Romania as been around a long, long time, first as Dacia, then as Roma Dacia, and various combinations of the three main States: Transylvania, Wallachia, and Moldavia, and of Romania being called Romania. Through all of it, there have been people in and out and in and out. Romania became a buffer zone because it seemed that everyone wanted the land we know as Romania. It was the bread basket of Europe because the land was so rich, and besides the farming, there were lots of natural resources other countries wanted. Through it all, though, the Romanian people have worked hard to unite as one, but just what are these other influences?
Everyone has heard of Dracula. His real name was Vlad Tepis (pronounced: Tsepish). In the Middle Ages, Transylvania, Wallachia, and Moldavia were three different countries. Vlad Tepis was actually known as “defender of the faith.” The Muslims had pushed into Turkey, and Romania stood between the Ottoman Empire and the rest of Europe. The Romanians stopped Islam from entering Europe. There was a war between the Ottoman Empire and all the countries in the Balkan Peninsula. A leader from Transylvania, Stephan Cel Mare built a church building or a monastery every time he won a battle against the Ottomans. He founded 148 churches and monasteries because he only lost 2 battles. In 1475, Romania finally beat the Ottomans, but the rest of the Balkan Peninsula fell to the Ottomans. Transylvania, Wallachia, and Moldavia remained autonomous, but they were influenced by the Ottomans.
If you go to Romania today, you can still see some Ottoman influences. Romanians drink a lot of Turkish coffee. If you come from Oklahoma, where my family is from, Turkish coffee would be called “cowboy coffee.” It is downright strong black coffee! On the holidays, the Romanian’s traditional, delicious dish they eat is called sarmale. Sarmale is cabbage rolls with rice, ground pork, tomato sauce, and mild spices inside. It is very much an important part of Romanian culture. However, to my surprise, I got to know some Turkish girls when I was teaching in Japan, and they were surprised to find out the Romanians also eat sarmale because they eat sarmale on holidays too. On top of that, “sarmale” turned out to be a Turkish word meaning “roll.” If you look hard, you can probably find even more influences from the Ottoman people on Romania.
Another group that has had a lot of influence in Romania is the Hungarians, Romania’s next door neighbor on the opposite side from where Turkey is. John III abdicated his throne in Hungary and moved to Alba Iulia in Transylvania, the eastern of the three states of Romania. He became Prince of Transylvania. In 1568, John III signed the Edict of Turda allowing freedom of religion in Romania. He brought Calvinism with him. Many Romanians became Protestant because of him.
Today, Orthodoxy is the state religion of Romania. The Orthodox priests are paid by the Romanian government, but if you wanted to be in the Communist party before the revolution, you didn’t go to church because Communism wanted to do away with Christianity. Under Communism, the Protestant groups in Romania went underground and became radical because the only legal church was Orthodoxy. They became called “Pocaieti” (Pronounced: poka-eets) or “the repenters.” The Pocaieti don’t wear blue jeans, and only listen to religious music. The women only wear dresses, don’t wear makeup, and must cover their heads. They became very radical.
Another major influence in Romania that is still influencing them today was Mihai Viteazul, a prince of Wallachia. He fought to unite all three countries, Moldavia, Transylvania, and Wallachia as one. In 1600, he rode victorious into Alba Iulia and the three states became one country for one year, but after his death, the union dissolved, and they were three countries again. However, it began a dream that Romania did eventually realize.
In 1804, the Austro-Hungarian Empire came to Transylvania. There were Germans and Hungarians sent into the Transylvania and some into the other parts of Romania too as overlords. When I got there, there were still Austrians who called themselves Germans and Hungarians in Romania. They were no longer overlords when I got there, but were a very important part of Romania. Sibiu, the town where I lived, was called Hermanstat by the Germans. Sibiu, Romania’s 5th largest city, right in the middle of Romania, was a German town. Cluj, north of Sibiu, was known as a Hungarian town. Brasov, a little way south of Sibiu where you can tour through Dracula’s castle, was a Hungarian town. There were separate schools for the Hungarians, the Germans, and the Romanians, each taught in that respective language.
I was surprised by the Germans. There was an old German aunt of a friend of mine in the yard one day, and she said to one of my kids, “Come ‘ere!” leaving the “h” off of “here” like many older English speakers might. I said to my friend, “I didn’t know she could speak English!” My friend replied, “She doesn’t. That was German.” The Romanian Germans don’t speak German like they speak in Germany. They speak an old dialect of Austria.
Another surprise I had from the Germans was from an old German man. I was studying Romanian because I was living in Romania and wanted to talk to everyone. An old German man was with a friend of mine who came to help me find milk. He heard I was studying Romanian. He said to me not to study Romanian, but study German. He said Romanian was “the language of the devil.” He didn’t like Romanians very much. There was a lot of prejudice between the three groups.
The Germans were always talking about trying to save enough money to leave Romania back then. They talked about it so much that my oldest son began calling Germany “the Great Homeland.” They weren’t really German, but Austrian. However, Germany was accepting any of them who wanted to come, granting them citizenship, and even letting the old people draw retirement from the German government that they hadn’t paid into. There was a mass exodus of Germans from 1989 to 1991 from Romania to Germany. Many of them just took off and left their homes vacant without even selling them.
Sibiu was full of German style houses. German style houses were long with a courtyard beside them. There were different sections of the house, and a different outside door going into each section of the house. The kitchens were all summer kitchens. They weren’t connected to the houses, but out in the court separate from the house. Summer kitchens are built so that if there is a fire in the kitchen, the whole house doesn’t burn down. We lived in a German style house in Turnisor, a suburb of Sibiu, the first year we were in Romania, and eventually bought a German house in the village, Sura Mica, just outside of Sibiu. In our German house, we didn’t like going outside and coming back in every time we wanted to go to another room, so we made modifications to the house so we could walk from room to room without going outside. We also installed a kitchen and a bathroom in the main part of the house.
The other group, the Hungarians, were in Cluj and Brasov. I never went up into Timnasoara, but I heard they were there too and in other places. Timnasoara was the closest large town to Hungary, so it made sense. I actually helped a Romanian/Hungarian couple who wanted to immigrate to Australia. The wife was of Romanian descent, and the husband of Hungarian descent. He was looking to pass a test to immigrate to Australia at the Australian embassy in Yugoslavia. He had to learn to write an essay in English, and I taught him how to write an essay so they could immigrate.
The Hungarians and Romanians had problems between them too. There was a big ruckus up in Timnisoara, and I really don’t know what happened, but the students in my class were discussing it trying to figure out whose fault it was, and the Romanians were blaming themselves. I taught a lot of English at the university in Romania, and my students were Romanian, Hungarian, and German. Some were English majors, Hungarian minors, and others were English majors, German minors, and others were English majors, Romanian minors. You want to think they were studying two foreign languages at once, but not really. English was actually the only foreign language they were studying because they grew up with the other languages and may even have gone to a school taught in that language. They all spoke Romanian. Some were English majors, French minors. Those were the ones who were actually studying two foreign languages. Romania is a country full of languages. Children grow up speaking more than one language naturally, and almost everyone I met was trying to learn a foreign language.
We made a lot of shopping trips into Hungary because of the lack of groceries and toys for sale at Christmas in Romania after the revolution because of Communism, and my youngest daughter was born in a Hungarian hospital. We drove a car with a Romanian license plate. Once, an old Hungarian man saw our license plate and began screaming at us in Hungarian, but I had no idea why he was screaming. A younger man who spoke English apologized to us and explained to the old man that we were Americans, not Romanians. The old man hated Romanians.
When we were up at Cluj once, inside of Romania, just north of Sibiu, I was standing in line waiting to be waiting on once. When I got to the front of the line, someone came up behind me speaking Hungarian. All of a sudden, I was bumped. The store clerk ignored me and waited on the person speaking Hungarian. I couldn’t speak Hungarian, only Romanian. The store clerk thought I was Romanian, so I was ignored in Romania. Can you imagine how the Romanians would feel being treated like that in their own country? Many Hungarians like the Germans left Romania.
So many groups and individuals through the years have wanted to rule Romania. Each have left their mark on Romania. This blog seems to keep going on and on, and I am not finished talking about the different influences. In my next blog, I will address the Russians, WW I, WW II, Communists, King Carol, and more. Even though these blogs seem long, they are short compared to what actually happened in Romania. I am not going to give you all of Romanian history because it is too long, too complicated, and very colorful. The Romanian culture is extremely rich because so many people have wanted to rule them. Each one has left their mark.