My native country of Romania is going through the most dramatic moments of political turmoil in its post-communistic era. This has affected both Romania’s image abroad, Romanians’ image of Romania and any combination of thereof. Like many other Romanians living abroad, my level of discontent has gone up proportionally with the tactical and political errors committed by those representing the Romanian state internally and abroad. This has brought along a sheer disillusion regarding Romania’s capacity to perform as a state, to deliver for its citizens and the capacity of Romanian diplomats to provide a coherent position on behalf of the Romanian state abroad. As things unfold in Romania, in my opinion, reason is apparently replaced with pathetic comments, unneeded nostalgic feelings and the rule of law and the principles of order with chaos and opportunistic coalitions. In this context, the illusion of reality is sadly more important the reality itself.
Having all these in mind, along with the personal frustration and disgust, I went to vote. I looked up the Romanian embassy in Beijing, found the address and paid a visit to the embassy around nine o’clock in the morning, on Sunday. I happened to be the first Romanian to vote at the embassy and since there weren’t any people in line, I had the chance to interact with some of the members of the diplomatic mission in Beijing. Because the number one priority of the day was the elections, I was invited for a second meeting on Monday and told there might be a chance I could meet the ambassador. Personally, I must admit that I did not think much of the opportunity of interacting with the Romanian ambassador in Beijing or the Consul of Romania. My previous encounters with Romanian diplomats have been extremely disappointing and I thought this would be no different, but still necessary because of my interest in the impact of China in the developing world. So I went ahead with the meeting.
There have been very few moments in life when I had to admit to myself and to others that I could not have been more wrong. This is one of them.
The moment I saw Ambassador Viorel Isticioaia-Budura I realized that he is of a different kind of Romanian diplomats than those I’ve met in the past. Looking straight into his eyes I was honestly surprised to see that the useless aggression and the defensive mechanism employed by all the other Romanian foreign diplomats I interacted with were missing. When I started talking to him, I realized I was not mistaken this time. The man can have an open discussion on any type of subject from Romania’s foreign affairs, the future of the Romanian society, the European Union or even Africa, with the relaxation and the dexterity of a wise and accomplished diplomat. But that was not what made me extremely interested in both his work and his person.
Inevitably, we reached the point in which we talked about Africa, about my research and interests. We were in this small room at the embassy of Romania and it was just me, ambassador Isticioia and Consul Bogdan Fotin. It was for the first time in my life when I opened up intellectually to two Romanian citizens and talked about the issues I am interested in – mainly witchcraft and the China-Africa relations – and had two interlocutors who were not only able to listen to my views but share their own opinions in thoughts and fuel what turned out to be a very productive discussion. For many people reading this post this might sound rather bizarre. It goes without saying that people interact and given the right setting they can work together and exchange ideas, right? However, it has always troubled me at a subconscious level that I have almost never been able to talk about the issues I am interested in with other Romanians, without being mocked or become frustrated with their ignorance. Given the path for development, the political directions and their own political and cultural determinism, to Romanians, Africa is not a priority or even an interesting topic for discussion. I can bet that if we ask an average citizen of Romania what they know about Africa the answer will most like be “civil war, AIDS, poverty.” But I’m not directly interested in any of these issues so I never talk to other Romanians about any of my personal interests. Having not only the opportunity but also the chance to bounce my ideas to these two remarkable Romanian diplomats and get valuable feedback from them has therefore in some way been ….liberating.
The Romanian ambassador is a very experienced diplomat with a dauntingly vast knowledge and the wise philosophy that learning more can only help one’s personal and professional enrichment. Bogdan Fotin, the Romanian consul, is, like me, a young man who hopes and wants a better future for Romania, with fewer contradictions, more initiatives and more long-term reforms. That is why having both dignitaries in that room felt like a cathartic moment. Mr. Viorel Isticioia has struck me as a man who not only loves his country but feels and believes that progress is not only necessary but within reach. That Romania will either by its own initiative or with the help and assistance of the European Union evolve towards the nation-state that is should be and it deserves to be. This perspective is again something commonsensical, however, to many of us, the sense of urgency, radical changes and the desire to see something happening NOW, blinds our interpretation of Romania’s future. Most of us, young Romanian professionals who have been exposed to the Western political pragmatism, can only look at what is currently happening in Romania with bitterness and either desperation or resignation. That is why the thought and the realization that I could reinterpret Romanian politics as only a logical phase in a much grander logic is not only appealing but long overdue. And why, I can only respect and appreciate the Romanian diplomat who has been so kind to introduce me to this way of thinking about my own country.
As my readers know, I do not like to go into painful details about my personal encounters. The point I ultimately wanted to make is that in that small room at the Romanian embassy in Beijing I experienced something that I never thought I will with respect to Romanian foreign politics: the actual hope for a better future. Tonight, at the same table, there was one experienced diplomat who in his lifetime has successfully made the countless necessary adaptations to keep up with the new things and events, a young ambitious consul eager to lean more, explore more and test his own opinions about life and diplomacy, and a fairly unconventional young man, from a very distinctive background with interests that are nowhere near Romania’s priorities for the immediate future (unless some unexpected changes occur in the way Romanian bureaucrats at home do and understand politics.) And yet, oddly enough, we were all ultimately on common grounds. Three people, from three different backgrounds, who are experiencing very different ways of acting upon the world they inhabit, but who can nonetheless relate to each other in a highly controlled and contained environment. Needless to say, I felt…accomplished.
As Romania is evolving towards an uncertain future, the types of decisions the Romanian policy-makers will have to take will become more convoluted. It will also require the contribution of people who are culturally and personally able to detach from everyday problems and pressures, to think and analyze politics and global trends independently and in perspective and to choose the best ways for action. Don’t get me wrong: for structural changes to occur, Romania will require undergoing specific well planned reforms and uncomfortable (or uncomforting) economic and social reforms. The fact that for the first time I interacted with two Romanian diplomats who were able to see past the political spectrum of the equation and understand and acknowledge the timely need of such reforms was simply refreshing. Unexpected, and yet so critical in my own encounter and search for a personal (global) identity.