George Friedman – Geopolitical Journey – Romania


George Friedman

In school, many of us learned the poem Invictus. It concludes with the line, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” This is a line that a Victorian gentleman might bequeath to an American businessman. It is not a line that resonates in Romania. Nothing in their history tells Romanians that they rule their fate or dominate their soul. Everything in their history is a lesson in how fate masters them or how their very soul is a captive of history. As a nation, Romanians have modest hopes and expectations tempered by their past.

This sensibility is not alien to me. My parents survived the Nazi death camps, returned to Hungary to try to rebuild their lives and then found themselves fleeing the communists. When they arrived in America, their wishes were extraordinarily modest, as I look back on it. They wanted to be safe, to get up in the morning, to go to work, to get paid — to live. They were never under the impression that they were the masters of their fate.

The problem that Romania has is that the world cares about it. More precisely, empires collide where Romania is. The last iteration was the Cold War. Today, at the moment, things seem easier, or at least less desperate, than before. Still, as I discussed in Borderlands, the great powers are sorting themselves out again and therefore Romania is becoming more important to others. It is not clear to me that the Romanians fully appreciate the shift in the geopolitical winds. They think they can hide in Europe, and perhaps they can. But I suspect that history is reaching for Romania again.

* * *

Here are a few significant quotes:

Nothing in their history tells Romanians that they rule their fate or dominate their soul. Everything in their history is a lesson in how fate masters them or how their very soul is a captive of history. As a nation, Romanians have modest hopes and expectations tempered by their past.
…as I discussed in Borderlands, the great powers are sorting themselves out again and therefore Romania is becoming more important to others. It is not clear to me that the Romanians fully appreciate the shift in the geopolitical winds. They think they can hide in Europe, and perhaps they can. But I suspect that history is reaching for Romania again.

And this is the geopolitical tragedy of Romania. Romania is one nation divided by its geography. None of the three parts is easy to defend.

In thinking of Romania, the phrase “institutionalized prisoner” comes to mind. In the United States it is said that if someone stays in prison long enough, he becomes “institutionalized,” someone who can no longer imagine functioning outside a world where someone else always tells him what to do.

Romania should be a country of small entrepreneurs, and it is, but there is extensive evasion of Brussels’ — and Bucharest’s — regulations. It is a gray market that creates legal jeopardy and therefore corruption in the sector that Romania needs the most. Imagine if Germany had the regulations it champions today in 1955. Could it possibly have developed into what it is in 2010? There may be a time for these regulations (and that is debatable), but for Romania it is not now.

As for the vast majority, they cannot and will not conceive of a Romania outside the confines of NATO and the European Union. The mere fact that neither is working well for Romania does not mean that they do not do something important: NATO and the European Union keep the anti-democratic demons of the Romanian soul at bay. Being part of Europe is not simply a matter of strategic or economic benefits. It represents a transitional point in Romanian history. With membership in the European Union and NATO, Romania has affirmed its modernity and its democratic institutions. These twin amulets have redeemed Romania’s soul. Given this, I suppose, an unfavorable trade balance and the absence of genuine security guarantees is a small price to pay. I am not Romanian, so I can’t feel their ineffable belief in Brussels.

What doesn’t fit for Romania is the NATO/EU system alone. Perhaps this is part of a rational mix, but it cannot be all of it. For Romania, the problem is to move beyond the psychological comfort of Europe to a strategic and economic understanding that accepts that the post-Cold War world is over. More important, it would be a move toward accepting that Romania is free, responsible for its future and capable of managing it.

The Romanians emerged from a world of horror, some of it of their own making. They fear themselves perhaps more than they fear others. For them, becoming European is both a form of therapy and something that will restrain the demons within and without. When you live with bad memories, you live with the shadows of reality. For the Romanians, illusory solutions to haunting memories make a great deal of sense.

I think this more then enough to make you interested.

Read more: Geopolitical Journey, Part 3: Romania | STRATFOR

Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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