Five things to know about Romania

The Bucegi mountains in Romania. ― AFP pic
The Bucegi mountains in Romania. ― AFP pic

BUCHAREST, Jan 1 — Romania, which takes over the EU’s  rotating presidency today for the first time since it joined the bloc in 2007, is a former communist country with a population of 20 million.

It is also known as a breeding ground for filmmakers, hackers and a travel destination prized by Prince Charles.

Diaspora, past and present

Since the fall of communism at the end of 1989, around four million Romanians have left the country. 

While the exodus has emptied villages and created shortages of skilled labour, it has also generated large transfers of money to the families left behind — US$4.3 billion (RM17.8 billion) or two per cent of gross domestic product in 2017.

The phenomenon is not new. Many intellectuals left Romania before World War II and made a name for themselves in Europe’s arts world — from playwright Eugene Ionesco and sculptor Constantin Brancusi to composer Georges Enesco and poet Paul Celan.

Francesco Illy, who invented the espresso machine, and Johnny Weissmuller, who played Tarzan on the silver screen, are both from Timisoara, a town in the west of the country that was formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Silicon Valley or Hackerville?

Romania’s IT sector is booming to such an extent that experts see it as the future “Silicon Valley” of Eastern Europe.

A number of homegrown companies, including Bitdefender or UiPath, have been able to make their mark internationally, while thousands of young IT workers are recruited every year by the sector giants.

At the same time, Romania is regarded as a nest of cyber crime: Ramnicu Valcea — a sleepy town in the south which was home to a number of hackers arrested in recent years — has been nicknamed “Hackerville” by foreign media.

Dracula and Prince Charles

Transylvania, a picturesque region in the centre of the country, is best known for being the home of Dracula, made famous in 1897 by Irish writer Bram Stoker taking inspiration for his novel from the 15th-century prince known as Vlad the Impaler.

The region is also prized as a travel destination by Britain’s Prince Charles, who bought two traditional houses and set up a heritage foundation there. Hardly surprising, given that Charles himself has said that he was a descendant of “Count Dracula” and has said that Transylvania was “in my blood”.

One country, many ethnicities

A crossroads of different cultures — Roman, Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, Greek and Russian — Romania officially recognises its minority groups and 18 of them are represented in parliament.

The two largest minorities are the Hungarians, who account for 1.23 million people or 6.1 per cent of the population, and the Roma, who number 621,000 officially but, according to their leaders, could number as many as two million.

Other ethnic groups are smaller: 51,000 Ukrainians, 36,000 Germans, 28,000 Turks, 20,000 Tatars, as well as Jews, Albanians and Ruthenians.

Romania’s current president, Klaus Iohannis, elected in 2014, is the first head of state of German origin.

New wave

For the past 10 years, Romania has shone at international film festivals with a “new wave” in cinema. Directors such as Cristian Mungiu, Cristi Puiu, Radu Jude, Calin Peter Netzer and Catalin Porumboiu have won prizes from Cannes to Berlin with films about the post-Communist transition.

While Romanian films may be critically acclaimed abroad, they are not really box office hits at home because of a dearth of cinemas and the predominant taste of domestic audiences for Hollywood blockbusters. — AFP