Each summer the Flinn Scholars Program takes an entire class of Scholars to Budapest, Hungary, and neighboring Romania for a three-week seminar on the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe. Here’s a day-by-day account.
Galen Lamphere-Englund (’09)
Today was a much-needed day of rest, recuperation, and reflection. Frightfully early this morning we boarded our bus, which has begun to smell a tad off after several weeks of occupation, and Lszl began the long drive back to Budapest from Cluj-Napoca. After being roused barely an hour into our sleep we all lapsed back into silent, deep sleep during much of the eight hour ride.
There were a few moments of consciousness during the drive, and in those precious glimpses of light I found myself reflecting back on the past week in Transylvania. There has been beautiful humanity: the faces of our gracious hosts in Homorodszentpeter, the inquisitive looks from children outside the one store in Targu Mures; the bouncing Latin club in Cluj, filled with incredibly friendly Iraqi soldiers training with the Romanian military.
The remarkable bonds of commonality between all people is even more apparent here. Whether in small villages that are struggling with integrating into a modern world or in odd clubs that reek of years of smoke and dance, I see similar faces to ones I know back home. While conversing about esoteric political philosophy with a Croatian expatriate in a cozy bar in Pest, I realized, more viscerally than ever before, that there are no true differences between humans anywhere. I find personalities that I know everywhere I go. There are friends of kindred spirit, even though we have may never before met have met. Common faces, bodies, ideas, and, above all, a shared sense of humanity is impossible to escape once one desires to see them. The lessons spurred by that revelation have been potent ones. Our biases, largely created by superficial societies, engender such strong blinders over our eyes that we truly forget each other.
However, the lessons to be learned here by opening one’s eyes are not limited to personal ones. While driving through the verdant farmlands of Translyvania I could not help but stare at the horrific testimonials to Chauchescu’s tyrannical rule. One of the other Flinns remarked the all the buildings are black and dirty here, a symptom of the many years of unchecked pollution. Giant concrete industrial complexes litter the fields: nuclear reactors, coal power plants, and half-functioning, degrading train stations. Close to one of our stops earlier in the week lay Copsa Mica, one of the most polluted sites in all Europe, where all the trees for ten miles are stained with black soot even fifteen years after most functions stopped. The dictator’s mad push for industrialization without any balancing or environmental checks has wrecked havoc on the environment and health of much of Romania. His concrete, Soviet bloc-style complexes for former village dwellers, erected over beautiful old sectors of towns, serve as reminders in the cities of that crazed drive.
Yet today stringent new EU regulations threaten to achieve what even Chauchescu could not: a complete elimination of small farmers and more harmonious village life. Instead of heeding the lessons of unchecked, perilous progress, the entire world is now forging ahead, led by Western industry, in foolishly forgetting the permacultural techniques employed in the old villages. Why do we, as a culture and modern world, continually seek to reinvent our ways in search of new “profits”? Why do we not instead look to the past and observe the lesson that have been taught before?
Perhaps this is the most potent lesson that I am being taught my our travels: Just as there are no different humans around the world, so too are there are no “new ideologies” or “grand ideas.” New thoughts, new iterations perhaps, but no truly new individual ideas. Those belong to us all and they are immutable through human time and space. Romania has opened my eyes even wider to realize this truth.