(Photo source) The day before yesterday, Romania's Minister of Tourism, Marius Dobre, voiced the idea of using national symbols of legend such as Dracula and Miorita to change strategy for commercialising the country's tourist industry.
Nobody took much notice. But then Minister of Agriculture Petre Daea (photo left - and yes, he's the one in blue. Quoique...) leapt in with his argument for changing the present leaf logo (apparently plagiarised, see HERE) to a sheep and all the fun began. According to him, "sheep are living statues.” Living statues? Yes. “Just look how this beautiful animal grazes in Romania's green pastures," he told Antena 3. "Near a sheep you can find a leaf, but near a leaf you can’t find a sheep.” Deep. Very deep. Where did they find this guy? Perhaps he'd also like to trade in Romania's national anthem for THIS while he's at it.
"Oh yes!" cried Romanians everywhere, thrilled at such a superb parallel reflecting a good portion of national behaviour at election time. Did they really? No. Of course, everybody fell about laughing. Internet was swamped with memes and Daea became the sheepish butt of the day. Actually, several days. The fact that Daea just happens to rhyme with oaia (the Romanian for 'sheep') didn't help him much either.
(Image source) Romania's current tourism branding logo can't be changed until 2020 as it was created with EU funds, so the whole discussion was somewhat pointless and Daea's woolly eloges all the more hilarious.
If a foreigner had suggested a sheep as Romania's tourism symbol, one can safely assume everyone would have felt terribly insulted. What does a sheep represent after all? As for Miorita, it may be considered a literary masterpiece, but it is one of the saddest (and most infuriating) examples of fatalism and hopelessness I have ever read.
I asked students what they thought about all this. Howling with laughter, they shook their heads and then howled some more. What did they suggest as a symbol for their country? "Sheep," said R., "aren't such a bad representation after all." Everyone laughed again. "Why is that then?" "Well, a sheep is interested in its own patch of grass, follows the sheep in front of it and can't think for itself." Ouch. "Aaaand," added S with a wink, "they recently sank a Russian spy ship! They're heroes!" Aha!
(Photo source) "The Romanian blouse ('ie')," suggested C. "It is a symbol of beauty, craftsmanship and heritage," she said. It is. Handed down from mother to daughter over many generations, every inch of the traditional ie from the material (cotton or linen of flax or hemp) to the intricate embroidery is pure art painstakingly hand-sewn, and has remained unchanged for centuries. The Romanian blouse is a statement of folklore and cultural belief and has been much promoted beyond Romania. Foreigners love them. Good suggestion.
"How about opinci," asked V. "Aoleu! Noooo!" cried almost everyone. "They're too peasantish." "What's wrong with peasantish?" Kitsch, apparently.
(Photo source) Other animals, then? Romania's national animal symbol is the lynx. Did you know? Nobody did. "What about a wolf?" "The bear! It is strong and protects its young. And it is very intelligent." "So is a pig. Hai! Let's choose slanina as a national symbol!" "A... bou. That is veeeery representative!" Gales of laughter.
(Photo source) Come on. Think harder. You live in one of the most beautiful countries I have ever seen. What about monuments? Nature? Something that breathes your history, your culture.
"Babele?" said someone. Not bad.
"The Caraiman Cross?" Nope. Romania is a self-proclaimed secular country. No religious symbols.
"A mountain. Any mountain. Our mountains are wonderful." Very true. They are.
"Something by Brancusi? Columna Infinita?"
What would I choose, they wanted to know. Hmm. A linden tree? They are everywhere, smell divine after the rain giving Bucharest a perfume so heady it makes you giddy - and they don't smell the same anywhere else. Trees are symbolic of wisdom and heritage, and in Slavic folklore, linden trees were sacred. Or maybe the waterlily that fills the Danube in late spring and early summer, delicate, peaceful and so completely sure of her loveliness?
Dobre doesn't get why his suggestion has caused such ridicule (pass me a kleenex!). "France has the Gallic cock, the Netherlands have the cow, Spain has the bull. Why can't I talk about a symbol like Miorita?" he asked rather upset.
Meanwhile, in a country relentlessly fleeced by its shamelessly corrupt government, the Minister of Agriculture sees nothing wrong with promoting sheep to the hilt as a representative symbol. Shear genius really...