“They were born at a time of complete destabilisation”, my dad says, glancing over at the football game on the TV. He was talking about my brother’s generation – Romania’s millennials – who would have not yet entered adulthood at the time of the 1989 revolution, or who were born shortly after it. What had sparked my sudden interest was an experience I’d had during Romania’s most recent parliamentary elections (December 6th, 2020), during which I was part of a team made up mostly of millennials. Throughout those two days I noticed stark differences in their attitudes and ours (Gen Z’s), both in terms of perspectives and approaches. My father was thirty at the time of the revolution, and was thus already fully formed socially and culturally when it all happened; there was a huge difference in adaptability between those like him and those still in university, or younger, which was not accounted for. That is to say, whilst established members of society were confronted with the sudden arrival of the West, those younger than them were helplessly struck by it.
I was seven when Romania entered the EU, a radical change which impacted the very foundation of what was to become my education and overall circumstances. It became the defining political event of my generation, similarly to the effect the revolution had on our millennials. The important difference was that, for them, this was going to be yet another wave of sociopolitical inconsistency, technological advancements, and cultural shifts. This is not to say that they hadn’t learned who Michael Jackson was by then, but the dissonance between the Occident and the newly freed East was still very much apparent. They lived aware of the vastness of information, music and art available in Western countries, and yet were still unable to access most of it.
When teenage magazines offering sex advice and featuring pictures of quasi-covered American celebrities started circulating, a general sense of rejection coming from the direction of older generations started being prominently felt; it – meaning sex – was being advertised, and therefore, encouraged. The sickle-shaped obstacle of the utter lack of information regarding the matter had been surpassed, and whilst there was still little information about it, there was enough to make older generations not see themselves in what their children were becoming – and that was frightening.
There was a tendency to hold onto a fabrication of individuality so tightly that this very aggression became their defining aspect.
The Orthodox Church had also been freed from its conformation to state interests , allowing for its adepts to cling onto it more heavily than ever before in a time of tumultuous change. At the same time, it pushed away those who associated the church with the past. In the 1990s and 2000s, Romania’s youngest generation existed in a liminal space, stuck in-between the East and the West, too estranged from the past to become their parents, yet too unaware of the present to fit into Western society. So, some of them left, and they didn’t fit in. That in turn caused a lot of rightful pent-up anger and frustration, towards the government, older generations, and now Gen Z, the latter for the simple reason that millennials were only offered half the deal that we were granted in full. Millennials were free to leave, but a large number of them lacked the cultural awareness and language skills needed to fit in. It was this fear of vulnerability, presumably resulting from years of feeling inadequate, which gave a number of the millennials that I ran into an element of hostility, a malformed each-to-their-own mindset typical of victims of communism, but which disguised itself under pretences of individuality. When I’d receive misogynistic or inferiorising comments, it was because that was their sense of humour. When one of them threatened to physically harm another, it was because they always held their own. There was a tendency to hold onto a fabrication of individuality so tightly that this very aggression became their defining aspect.
I remember the two days of the recent election for two reasons: the aforementioned inter-generational rupture, and AUR, Romania’s newly born far-right party. It initially appeared as nothing more than one of those populist, now mainstream, groups that have been appearing around the globe. They’re regressive, nationalistic and (the two men in power) of course hold very strong views on abortion rights. In terms of complete backwardness and the desire for the reversal of any progress that Romania has made since the revolution, they’ve got it all. Not to delve too deeply into the scandals centred around their leaders, I’ll offer a quotation from one of AUR’s ex-leaders’ book, a philosophical treaty on women, which concisely summarises their set of beliefs around our gender. One might perhaps imagine Mr. Lavric as inherently lacking in the faculties necessary to write about the mind of a woman, but when one’s psyche has advanced past the tunnel-vision of their own circumstance, and has instead inhabited a sterile void, there is nothing that a middle-aged pseudo-philosopher’s noggin can’t do. In fact, as a student of literature I was met with an abundance of questions; “it is natural to affirm that the labour of abstract thinking is a `prerogative belonging to the male intellect”, he says. Frankly, if accepting my intellectual defeat means that Mr. Lavric will keep coming up with this type of stuff, I’m willing to abandon any notion of abstract thought for good.
AUR seemed inoffensive at first – they barely raked in any votes at all, and those that they did collect were from rural populations, usually made up of individuals who didn’t receive a formal education, and who, feeling mistreated by the government, turned to extremist notions of nationalism as refuge. That’s expected. But, on the 6th of December 2020, AUR cashed in on 9% of the total votes in Romania’s parliamentary elections – they were the third most voted for party. More than five hundred thousand people chose to vote for the firm reiteration of “traditional family values”, for anti-abortion laws, for magyarophobia – and more than five hundred thousand people voted for the country to once again lock itself in, rather than for its socio-economical expansion. But, more importantly to me, a lot of AUR’s voters were settled outside of Romania. A quarter of Romania’s entire diaspora voted for them, which begged the question – why would those who have chosen to leave, vote for an entirely nationalist party? AUR’s campaign was actually built around Romania’s diaspora; one of the first sentences that appears on their website is: “the Alliance for the Unity of Romanians aims at the unification of Romanians, wherever they might be, in Bucharest […] Italy or Spain, for the sake of our existence as a people in itself”.
They clung onto their local communities of Romanians, not just for the benefits of familiarity, but as a partial result of an inherent sense of unbelonging.
Returning to my previous discussion of our millennial population – having often felt inadequate in their own country, a lot of them left after finding work elsewhere, or wanting to pursue further study – in-between 1989 and 2012, Romania’s stable population was reduced by 3.1 million. But, in a manner all-too-familiar, yet differently from how they were perceived in Romania, a lot of them failed to adapt. They clung onto their local communities of Romanians, not just for the benefits of familiarity, but as a partial result of an inherent sense of unbelonging. This initial sense of displacement is something that all immigrants will be familiar with, but for an individual who has felt ostracised their whole life, it hit particularly hard. One is urged to turn and firmly grasp onto any sense of belonging and identity – in fact, the stronger and more definitory, the better. Thus, 40% of AUR’s total voters were aged between 18 and 35. AUR’s sensationalisation of the country’s traditional values going awry at the hands of the Western claw, their ideology of an unyielding unification and a message of acceptance from the country that they were supposed to feel a part of in the first place, worked – and brilliantly so. In fact, the leading face of this campaign is just like them – AUR’s co-president, George Simion, is only thirty-five, so it only made sense that lot of the party’s campaign took place on his Facebook page (which gained over two million likes, comments and shares in a single month). Moreover, the focus of his master’s degree was “the crimes of communism”, so, naturally, he traversed the whole of the political spectrum in order to get as far away from them as possible.
As my fears of ever belonging to a country governed by its paralysing fear of change and intergenerational mass trauma grow, I can’t help but question my own powerlessness. But there is hope. The party appears to be undergoing a process of self-cannibalism, wherein its members publicly antagonise each other and slowly lift AUR’s veil to reveal a much more unthreatening, and temporary, sign of the times. In fact, when placed within a wider European context, the one-year-old party is but a minor threat, and one that will hopefully diminish with time. Austria’s FPÖ, for instance, is indeed losing support, but the Nazi-originated party remained in the country’s political limelight since the start of the century. Further towards the East, Poland’s right-wing government, with a clearly authoritarian agenda, has already done some damage, but the belief that they will soon collapse is slowly taking hold. Now, we wait.