I’ve been to Romania once. I was asked, with other photographers, to accompany an exhibition of photography in America, and represent the United States as part of a cultural exchange program with the former USSR.
Before leaving for Romania, I was visited by the FBI to prep me for my trip. I took everything they said with a grain of salt. It was all obviously anti-communist propaganda. They warned me about espionage and blackmail, surveillance, and the terrible things that would go on.
I thought to myself, this is Romania, not Moscow. It’s more liberal. They’re just hysterical and paranoid.
Sadly, I was way wrong. Ceausescu was in power at the time, and he was a total despot. He was executed 15 years later in the Romanian Revolution.
Our hotel phones were bugged, our rooms were searched and people were arrested for communicating with us.
It was literally unlawful for Romanians to socialize with foreigners. They did though, and at great risk to themselves. I fell in love with them as a people. Even those I met in the most superficial way.
Despite the military presence, everyone we met was warm, friendly, and went out of their way to be of assistance to us.
In the countryside, I came across a wedding and was asked to join in and take pictures.
In the small city of Cluj, we saw a sign that said (in Romanian) “Welcome to our anniversary, 474 - 1974.” They’ve been around for a while.
They are a homogenous people, darkly handsome, open, warm, curious, amiable, but a bit cautious. They were wary of us as we were of them.
It puts the lie to the thinking that defines “them” and“ us” as the only possibility.
As always, terrible governments; wonderful people.