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Vladimir Ghika International Airport (CLJ)

In Romania we have no role models.

Oh, we have our national icons. You don't need to travel too far into any Romanian town to come across statues of Eminescu, Coanda, Enescu, or the like. But the reverence we have for these people is closer to deification than simple admiration. When you admire somebody, you can aspire to be like them, but when they are deified, that task becomes nearly impossible. We, Romanians, have placed our cultural icons on a pedestal and instead of wanting to equal or to outdo their achievements, we are merely content that 'they are ours'. That leaves footballers, pop-stars, and Kardashian type celebs to step into the shoes of role models.

It's not looking good, but that can change. And it can start with one event and one person. That event is the current initiative from the Cluj County Council to come up with a name for the city's international airport with the help of the city's inhabitants. The stipulation is that the said personality should be somebody who is "representative of the county and who has promoted the city and region at a national and international level". So I wrote them an email recommending Vladimir Ghika.

Vladimir Ghika was born on Christmas Day 1873 in Istanbul, the son of Romania's ambassador at the time. At a very early age he was sent to study in France. First in Toulouse and then in Paris where he pursued a Political Science degree with minors in Biology, Literature, History, and Law. In spite of his privileged upbringing he had a higher calling and traveled to Rome where he received a degree in Philosophy and Theology. He wanted to become a priest but was discouraged from doing so as his superiors saw in him the restless nature of an adventurer. He therefore traveled as a layman, helping in missions worldwide from Buenos Aires, to the Congo, Tokyo, and Sidney, in this way hitting every corner of the world. These missions added to his repertoire of languages - he spoke 26 fluently.

At the turn of the century, in 1902, using his own financial resources he started Bucharest's first free of charge hospital under the banner of St. Vincent de Paul as well as the city's first ambulance. During the First World War he helped the wounded from the font lines, cholera victims in southern Romania, tuberculosis victims in Rome, and also made his way to ground zero after the Avezzano earthquake of 1915. It was only after all this that he was ordained a priest. He remained in France during the interwar period and returned to Romania just as the Second World War erupted. Refusing to flee to a safe haven like Switzerland as his diplomatic status would have allowed, he chose to remain among his beloved Romanians, the people with whom he shared his identity. After the war, as Communism took hold of the country, he once again refused to flee knowing full well what awaited him if he didn't.  When asked why he didn't go he said, "As long as my people lived freely and comfortably, I could allow myself to live elsewhere, but when my people began to suffer I could be nowhere else but by their side." He died two years after his arrest by the communists in Jilava prison, alongside other suffering Romanians.

This diplomat, priest, man of science, polyglot, caregiver, and in the end, martyr, should be no less than a role model for all Romanians. He didn't let the heart disease which afflicted him during his youth (Respiratory Angina) stop him from devoting his life to others. He was as humble as he was brilliant, and perhaps that's a reason he's not a household name among our other national icons. He wasn't a man of worldly ambition, but he was an exemplary man who lived by his mantra; "the only legitimate ambition is that to be a better person."

Vladimir Ghika, throughout his life, didn't promote the county and the city of Cluj specifically, but his example spoke for our entire country. What is representative of Cluj however can be found in his ecumenical character. Born Orthodox, raised by a Protestant family in France, and eventually ordained a Catholic priest, he showed that a man isn't divided by faith or other cultural differences, but in embracing them it's exactly what allows him to become a true brother to his fellow humans. This is the spirit of Transylvania; the love of our beloved Ardeal, regardless of ethnicity and religion, and the desire to be better.

The world's borders have been shrinking as air travel has become more accessible, but Vladimir Ghika was a man who lived as though borders didn't exist, both in his tenure as a diplomat and his overall perception of the world and cultures he embraced. Isn't that what a modern international airport should portray? It's a city's testament to its openness with the rest of the world. No name would do our airport more justice than that of Vladimir Ghika - 'evangelist vagabond'  and Romanian role model.

Here's the council's email address for vote submissions, please take five minutes to send your vote for Vladimir Ghika:

And don't forget Facebook:



  1. I didn’t know who Vladimir Ghika was: the character seems almost surreal. Oh yeas, something is very familiar and well known. The end of Ghika was so similar to the end of so many other good people.
    Unfortunately there is a growing wedge between Transylvania and the south of the country. It has to do with cultural, historical and last but not least ethnical and religious differences.
    You’ve got my vote and my email.
    Did you explain the City Councilors who Ghika was?


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