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January 28, 2022

The investment of ideas

Despite all kind of speculations, books are still valued, also in commercial terms, during the Romanian specialised fairs, where the GAUDEAMUS exhibitions – for instance – are visited these days at the mountain or seaside. Thus, this kind of events amplifies each year. Also due to the fact that their agendas include not only book launching events, exhibitions, presentations of publishing houses and consecrated writers, but also debates that catch the public’s interest because they aim at making an in-depth analysis of the serious problems that confront the Romanian written culture, in its normal aspiration of being better known at home and abroad.
The successive debates of this kind, organised by the Writers’ Union, the Romanian Cultural Institute, the Romanian Radio Broadcasting Society and by well-known publishing houses often lead to the conclusion that the Romanian book market was – and remains – very permeable to foreign books.

The Romanian spirit of complementariness, of synthesis and tolerance is projected at universal scale on such occasions, the differences and similarities with countries like France, Italy, Germany, Spain etc. are revealed without complexes, even with convincing adequacy. And the clear truths expressed here are completed with a subtext which excels through an endless interrogative fund. Especially in this subtext I believe can be found many tastes of the contemporary reader, ever more avid to know how Romanians, even in their tongue, crystalized more than 15 centuries ago, with the essence filtered through many historic sediments, tolerate today so many foreign expressions, although they have their own correspondents with a much richer expressive fund, which are often dislodged from their natural structure and pushed to the outskirts.
In the context of many individual particularities, the respective debates result in the conclusion that the Romanian book market has become even more permeable to foreign books especially after the country acceded to the EU. In Romania, there are many books translated not only from western and eastern cultures, but also from neighbour countries and those of our geographic region. But the neighbour countries do not always show a similar availability for the Romanian culture. The most disproportioned situation can be found in Hungary, masked by formulas of circumstance. As it is well known, in the years before 1990, in parallel with the integral translation in Romanian of Hungarian-language writers, living both in Hungary and Romania, translations were also being made in our country from Romanian to Hungarian, of the works written by Romanian authors, for the cultural preferences of the Romanian citizens belonging to the Hungarian minority. But these translations did not penetrate the Hungarian market. The hostility of Hungary towards the Romanian culture has not changed for centuries, bringing prejudice not only to the Romanian culture. If Hungarian readers do not have access to Eminescu, they – too – suffer a loss. But when we speak about the relations of two countries with equal rights, members of the same European community, it is obvious that such omissions, operated unilaterally and willingly, take the signification of an obstinate rejection that accuses not only the Hungarian extremism, visible in the recent statements of Budapest politicians visiting Transylvania, but also the passivity, the lack of a dignified reaction from the fundamental institutions of the Romanian state.
When these institutions discuss the possibility of increasing the international visibility of the Romanian culture, the specific enthusiasm of individual initiators is stopped by invoking the lack of money. All our rulers from the last approximately 18 years masked their professional and political incompetence by invoking financial problems. Cash resources are limited, of course, but the full success of any cultural initiative depends mainly on the value of the ideas invested in it. It is less with money and more with ideas that a culture makes itself known in the world. Such an example is France, whose programme of spreading its national culture worldwide relies upon innovative, modern ideas that do not ignore the current taste. Why cannot we use the French model and distribute a well-structured programme of CDs containing translations in several languages of the works of our greatest poets? Why the numerous translations from other cultures, very present on the Romanian book market, could not be made in exchange with the translations of Romanian representative works in the respective languages? Why not translate in French, English, German a reference work of the Romanian culture, namely ‘The history of religious tolerance in Romania’ (1868) by Bogdan Petriceicu Hasdeu, who indisputably demonstrates in it the clemency of Romanian people, its infinite goodness, its wide spiritual openness, resulting especially from the respect for the neighbours, not once even from over-valuing their merits vs. our own traits?
A comparison between historic facts is always present in this fundamental book, the Romanian spirit of tolerance is projected at universal scale, the differences and similarities with countries like France, Italy, Germany, Spain etc. are outlined without any complex. And the clearly presented truths are completed with a subtext that excels equally through many suggestions and an endless interrogative fund. Precisely in this subtext I believe we can find the preferences of the contemporary reader, avid to know why Romanians excel at self-irony, while generally idealising the foreigner. Despite the major and multiple interest of this book, not only the translation in other languages, but also publishing it once again in Romanian is much delayed.
This kind of debates lead to serious criticism being expressed against the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Romanian Cultural Institute, also for the fact that the cultural ambassadors are appointed on strictly political, not professional criteria. This is why popularising the Romanian culture abroad often is only a secondary preoccupation, if not completely ignored. Even when such initiatives are spontaneously taken by Romanian emigrants, our ministry envoys are not interested, even if these initiatives are one step from yielding agreements with famous publishing houses in Europe. Translators are chosen randomly and founding Romanian bookshops in the large European capitals seems to start taking shape only recently.
A long-term strategy of spreading the Romanian culture in the EU is as urgent as its counterparts in the medical and education sectors. Romania has the duty to cultivate more substantially, more convincingly the behaviour of a state with the same rights as all EU members, precisely because this equality of rights finds an undisputable value base in our country.

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