Romania, with a recent socialist past and a legacy that includes Greeks, Slavs, Saxons, and more, is a geographically central and, in many ways, culturally Eastern European country — with a fast-developing economy and a strong focus on transparent governance. The oldest human remains in Europe (40,000 years) were located here, with evidence of human civilisation among the continent’s earliest as well. Nearby Hungary, Mongolian invasion, and the Ottoman Empire all represent strong cultural influences over the past millennium.
Modern Romania, much as we might know it today, emerged in 1859 as a result of an alliance with neighboring countries. The Romanian culture, with large Hungarian (6%) and Roma (3-10%) minority groups, has characteristics of both Central (especially Austro-Hungarian, Polish) and Eastern (particularly Moldovan, Bulgarian) European nations — and some early cultures such as that of Armenia. Folk arts and pre-Christian mythologies, which remain strong in the rural life of Romania, indicate such cultural connections.
A secular state by law, more than 80% of Romania’s 20 million people claim Romanian (Eastern) Orthodoxy as their religious identity, a result of the country’s Byzantine heritage — syncretised with earlier folk beliefs and myths.
In Romania’s capital city of Bucharest, the influence of ancient Greece and of Europe as a whole is on display in its architecture. Socialist from 1947 to 1989, Romania was admitted to the EU in 2007 and identifies strongly with same — even distancing itself from a current alliance with neighboring Moldova, the two having once been part of the same country, while identifying the latter’s ideals and objectives as “not European enough.”
Romanians place high value on aesthetics, and on the arts: literary, visual, musical, and performing. The culture has a long intellectual tradition that, while suffering greatly during the recent socialist era, is strongly in evidence again today.
Jews began living in the area of Romania as early as the 2nd century CE. Through the centuries, they were a target of persecution through the centuries, such as being specially taxed and made to wear identifying garments, and subjected to libel and criminal prosecution, rioting, massacre, and expulsion, and by late 19th century, large numbers emigrated. Nevertheless, by 1900, they still numbered 250,000 — more than 3% of the country’s total population.
In World War II, Romania aligned with Axis Powers 1941-44 — then sided with the Allies instead. Romanian government published findings in 2004 which indicate that 400,000-500,000 Jews in Romania or its territories died in the Holocaust. In April 2019, a Jewish cemetery in Romania was vandalised, along with other acts of anti-semitism; in November of last year, Romania announced plans for its first Holocaust museum. An approximate 3000 Jews live in Romania today.
Romania’s intellectual and literary tradition has been influenced by, and influences, its educational system; literacy, around 48% in early 20th century, is more than 98% today and education, free and compulsory, is constitutionally guaranteed. Romanian philosophical tradition is longstanding, defined by major theorist Noica as consisting of paganism, cosmicism, and determinism. The nation also has a long and prolific literary history, stemming from the 16th century to include numerous writers today.
Romania is an old society but still a very young democracy, just since 1989 — and still struggling with corruption and lack of transparency in its government. Citizens exercise their right to demonstrate as well as to vote — something that the diaspora also takes very seriously. With an estimated 20 million living in the country and another 12 million throughout the world, following major waves of emigration especially during the socialist era, returning home for political engagement has often been noted as a strong value — and a powerful social force.