Skip to main content

The Diaspora - An Interview With G. Yird

G (who asked that I don't use his real name) and I met this past summer when he was visiting Romania. We talked over drinks and I was struck by his keen sense of observation about the way things are going in Romania.When I sent him the following list questions, he didn't shy away from formulating very pointed answers, and I'm grateful for that.

1. You moved away to Australia as a 6 year old. Do you remember what you first liked about the new continent, and what you missed about Europe?

I moved to Australia when I was 7.5 – left Romania when I was 5. I spent a year in other European countries where my parents both worked as Engineers before we eventually received permission to migrate to Australia. Before leaving, we had been living in Germany for almost two years, where I had finished kindergarten and first grade in primary school. I had friends there, I enjoyed the environment, and I was not looking forward to leaving to somewhere so far away; these are also the things I missed.
Australia is a very different place to Europe – and was so even more so at the start of the 1990’s. It’s very insular due to its isolation – in a way, I was lucky we moved to Melbourne as it was full of migrants / 1st and 2nd generation, as a lot of people left Europe after WW2 and settled there. The first thing I actually liked about the place is that, for all its faults, there are many good things going on – great beaches, nice national parks, and on average, less visible corruption (that still happens, but it happens at a higher level in politics/business/government and doesn’t transparently affect people as much as it does in Romania).

2. Do you maintain any traditions from the 'old country'.

Not really. My parents never practiced religion or forced traditions on me. I mean, we speak the mother tongue at home, naturally we also eat traditional home cooked meals (which are traditional to our family I guess), but beyond that, no.

3. How often have you visited Romania since leaving?

Not as often as I wished; with a one way distance of around 20,000km or approx. one whole day of flying (if you don’t count stopovers and waiting), and with a cost running into $2000 AUD return, it’s an expensive exercise. I’ve been back 4 times since having left, twice when I was growing up, and twice since I’ve started working.

4. Have you notice any changes over time?

Dramatic changes. I don’t remember too much from my two trips in the 1990’s (96 and 98) but my trip in 2010 and 2013 have painted a dramatic and contrasting change. I consider myself fairly observant and the most dramatic changes I have noticed are:
·         Between the 1990’s and 2010’s consumerism has increased exponentially – and with it, what I would consider mindless brainwashing. The one thing that Americans are good at exporting is consumerism – and between 2010 and 2013 I think Romania must have adopted it almost as a national motto. I see so many useless things advertised (TV, stores, trams, even on people’s cars) that it feels surreal. So much rubbish that people don’t need but yet are convinced they do. The people from the 90’s that I remember – well they didn’t care for much of it. They didn’t buy into gimmicks, they were blunt and honest, and they shunned throw away appliances and preferred the stuff from 40-50 years ago that was still running!
·         Between 2010 and 2013 it feels like the average normal people have lost hope – and by that I mean that the vibe I got when travelling and talking to people now, as opposed to three years ago, was that a lot of people didn’t see a future. I heard people lament that there’s nothing that can be done – that it’s the equivalent of “being stranded on a desert island, with just enough coconuts to sustain you and a tree-house for shelter, but with the waters slowly rising from global warming knowing that they’ll inevitably drown” (yes, that’s an actual quote). It certainly felt that way – and my opinion is that it’s because people have cottoned onto the fact that the revolution was “manufactured” to concentrate wealth and power into the hands of few under the guise of a new, fair, democratic system, yet 20+ years on things are worse for most when it comes to baseline living. It wasn’t like this in 2010 yet, so the change is dramatic.
·         Renewal – some positive things that I’ve seen are that some select cities are being revamped / renovated. Places like Brasov have had quite a bit of work done and they look spectacular. Now if only the same thing could be done for other smaller places, and maybe if the countryside could be cleaned up a bit…

5. What do you like best about Romania?

On average, people over there are still very friendly and hospitable. The older people don’t buy into the lies the politicians are selling (they’ve seen it all before) and don’t allow themselves to be manipulated over trivialities like background/heritage. They’ll have a chat, share a meal, and just make you feel at home. The younger generation is the same as everywhere else in the west – and I hope they take charge and change the system to something better.

6. What do you dislike about it?

The corruption. The propaganda used to distract the populace from the real issues. Trying to blame things on one group or another (hell, this goes for other countries where politicians try to distract the populace by blaming something on another group too). The abject apathy displayed by the people. I’m not saying there needs to be blood in the streets, but at some point, something has to change – people have to shake themselves of their apathy, get together, and hold people to account.

7. What do you consider to be a root cause for the negative light in which Romania is often portrayed in the media? Do you think it's justified?

This is going to be politically incorrect, but I’m just going to say it – gypsies. Everyone assumes that all gypsies and beggars they run into, known commonly as “Roma” are representative of Romania. That and cybercrime. Justified? Look there’s always a little bit of truth behind it, but on the whole, no, not really. Simply put, you cannot just lump a group of people into a category and blame the whole group for the actions of a small minority. The ones that cause the problems need to be held accountable. Anyone who is corrupt and accepts a bribe needs to be held accountable. The people need to change their socially accepted moral code and only then – when they don’t accept the status quo and weed out corruption – only then will things change. Running around and blaming the entire gypsy group is wrong and counterproductive – start by holding any person in a position in authority accountable, and if you disable the enablers, things will sort themselves out.

8. If you had the opportunity to work in Romania in your chosen field, would you take? Why/why not?

I would not work in Romania as an Engineer – or in any other profession that I can think of – at least not on a full time basis. This is not just because the lack of income or opportunity (I’ve met quite a lot of Romanian Engineers who’ve left Romania specifically because of this). My main reasons are as outlined above (corruption, general feeling) – but even then, the truth is, I could not remain in one place for too long – I long travel too much and I prefer working in a global environment.
Having said that, I did say not on a permanent basis – so I’d entertain the idea of taking a job / running a business which took me in and out of Romania (and other countries as well), but I would still not live there on a permanent basis.

9. Here's a soapbox, get on it and give us any other thoughts on the matter.

First – disclosure – my background is ethnically Hungarian (well probably around 75%) – and I am an Engineer with ample experience working in the resources industries (mining/oil/gas) and a background in electronics/telecommunications, but don’t hold this against me! (I’m also not a conspiracy nut / communist / socialist / capitalist or fervent supporter of any one single ideology).
Firstly, I think Romania (and Eastern Europe) are in for a shock. There is so much opportunity to make something better of it all, but I think the people are too slow to wake up and realise the breadth and depth of the machinations with regards to what is happening. It’s blindingly obvious to those, in Romania and other places, if they don’t let themselves be led by mindless consumerism.
People need to want change – and be willing to fight for it. I think this is something that has been lost on the new generation (thank you TV, Internet, and learned complacency via brainwashing media!). They need to rid themselves (through legal avenues) of the corrupt politicians. The country needs to reform and society needs to take an introspective approach; do people really want to leave their grandchildren a crumbling shell of a nation as their legacies? The country is resource, intellect, and labour rich. It has extremely innovative people, who leave because the opportunities don’t exist locally to express these ideas and have them flourish. None of this will happen without reforms.

I don’t know which system works best – but I can tell it’s not the current one. The Scandinavian style of social policies, to me, seems to mix just the right amount of social welfare with capitalism and consumerism; barriers to entry are low when it comes to businesses due the lowest corruption level recognised on most globally measured indices. This is something Romania can achieve. The people need to want it, and believe it can be done. They need to drop the feeling that they’re a broken people and do more things together as a community again, for the good of the group. (Yes I know this sounds like it borders on advocating communism, but I promise, it is not what I’m going for).

Another thing that really annoys me – what the hell has happened to the train system in Romania! People stealing newly laid rails? Nails? Girders? If someone’s doing this for profit, because it’s easier than holding a normal job – throw the book at them and stop letting them get away with it. Trains are what bring the tourists in (more so than buses and planes), so if you want more foreign investment in the country, make people actually enjoy their journey through it.  The quality also needs to improve, as traveling from Austria/Hungary (not going to mention Germany/France) to Romania the differences were night and day. Speaking of night, the overnight trains were disgusting … it was very sad to see. They need an overhaul.

When it comes to corporations, especially multinationals – the government needs to make sure the people are not exploited while politicians or friends / family thereof receive kickbacks. Corruption needs to be stamped out and this can only happen if people demand reform, and hold their representatives to account.
Naturally environmental concerns aren’t high on the list when people are finding it hard to make do / put food on the table. But things like environmental stewardship and collective consciousness are very important. Your coverage of the mining fiasco with Rosia Montana is an example where corruption + multinationals + locals + environmental concerns came to clash. I sincerely hope that the mine is not permitted to go ahead, because the truth is that it will be a net cost to the country over the next century. This is because CIL and CIP processes, which are used in mining and refining gold, are very hazardous and the tailings dams need to be lined very specifically / maintained for a very long time – otherwise eventually cyanide will leech into the groundwater and contaminate the ecosystem / water supply. I could go into further technical details, but that will take a whole other post (I’ve worked with tailings dams in the mining industry). Suffice it to say, the public has not been informed of the whole truth – or the environmental impact statement and maintenance estimates were incomplete or incorrect.

I want Romania to succeed. I want it to be better. I want the standard of living to be high enough so the average person doesn’t have to think about “Should I buy that bit of beef and not have hot water / turn off the lights all the time to save on my electricity bills?” It’s an embarrassment to know that the social services have become so bad that average people are just getting by, on an average monthly salary (the law needs to change on this one), while seeing politicians driving around in €100,000 cars.

I would like to see a Romania which is not rife with corruption, where people don’t look at each other and think “Oh, Romanian” or “Oh, Hungarian” or “Oh Gipsy” etc. This is not idealism, it’s a simple fact that when people aren’t pushed to the edge of poverty, when they have something to look forward to, and they have work where they feel content and productive, these types of thoughts disappear / don’t really enter the collective consciousness. Yes there are problems with Romanians, Hungarians, and Gipsies – a small, tiny subset of them – but it’s no different with others in the world. One thing we need to recognize, as individuals and groups, is that most of us have very similar needs, wants, and desires – shelter, food, companionship, comforts, and opportunities (and to be left alone at times!).

On a final note – as much as I am for a “Global Community”, I don’t think Romania (or most Eastern European nations) are ready completely to allow insane foreign investment in certain asset subclasses – things like housing, farm land, etc for example should be restricted. This only helps big corporations and high net wealth individuals (and is one of the reasons that the South-East Asian nations are not permitting outright ownership of houses and businesses in many nations like Thailand and Vietnam). The net effect, Romania has already felt – unreasonably high prices that nobody can really afford, with very few becoming very wealthy and most being priced out of the market, even after the prices have fallen. I’m not saying this is easily undone or can be rolled back, but certain limitations could still be put in place to discourage this practice.
In summary, Romania will always have a place in my life, but only if there is systematic and positive change will it ever become a focal point again.


  1. You know Matt, you can definitely notice a trend with the Romanian expats you interview, but I'm wondering whether from a psychological viewpoint this isn't to be expected. Are you familiar with the concept of a self-selecting sample?

    In this case, I think that most people who have moved away from Romania by choice or had very little contact with Romania after moving out of the country will naturally band together, in that they won't feel that their destiny is linked to the country.

    There's a big debate here in South Africa as well, where people are mixed in their reactions towards South Africans who have emigrated and then bad-mouth the country online. The irony then is that the very same South Africans living in the country who'd normally criticise the country end up attacking these people, because the feeling is that if you leave a country you lose the right to criticise it. I wonder if the same thing is felt in Romania?

    The way I see it, as many people as would ever want to leave a country, you can never have the mass-migration of an entire population - global migration is still reserved for a fortunate minority.

    What about the majority of Romanians living in Romania, who cannot leave for whatever reason? Are their views more nuanced because they live in the very situations the Romanian expats you speak to only see from afar, or is there a natural tendency to overlook negative aspects of where you live (and cannot leave) so that you don't make your life a living nightmare?

    Questions ... the more questions you ask, the more you have, innit?


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

10 Reasons Why Romania is Better Than America

Really? Yes, really. Let me count the ways.

In America you can get everything you've ever dreamed of: GameBoy, Sega Genesis, plants that look like faces, and more.  Maybe if you work really hard long hours at the job you hate (but that you tell everybody you love lest you appear to be a miserable person), you can even get a flat panel home theater TV that takes up half your basement (on credit, of course). Awesomeness!!
In America you can always be sure to be on top of the latest fad, such as devil sticks or Tamagochi and you will be first to read bestsellers like The DaVinci Code and Fifty Shades of Crap literature. Basically there are thousands of ways of feeling accomplished -or pretending that you are - you just need to be there to catch all these wonderful trends on time!

I know what you're thinking, how can Romania possibly top all that considering America is also the land of Root beer floats and Antoine Dodson?

Everything's been done in America, that's why peopl…

Is Cluj The Best City On Earth?

It's a question I ask myself at times.

Let's put it this way; I've been around. Maybe not all around the world, but halway-ish maybe. Sailed the canals of Amsterdam, biked from one end of Paris to the other, took the train from Budapest to Berlin, drove the 405 in LA, and yeah, I even rode a hay cart back in the day. But other than enjoying all these forms of transportation, I got to enjoy the places I visited. I don't know about you, but when I visit a place I always ask myself,  'would I live here?' While the answer is often 'yes, why not', the only place I moved to was Cluj.

Cluj, how do I love thee, let me count the ways:

1. I love your smell. It's like earth, and air, and city. I will never forget my first day here, when I  walked out of the arrivals building at the airport and breathed in your smell. Spring. You're the city of eternal Spring. On a balmy day, it's what you smell like, even if it's December, or August.

2. I love your…

Are Romanian Women The Most Beautiful In The World?

More than once, I was asked to write about the beauty of Romanian women, but...

I have no words. Besides, I may be biased, but clearly it's a rhetorical question.

However, there is no shortage of Facebook pages dedicated to the subject.

Image: A typical Romanian woman, Madalina Ghenea.

10 More Reasons Romania is Better Than America

I get it. The US is special. I hate to say it, especially as a Canadian, but it is.

But it's mostly special because of the America that it used to be. The idea of America is special.

There was, once, an American Dream within the reach of any hard working man. It was a country that offered unprecedented freedoms and opportunities unmatched by any other. The great melting pot was about inclusion towards one common goal, it was not divisive, individualistic and driven by a Bergeron-esque vision of 'equality'. Assets were not based on decades-long lines of credit, and salaries kept up with cost of living increases. I could go on about 'the way things used to be' but you can look it all up if you're interested. If you live there, you should be.

The reality in America is different now.

Sure, it's still the land of plenty. But the plenty is not all good. Plenty of debt, plenty of poverty, plenty of obesity, plenty of civil unrest coupled with plenty of heavy-hand…

10 Things Romania Does (A Bit) Differently - Part 1

A few days ago, after walking into a grocery store, I couldn't help noticing I was in a state of trepidation. The reason? I'd walked in with my gym bag, purposely avoiding the security guy at the entrance. I felt his eyes must be following me and that a loud, "Hey, you!" would ring out the moment I turned into an aisle.

It turns out that the longer you live somewhere, the more you get used to it. A truism, of course. What is not immediately apparent is that this isn't necessarily a good thing, especially when you find that you've become used to something you may have found, at some point in the past, in another place, entirely unacceptable.

This is why, now that I've crossed over the honeymoon period of my move to Romania, I find my enthusiasm for life here wanes when, for the 286th time, I  am forced to walk into a supermarket through the designated entrance point, even if an empty checkout is much closer and no less accessible. Then, upon entry, a grump…

You Can't Plan a Romania Road Trip, But You Should Anyway

I started writing this post in September 2014, not long after coming back from vacation. I dropped it because I got sick of going through the hundreds of pictures we took just to pick the perfect ones for this post. But, like a seed once planted, it needs some water and the right conditions to flourish. In my case: an email from a reader, asking me about road-tripping through Romania, and the chance to lift this weight off my back. So here it is, a summary of one Romania road trip, from Cluj and back.


2,656 Kilometers.
188 Liters of gas.
2,919 RON.

That's more or less the tally for the Romania road trip I took with my roomie/wife Roxana. We could have booked an all-inclusive vacation to Greece, Turkey, or Bulgaria at about the same cost, but how could we resist a road trip? A unique waterfall, the 'tunnel of love', the best driving road in the world, Summer …

What I Learned About Driving In Romania

I get it now. I understand Romanian drivers and their follies. It's something I thought would never happen. All it took to shape me into a Romanian road rage machine was one month of driving around Cluj and a 400 km round trip. I'm kidding about the rage part.

The idea of driving in Cluj was intimidating. Last time I'd driven manual shift was almost ten years ago when a co-worker asked me to drive her and her newly purchased, Pontiac Firefly home because she had no idea how to do it. So of course I stalled that little bastard all over the place. Little surprise that the idea of driving along busy and narrow European streets was unappealing - especially after years of driving automatic on wide, North American roads.

But I managed. Stalled an average of once per trip during the first week, and then a couple of times in the second week, and now, a little over a month later, I sometimes stall at stoplights when I forget I'm driving stick and leave it in gear when I release…

Here Is Why Romania's Future Is Bright

The festival is only in its second edition, but following last year's inaugural event, Electric Castle has stirred up enough buzz to attract visitors from beyond Romania's borders. Walking around the festival grounds I had the impression that every other group was comprised of foreigners speaking Hungarian, English, German, or French. And judging by the license plates in the parking lots, every county in Romania was well represented. While there's plenty to be said about the artists and the music, there's something else I want to discuss in this post.

When you think "music festival", the image that comes to mind is that of overly excited youth on a drug and alcohol infused rampage, laying waste to everything in their path. Maybe it has something to do with the way festivals like to promote themselves; these are basically the images that stand out on most 'Official Aftermovie' videos from major music festivals. But obviously the experience is defined b…

Why Romanians Don't Like Romanians

To my knowledge, this national self-loathing is a uniquely Romanian experience. Maybe we share it with some of our neighbours, but I doubt it. I've never seen a people dislike their own as much as the Romanians.
This is going to be highly generalized, but as with most things I write here it's rooted in personal experience and observations. Don't hate the player, hate the game.

1. Romanians like the exotic, to be Romanian is the antithesis of what it means to be exotic.

2. Romanians are often prejudiced. The thought process goes something like this: If you're Romanian you're probably bereft of interesting experiences and financially limited. You're from 'the-worst-country-on-earth', after all. If  you're well off, then you're just a rich asshole (probably a thief, too). Either way, your Romanian-ness ensures you're seen as a person with limited horizons who likely can't offer anything new or different.

If you're Western European or Nort…

Rosia Montana - An Informed Reply

It's always a pleasure to see a new email message from somebody who's been reading this blog. In this case, the message came in from a reader who first contacted me last year. He moved to Canada quite a while ago and settled in the Northwest Territories. He wanted to respond to the previous post on Rosia Montana, but given the length of the reply, I've asked him to allow me to publish it as its own post. He asked me not to share his name, but outside of that, I'm copying it verbatim.

(Edit: In Romana mai jos)

Hello Matt,

Here we go again: Rosia Montana. I got involved in this project about four years ago. I had had phone interviews with radio stations in Bucharest; I published several articles in two or three magazines in Bucharest. I hosted, guided and loaded up with data and portable computer equipment one “Romanian explorer” as the Romanian media called her: Uca Marinescu. Perhaps the name rings a bell. Anyhow she never got back to me; there was no feedback, no follo…