On the Road (day sixteen)

June 10, 2008

By hammersmith

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.

Central Romania

Charles Mackin (’07):

On the bus ride this morning, through and around the windy roads of Carpathian Mountains, I made several observations. Central Romania seems much less industrial than far western Romania, which is often regarded as more developed than eastern parts of Hungary. Central Romania also seems to have a sizable agricultural sector, with fields of grain stretching to the horizon. This was later verified in an economic session where the instructor noted that Romania’s bloated agriculture sector once accounted for roughly 30% of the GDP. Currently, Romania is making a concerted effort to shrink the agricultural sector to the recommended 5% of GDP. I also could not help but think the windy roads through the Carpathian Mountains may one day be mere dilapidated remnants of once lesser developed Romania. One of Romania’s major goals is to further develop its infrastructure to make transportation of goods more efficient thus increasing profit margins furthering economic development.

Once at our destination, the Szekely museum of art in Csikszereda, the group received a briefing regarding the history of the museum and the impressionist genre. Much of the collection was of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and came from the town’s once-famous art school. Directors of the art school felt strongly that it should remain entirely private, because they wanted to maintain their independence. The majority of the art fell into the impressionist genre and depicted various scenes of nature with wide-ranging and vivid colors. There was definitely a French influence especially from more prominent painters such as Monet.

In the evening, we enjoyed a presentation on ethnic relations in Romania. I thought it was particularly interesting that in Romania certain minority groups are guaranteed seats in Parliament. The session addressed issues regarding post-Communist-era ethnic relations with emphasis on relations among Hungarian, Roma and Romanian populations. After Romanian independence in 1989, the Hungarian minority wanted to regain control over the education of its people. This often translated into separate schools for the Hungarian people, which spurred major tensions among ethnic Romanians and Hungarians. Such instability hampered foreign investment in certain areas and served as an overall loss for Romania. Romania continuously battles serious issues regarding its minority populations. Today, Hungarians have a separate schooling system, which I found to be an interesting contrast to the U.S., where increased integration is usually the goal among minority groups.

Likewise, the Roma population has a separate schooling system. In the case of the Roma, there are astronomical educational disparities. A mere 1 percent of Roma children reach high school, and even fewer attend universities. Generally, Romanians acknowledge a two-tier system, one that is both separate and unequal. Such lack of education inevitably leads to minimal career opportunities. As a result, a disproportionate number of Roma survive off of state funds. Culture also poses a significant problem for the Roma people. Such poor socioeconomic backgrounds lead to other issues. When asked whether or not the Roma had become politically apathetic, the answer was no. On the surface, roughly 50% of the Roma population turns out to vote. However, many Roma people do not necessarily see the value in voting or at least attach a greater value to sustenance and in turn sell their votes. Clearly, Romania is dealing with some serious issues, of which Roma culture only serves to further complicate matters. Romania is most-definitely pressed for solutions, nonetheless. The Roma population is steadily increasing, and with recent ascension into the European Union, Romania is required to prove itself a state that expresses a particular interest in the welfare of its minority citizens.

Photo by Quinney Fu (’07)