Thursday, October 28, 2004

An apology

Loyal readers might have noticed that I haven't written for a while. On the other hand, I suspect I don't really have loyal readers, so maybe they (the non-existent loyal readers) haven't actually noticed.

Anyway, I'm in Krakow working on an intensive teacher training course and I really don;t have a great deal of time to write. So that's why. I'll be back in Romania the week after the US election to either drape myself in gloom and despondency about the fact that the world is coming to an end, or mildly celebrating the election of John Kerry. They won't let that happen though will they? This election will be as bent as a whole truck full of 2 dollar bills.

OK, that's all I have time for right now. See you in a fortnight. (That's two weeks to those of you living under the iron grip of what my friend Gavin refers to as "The Taliban with better dentists")

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Contexts Part II: Transylvania

Transylvania is known the world over as the home of vampires. In the time I have been here, I have to confess I haven’t seen a single one. If my attractiveness to mosquitoes is anything to go by this is not because I have badly tasting blood. But I admit that it’s possible that mosquitoes and vampires are likely to have different tastes in blood.

So, aside from the vampire angle, what else can I tell you about Transylvania? Those of you with the dubious benefit of a classical education will know that Transylvania means “beyond the woods”. Over the mountains might be a better description as the area is practically surrounded by mountains on all sides. It’s a very fertile region, Transylvania, and was once referred to (by Stalin, I believe, or at least someone in his government) as the breadbasket of Europe. Indeed he (Stalin) saw that as the role for Romania in the Warsaw Pact, but this pissed Ceasescu off, who thought the subtext was that Romanians were being described as peasants, and as a good communist he wanted a country full of proletariats. So rather than building up agriculture he instead filled the country with large ugly polluting factories. Thus, now, Romania’s agriculture is working at a 19th century semi-feudal level. And more surprisingly, in view of the fact that every town appears to have a tractor factory in it, there appear to be very few actual tractors in the country. I’ve mentioned before about how many horse carts and cows you see on the roads, and this is no exaggeration. I don’t think I’ve ever been stuck behind a tractor on the rods here, but horse carts? Every couple of miles. In fact one just went past the window of this apartment, despite the fact that we live more or less in the centre of a city. Well, large town. Ok, town.

Transylvanians regard their part of Romania as the “rich” part of Romania, with hard working people producing the food and other goods that keep the rest of the country in the lazy style to which they have become accustomed. Every country I have ever been to has these kinds of regional stereotypes. There are workers and those who live off the work, and this can be divided into class or they can be divided into regions. People from Lisbon for example barely ever bother to get out of bed if you listen to the people from Porto. Likewise the Sicilians are just a bunch of layabouts to the Milanese. For Transylvanians it’s the Wallachians. The Moldavians appear to have gained a kind of honorary Transylvanian status in all this. They’re not Transylvanians you understand, but at least they understand the role of the wallachian parasites. I should put all that in quotes, so you know it’s not me talking, but perhaps this sentence will do instead.

As I mentioned in the Romania post, Transylvania has something of a long and checkered history. You can read all about it on the Internet somewhere. I’ll start at about the 10th century because before that point nothing 9aside form during the Roman occupation) is very well documented, and so it’s difficult to know what really was going on. This also avoids getting into the tricky question of who the “real” Transylvanians are. So, after loads of invasions from various tribes, Transylvania started to be colonised by Magyars in about the 10th century, and by the 13th century it had become part of Hungary. (Do you se how I cunningly skipped 300 years there?) The Hungarian king, in an effort to stop various invading forces coming in and pillaging bits of it, invited two groups of people to move in and provide a buffer protection area. In the South/Southeast of Transylvania it was the Saxons, and in the East it was the Szekely. I’m not 100% sure who the Szekelys are, “a Hungarian ethnic group” seems to be the common consensus. They were renowned warriors hence their selection for this role. So there are areas of Transylvania where until recently there was a sizeable ethnic German population, and areas which are still Szekely (and there are still a lot of Hungarians in Transylvania). The Hungarian word for Transylvania is Erdely (pronounced Airday), and the German is Siebenburgen (7 towns, although one website I looked at suggested that this didn’t in fact refer to the 7 major towns of medieval Transylvania but was a Germanification of Sibiu, one of those towns, which is the most pronouncedly German still.)

So the next few hundred years is characterised by that history that goes something like “In 1479 King Wankdorf formed an alliance with Prince Mouflon of Cantaloupe, which led to the combined forces defeating the Wingnuts at the battle of Trouserpress. When Mouflon suddenly died of scrofula, his son, Prince Mouflon II joined forces with the Niblicks and turned against Wankdorf. Wankdorf immediately made peace with the Wingnuts and married Princess Lentil of Yucca. The three way alliance thus formed was too much for the Cantaloupe and Niblick forces who were pushed all the way back to the River Handcream.” Etc etc and so forth ad nauseum. You know the kind of thing.

In the grander scheme of things Transylvania was handed from empire to empire (Ottoman, Habsburg, Austro-Hungarian) Until about 1848 when the revolutions sweeping Europe engulfed Hungary and Transylvania, and ended up with a ruthless quashing of the uprising, and a subsequent policy of Magyarisation of the population of Transylvania. Under this regime, the Romanians in Transylvania, who previously had merely been disenfranchised, were now oppressed quite overtly and denied basic rights. All designed to undermine the Romanianness of the region. Language, culture, religion, you know, the whole works. It’d be nice to think that the end of this period would be the end of such oppressions anywhere in the world ever. But unfortunately not. In fact that Magyarisation has sprouted many bastard offspring all over the world in the 20th century and it’s still going on in various places.

In the First World War Hungary sided with the Germans, while Romania sided with the British/French/Russian alliance. At the end of the war, then, Transylvanian was effectively handed over to Romania, a fact on the ground which was confirmed by the Treaty of Trianon in 1920. Then of course the entire process of Magyarisation was reversed and replaced with Romanisation. Hungarians were stripped of their land, property etc, and Romanians from other parts of the country were brought in to ensure the Romanian majority. In the 2nd World War, Hungary made the same mistake again and sided with Germany - mostly it seems to get back Transylvania. It did for a while, until Hitler and Stalin fell out and then Romania sided with Russia, eventually leading to being again on the “winning side”. Transylvania reverted to Romania after it’s brief bit of Hungarianness (in reality it was more like part of a greater Nazi empire, but since that empire only really existed under war conditions it’s a bit of a weird one (describing the nazis as weird is I suspect setting myself up for abuse, so I’ll just add in here that the empire and its status as a constantly fluctuating entity is the bit that’s weird. What happened within its expanding and contracting borders goes beyond weird and into the realms of fucking awful. Just to clear that up).

Post war and under Ceasescu, the Romanisation continued. Romanians were moved in from other parts of the country, Hungarians were often moved out and moved to barren bits of land or to work on one of Ceasescu’s grand projects (like the Danube Black Sea canal). People couldn’t have Hungarian names (Erika’s dad for example, born Laszlo, is officially Ladislau the closest Romanian equivalent to his real Hungarian name), large Romanian Orthodox Churches were built al over. The most prominent building in Csikszereda for example is the Romanian Orthodox church – even though the town has very few Romanians in it. I imagine the congregation is dwarfed by the interior of the church. Also under Ceasescu much of the German population of Transylvania left for West Germany. Germany has apparently always had a policy of offering all Germans anywhere in the world citizenship, and paid to “repatriate” their countrymen from Ceasescu’s Romania. Ceasescu wanted the money so was happy to let them go. Thus now, there are almost no Germans left in Transylvania.

After Ceasescu’s fall, and the general collapse of Eastern Europe many Hungarians fled to Hungary (these days you see thousands of Hungarian registered cars touring the countryside in summer, as people come back to visit their families). There are now about 1.5 million Hungarians in Transylvania. The population of Romania as a whole is 22million, but I don’t know what proportion of that is in Transylvania. So what’s left is a land of probably about 75% Romanian, 20% Hungarian and 5% Roma and a few surviving Germans. I’m making these figures up, but they’re a relatively informed guess.

God, I’ve gone on a bit there haven’t I? What I really ought to add is that Transylvania is gorgeous. Hills, mountains, forests, attractive and traditional villages, attractive gothic cities, rivers, lakes, gorges, and valleys. I perhaps ruined the effect of that final statement by wittering on about the divided history of the region. But really you should come. And visit.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Good Company

This week Erika and I began the process of becoming a company. This is a modern method of marriage free from the scourge of same sex coupling. Ok it’s not, and neither do I think that same sex marriages are a scourge or a “virus” on society (as one Spanish catholic bishop/complete bastard said this week). No, we really are becoming a company. This is partly because it allows me to do various training courses here and anything else that comes my way. Partly it’s because it means I pay less tax when I do so. And it’s partly a step on the process of becoming a legal alien in Romania. The first method we tried of legalising my status here (not that it’s illegal yet you understand, but it won’t last for ever and I can’t work officially in Romania yet) was an interesting one. I was going to become freelance, but in one of those catch-22 situations beloved of bureaucracy, I needed the permission to live and work here to get the freelance status and I needed the freelance status to get the permission to live and work here. I think people coming to Romania without a job and without the immediate intention to marry are uncatered for in the law as the state hasn’t yet got around the idea that anyone would actually want to do that. The story goes that lesbianism was never made illegal in the UK because Queen Victoria could never believe that it would be practiced by anyone. The same goes for moving to Romania it seems.

Anyway, the upshot of all this is that becoming a company is the best way of living and working here. The two of us make up this company and we were asked to supply three possible names of our company in case the first choice sounded too much like an organisation already in existence here. We chose “Training in Education and Management” as our primary choice, and were very pleased with it – after all the acronym would be TEAM, and that sounded dead good. I was already imagining our website our logo and everything else. But we failed to get our first choice. The second was the more prosaic but still fairly professional sounding “Education and Management”. Again no. When we were told that we had to have three, we thought the last one could be something faintly amusing as clearly we wouldn’t get down that far – after all how many companies could there possibly be registered in Romania with long English names? So our third and final choice was “Hox and Erix’ (an ancient nickname of mine and an ancient nickname of hers). So, as you have no doubt gathered you are talking to one of the partners of Hox and Erix SRL. I’m actually beginning to warm to it already. It has a nicely peculiar quality to it. Like Google. Or Bang and Olufson. As you can see I’m already setting my sights high – thinking of the day that Hox and Erix is a multinational corporation, even though it has been set up in order to administer teacher training activities in rural Eastern Transylvania. I think I may need someone to give me the occasional slap in the face.

The legal papers were also funny. Having been awarded the name, our lawyers (i.e. the people we hired to take care of all this stuff for us) printed out the official paperwork of the company which we had to sign. This names Erika and me as the associates in the company and requires us to call a general assembly every year – to be made up of the two associates. That general assembly has the responsibility (if need be) of firing the administrators of the company. The administrators of the company are, you guessed it, also Erika and me. It’s a very labyrinthine and complex organigram. I’d draw it for you, but (a) I can’t, and (b) if I did so the whole thing would implode on itself and create a wormhole in the space-time continuum.

The upshot of all this is that Erika is now my partner in a sense other than the romantic. She’s also my administrator. (this is not some kind of bondage code word). And my co-assembly member. Oh and we sleep together too. Nepotism? We got it. I’m thinking of hiring Bogi as our accountant.