The year 1989 had a strong bearing on the history of Romania, but also on the history of Europe in its entirety. Borders were opened, the Berlin Wall collapsed, which also meant the end of the Cold War, while sweeping protest rallies resulted in the fall of the communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe. Quite unlike the other states of the former Soviet bloc, in Romania, breaking off with communism was paid dearly, claiming the lives of more than a thousand people. In the wake of decades of ideological repression, the Romanian society eventually resumed its democratic path. However, right after 1989, the Romanian society found it really hard to catch up with the democratic evolution of the Western countries, being fully aware and wittingly taking responsibility of its own past under a totalitarian regime.
The French Institute in Bucharest played host to a debate themed ”1989. The turning point.” The eventual aim of the debate was to analyze the situation of present-day European society. It appears, however, that resorting to memory is something very difficult to achieve, especially among Romanian youngsters. Elena Calistru is the president of the “Funky Citizens” NGO:
”As for the youngsters we have been working with in the field of civic education, let me tell you it’s not their fault their curricula did not include recent history, whose coverage could have been wide enough to make up for the fact that they did not get to live in those times. Perhaps we live in the best of the possible times, yet for many of the youngsters we work with that is not enough, since they do not have a point of comparison for that. And I think we’re going to lose them, if we don’t do something about it. We’re highly likely to find them glued in front of their laptop, creating a video-clip filled with hatred and discrimination.”
Mass media has its natural extension in the virtual world, thanks to the information flow the lay public is exposed to through the Internet. And at that, the messages are more and more difficult to control. The escalation of the ‘fake news’ scourge seems to have caught society unawares, the Western as well as the Romanian one. Apart from the phenomenon of spreading fake news, which as of late seems to have been gaining ground, mass media is facing an unprecedented surge of the unduly aftermath information may have with respect to the consciousness of democratic society. Liviu Tofan is a journalist who, during the communist regime, worked for the Romanian section of Radio Free Europe:
”Whenever we speak about populism, we also need to be more careful about nuances, since oftentimes, the media, especially the media with a very strong commercial touch, just as it happens in Romania, has the tendency to present things in a critical, if not negative way. It is exactly the method populists use when they want to generate negative emotions, projecting dangers which are inexistent, in fact. It’s just as it happens in the case of terrorism, when the press is the unintentional accomplice of terrorists, through promoting terror.”
Nevertheless, today’s democratic society seems to have an ever stronger capacity to discern. The Romanians, in their capacity of citizens of the European Union, let themselves less and less influenced by the political discourse, analyzing their stance in relationship with the other Europeans.
“People are interested in topics with a scope which is larger than their immediate life, than their wallet and the money they have to make ends meet. That’s the truth, society changes and looks a little bit beyond. The thing is society is a few steps ahead of the political class, while that rift deepens, grows. Society changes, and that change is for the better, I daresay. Never before had we a greater number of educated people in this world.”
After the economic crisis, Euro-skepticism has become a major threat for the European Union. Sometimes, this skepticism goes with the strong wish to preserve the sovereignty and identity of the European nations at the expense of a European federal state. It appears, however, that Romanian society does seem to align itself to such tendencies. Here is political science expert Robert Adam.
”Why does the Euro-skeptic discourse not catch on in Romania, substantially ? Because it simply runs counter to the Romanian national ethos. In other words, the entire founding narrative of the Romanian nation from 1848 onwards is a modernizing one, and one which ties in with the West. We do not have, like in Hungary, Poland, or elsewhere, something to offer instead. We did have our moments when we veered towards asserting our identity, but that ended pretty badly. So if we want to make such a discourse popular, we need to run counter to what people had been taught in school or in their families and which many times is fake, it is exaggerated. But that is the main reason”.
Apart from the reasons pertaining to historical or sociological research, Romanian society seems to be increasingly aware of the European and democratic values that define it. More than a decade since Romania has gained its EU membership, the confidence in the community bloc has been on an upward trend, according to a Eurobarometer carried out in 2017.