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January 27, 2023

A bad deal

Klaus Iohannis is not the first Saxon to play an important political role among the Romanians. Let us remember no more than his predecessor in Sibiu, two centuries and a half ago, Baron von Brukenthal.

Yet, it seems like an irony of history that the most prestigious political success of the Saxon community – almost 6 million people of Romanian ethnicity cast their democratic vote on Iohannis – appeared simultaneously with the sunset of the almost millenary persistence of Saxons on Romania’s territory. Now, as the number of Saxons has decreased so dramatically, surprisingly a Saxon becomes Romania’s president.

Why did the Saxons leave? And, most importantly, how?  Razvan Georgescu, a man from Ardeal migrated in Germany, has documented this departure. “Trading Germans” is a sophisticated documentary that combines an innovative documenting research with the practice of oral history and an aesthetics that is sensitive to the virtues of editing, but also shows a taste for experimental shooting.

The director’s friendship with Helmut Kohl was a major condition to open the locks on the barred door of the state secret. Because, similarly to the mysterious agreement with the Israelites, the Germans were also imposed the sine qua non condition of absolute confidentiality by their Romanian partners. Because it was not immoral to pay in order to help your fellow countrymen get away from the Socialist lager, yet it was outrageous to ask for money to allow the migration of your own citizens, exhausted by the damaging rigours of your political regime.

The documentary was an opportunity to reveal the “negotiators”, besides the German political leaders who accepted the “trade”. The counterpoint among the German interviewees and Romanian ones – very few of the latter accepted to contribute to the re-enactment – is sometimes striking. Involved Romanians resemble slave merchants covering themselves with a pseudo-deontology of professionals, still claiming to take pride in the dimensions of the fair, in the honouring politeness of the German politicians or in the fabulous sums that passed through their hands.

Razvan Georgescu’s film is more ambitious than the one based on a similar topic, made by another Romanian filmmaker who had migrated in Germany, Radu Gabrea. In “Jews for Sale”, Gabrea had approached the other human trafficking operation of the Ceausescu regime, the one that concerned Hebrew ethnics, and the issues were similar in many respects.

Nonetheless, in Gabrea’s case the research was mostly based on a previous work concerning this topic – and the main interviewee was the author of this work, Radu Ioanid – and the aesthetic proposition is modest, “Trading Germans” is a lot more ambitious.

It is a remarkable historiography premiere, as well as an existential meditation upon the option of migrations. Interviewed persons – both Transylvanian Saxons and Schwabs from Banat – narrate their personal histories, implicitly removing the impact of politics. Whether they chose to leave, the motivation did not rely merely on a targeted pressure from behalf of the regime, interested in the ethnical homogeneity of the national state as well.

The documentary also uses a few newly-discovered archived cinema materials, made especially during the 40s, before, during and after WWII, suggestively revealing a lively history of a community that is conscious of its own identity, but also contradictory and a slave to circumstances that are sometimes dramatic.

But, beyond the tragic background of a few decades of Communism and the chance to move in another state, a fatherly and prosperous one, disposed to finance immigrations out of ethnic solidarity, individual destinies are not mere illustrations of a community phenomenon. Beside the fact that each immigrant has a specific history, the existential tract of each of them preserves its pre-eminence related to the totalitarian pretences of politics. By example, one of the interviewed had a long and sinuous itinerary as an immigrant, leading him to Switzerland and then to Canada, until he finally returned in Romania, showing his trust in the future of local agriculture. Another one confessed his exaggerated taste for consumerism, like a vicious person that can only satisfy his needs in the heart of the Occident. Other people feel only half-integrated in their new country.

On the other hand, one of the questions suggested by the complex perspective of the documentary is: what do Romanians think about this quasi-disappearance? Using a drone to film the spectacular verticality of Gothic church towers, implicitly hinting on the ambiguous temptation to recover a cultural inheritance of such dimension, the director does not avoid the perspective of the future – what would happen to German monuments in Romania, architectural and social ones? The cultural contribution by Saxons and Schwabs cannot be replaced – not even by massive German investments in the future. Money does not replace people.





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