I am a native Romanian.
I took my first trip to that country this year after an absence
of more than 53 years. I walked the streets of center of Bucharest
and I saw a shabby-looking city. I imagined the elegant boulevards
of my youth and here is Istanbul on the Dambovitsa (the river which
flows through Bucharest). Potholes galore, garbage in the streets,
unpaved roads many little Dacia cars spewing pollution in all directions.
People must make do with small salaries of $100 to $200 a month--one
can barely survive on that. So why so many casinos? I counted at
least 10 during my walks. Worse, people have no confidence in the
political establishment and don't believe that things will
improve. Young people are thinking of leaving. Recently Romanians
were asked to vote on amendments to the Constitution. One taxi driver
told me: we don't know what we are voting for, they say they
will tell us later! There is talk of corruption and theft in the
higher echelons you can read about that in the Romanian press on
the internet. So whom can you blame? It can't be us! Some
intelligent people recognize that and have terrible inferiority
complexes. Others accept it as a way of life.
In Romanian it is called the "custom
of the land". Il faut graisser la patte.
Amazingly, my only cousin in Romania
talked to me about the mayor of Cluj. He is a known racist who agitates
against the Hungarians (there aren't many Jews left.) His
name is Funari and is anathema to the West. He also has the dubious
distinction of having renamed a main street in Cluj after the Fascist
"Fuhrer" of Romania Antonescu during the years 1940-44.
My cousin married to a very prominent musician in Romania showed
me a photograph of her and her husband in the company of Funari.
The occasion is the award of another medal to her husband by the
city of Cluj. She explained to me that after all Funari is a very
good mayor, the city is clean and he is a very good administrator.
What else is there? It reminded me that Mussolini made the trains
run on time in Italy. So much for the political maturity of the
citizens, albeit a small sample. I expected more from highly educated
Walking the streets of Bucharest,
I saw on the billboards the picture of the notorious Corneliu Zelea
Codreanu, Captain of the Green Shirts of the Iron Guard patterned
after the Nazis. Is the clock running counterclockwise in Romania?
At the University of Bucharest I attended
a seminar on "negationism" that is the denial of Romanian
participation in the pogroms and deportation of Jews during World
War II. A political scientist who works for Radio Free Europe in
Prague, with whom I have been in correspondence for some time, invited
me to attend his seminar. It was very interesting to see young Romanian
students learning for the first time about this painful reality.
A very commendable educational project, given that President Iliescu
talks about the subject through both sides of his mouth. More education
is needed, too many lies are flying around. It is not the main problem
of Romania but I have been told by several people that anti-Semitism
is rampant. The Jewish community is senile; the leadership is composed
of those in positions in the ancien regime who continue
to profit from the newly dicovered profession of being Jewish. In
fact I have been told that some non-Jews claim to have Jewish roots
to take advantage of free medical care and financial help from the
Joint Distribution Committee. The Jewish State Theater still exists
and presents plays in Yiddish by non-Jewish actors for a mostly
non-Jewish Romanian public who do not understand Yiddish and have
to listen to the translation in Romanian by means of headphones.
I met such an actor at the theater who spoke to us in Yiddish but
told us that he is not Jewish. Sounded to me like the world of Scholem