What makes a Romanian ‘Romanian’? – ASTRA Film Festival 2018

What makes a Romanian ‘Romanian’? – ASTRA Film Festival 2018

One of the films from AFF 2018 that gave me a lot to think about was “Wedding of the Year”. After I read the film synopsis, I immediately encircled it in the program with the intention of going and thinking to myself: “Here’s a nice opportunity to know more about the Romanian culture”. Little did I know that it would raise the questions in my head that would ultimately become almost impossible to answer.

You don’t have to watch the film to enjoy my post but I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Photo by Florin Slabu

Wedding of the Year/Nunta Anului (2017) 60’

(Watch the trailer here)

Synopsis

Most of the year, the Oaş county is deserted of its people. The county becomes full of life only in August, when the locals who live and work abroad come back home for a few weeks. They set in the big villas they have been showy mansions for their families, they meet neighbors and celebrate. During these weeks, in every village several weddings are organized daily. The entire region becomes a gigantic wedding celebration. As we follow what happens, the locals remember their experiences from the 1990s, when they decided to leave Romania for a better life abroad.

A shot from the film; Source: https://www.astrafilm.ro/single-movie/?id_film=11235

My Impressions of the film

Spoiler Alert! (Even though it’s not that kind of film)

I could not watch this film without doubled feelings. On one hand, it’s beautiful to observe the elements of a foreign, such a different culture for me: a bride that is all covered in beads; countless colors everywhere; singing technique that sounds so otherworldly and a loud celebration. On the other hand, it was hard not to notice how uncomfortable the bride felt. Her outfit was getting in her way of breathing and moving freely. She could hardly force a smile and only it was absolutely inevitable; the rest of the time, she just tried to deal with her very thick outfit in the extreme August heat . Slowly, other details start to come into play and it becomes obvious: these people are trying their best to prove how closely they are following their traditions despite not living in Romania anymore. They are putting a lot of energy and money in having a wedding about which everyone will say, “This was the wedding of the year”. But if everyone in the area is doing the same, who do they try to prove it to? Why do they have to show how much they still respect their traditions if the only month they spend in Romania is August? Well, you might say, “Because they love their country and traditions and they want to express their love this way”. Maybe… but then, if it is just a declaration of love to the place where they were born, why did the film left mixed feelings in me?

Discussion after the film: What makes a Romanian ‘Romanian’?

I didn’t have to wait too long in order to get very interesting answers to my questions and maybe even more interesting, additional questions from Cristian Tudor Popescu (a Romanian engineer, writer, film critic, journalist and many other things. Google him and you’ll be amazed) and Emil Hurezeanu (a Romanian diplomat, journalist and writer).

Cristian Tudor Popescu at the discussion;
Source: https://www.astrafilm.ro/

Discussion between the two touched many interesting subjects, including the problem of very high emigration rates from Romania, today’s political situation and the perception of people when it comes to Romanian diaspora. However, what really captured my attention was the question that Cristian Tudor Popescu asked at the end. Here is the translation of what he said:

“Then, a question appears that doesn’t have a banal answer at all in my opinion, but very few people ask this question in our country: What does being ‘a Romanian’ mean? We say: a Romanian left the country but what do we mean when we say ‘a Romanian’? Let us define this word. How can a Romanian be identified? If someone accessorizes themselves with all the beads according to the tradition or takes a “horinca” (a strong Romanian traditional spirit) shot every 5 minutes, eats a certain dish, does all this make him or her a Romanian? Can someone define a Romanian with a blood test? Is there such a blood that can tell who is Romanian and who is not? Well then, what does it mean to be a Romanian?”

People from the audience started to give different answers . Then Mr. Popescu raised another question: Does speaking Romanian make someone Romanian? (I excitingly thought to myself, “I might get another nationality today if this criterion gets ‘approved!’”) Then he named a few examples of what can count as a perfect criterion for being a Romanian and it indeed proved to be very hard to pinpoint one or even a few things that makes someone truly Romanian.

On one hand, this should not have been surprising or new to me; national identity is a difficult subject but when you formulate it as a question, it starts to sound even more confusing. In the end, I guess it comes down to a person and his feelings of identity. If somebody truly feels like a Romanian, then they should know better, right? But what if they are confused as well? What if other people don’t accept a person’s feelings of their national identity? If ASTRA Festival “taught” me something, it is more than possible for people to feel as a foreigner in all the countries they have ties to. This simply happens because other people without even realizing have certain, fixed ideas about the criteria for their national identity. And if being a Georgian girl “taught” me something, Georgian people can have very strong feelings about what counts as being Georgian and who steals our “Georgianship” from us.

Is it really possible to take my “Georgianship” from me?

A t-shirt by a Georgian artist – Stavrogynarium; Source: https://www.facebook.com/Stavrogynarium/

For those, who don’t know, in Georgia we have a widespread phrase that in English sounds roughly as “They are stealing “Georgianship” from us!” Usually, people mean the United States, Europe or globalization that threatens our national identity. This is the fear that inspires some people to form far-right groups and organizations or to simply strongly oppose globalization processes.

For me, this never made much sense. I was around 15 years old when I first heard about the fear and my first thought was, “How can anyone just make us stop being Georgians? “Georgianship” is not hidden in a box for someone to simply take it!” This was of course a childish, black & white attitude but what people are really afraid of is the slow stripping of our national identity. If you ask me though, I think they simply forget to really define who we are and what makes us ‘us’. 

Georgia went through endless changes and belonged to several empires over its difficult history. The form our culture has taken today is the result of centuries-long transformation. So, what someone might consider as an ancient tradition, can actually be just 50 years old “habit” but the older traditions could be long forgotten. Not many people know that our beautiful, unique language has a significant influence from the Persian language (in terms of the words, not the structure) Even though this is more than natural if you consider Georgia’s history, some of the words with Persian roots sound so Georgian to a Georgian ear that it is impossible to tell (without looking up) that they have Persian roots. However, should this be a reason to despair? Should we, all of a sudden stop worshiping our language just because it’s not “purely” Georgian?

One funny example of how people can get angry for simple reasons is the Pink Chokha (Georgian national costume) that the director of a Georgian creative digital company, Giorgi Avaliani wore at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2017 where Georgia was the guest of honor this year. A significant amount of people was furious because according to them Pink Chokha doesn’t correspond to the Georgian traditions, doesn’t suit a true Georgian man and thus, it insults Georgian identity. Ironically enough, this was partially Giorgi Avaliani’s intention as well. Obviously, not to make people furious but for the Georgian guests of the Frankfurt Book Fair to ask themselves what they really consider as ‘Georgian’ and why; and for the foreign guests to get curious and ask more about the story behind the Pink Chocka.

After a half-an-hour internet research, I found other paintings of pink Chokha as well. A painting from in 19th century represents a noble from Georgia’s region, Imereti in a pink costume as well. Of course, it might not be very accurate since it’s just a painting but ‘pink’ is also just a color, isn’t it? Besides, except pink, the costumes of Georgian nobles had many other bright colors that would also be labeled as “too bold” and “insulting” by some today. 

From left to right: 1. Giorgi Avaliani in his ‘provocative’ pink Chokha Source: https://on.ge/ 2. Georgian Noble from Imereti, 19th century; 3. Georgian National Ballet Dancer from “Sukhishvili”       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For every person, it could be something else, which makes him or her of a certain nationality. It could be their language, the place of their birth, the place of their parents’ birth, a literature piece, a song or something else. Important thing is not to force our interpretations on others even if we are completely sure that our imagination about being a Georgian or a Romanian is the only genuine one.

To me, at least a part of being a Georgian means to read and be moved by Vazha-Psahavela’s work (Georgian poet and writer, 1861-1915). This is why I would like to end my blog post with a quote from his article titled “Cosmopolitanism and Patriotism”

„It is impossible to imagine a sane person for whom one small part of the world does not mean more than all the other places in the universe combined. Why? Because no one can love ten thousand places at the same time. We are only born once, in a single and unrepeatable place, into a single family.

Patriotism is more a matter of feeling than of intellect, although men of reason have always cherished their homeland. Cosmopolitanism is a matter merely of the brain; it bears no relation to the feelings that originate in the heart. Yet it is the core of the solution to the tragedy that haunts humanity today, for only through cosmopolitanism can we save the world from ethnic hatred and self-destruction”. 

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