In 1996 Emil Constantinescu won the Romanian elections in the second round and became the President. I presented my credentials to him as Pakistan’s Ambassador in 2000 at Cotroceni Palace. Later the same year his rival Ion Iliescu won a third term as the country’s President. Adrian Nastase became his Prime Minister. Traian Basescu, who had earlier been the popular Mayor of Bucharest ,was elected President in 2004.
Any name that ends with –escu will most likely be of a person of Romanian origin. Some traditional Romanian suffixes are –escu, -ascu,-aru,-anu,-atu and -eanu. These typical Romanian suffixes identify ancestry. For example escu means ‘ child of’. Ionescu would mean ‘child of Ion’. Similarly the suffix ‘-eanu’ and ‘—anu’ would refer to the name of a village, river, region or any place someone comes from – Moldoveanu means from Moldova; Muresanu means from Mures. And so on.
One of our Romanian colleagues narrated an interesting incident of Romanian name identification. Gheorghe is Romanian form of George. Our Romanian friend’s own name is also ‘Gheorghe’. He said that in the common colloquial usage in Romania ‘Gheorghe’ also connotes ‘a dumbo or half wit’. Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was on an official visit to Romania. In one important gathering the host Prime Minister was introducing his Ministers and senior officials and others to her. Quite a few of these had the first name Gheorghe. So the host doing the introductions had to repeat the name many times, Gheorghe so and so, Gheorghe so and so. Indira Gandhi did not know that Gheorghe was part of the name. Hearing ‘Gheorghe’ so many times for important persons being presented to her she likely conjectured that it was some some honorific (like ‘sir’ or Dr ), or a title of seniority in Romania. After a while a young and junior functionary was presented. As he shook hands with her the host announced his name, Gheorghe so and so. Mrs. Indira Gandhi, a bit surprised said to him, “O, how nice, you have become a Gheorghe at such a young age.” Our friend who was there too, said, ‘Some of us chuckled at the idea that she may have said it deliberately knowing the colloquial sense of Gheorghe.”
Romanians have said adieu to communism. The last communist leader Ceausescu met a violent end. Democracy is well entrenched and flourishing. During the three years that I was posted in Bucharest I saw Romanians make admirable progress in strengthening democratic institutions and practices. It was not easy for them to overhaul the system and get admittance to the European Union. But they did it. Before the communist rule Romania was a monarchy. Monarchy has no chance of staging a comeback but the Romanians have graciously let the last monarch come back as a private citizen. Mihai I (Michael I ) was the last king of Romania, from 1927 to 1930 and then from September 1940 to December 1947 after which he was forced to abdicate. He is now 93 years old. He is a third cousin of Queen Elizabeth II of England and belongs to the well known House of Hohenzollern (he renounced this title in 2011). His father Prince Carol (later king Carol II from June 1930 to Sept 1949 ) married Zizi Lambrino and the couple had one son Carol Lambrino. After a year this marriage was annulled because it did not have the consent of the king. Crown prince Carol then married Princess Helen of Greece and Denmark and he (Mihai ) was born. Although his step-brother Carol Lambrino was older than him but he, Mihai (Michael), the younger son, was made the king because of the annulment of his father’s first marriage. Carol Lambrino’s son Paul-Phillipe Hohenzollern (born 13 August ,1948) better known as Prince Paul of Romania, claims that he and not King Mihai is the rightful head of the royal house of Romania. He contends that his grandfather Prince Carol’s marriage to Zizi Lambrino was solemnized in a religious ceremony in Odessa and was never annulled by the church. Therefore his (Prince Paul’s) father was the legal heir and should have been the king instead of Mihai. Prince Paul has been taking his case in courts in Lisbon, France and UK in addition to Romania itself. Two years back the Lisbon court’s decision in his favour was accepted by the High court in Romania. According to reports King Mihai invited his nephew Prince Paul for reconciliation talks following the final verdict of the Romanian supreme court of Justice by which Prince Paul has been recognized as one of King Carol II’s heirs.
Prince Paul welcomed the court decision and while the inheritance rights including the royal property have yet to be sorted out, he has made it quite clear that he does not wish monarchy to be restored and should he get his share of the property he would donate his share of the Peles Castle to the Romanian Government.
Prince Paul is an unassuming, good-natured gentleman. He and his wife Princess Lia are quite popular in the social circles of Bucharest. We would regularly invite the couple to our national day receptions and private dinners. More than once my wife and I were invited to their residence for dinner. They have a nice house in the city center, but it is not conspicuous or ostentatious. At one time Prince Paul discussed with me his intention to play a role in bringing about peace in Afghanistan by persuading former King Zahir Shah to return to Kabul.
Romania is host to a very sizeable community of gypsies, better known as Romas. In the local language they are called Tigani. Romas (or Romanis or Tiganis) constitute one of the largest minorities in Romania. According to the official census report they are 3.3 per cent of the total population but unofficially their number is believed to be as high as two million. Europe is home to about 10-12 million Romas but in Romania they are more visible. There are quite a few theories about their background history and language but it is generally believed that they originally emigrated from Rajasthan in India and their language has traces of Panjabi and Saraiki. They were intelligent people living on their wits, moving from country to country. Before these nomadic people reached Europe – Italy, France, Germany, and Hungary – they had been to the Holy land and Egypt or at least they claimed that they had come from Egypt. They therefore came to be known as gypsies. The Romas (Tiganis) are a socially disadvantaged ethnic group in Romania. Many of them collect metal scraps, use horse carts as their transport and make their living buying and selling horses. They are looked down upon by the indigenous Romanians. Many are reported to have left Romania for other countries of western Europe after Romania’s accession to the EU.
Romas, although downtrodden in Romania and elsewhere, have an Emperor of their own. Mr. Iulian Radulescu proclaimed himself an ‘Emperor of Roma from everywhere’, in 1997. He also announced the first Roma state in southwest Romania. This is just a symbolic state. It has no army and no claim in Romanian government. Earlier, in 1992, another Tigani, Mr Ioan Cioaba proclaimed himself a ‘King of Roma’ reportedly in front of thousands of Romas. Later his son Florin Cioaba succeeded him as the king. Since he is so harmless the Romanian government takes no umbrage on his self proclaimed title. Once in a while some Romanian government ministers even attend the Roma King’s family functions. Romanian president Traian Basescu also held a meeting with the Romani minority organization. The Roma king’s palace on the outskirts of Bucharest is a huge structure built with typical Roma taste.
One typical tradition of Romanians which they share with Moldova is the celebration of the advent of spring. Like the spring festival of ‘nauroze’ is celebrated in central Asia and Iran and parts of Pakistan in the month of March, the Romanians also celebrate it in March and call it ‘Martisoare’ (pronounced marti-shoare – marti being the diminutive of mart or March). The celebration starts right from the first day of March. Both men and women give each other talismans made of woolen threads and dyed floss twisted into many tassels. These are amulets made with black and white ropes hoping to ward off evil. Nowadays the martisoares are exchanged between friends and worn by them on their chests, for the whole month, as a symbol of friendship, love and respect and not as an amulet. The colours of the threads are no longer restricted to black and white; and martisoare of all colours and designs are available. In fact in the markets there is a riot of colours and designs and the preparation of these delicate wool ropes is still a cottage industry.