Washing dishes and dealing with life

Soviet style apartment in St. Petersburg. Photo by lafleur.

Do you know those ugly, soviet-style apartment buildings that you can see all throughout Eastern Europe? Many of us who grew up in that part of the world have spent our childhood in those match boxes, as we called them, and we also had our joys.

Nowadays, there is one activity by which I recognize those of us who have lived in these buildings: washing dishes. The people who lived in houses, and thus in independent units that were responsible for the amount of water consumed, do not allow water to come from the faucet incessantly. They rather get some water necessary for the washing and then use it throughout the process, or just use a sponge with detergent to clean all dishes, and only then use water to rinse them. But those who lived in apartment buildings–or the majority of them–let the water run indiscriminately. This is so much so that, at times, water starts running when the process of washing dishes begins and ends running with the rinsing of the last plate or fork.

Well, you may say, to each his own–and I stand by that as well! Then, this whole discussion is in no way an intent to express moral judgments about dishwashing and water. Still, you may be well entitled to ask, “What is it to you how someone decides to spend his or her money or how someone decides to consume water?” In my avoidance of uttering any moral claim, out of fear of categorizing others and placing them into murderous boxes, I would probably be dumbfounded, unable to say anything. Of course, not paying attention to water consumption harms the environment and it is a moral affront to all the places in the world that suffer from drought, but aren’t we free agents? Can’t we decide on our own what to do in life?

Be that as it may–I prefer not to discuss such topics for the moment, or at least not here (my fear of moralizing may not work for my benefit)–the dishwashing example suggests to me that education is a very funny notion and that human nature is such that, regardless of our own claims about our moral views and behaviors, we still act the way in which it is convenient for us and the way in which life taught us. You see, in those ugly soviet-style buildings, we did not have responsibility for how much water we consumed. Every month, the building received bills for water, electricity, and gas (by the way, there are many more lightbulbs turned on in the houses of those who lived in apartment building than in those who lived in houses). These bills, summed up, were then divided by the number of people living in the apartment building, so that each would pay his or her “fair share.” I never knew exactly how much I consumed, because it was divided to all–in, let’s say, a building with 9 floors, 3 apartments per floor, that would mean the population of 27 apartments. And why should I deprive myself of the convenience of running water from the beginning to the end of the dishwashing process, especially so when my neighbor may do it as well? And if he does it and I do not, don’t I end up paying some of his share? Wouldn’t I be a fool? Why should I tell my kids to do it? Why should I teach them to turn the light off when they leave a room? Am I not preparing them for a life in which others would take advantage of them if I did so? And so we may have forgotten to turn off the water just because things were done this way around us.

In this particular case of dishwashing (and this is by no means scientific research, but rather the poor musings of someone who has many friends who used to live in that part of the world), responsibility for consuming water was produced not by moral precepts, interest in the life of another human being, or acknowledgement of the fact that we depend on each other (which I believe to be true). Responsibility for water was due to the pain one suffers for having to pay for it. Or it was due to the pain of your parents who, because they had to pay for it, reminded you always to turn off the light and to be more careful with water when you wash the dishes. This may also suggests that the step from education to action is much longer when education takes place theoretically than when education is attached to an immediate consequence on your own life. Perhaps this is a cynical view of human nature–and I am one with those from soviet style apartment buildings and with those from houses. And, after all, this is nothing more than some musings about washing dishes.

OK, you may say, but how is it that now, when people pay for what they consume, they still run the water the same way they used to do it in those ugly buildings?

Well, habit is a nasty thing.

The Fall of the Berlin Wall: 30 years

I participated today in the celebration of 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The event was organized by the Alumni Office of the Eureka College. Here’s my talk.

WEST GERMANY. 1962. West Berlin. The Berlin wall. Contact email: New York : photography@magnumphotos.com

Thank you, Mrs Shellie Schwanke, and thank you, Dr. Jamel Wright, for giving me the occasion to be with you on such an important event. As all of you, I look forward to hearing John Morris’s remarks, so I will be brief.

It is an honor to participate in the celebration of 30 years since the Fall of the Berlin Wall. I speak to you as someone who spent his childhood behind the Wall, in one of the countries that belonged to the Warsaw Treaty. I am a former “enemy.” As such, I will begin with recollecting these early days of November 30 years ago, in my hometown, Fagaras, Romania. As always when there were important news coming from the West or news that demonstrated some unrest among people in the East, we were glued to two radio stations, Voice of America and Radio Free Europe. At times, the phone we had in the house were covered with pillows, so that “they,” as we called them, would not be able to listen to what we were doing in the house. We lived in a paranoid state, in which we were not afraid of those people who were beyond the Berlin wall, but rather of “them,” the unnamed multitude who could decide on a whim your entire existence. Those who lived during communism, in East Germany, Romania, the Soviet Union, or elsewhere, know that we always talked about them—an impersonal them, but a powerful one, for all the aspects of our lives seemed to be dependent on it. They listened to everything you said; they were giving potatoes at the grocery store; they could put you in prison; they could turn you to the secret police; they were the secret police. They were the “bad guys.” But somehow theywere also us.

In fact, this separation between them and us, between friends and enemies is, perhaps, one of the main problems with communism. For a society that claims to unite all people, to unite all proletarians, it is surprising that it begins with a wall. But a communist society needs walls because it is based on a notion that divides people on moral grounds. If you think in a different way than the establishment, you are an “enemy of the people,” and as such you need to be deported, imprisoned, or simply murdered. These objectified enemies could change: wealthy peasants, intellectuals, priests, but they all shared one characteristic: by freedom of thought. In any case, as Anne Applebaum says in her Gulag: A History, “people were arrested not for what they had done, but for who they were.”[1] They were objects that did not fit the new order.

The Berlin Wall was not only a physical entity, but it also was a metaphysical one. The enemies that the communist regime wanted to keep out were ideas expressed in freedom. But the communists also wanted to keep their internal enemies in, to persecute them, to change their souls and, if all of this were not possible, to take them out of existence. The regime established a wall that did not separate nations, but people who had different ways of perceiving the world. Instead of protecting its own people, the regime built a wall so that they could not escape persecution. I do not know of people attempting to run away from the West to an Eastern communist society. And so the celebration of 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall is important because it also celebrates the fall of a regime that persecuted its own people. 

But all of this can be interpreted wrongly, with the same approach the communist regime had when dealing with human beings. “Let us eliminate the communists,” some may say, “build a wall between them and us, so that we would never be corrupted by their way of thinking.” This would mean that we replace an evil wall with what we may consider a new and improved moral wall. If we are, however, to truly follow these words, ‘tear down that wall,’ then we may remember, in the words of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Nobel Price Laureate and a victim of deportations to the Gulag in Siberia, that the line between good and evil does not separate people. I quote:

“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains… an unuprooted small corner of evil.”[2]

Indeed, many memories of people who have gone through communist persecution emphasized precisely this: that the fight against evil does not presuppose fighting other human beings, annihilating their ideas, or building walls between them and us, but rather fighting precisely against the temptation of the heart to see in one’s adversary an enemy. 

Now, 30 years after the tearing down of this wall, let us remember the words of pastor Ferenc Visky, who was imprisoned in Communist Romania for his beliefs: “The source of cruelty is always fear,” he says. “Whoever tortures you has a great fear inside of him. He is more afraid than the one being tortured. And you have to understand his state, because if you do not understand, then you have lost, and the torturer has lost also. This is the problem of suffering, that you will see that the man who tortures you is more afflicted than you who are being tortured.” Let us also remember the words of Fr. George Calciu, who spent 24 years in a Romanian communist prison because he believed in God and openly spoke against the communist regime: “Slavery to ideas is as serious a form of slavery as any other.”  Let us not allow our own slavery to ideas to build walls against others within our hearts and let us tear down the walls that still harm us by accepting all within our souls.


[1]Anne Applebaum. Gulag: A History. New York: Anchor Books, 2003, p. xxxvi.

[2]Archipelago Gulag. Vol II, New Work: Harper Perennial, 2007, p. 615.

The Wolves – poem by Noemi Marin

On Tuesday, April 9, Noemi Marin will speak of her poetry volume, Aerul Departarii. For this occasion, I translated one of her poems. Here’s a link to the Tuesday event. I’ll join her to speak about C. Noica’s Pray for Brother Alexander.

The mirrors through which I walk my soul scare me;
at times, I am so alone within me,
I do not dare to take a glance to see my face.

I got tired amidst the wolves of soul,
the predators of me;
I attempted to show them
how beautiful I am,
and I know,
and they know,
that I am.

What kind of self-love would I need
to be able to detach my wing,
frozen as it is in the glass of the window.

Sleep comes to wash away the memories,
I listen to the soul in the quiet of the glade,
The wolves leave to pursue another prey.
They, the wolves,
touched me,
and they carry with them
the brilliance of the starry sign
in the night.

The Sunday Walk to Golgotha

In his The Sacred and the Profane, Mircea Eliade speaks of the break in the space that is brought about by that which connects individuals with the divine (see here a video in which I speak about this). For the majority of peoples, the place of worship provides this separation. It is the Center of the World, from which humans take their own being. And so, Eliade says, “the religious man sought to live as near as possible to the center of the world” (43). The Center of the World, the place of worship, “is precisely the place where a break in plane occurs, where space becomes sacred, hence pre-eminently real” (45). Thus, in traditional villages, the church is placed in the middle, and all the other houses are built around it. The reality of each one of the villagers, their being, but also the being of their own dwellings,  depends on the communication (perhaps communion) with the divine.

The fortified churches of Transylvania provide plenty of examples for this. See below the fortified church of Biertan (I found the photo on Wikipedia):

1024px-Biserica_fortificată_din_Biertan_in_zorii_zilei_02.jpg

“The centrality of the church does not appear everywhere,” a friend of mine recently told me. “In my region, in Moldova, churches are built on a hill. When you go to church on Sunday morning, you go up the hill, just as you walk to Golgotha. You don’t just go to the church, but you are ascending there, you make an effort to be there. Those walks with my grandma when I was a child are more memorable to me than what happened during the service.”

Satul Luca.jpg

The Village Luca (found on the website Viata Foto)

It is, of course, a different manifestation of the same attitude toward the sacred. We still have the break in space, but this time with a new aspect. The sacred is not only separated; now it also requires a journey. The same road was taken for burials, since cemeteries were also placed on the hill. It may be a suggestion that our lives are such journeys to Golgotha, the final destination. But it may be more than that–a delicate understanding of Christianity that gives us a Kingdom which is already present but still not fully yet here, and thus a walk to Golgotha, to death, on every Sunday of the resurrection.

 

Smiles in an absurd world

30652807_10155384101978483_6806020419527639040_n.jpg

In Pray for Brother Alexander, which recently came out in English (see here from Punctum Books), philosopher Constantin Noica recounts one of the irrational moments that took place while he was imprisoned. He was around 50 years old, sharing the cell with a young man, Alec, an athlete, who was part of the national volleyball team. While Alec was in East Berlin for a tournament, a friend told him to go to the other side. He didn’t like it, so he came back. Received well at the beginning, he finally ended up in prison, something that the young man could not make sense of. “It is of no importance” (23), Noica says. The conversation ends between them because Noica is taken to interrogations. He returns to the cell obviously beaten. The young man asks him, “They have beaten you, haven’t they?” (24). Noica confirms, and the young man says, “But it is of no importance, I know” (24). “That’s what I wanted to say: they beat me without a reason.”

The idea of being beaten without reason is scary. It goes against any notion of justice we may have, but it also places you at the mercy of forces over which you have no control, and this must produce fear. Indeed, the young man in the cell gets worried—perhaps his pride of a sportsman, as Noica suggests, is offended by the idea of being hit without being able to react, but it may also be a natural reaction when faced with the irrationality of beings who have power over you. Noica tries to clarify the situation and he says, “I was beaten because I did no want to take a cigarette” (24).

Of course, there is nothing logical about this either, and the young man responds naturally, “are you mocking me?” In fact, Noica was not mocking him. The interrogators wanted to know to whom he gave a book he received from the West—if I am not mistaken, it was Emil Cioran’s Histoire et Utopie, History and Utopia. Believing that if he gives them “a cloud of names” (24), as he says, he would confuse them, he writes down on paper 80-100 names. Noica then realizes his mistake: he assumed rationality from the part of his interrogators. Who would pay attention to so many names that have seen a book, he asked? The communists, apparently, would, and his interrogator writes down carefully all the names he had mentioned. And then he offers Noica a cigarette. Perhaps out of self-disappointment, perhaps because he wanted to show himself and to the investigator that he is not completely defeated and that he is not someone who just gives up his friends because of pressure, he refuses the cigarette.

“Take it or I dislocate you jaw” (25) the officer yells at him. Noica refuses, and the blow comes. To the young man’s surprise, this is when Noica took the cigarette. “But I would have never done this… After he hit me? Never….” (26).

The young man does not accept giving in when faced with lack of rationality. Any kind of craziness in the world must be rejected, he seems to believe, because it is just subhuman to accept it—one would give up one’s own moral dignity. This attitude is shared by many at the beginning of their incarceration. They keep themselves proud before their accusers; it is important for them to show that they have not been broken. They find in this the remaining of their human dignity. With time, many came to believe that this attitude is childish, stemming from innocence. We may liken this difference to the one between the attitudes young and older people have at times toward morality. For the young, things are often black and white. The old see this as resulting from their innocence: when you are young, untried by the sufferings of life, and unconnected with people for whom you feel responsible, you afford to be an idealist. Slowly, you start asking yourself whether your actions make sense in a world in which the suffering of those close to you makes no sense.

Coming back to Alec, the young man in the cell, he changes his tone, perhaps wanting to avoid offending Noica: “You know why you took the cigarette? Because you felt like smoking.” (26).

And Noica says, “My young sportsman is not stupid at all. In a way, he was right. The slaps I god had brought me to reality: nothing made any sense in that moment. I could smoke a cigarette” (26). Nothing has any importance in an absurd story. As Samuel Beckett may say, there is no point to wait for Godot. Within an absurd story, the question whether it is rational or not to oppose communism does no longer make sense. Should one then be pragmatic and follow one’s own interest, giving up one’s ideals? If we answer this way, we reject the line of dissidents who, often sacrificing their lives, opposed the regime. If we go the other way, we claim that we somehow can fix the world, and that there is an importance in refusing an absurd world.

*

The day of “liberation”:

“With the coat on my arm and with a small bundle of laundry, I come before the commander, who hands me a banknote, the equivalent of around ten bus tickets. I look at the prison commander before I come out of the door. We are both caught in a smile, and I remember William Blake’s verses:

There is a smile of Love

And there is a smile of Deceit,

And there is a smile of smiles

In which these two smiles meet.”

 

Noica’s Pray for Brother Alexander

 

 

This is just a short note to let everyone know that Constantin Noica’s Pray for Brother Alexander came out today. To my mind, it is a wonderful book in which you discover a kind spirit. On the publisher’s website, you can read an excerpt from the book.  You can also find the book on Amazon (see link here).

Here’s the description of the book from the publisher’s website (see link here):

Constantin Noica’s (1909–1987) Pray for Brother Alexander is a meditation on responsibility, freedom, and forgiveness. On the surface, the book describes events and people from Noica’s life during his time in a political communist prison in Romania. However, the volume is not a historical account only, but rather an honest introspection into how a human being may keep sanity when everything around him makes no sense.

Unlike his famous Romanian contemporaries, scholar Mircea Eliade, dramatist Eugène Ionescu, and philosopher Emil Cioran, who lived abroad, Constantin Noica did not leave communist Romania. Considered an “anti-revolutionary” thinker, Noica was placed under house arrest in Câmpulung-Muscel between 1949 and 1958. In 1958, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison. He was released after 6 years, and Pray for Brother Alexander covers his experiences during this time. In his writings, Noica rekindles universal themes of philosophy, but he deals with them in a profoundly original manner, based on the culture in which he lived and for which he also suffered persecution.

The volume will be of great of interest to scholars and students in history of philosophy and continental philosophy, but also to people interested in the recent history of Eastern Europe and the political persecution that took place after WWII in those countries.

 

Knowledge of a culture through dancing

I recently participated in a Round Table on Cultural Discourse(s), Romania, and Eastern Europe Paradigm. The event was organized by the Center for East European and Russian/Eurasian Studies at the University of Chicago. This is part of my contribution.

Ceeres.jpg

A couple of years ago, a colleague of mine, Dana Munteanu, and I had an idea: to translate Constantin Noica’s The Romanian Sense of Being into English. Since Noica is “guilty” for my life—I wanted to study philosophy after I began reading his work—I found this idea particularly appealing, so I contacted Gabriel Liiceanu, the director of Humanitas Press, which has published Noica’s work in Romanian. Liiceanu gave us his agreement, but he also warned us with these words: “The project has a courage that borders craziness; one cannot imagine something more difficult, something that is almost untranslatable. How do you want to translate into English the inner depths of the Romanian language?”

Two years have passed since that conversation, and I have to say that Liiceanu was right. The project of translating into English a wok that attempts to explore the sense of being of a people does indeed border craziness. But this also raises some questions: is there something that Romanian studies can offer to the world? If indeed it can offer something, and I believe so, how is this communicable?

Certainly, these questions can be asked about any translation project, regardless of the language of origin (in the meantime, another work written by Noica, Pray for Brother Alexander, has been published at punctum books). However, this particular work raises deeper problems because it is not directly about universal philosophical problems, which would offer a common philosophical language, but it is rather about knowing the Romanian soul itself, the Romanian expression of being in the world. Implicitly, the question becomes, how can one know the soul of a people?

It is still philosophy that offers us two paths of knowledge. In Plato, for example, one has two attitudes. One of them seems to be objective and claims to provide definitions. To know something, one must be able to define it, to extract its essence which applies to all other things belonging to the same “genre” as the one thing that is defined. But in the Meno, a dialogue that Noica loves, Plato suggests that there is also a different type of knowledge, which takes place in relationships.

Allow me to give you an example that has to do with the Romanian culture. A few years ago, I heard Ion Ungureanu, a former minister of culture of the Republic of Moldova, speak about Eminescu, perhaps the most important Romanian poet. Ungureanu said that Eminescu is loved in Bessarabia with the love that a mother has for her child, a love that cannot understand when someone says that the child is evil or that the child is dead because the connection between her and her child goes beyond any characteristics that may be attributed to him. It is not that these things are true or false; rather, this love does not work with such notions. Love itself is the truth, and the only thing the mother can understand is that the child is hers and that her life is essentially connected with his. She cannot be without him. Bessarabians love Eminescu with the same love a mother has, Ungureanu said. Bessarabians cannot consider whether Eminescu died of a sexual disease or whether he lost his mind during the late years of his life. Eminescu is one due to whom we have remained who we are, and we would not be ourselves without him.

The distinction between the two types of knowledge that I attempted to describe here stems from the difference between the two objects of knowledge. In the first case, knowledge was expressible in propositions and knew individuals as members of their species. In the second case, knowledge is the expression of a relationship, and such relationships one has with a person.

It seems to me that working in Romanian studies presupposes a dialogue between these two types of knowledge. We often begin with propositional knowledge. We discover trends and features of culture, changes in behaviors, modifications in discourses that have to do with different rapports that people have to a political power etc. But then we also need to see that there is a Romanian soul, a complicated one, like any other soul, with many aspects and faces, a soul that can never be known propositionally. To allow others to have a relationship with it, we need to bring it forward. I believe that Cristian Mungiu’s movie that we will watch later today is such an attempt. Bringing forward Romanian music is another example. Translations of the work of Romanian writers and philosophers contribute to this as well, regardless of their difficulty and, at times, of their mistakes. What they bring is the possibility of beginning a relationship, and when one begins this relationship, one will want to know more and more about the person they love.

I will just say a few more words about this second knowledge, the personal one. I believe that knowledge of a people begins with assuming who we are. I don’t think that one has to be Romanian to know a Romanian, just as I don’t think that one must be Russian to understand Dostoevsky. I am not saying, however, that my knowledge of Dostoevsky is the same with the knowledge a Russian or someone else may have of him. But this is perfectly fine. It is my personal knowledge of him—not in a relativist sense, but rather in a truly personal one—just as no one else will know my mother the way I know her. This means to me that one can know the Romanian “soul” by accepting who one is, a unique person that belongs to a unique people. Once I know where I come from—once I know what type of person I am—I can have a relationship and know in relationship who someone else is.

I am fully aware that such knowledge is difficult to express. But this is precisely the point, since it takes place outside definitions. Knowing the way of being in the world of another is dancing with him or her. To me, Romanian studies is an invitation to dance. It is often a painful experience (and if you knew me, you’d known what I’m talking about). Nevertheless, this dance will bring you closer to the soul of the person you are dancing with, and, paradoxically, to your own soul. Romanian studies, East-European studies, or any studies that have to do with the culture of a people is such a dance that brings you closer to the soul of another and, implicitly, to your own soul.

 

An aching love

IMG_7339.JPG

 

Before I left Romania, I considered myself a citizen of the world. Once I left, I became the guy from Fagaras, my hometown. I’m not talking about how other people saw me, but rather about how I saw myself.

I live in the world and rejoice at its beauties, but I still bear the scars of my people. I bear their joys and sorrows. And I bear their history. My blood still boils when I remember Nusfalau, Treznea, or Fantana Alba (for those unfamiliar with the history of Romania, these are places where Romanians were massacred by neighboring armies). It’s just a fact. It is as if I am these pains, even prior to being this traveler that I currently am. I’m not saying that my people are greater than others, but there is no place in the whole world where my heart aches more; where my heart lives more.

At times, people tell me that I have no contact with reality. That Romania has become for me some sort of icon, and so I don’t perceive the real Romania, the one in which persons are treated by their governments as numbers (and, unfortunately, we got used to treating one another as numbers as well). And I think they are right: Romania has become an icon for me, but in a different sense: just like an icon makes the Kingdom somehow present, this icon makes me present. It connects me with myself.

I am in an airport, getting ready to leave again. In some sense, to live my earthly life. And still, why does it feel that I’m dying? Every time.

Constellations and Nationalism

 

Nationalism.jpg

Around 20 years ago, I was working at the French Cultural Institute in Bucharest. One day, wearing my ID, I reach the entrance door at the same time with an older man, probably in his late 70s. I stop and, smiling, I gesture towards him to go in first. But he changes his demeanor immediately, bows to an almost 90 degrees, and says, “Mais non, monsieur, après vous.” I was 22 years old. Someone close to his 80 bowed down before me because of my ID that indicated I was from another culture. I think it is an example of a situation in which a man believes that another man is his superior simply because he comes from a different culture. And, to my mind, such attitudes are also at the basis of hateful nationalist discourses.

However, and perhaps surprisingly so, I do not think humans are equal, and I think it is a good thing that they are not equal. Of course, I am not discussing the equality before the law or the nature of human beings which is manifested in the same way in all the members of our species. So I am not saying that anyone is more human than another. I merely point to the fact that for me humans are not equal. There is no person in this world who is equal to my son. There is no man in the world who can be my father other than my actual father, and there is no woman who can be my mother other than my mother. The same goes for my wife and my brothers. But it also applies to all the human beings I encounter: there is no other human being who can take the place of the person with whom I interact at any moment, unless I do not interact with a person, but rather with an object or with the function that a human can perform. If I go to a bank, for example, any employee can deposit a check into an account (so one may say “it’s all equal to me who does it”), but the personal connection that may be established between my eyes and the bank employee’s eyes is unique, irreplaceable, and makes the person who fulfills a job unequal to any others.

In personal relationships, equality is meaningless. The concept can not be applied. I think the same goes for nations. Even if, on one level, I can have various relationships with the people who share my nationality (I may love some, be indifferent to others, be angry at others etc.), there is something that connects me with them, something that makes us one. It is actually interesting how in personal relationships we always constitute one thing, a body, or I would call it a constellation. The constellation of my family lives only with certain human stars, and not with others. I may want to replace that “mean uncle” with someone else, but that would mean that I fully replace the constellation with a new one. I may also want to not have murderers or torturers in my nation, but there are such people, and being there they are also part of my body, of my constellation. So they are my torturers, different from those who commit similar acts in a different part of the world.

I have often read how people who suffered in prisons during communism say that it was an honor to suffer for their own people. Petre Tutea said that he did not want to say anything about the tortures that took place there because he did not want to bring shame on his own people.

It may seem at times that this love for one’s own nation stays at the basis of many conflicts. I think, however, that if it truly is love it can only be a reason for peace. I was born in a family, in a town, in a region, in a country. Each one of them, at different levels, constitute my own constellations, given to me as gifts. I have traveled and encountered people from different families, different towns, and different countries. Doing so, I interacted with other constellations. But I have always done it coming from my own–I am and I will die the child of Maria and Gheorghe, even if I am no longer the boy who was playing soccer on the field next to the hospital. I am and I will die a Romanian, even if I no longer live in that country and I speak and work in a different language. But all these interactions remind me of something: if the constellation of my country is to be beautiful on the sky of this world, it can only be so in connection with others. My love for those who are “mine” celebrates the difference of those who are also “mine” (all other people), but in a different sense. And this is rather because I am theirs, and they all live in me. But this is possible only as long people are not equal for me. If they were, there would be no constellations on the sky; there would be no beauty. Just uniformity and sadness.

The problem with the nationalist discourse, then, does not seem to be the love for one’s own country, but rather the understanding of love as hatred–a corruption of love. If the only way to love my country is to hate my neighbors, then I do not realize that, doing so, I have already lost my country. If nationalism is a problem, this is because people who love their countries as their own constellations do not find in the public space a discourse that can account for their love, and thus they fall into pride and darkness—which is just the other face of the same coin, if we consider the situation with the older man at the French Institute 20 years ago. What we need to remember is that we do not love our spouses by hating all other people, just as, by loving my wife, I do not hate all other women. But my wife is my wife, and her uniqueness stems from her personal relationship with me, just as my country’s uniqueness stems from my personal relationships with the people that share my culture.

 

The longing for Bessarabia


Today my heart was filled with desire: I was overwhelmed by my longing for Chisinau, a beautiful city in Eastern Europe, the capital of present day Moldova, and the place where I felt truly alive. It is a strange thing to say that a place can make one feel alive, but Chisinau did this for me. Perhaps it is even stranger to say that this feeling sprang out of tears. But this is what Chisinau (and the entire Bessarabia) is for me: a tear that calls upon its sons and daughters to hear its story.

I am Romanian and, regardless of where this life will take me, I will die Romanian. This is not because of any citizenship–I do not believe that any government can sanction who you are–but rather because of the words of prayer that I heard from my mama-mare (grandmother), because of the fragrance of the kitchen when she was making placinta cu mere (apple pie), and because I cannot think of any other food that is better than bulz cu branza (polenta with cheese). Even so, it was not within the borders of current day Romania that my heart beat “Romanian,” but rather in a place in which one feels the longing for home. Chisinau, or rather Bessarabia, is a “prodigal” son by force. Stolen from the father’s house, it was forced to eat the pods given to pigs, and nobody gave Bessarabia anything. Now, when it slowly comes out of bondage, it looks to the house of the father, but, unlike in the story of the Prodigal Son, the Father is old and in sickness, and the house is often run by the brother who remained home, who measures all things according to cold calculations, and not according to the love of an all-encompassing heart.

I think that I long for Bessarabia precisely because I, a real prodigal son, found Bessarabia, a prodigal son by force, to be my forgotten home. It is in Bessarabia where I was revealed a meaning of love. One day, I went to a book signing. The author had written about the controversies surrounding the deaths of Mihai Eminescu, who is considered the Romanian national poet, Alexei Mateevici, and Grigore Vieru. I won’t discuss the controversies here, but rather one position expressed during the presentation of one of the invitees, Ion Ungureanu. He said that Eminescu is loved in Bessarabia with the love that a mother has for her child, a love that cannot understand when someone says that the child is evil or that the child is dead because the connection between her and her child goes beyond any characteristics that may be attributed to him. It is not that these things are true or false; rather, this love does not work with such notions. Love itself is the truth, and the only thing the mother can understand is that the child is hers and that her life is essentially connected with his. She cannot be without him. Bessarabians love Eminescu with the same love a mother has, Ungureanu said. Bessarabians cannot consider whether Eminescu died of a sexual disease or whether he lost his mind during the late years of his life. Eminescu is one due to whom we have remained who we are, and we would not be ourselves without him.

I long for Bessarabia. I long for her because I cannot be me without her. I long for Love, which is the true Home of those who have the same heart.

======
P.S. For those who speak Romanian (and even for those who do not), a video with a song about the tearing apart of this love.