (Bessarabia and present day Moldova) were taken by the Russians as spoils of war, and attached to the Russian Federation (the former USSR). With the forced abdication of King Michael, the few Romanian Communists gradually took control of the government, the educational system, and the economy. In 1965 a new constitution along communist lines was adopted and Nicolae Ceaus¸escu became president of the country, which was known as the Socialist Republic of Romania. Under his harsh regime, the country faced a dramatic economic crisis with many shortages of foods and consumer goods.
With a single-party political system completely controlled by the Communist Party, the living standard of the average citizen eroded noticeably and the national debt rose abruptly. Citizens were summarily arrested, tried, and imprisoned. Many fled the country. It is believed that over 500,000 Romanians emigrated to Western Europe, the United States, and elsewhere throughout the free world. Most of the Jews and German-speaking citizens also left for Israel, Germany, the United States, and other countries.
Those who remained behind, especially the young people, showed their opposition by antigovernment demonstrations calling for changes. When the security forces opened fire on demonstrators in Timis¸oara on 16 December 1989, a state of emergency was declared, but the protests continued to spread and grow in Bucharest and throughout the country. As a result, Ceaus¸escu was arrested, tried, summarily judged, and found guilty of genocide. He was hastily executed on 25 December 1989.
After the execution of Ceaus¸escu and the ousting of many Communist officeholders, a hastily garnered government made up mostly of former Communists and headed by Ion Iliescu took over the reins. The situation did not improve much; in some respects, it even worsened. Inflation rose, living standards suffered, and corruption continued. Nevertheless, Ion Iliescu was reelected for a second term. He was finally voted out by a coalition of democratic parties in November 1996; Emil Constantinescu was elected as the first non-Communist president in over 50 years. The coalition government that took over power in 1996 was made up of former dissidents, intellectuals, and members of historical Romanian parties that survived Communist rule. While they were well intentioned, and openly tried to implement ambitious reforms, they were not seasoned politicians. Consequently, their four-year term was marked by internal power struggles, frequent cabinet changes, and a worsening of the economic, political, and social situation. Only towards the end of their rule, when Mugur Isarescu (president of the National Bank of Romania) was installed as prime minister did the situation improve slightly. In 2000 elections were held and power was won again by the former-Communists (christened under a new name—the Socialist Democratic Party). Ion Iliescu became president (for what some called an unlawful third term), and Adrian Nastase became prime minister. Although their rule was plagued by accusations of corruption, Romania enjoyed strong and sustained economic growth, and a general improvement of living conditions. In 2002 Romania was invited to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and finally did so in March 2004.
Following the 2004 elections, a coalition government (dominated by the Democratic Party and the National Liberal Party) took power, and Traian Basescu was elected president for a five-year term. This government was fraught with internal disputes, and split in 2007. As of 2008 Romania had a minority government headed by Calin Popescu Tariceanu of the National Liberal Party. Tariceanu and Traian Basescu (of the Democratic Party) openly criticized each other's policies, creating a tense political climate. Despite the contentious political situation, the Romanian economy continues to expand, and living standards are increasing rapidly. In January 2007, Romania joined the European Union (EU).
LOCATION AND HOMELAND
Romania is located in Eastern Europe at the mouth of the Danube River as it flows into the Black Sea. Situated west of Russia, east of Hungary, north of Serbia and Bulgaria, and south of Slovakia and Poland, it is slightly less than 238,000 sq km (92,000 sq mi), about the size of New York State and Pennsylvania combined.
The majestic Carpathian Mountains run from north to south through the middle of the country. Giving way to sub-Carpathian hills and finally to vast fertile fields, the mountains divide Transylvania, the largest province, from the Old Romanian Kingdom.
Romania has a population of about 22 million people with a density of 97 persons per sq km (252 persons per sq mi). Ethnic Romanians comprise 91% of the population. The remaining population includes Hungarians (6.7%) and various other minorities. Before World War II, Romania had a large Jewish population, most of whom have since emigrated to Israel, the United States, and Western Europe. It also had a sizeable German minority—mostly Saxons and Swabians—who had been in the country since the 13th century and who emigrated in large numbers to Germany, the United States, and elsewhere during and after World War II.
Romania is made up of about 200 cities and 15,000 villages, divided administratively into 42 counties. The capital is Bucharest, with a population of over 2 million people.
Romania is in the North Temperate Zone, with hot summers, cool autumns, and cold winters with snow and winds. It is primarily an agricultural country with 45% arable land. Among the natural resources are oil, gas, and coal, much of which has dwindled since Germany and the USSR siphoned them off during and after World War II. There is a growing industrial and commercial base, which employs about one-third of the labor force.
The Romanian Orthodox Church helped to formulate and promote the Romanian language and culture. The first schools were opened and the first books written and published in Romanian Orthodox monasteries.
The Romanian language is one of the major modern Romance languages of the world, alongside Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and a few other minor ones. It is closest in structure to the Latin spoken in the first centuries ad by the average Roman citizen on the street. Romania's very name,
deriving from "Romanus," as the Roman colonizers of Dacia were known, is an indication of its Latin heritage.
In spite of attempts by foreign rulers—Turks, Greeks, and Hungarians—to impose their respective languages and cultures upon the Romanian people, its fundamental Latin origin emerged practically intact. Latin-derived Romanian is the language spoken and written by the overwhelming number of Romanians today.
Romanian culture is defined by a unique blend of folklore and learned culture. Up to World War II, Romania was a predominantly agrarian society, and even today, more than 40% of people still live in the country side. Folk creations were the main source of inspiration for early Romanian writers, and they remained the main literary genre until early 18th century. The best known folklore creation is the ballad Mioriţa, which describes Romanian spirituality.
Another popular folk tale is that of Meşterul Manole (roughly: The Master Builder Manole), which tells the story of a craftsman who was hired to build a monastery for the prince of Wallachia, Negru Vodă. The walls that Manole and his workers built during the day would crumble during the night. This caused Manole to pray to God for help and guidance. The response came in the form of a vision that showed Manole the only way he could finish his work: by walling his wife Ana inside the church walls. He reluctantly proceeded to do so and completed his masterpiece—the Curtea de Argeş Monastery. When he saw the finished work, Prince Negru Vodă became fearful that Manole might build another masterpiece that would be as—if not more—magnificent than his. He thus decided to leave Manole and his team stranded on top of the church. To escape, the workers built themselves wings out of shingles and attempted to fly to safety. All of them failed. The place where Manole fell to his death caused water to burst forth, and according to myth, the spot is marked by an actual fountain on one side of the church.
Many of the folk traditions have survived to this day in rural communities, and are carefully preserved by the Romanian Academy and the Museum of the Romanian Peasant. Traditional folk arts include wood carving, ceramics, weaving and embroidery, household decorations, dance, and folk music. Constantin Brâncuşi (one of the most well known modernist sculptors in the world) drew his inspiration from Romanian folk art, and many of his masterpieces are throw-backs to traditional Romanian wood carving. Professional and amateur dance groups are trying to keep alive the rich variety of dances encountered throughout Romania, and some of these dances (such as Căluşarii) have been declared by UNESCO to be "Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritages of Humanity."
Some of the Romanian folklore myths that have become part of international culture are the myth of the vampire (or strigoi—the undead), and the myth of the werewolf (vârcolac).
Religion has always played an important part in the life of the Romanians. Aside from the years during the Communist domination of Romania after World War II through 1989, there was a close relationship between the state and the church. The state funded the church, and religion was taught in schools.
After forsaking the pagan religion of their Dacian forbears, the new Daco-Romanians gradually adopted the Christian religion, establishing churches dependent upon the Eastern Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople. Even though there was a Slavonic influence in the Romanian Orthodox Church beginning in the 9th century when the two Greek missionary brothers, Cyril and Methodius, introduced the Cyrillic alphabet into the country, and later when the Greek Phanariots also exerted their influence, the Romanian Orthodox Church never lost its Latin character.
When Romania finally became one unified country in 1918, over 80% of Romanians belonged to the Romanian Orthodox Church, while 10% belonged to the Greek Catholic Church (also known as the Uniate Church). The rest of the population belonged to various Roman Catholic or Protestant Churches.
The Romanian Orthodox Patriarchate was established in 1925 with metropolitans, archbishops, and bishops to oversee the 15 million members of over 15,000 churches, served by over 18,000 priests, thus making it the second-largest Orthodox Church in the world, after the Russian Orthodox Church. There are about 250 Romanian Orthodox churches (with about as many priests) outside of Romania proper in adjacent countries, as well as in Western Europe, the United States, and Canada.
The major Church holy days, besides their religious aspects and significance, are also occasions for rest and relaxation. No doubt, Christmas has more customs and observances than any other Church holy day. Beginning on 15 November, when Advent begins, the villagers prepare not only spiritually, but also socially, for the celebration of the Nativity of Christ. Adults slaughter and dress the hog, and bake and prepare goodies for the season, while children learn carols and their roles in the pageant of Christ's birth. Dressed in their best clothes, groups of carolers go from home to home on Christmas Eve, spreading the news of the coming of Christ in word and song. There is no other form of popular poetry more prevalent than the traditional carols, which have been passed down from one generation to the next. Christmas celebrations last for two weeks until the Epiphany on 6 January and take on many variations, such as family gatherings, reunions, visiting friends, dances, and social events.
New Year's Day is a secular holiday, but also a Saint's Day— Saint Basil. As in the world over, Romanian revelers ring in the New Year with partying, singing, and drinking at restaurants, social establishments, and in their homes. It is customary among the Romanians to go to the homes of friends and acquaintances, wishing them a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year. Some New Year's Day customs have prevailed throughout the centuries, dating from pagan Roman times, such as the plugusotul (plow). Boys dressed in sheepskin outfits pull a small plow through the village, wishing everyone a prosperous new year. Likewise, there are groups leading a capra (goat) or beating drums, reciting New Year's greetings in rhythmic verse.
Easter is the greatest religious holiday. With its six-week Lenten preparatory season, solemn Holy Week rituals, and bright midnight resurrection service, everyone rejoices in the renewal of spiritual life and of the spring weather. The coloring of Easter eggs in decorative Romanian designs is an art in itself and reveals the artistic talents of the Romanians. Households are cleaned, repainted, and refurbished. New clothes are made or purchased. Soup, roasts, and casseroles of lamb are prepared. Nut and raisin kuchen are baked. Merrymaking abounds after church services. After the Lenten restriction on dancing for six weeks, the village dances are resumed and a happier atmosphere prevails.
Secular holidays change according to the political regime in power. During the 50 years of Communist government control, some of the traditional national holidays were not observed, such as 10 May, when Romania gained its independence and eventually became a monarchy. Instead, 23 August became the most important holiday during the Communist reign. It commemorated the "liberation of Romania from the German fascists by the Romanian Communist troops." When Communist control ended in 1989, this holiday was discontinued and the Romanian people reverted to the traditional 10 May day. The Communists also introduced May Day, which is observed by all Communists throughout the world, and Labor Day, honoring all workers. Ceaus¸escu's birthday was celebrated as his cult grew but celebrations were discontinued when he was overthrown.
RITES OF PASSAGE
When an infant is baptized, there is always a celebration at the home of the child's parents, with godparents, relatives, and friends present. Godparents become spiritual parents to the newly baptized and maintain a special relationship with them throughout their lives. If anything should happen to the parents of the godchild, the godparents would usually take over some of the responsibilities to see that the child is brought up properly until maturity. At baptism, children are given the name of a saint, usually one whose feast day is nearest to the date of birth. In Romania, as in other Orthodox countries, the name-day of the person is often celebrated with more festivity than the birth date. It is an occasion of congratulations and socializing among friends and relatives.
Children are taken to Sunday church services from a young age and participate in the social life of the parish, such as parties, outings, and dances. Young people participate at village dances held on Sunday afternoons after Vespers. They are held in the church yard, school auditorium, village square, or in more spacious barns of prosperous peasants. They are occasions to socialize and meet other young people. Friendships are usually formed, which can result in dating and closer relationships, eventually leading to marriage.
Marriage is a very important time in a Romanian's life and is not to be entered into lightly. When young people decide to marry, they ask for the blessing of their parents. The girl usually has a dowry that her parents start when she is very young and to which she adds periodically. It consists of household linens, rugs, tablecloths, personal items, kitchen utensils, and family heirlooms.
After the marriage date is set and arrangements are made for the religious ceremony, the groom sends out emissaries to personally invite friends and relatives to the wedding. The invitation is sealed with a mutual sip of plum brandy, which means acceptance of the invitation. Weddings are held mostly on Sunday afternoons after church services. The male members of the bridal party, bedecked in their finest peasant clothes, usually come to church on horseback, while the bride is brought in a carriage bedecked with flowers and peasant embroideries. After the nearly one-hour church ceremony, during which they declare their mutual love and exchange rings in token thereof, and after prayers asking for God's blessings, the bride and groom drink wine from the "common cup," signifying their sharing from now on, for better or for worse. Finally, they are crowned and encircle the front of the altar, venerating the icons as a symbol of their spirituality. With the joyous hymn wishing them many happy years, they leave the church and are accompanied by a band to the place where the festivities are to be held. The groom is very attentive to the new bride so that she will not be "abducted" by former buddies and have to be "redeemed" with a round of drinks.
The social celebration of the wedding lasts into very late hours of the night. It is probably one of the most lavish and generous events in the couple's life. Food is plentiful and drinks—usually wine, plum brandy, and beer—are available all evening, sometimes ending in overindulgence. Monetary gifts are given to the couple to start them off on their new conjugal life. Sometimes weddings last two or three days, with time out for some sleep and rest, but most are limited to a few hours.
Funerals also offer occasions for socializing in a more somber way and abound with many local customs and practices. When someone dies, he or she is properly "prepared" without being embalmed After being washed and deodorized, the body is laid in a simple wooden coffin and is brought to his or her home, where there is a wake. Often "wailers" lament and in cadence review the life of the deceased. Two or three evenings before the funeral service in church, prayer services are held before the open coffin. On the day of the funeral, the coffin is brought to the church in a horse-drawn wagon and is carried inside on the shoulders of friends or relatives. After an hour-long ceremony, emphasizing the Resurrection and the positive aspects of death, the closed coffin is taken to the cemetery, which is usually next to the church, and is interred. The mourners return to the deceased's home, where a requiem meal is served. Food is provided by relatives and friends. After mourning, there is a period of relaxation and a return to the world, signifying the peasant's philosophy, "the living with the living, and the dead with the dead" and "life goes on."
Romania's greatest asset is the people themselves. After centuries of foreign domination and corruption, Romanians emerged as a self-reliant and intelligent people. From their Church, they learned to be humble, loving, and forgiving. They are noted for being kind and caring, which is reflected in their warm greetings and willingness to be of service to others. When visiting a Romanian, he or she is likely to offer you the best bed in the house, and the best food they can provide. As Romania is becoming more westernized, so are the customs of the people— especially in large urban centers. City dwellers nowadays are always on the run, always pressed for time, and less likely to engage in extensive interpersonal relations the way they used to during Communist rule.
In rural areas, interpersonal relations are nurtured and centuries-old customs are respected. When visiting a village, people will great you with a nod of the head and a smile, even if they do not know you. Women are respected. A man tips his hat, offers his seat, kisses the hand, and offers to help women. The elderly are also respected. When encountering an elderly person or a woman, the greeting sărutmâinile (kiss hands) is customary.
Romania developed a distinctive architectural style, known as the Brâncoveanu style, in which many churches and public buildings were built. A specific Romanian style was developed in Transylvania with wooden churches, characterized by a steep shingled roof and tall, sleek spire. In northern Moldova and southern Bucovina, a distinctive church style developed in the time of Stephen the Great. The nave was in the shape of a ship, with an overhanging roof and frescoes on the inside and outside.
After their liberation from serfdom, the Romanian peasants were able to build modest homes, which they lavished with Romanian decorations and motifs. Peasant architecture throughout Romania varies from the impressive two-story houses (cula) of the more-prosperous Romanians to the simple thatched-roof cottage. The more elaborate houses were surrounded by a terrace with an overhanging roof.
The typical one-story Romanian house usually includes an anteroom with an oven for cooking. In the rear is a pantry. Some homes have a living room with a fireplace and at least one bedroom with a large bed and a wooden chest to store linens, clothes, and personal belongings. The room may have a wooden bench and beams across the ceiling. The more prosperous peasants have a large enclosed yard with a garden, hay barn, stable, pigsty, chicken coop, corncrib, and outhouse.
In 1935, representative houses, churches, and other buildings from all regions of the country were disassembled and then reassembled in a large area outside Bucharest for a permanent display known as the museum of the village.
Romania has undergone many changes in the last 50 years, especially during the Communist regime. There was a large migration from villages to cities. Because of political persecution, many Romanians fled the country. The population in villages has decreased considerably. There was a tendency at one time to reduce the number of villages and to house the population in public housing. During the Communist regime, some villages were obliterated as inhabitants moved to the cities, where nondescript high-rise apartments were built to accommodate them. They can be seen on the outskirts of most of the major cities, but they lack the comforts, facilities, and amenities for more gracious living. This trend has stopped.
With the collectivization of farmlands, even though modern equipment was used, production decreased because of the uncooperative attitude of the peasants.
Young people between the ages of 9 and 14 belonged to the Young Pioneers, while those over 14 were enrolled in the Union of Communist Youth. They were expected to help out in workshops and collective farms. Communist youth organizations have been done away with, and most youth activities take place in schools and voluntary organizations in urban areas. American films, music, social behavior, and dress have had a marked influence on the youth of Romania. In the villages, however, life is more sedate and still revolves to a great extent around the family and the Church, which teaches restraint and modesty.
Life expectancy is 68 years for males and 77 years for females. Infant mortality is 25 deaths per 1,000 births. There is 1 hospital bed per 100 persons, and 1 doctor per 559 persons. Though the state is supposed to offer free health care to the citizens, there is a scarcity of hospitals, clinics, and other facilities. Doctors are poorly paid and lack much of the necessary equipment and medicine to adequately meet the health needs of the population. Because of poverty, some children are abandoned and end up in orphanages, which have a difficult time caring for them. Some of the orphans are adopted locally and others by families abroad. Though there are medical schools, which graduate a number of doctors, many of the graduates try to emigrate elsewhere for higher pay and better facilities. With the end of Communist rule, there is more private practice and conditions have improved somewhat, but there are still many pressing needs. It will be some time before the health care system will reach western standards throughout the country.
Following the economic boom of the new century, living conditions for most Romanians have improved dramatically. People have higher wages and access to a large assortment of consumer and household goods. A real estate boom has been witnessed in most major urban centers, as developers try to cover the rising need for new housing. There are more than 2 million Romanians working outside the country and most of them send remittances back home. This money is usually used for purchasing a new home and household goods.
Significant investments in infrastructure and the public sector have also lead to a betterment of living conditions.
Romanians are family-oriented and try to bring up their families in the highest moral Christian spirit. Traditionally, Romanians had large families. Many hands were needed to work the fields. The patriarchal system predominated. The elderly were respected and were usually the head of the extended family. Much of this tradition was done away with when peasants migrated to towns and were alienated from the more intimate village life.
Children are considered to be blessings from God and are brought up in the Romanian national tradition, greatly fostered by the Church. Respect for parents is a cornerstone of this philosophy. The family spirit is very strong, and relationships with relatives are quite close. Traditionally, promiscuity was rare, and abortion was frowned upon. One of the social problems was alcoholism among men, even though the average Romanian man could carry on his daily workload in spite of it. Divorce in the villages was at a minimum but was more prevalent in the cities.
Life in the villages is more tranquil and there are fewer social problems than in the city. The Church also has a greater influence over its believers in the village than in the city. Much of village social life revolves around the Church holy days and various religious events in the believer's life—at baptisms, marriages, and funerals.
City life is increasingly defined by western culture. Women are more mobile in the labor force and less likely to be dependent on a husband. Consequently, fertility rates are going down (1.38 children born to each woman in 2007), and divorce rates are going up. Many city dwellers are professionally oriented and family life often takes a secondary role.
Among the most visible and attractive articles of clothing are the Romanian traditional costumes, especially the blouse, which varies greatly from one district to another. Each one is different and has its beauty, being lavished with intricate embroidery. They are much appreciated throughout the world.
The traditional Romanian male costumes were just as varied as the women's, but less elaborate. The trousers and the long shirt were mostly white. The men wore a leather belt. In cold weather, they wore sheepskin jackets. Footwear was usually leather moccasins, and the headgear was a rounded black hat with a narrow brim, or a lambskin cap in the winter.
In recent years, many new clothing stores have sprung up in most Romanian urban centers. Western fashion (especially Italian and American) defines the way people dress in cities. In rural areas, traditional costumes are seldom encountered any more. Peasants are more likely to wear second-hand clothes bought in the cities, or utilitarian clothes they take to the fields. Traditional garb is still worn for major celebrations.
Romanian cooking was influenced by those nationalities living within the same areas, especially Hungarian and Serbian. Old Kingdom Romanians were influenced by Turkish, Russian, and other ethnic cooking. In all cases, the Romanians added their own touch and varied it to suit their taste. The more sophisticated Romanians availed themselves of French, Viennese, and other Western European ways of cooking.
Mamaliga (cornmeal mush) is one of the staples of the Romanian diet and, in a sense, is the national dish. It is easy to prepare, is very digestible, and is served in as many ways as the imagination can dream up. It is usually served as a side dish and sometimes in place of bread. Besides being used for cooking, corn is also used to feed the livestock.
Pork is the favorite meat of the Romanians. Almost every village household raises a few pigs for their own use and for sale. They are usually slaughtered before Christmas, smoked, made into sausage, and preserved for use throughout the year. Peasants working in the fields can make a meal out of a slab of smoked bacon, a generous portion of hard-crust black bread, and wine. Dishes using pork products, such as bacon or ham and eggs, stuffed cabbage, spare ribs, pork chops, sausage, and various cold cuts are favorites for the Romanians, much more so than beef.
For appetizers, Romanians prefer chopped chicken liver, eggplant spread, carp roe paste, and aspic. Soups include thick cream soups with sour cream, sauerkraut juice, lemon juice, or vinegar, to which are added various chunks of meats, vegetables, and potatoes. The Sunday meal is usually chicken soup with noodles or dumplings and roast chicken from the family's own back yard.
Romanians especially enjoy broiling meat. Aside from pork chops, spare ribs, flank steak, and lamb chops (especially during the Easter season), the undisputed favorites are the traditional mititei—small sausages made of ground pork, beef, and lamb, marinated and then broiled. Stews, roasts, and casseroles with vegetable, salads, sour pickles, and sauerkraut make up the usual main course.
Many Romanians observe the four Lenten seasons prescribed by the Orthodox Church and shy away from all meat and dairy products then. There is a whole array of foods that can be prepared to meet these Lenten requirements, such as Lenten bean, caraway seed, lettuce, mushroom, tomato, vegetable, and potato soups, to which are added vegetable dishes, such as mushroom stew, braised cabbage, Spanish rice, vegetable ghiveciu, and baked beans. Others are mashed beans, Lenten stuffed cabbage, potato stew, Lenten spaghetti, and fresh beans with tomato sauce.
Traditional Romanian desserts are made of raised dough, such as kuchen, Moldavian rolls, sweet dough, nut squares, lichiu, cheese cake, crescents, horns, strudel, water twists, and puff pastry, with crepes suzettes being the most common.
The art of Romanian cooking was passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth and by example. Eventually recipes were collected and published, the most popular being the cookbook of Sanda Marin, which became a sort of standard. Today, there are many Romanian cookbooks, some of which are published in other languages, including English. Romanian cooking is appreciated in many parts of the world.
A good education is prized by every Romanian. People with a high educational achievement and intellectuals are highly respected. The education sector itself went through several reform processes, the boldest of them being implemented by Andrei Marga—the former Minister of Education, and currently the rector of the Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca. Most of these reforms (which among others include curriculum changes, student assessment, teacher training, finance, and governance) need to be continued to improve education outcomes.
Now that Romania is part of the EU, its education sector needs to be revamped to satisfy the demand for a more skilled labor force. The most difficult challenge will be to bridge the divide between education in urban areas and education in rural areas. Without a centralized placement system, it is increasingly difficult to find teachers that are willing to work in remote villages.
As of 2008 the literacy rate was nearly 98%, with compulsory education for 10 years. The Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca is, at over 60,000 students, the largest multi-cultural university in Europe. It offers programs of study in Romanian, Hungarian, German, English, and Roma.
The first printing presses were brought to Romania and Transylvania by the Saxons in the 16th century. With the introduction of the printing press, Romanian books, still with Cyrillic letters, were published. The Romanian deacon Coresi published the first book of the Gospels in Romanian at Bras¸or in 1561. Metropolitan Varlaam of Moldova published the famous Cazania (explanation of the New Testament) in 1643, and Metropolitan Simeon Stefan published the New Testament in 1648.
Thereafter, a growing number of other Romanian books were published but still with Cyrillic letters. It was only after some Orthodox Churches in Transylvania united with the Roman Catholic Church in Rome (1698), and with the establishment of Romanian schools in the 19th century, that the Latin alphabet was reinstated officially. By the middle of the 19th century, a veritable educational and literary revival began. Romanian universities and other schools of higher learning were opened. Grade schools appeared in the villages, cultural organizations sprang up everywhere, and literary magazines and books started to be published in growing numbers.
Many poets, novelists, historians, essayists, and other writers flooded the market with their literary works. They enriched Romanian literature in all fields, and their number is legion, including such well-known poets as Vasile Alexandri, Grigorie Alexandrescu, George Cos¸buc and Duliu Zamfirescu; novelists such as Costache Negruzzi and Alexandru Odobescu; storytellers such as Ion Slavici, Liviu Rebreanu, Mihail Sasoveanu, and Ion Agarbiceanu; dramatists such as L. Caragiale, Barba Delavraucea, and Victor Eftimiu; historians such as Alexandra D. Xenopol, Nicolae Iorga, Titus Maiorescu, Sextil Prescariu; and many others too numerous to mention.
Music has always been a significant factor in the life of the Romanian peasant. Peasants sing when they are happy or sad, when they are spiritually moved, or when they want to express their patriotic, romantic, and pastoral feelings. There are different types of music for different moods.
Almost every village has at least one musical group to play at village dances and other occasions. The basic Romanian musical instrument is the violin. Others include the wooden saxophone and the cymbalon. Later, orchestras added the bass fiddle, the piano, the clarinet, and the accordion. Romanians are among the few people who have preserved the ancient "pipes of Pan."
Among the most popular styles of folk songs are the doina, love songs, and pastoral and patriotic songs. During the Christmas season, the Romanians sing a great variety of carols. There are many religious hymns and songs for various feast days, which are familiar to all Romanians. On special occasions, there are ballads, lamentations, wedding songs, and a variety of others.
One of the most common and generalized folk dances is the hora (circle dance), danced by men and women holding hands. A popular dance is the Sârba, with dancers holding each other by the shoulder in a semicircle. There is also the Brâul (straight line). The most popular dances in Transylvania are the invârtita and hategana.
Once Romania was known as the breadbasket of Eastern Europe, exporting large quantities of wheat and corn. Nearly half of Romania's arable land is given over to agriculture, but because it is divided into so many small plots, with a lack of fertilizers and modern farming equipment, the output is poor. At times not enough food is produced to meet domestic needs, much less to export.
Nevertheless, villagers with their small plots raise enough food for their own needs. Since there is not much of a surplus, they do not bother to sell any produce at markets in nearby cities. In this respect, villagers are more or less self-sufficient and not lacking in the bare necessities of life, whereas urban dwellers, who must buy all their food, have a more difficult time because of scarcities, inflation, and low salaries. The new democratic government is trying desperately to reverse this trend and to make agriculture once again one of the main sources of income for the Romanian people.
Romania, with its beautiful mountains, quaint towns with ancient architecture, picturesque villages, seaside resorts, and many other tourist attractions, always afforded vacations at reasonable prices. Foreigners flocked to Romania for good monetary exchange rates and the country's many attractions. Some of this luster wore off during the Communist regime, and the number of foreign tourists decreased considerably, but it is now picking up again. With new airlines, railroads, and other new services, Romania's tourism industry hopes to regain some if its former polish and sophistication offered by warm and friendly hosts.
With increased wealth, the work ethic of Romanians has improved. A profitable career is often the main goal of young urban dwellers. Enrollment levels within universities have increased substantially, and private and public investments have driven up salaries in most economic sectors. In addition, more than 2 million Romanians are working abroad. In 2007 they sent nearly $7 billion to families and relatives back home. These remittances are an important source of economic growth, driving up consumption rates and development even in the most remote villages.
Romania is not especially known as a sports-minded nation, even though the people indulge in various kinds of sports. After working hard and long in the fields and factories, many are content to be mere spectators rather than participants. As in many European countries, the preferred sport is soccer. It is easy to lay out a playing field, and all one needs is a soccer ball. Aside from amateur teams and informal tournaments, Romania has a number of professional teams, which compete favorably with other countries. Each larger town has its own stadium, and some of them accommodate tens of thousands of spectators.
Besides soccer, Romanians also enjoy basketball, boxing, rugby, tennis, volleyball, and a few other sports imported from abroad. Sports such as hiking, swimming, mountain climbing, camping, hunting, and fishing are also popular.
Calisthenics, exercising, and other gymnastics are a part of the school curriculum. Some of the best students are specially trained to compete in international events. Nadia Comenici is a world-renowned Romanian gymnast, and Ilie Nastase is a top-level tennis player. Some of the Romanian trainers who have produced Olympic winners have found more profitable employment abroad in their fields.
ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION
Most Romanians are addicted to promenade (or corso). On any Saturday or Sunday afternoon in good weather, one will meet most of the villagers and small townspeople out for a leisurely walk, stopping to chat with friends and acquaintances, win-dow-shopping, and just relaxing, ending up in a restaurant or open-air eating place for a drink and snacks.
Romanians also enjoy folk dance groups, amateur theatrical groups, music ensembles, and a host of other entertainers. The entertainment business is bustling. There are movie houses ga-lore for local productions, as well as imported films with Romanian subtitles. Solo entertainers and any number of groups tour the country and present all kinds of entertainment to enthusiastic audiences.
Romania has many radio stations, television stations, live theaters, opera houses, cabarets, and entertainment establishments. Western influence, especially American and Italian, is noticeable in the music, dancing, films, dress, and behavior of present-day Romanians.
FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES
Before the age of industrialization and commercialism, peasants made most of their own apparel, textiles, and domestic and household articles by hand, using materials that they grew, raised, or happened to have on hand. They purchased very few manufactured commodities.
The handmade articles were not only utilitarian, but also decorative. The Romanian peasants embellished not only their clothing and domestic utensils with colorful and intricate designs, but also the interiors and exteriors of their homes, their yards, their churches, and their cemeteries.
The basic textiles used by the peasants were made of hemp and wool. Cotton goods, linen, and silk were purchased. The hemp was cut, soaked, dried, beaten to free the fibers, tied to a distaff, and finally twisted into yarn on a spindle. After being bleached or dyed with vegetable colors readily available in the garden or the fields, the yarn was woven into a rough fabric on a loom. A similar procedure was followed to prepare and weave woolen fabrics. From these fabrics, a variety of garments, household articles, and decorative pieces were made, such as bed sheets, blankets, pillowcases, tablecloths, towels, shawls, and doilies.
Most of the tedious and intricate needlework was done at "spinning bees" during the long winter evenings at the homes of villagers. While the women sewed, knitted, and crocheted, the men were busy carving geometric designs or painting wooden articles and ceramics. These spinning bees were veritable cultural events, when epic stories were told, traditional songs were learned and sung, new folk dances were rehearsed, poems were recited, and personal experiences were exchanged.
Besides crafting textiles and wooden articles, Romanian peasants also wove rugs with unusual designs and pleasing colorful schemes. The rugs of Oltenia and Moldova are especially appreciated by connoisseurs of folk art. The floor rug, bench rug, and the wall rug are variations. Rugs are one of Romania's most prized and expensive exports.
Besides beautifully embroidered native costumes, rugs, and scarves, the artistic talents of the Romanian peasant were manifested in ceramics. Most peasant households had a variety of decorated plates, pots, vases, and jugs. Unglazed red pottery was used mostly for cooking and glazed pottery mostly for storing and carrying liquids. The more decorative pieces, varying in design, color, and shape, were hung on the wall or displayed on carved wooden shelves. Pottery was usually decorated with circles, spirals, stylized flowers, and other imaginative patterns.
Romanian peasants usually carried around a pocket knife, which had many uses, such as whittling and carving. Chip-carving is a specific Romanian art. The handiwork of these chip-carvers can be seen in their homes, such as carved picture frames, walking canes, ornamented boxes, distaffs and spindles, ladles, ax handles, cupboards, shelves, hope chests, chairs, tables, beams, window frames, doors, and gates. Along the roadside are to be found wayside shrines and, in cemeteries, many carved crosses and monuments. Various pieces of furniture and wooden items used in church are also carved with folk designs. Besides chip-carving, in some parts of Romania, peasants were adept at the art of pyrography, the process of burning designs into wood or leather.
A most unusual form of Romanian folk art is that of icons painted on glass. This art came to Transylvania from Bohemia in the 17th century and flourished for over 150 years before it nearly died out. It has been lately revived. The icon was painted backwards on a piece of glass, so it could be seen correctly when viewed from the front side. Rather amateurish, but flashy and unique, they originally sold mostly at local marketplaces.
Secular painting in Romania grew out of ecclesiastical art in the beginning of the 19th century, especially through the efforts of George Tatarescu, Theodor Aman, and Constantin Lecca. Nicolae Gregorescu, who started as an iconographer, became one of Romania's greatest painters with his rural scenes and landscapes. Many others followed, and their works are to be found in various galleries, museums, and private collections throughout Romania.
Though Romania had to endure barbaric invasions, foreign domination, political upheavals, serfdom, suppression, and persecution, the population remained optimistic and had a vision of a brighter future. Sadly, Romanians' hopes were darkened by the Communist philosophy that was imposed on the people in the 20th century.
The transition period that followed 1989 was not easy, and incidents of civil unrest (such as miners' strikes in 1990 and 1991, or the 1990 inter-ethnic clashes in Târgu Mureş) made headlines in the years to follow. However, with the advent of better economic conditions in 2000, most social problems have been resolved. Romania now has one of the lowest crime rates in Europe.
In the 1950s, Romania's newly laid socialist foundations created a desire for more independence for women. In 1957, abortion was legalized and an increasing number of women started to join the work force, albeit in predominantly feminized sectors. However, in 1966 abortion became illegal, which was an attempt on the part of the Communist regime to raise birth rates and rapidly increase the size of the population. These pro-natalist measures were unique in the region.
In the 21st century, equal opportunity legislation has been enacted to protect the rights of women and of ethnic and sexual minorities. However, men continue to earn on average more than women do.
President Traian Basescu took a bold stance in favor of gay rights. Although much progress has been made in the area of gay rights, much remains to be done. The 2007 Gay Parade in Bucharest was met with protests from religious and extremist groups.
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—revised by Marcel Ionescu-Heroiu.