Romanian Identity



The task of decoding Romanian identity is daunting, so complex is the east-west cultural and ethnic mosaic that makes up contemporary Romania. Puzzling, too, is that the question when randomly raised with a Romanian produces no clear, focused answer.

But why the search? One reason is that events are propelling Romania into the international limelight as it nears entry into the EU in 2007. Not only are Europeans asking ‘who are they’ but Romanians are having to ask ‘who are we’ and ‘what distinct identity do we bring to the European community of nations?’

Such questions were raised in Romania Redux, a recent book co-authored by D. Dimancescu (
more). An answer, the authors argued, is essential to the nation’s sense of self and also – by the way – for Romania to capitalize on its heritage as an economic asset. This is indeed what numerous other nations have done in building a huge ‘heritage industry’ of historic and cultural sites and related tourist services founded on a clear national sense of identity. One need only watch masses of visitors flock to Notre Dame in France or Buckingham Palace in London to understand the potential and its scale.

The debate pits those wedded to a single Daco-Roman ethnic type as the original ‘Romanian’ (a view promoted heavily during the Communist regime) and those who argue a picture of a culture built from mixed ethnic migrations and sharing a common ‘Romanian’ language.

One place to start to decipher the question of identity is with Professor Sorin Antohi.* His analysis is compelling and not without complexity appropriate to the very nature of Romanian identity (

Sorin Antohi (b. 1957 in Romania) is Professor of History at Central European University, Budapest. His most recent publications include a book, Imaginaire culturel et realite politique dans la Roumanie moderne. Le stigmate et l’utopie (Paris-Montreal: L’Harmattan, 1999), a collective volume he co-edited with Vladimir Tismaneanu, Between Past and Future: The Revolutions of 1989 and Their Aftermath (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2000), and an edited book, Religion, Fiction, and History: Essays in Memory of Ioan Petru Culianu (Bucharest: Nemira, 2001, 2 vols.)


Gheorghe Bratianu, An Enigma and Miracle of History: The Romanian People, English Edition, Editura Enciclopedica (1996) abe books or amazon

“We must assume the existence of two migrations: one determined by the evacuation of Dacia and the retreat of the last Roman colonists beyond the Danube, into the two ‘Dacias,’ established by Aurelian in Moesia, after the year 271; the other, in the opposite direction, carried out by the Transdanubian Valachs towards the North, no doubt before the 10th century, a slow and progressive migration which had as its effect the re-peoplement of Transylvania.

Bogdan Grigorescu, “Digging Up of the Early Romanian People: A Discussion of the Romanian Archaeologists’ Discourse on Identity and Ethnicity,” Undergraduate Thesis at Harvard College (Cambridge, Mass., 2004).

He provides a compelling and carefully researched view of the complex migrations especially between Roman army departure in 270 AD and the middle ages that evolved into the present day ‘Valach’ mix alluded to by Bratianu above.

Ernie Scoffham, ‘Image and identity:  Bucharest in the 1930s and 1990s’, Department of Architecture, University of Nottingham (England, 2000). The author offers an interesting urban perspective on the topic of identity with a focus on Bucharest architecture (more) An abstract in his words:

“During the 1930s the social life of Bucharest rivalled that elsewhere in Europe. Culturally and artistically Bucharest embraced dynamic, innovative and avant-garde attitudes, which were prompted by the establishment of a Greater Romania after the end of the first World War. The artists Brâncusi, Janco, Maxy, the composer Enescu, the philosopher Eliade, were recognised internationally. The development of Bucharest was based on progressive theoretical ideas and over a period of ten years its appearance was transformed by modernist buildings. The individual villas and apartment buildings which formed the bulk of this transformation were achieved by private enterprise and represented an innovative architecture of social equilibrium which was entirely modernist; quite unlike the modernist social housing programmes elsewhere in Europe which were the products of state intervention and industry. By contrast, state and civic building programmes in Bucharest realised an architecture which retained classical conventions to become austere, sombre and repetitive.

Since 1989, Romania has had to adjust to the rigours of market economics. The intervening fifty years of totalitarianism kept the achievements of the inter-war years under wraps, but these are now being rediscovered by a generation for whom they are the nearest representation of democracy on Romanian territory. The new-found democracy of the market place brings this period of cultural achievement into sharp focus, in the hope that it may act as a catalyst for the resolution of today’s extensive urban deprivations.


ucian Boia, History & Myth in Romanian Consciousness, Central European University Press (2001) amazon

Victor Neumann, Conceptual Confusions Concerning the Romanian Identity: Neam and Popor as Expressions of Ethno-Nationalism, RFE/RL East European Perspectives – 9 March 2005, Volume 7, Number 2 / See:

More useful and current information on Romania

Interesting discussion re “Branding Romania” with numerous insightful commentaries (more)