A Royal’s Reaction to Romania’s Majesty
While many people in the West still have trouble pointing to Romania on a world map, His Royal Highness Prince Charles of Wales has been working for over a decade to promote the still slightly obscure homeland of his great-grandmother (Queen Mary, the consort of George V). The Prince jokes that he has “a bit of a stake in the country,” as “genealogy shows [he is] descended from Vlad the Impaler.” Charles first visited Romania in 1998 and has since bought several properties in Transylvania—two of which will soon be available for rent to anyone who can afford the low price of 150 Romanian Lei (or about 40 US dollars) per night. So far, the prince has invested over 21,000 US$ into the two small old wooden houses that he undoubtedly bought as embodiments of what he sees as Romania’s greatest asset: its tradition. This is reflected in plans to make the houses as faithful to “traditional” peasant life as possible, with straw beds and costumes for the tourists so they can dress up like the Romanian peasants with whom Charles has fallen in love.
Seated on a bench covered with rugs in a clearing surrounded by trees and over-grown grass, Charles explained in an interview last year that his attraction to Romania was the country’s preservation of natural landscape and of old architecture. He lamented the western tendency to destroy the old and replace it by the fleetingly new and praised Romania’s “remarkable heritage.” The prince told of his fascination with Romanian craftsmanship and the pervasive small family farms, which he saw as not only a cultural but also an economic asset. It is to this that Charles attributes the “astonishing landscape and astonishing biodiversity” of Romania and it is in these assets that he sees the future prosperity of the country. For him, Romania has preserved a “traditional” way of life that “feeds the soul.” While this is something that the Romanian Ministry of Tourism has also recently promoted and that some Romanians have also begun extolling, virtually nothing has been said about the potentially adverse effects of such a way of thinking.
In a country that has long struggled to be seen as “modern” and to establish equal footing with west European nations, an excessive insistence upon an “ancient” and static way of life might end up preserving Romania in western consciousness as a “backward” region. Leaving aside the fact that culture has never been static and that “traditions” are everywhere perpetually in flux, advertising Romania as a cultural fossil might also end up hurting the progress that the country has made towards closing the real and perceived gap between it and the West. Capitalizing upon nature and promoting small-scale farming and craftsmanship can certainly create jobs and be sustainable both economically and environmentally. This is something that those western nations that Charles has accused of too hurriedly giving in to “short-lived fashion” are also beginning to realize. However, moving forward, all those involved in this sort of preservation in Romania must be careful to promote conservation without falling into the trap of stagnation. If not, Romania runs the risk of never overcoming its peripheral position in Europe.