The only place where I can apply for a Romanian birth certificate is at the City Hall of Sector 1 in Bucuresti. Thus, I’ve made the 598km journey by overnight train from Arad to Bucuresti to start upon this winding process to citizenship as soon as possible, seeing as my visa is due to expire in two weeks.
Bucuresti (Bucharest), the capital of Romania, is known as Paris of the East, or little Paris,“micul Paris” in Romanian. It has a population of roughly 1.9 million, all of whom seem to be out on its twisting streets between 8-10am and 4-6pm in the evening, causing a rush hour comparable to that of Los Angeles in terms of its density. Its nickname “little Paris” was earned between the Two World Wars, when neo-classical architecture and carefully-designed green spaces distinguished the city with a sophisticated air reminiscent of Paris. Today, the city visually evokes its more Communist past at every corner, as Stalinist buildings dominate the city’s landscape.
My week in Bucuresti was busy, intense, and extremely insightful.
As soon as I arrived in Bucuresti on Saturday, my aunt took me to the Romania TV ‘s filming of on-the-ground coverage at a pan-Romanian rally in Piata Victoriei, where protestors were calling for unification of Romania and Moldova in 2018 – a century after the unification of Romania’s great unification in 1918, in which the principalities of Moldova, Wallachia, and Transilvania were united to form the area commonly known as modern-day Romania.
The total number of protestors was shy of 300, yet the gendarmerie met the protestors with a robust if not intimidating presence, informing protestors that they must either assemble near the fountain of Piata Victoriei or leave. As they gathered with tents to stay overnight and exercise their right to assemble, their chant of “Basarabia e Romania,” the familiar slogan that graces many graffiti-covered street walls, was accompanied by others that decried the government’s refusal to validate their grievances and give audience to their interests. Along with Romania TV’s team, we waded through protestors that were vociferously urging Romanians to call their friends to join them in protest through Facebook, “the tool of the modern-day revolution.” Romanians, just like the nationals of many countries around the world, have taken note of Facebook’s momentous potential to mobilize popular protest as it did in the Arab Spring.
The process of submitting all to documents necessary to realize my Romanian citizenship is quite tortuous – that is to say, rather convoluted. On Monday morning, we went to pick up the documents from the notary office, where they were translated into Romanian and legalized. From there, we managed to make an appointment at City Hall for the next day to submit my birth certificate, parents’ marriage license, and mother’s Romanian passport to attain a Romanian passport. (Once upon a time, 20 years ago, my mother had entered the country with me on her Romanian passport as she hadn’t become a U.S. citizen yet. Seeing as I was only a few months old at the time, the Romanian consulate in Los Angeles let her bring me from the U.S. to Romania on her passport rather than making my own U.S. passport. Thus, once upon a time, unbeknownst to me, I had entered the country as a Romanian citizen. This needed to be verified at the National Directory of Passports, which would be a month-long process in itself.) There’s no centralized office where one can take care of all the steps necessary, you can’t even pay the tax for these services at the offices (you have to go to the post office or bank), so from office to office we bounced around the city for a day. Endless thanks to my aunt for helping me in this process. I would have never been able to make my way through the city and figure out this byzantine bureaucratic system myself. Okay, maybe I could have, but it would have taken me at least 3 weeks and a lot of tears.
Once all the documents submitted by Tuesday afternoon, we were completely exhausted. The fact that we had done it all so quickly in itself was a miracle. From there, I felt a creeping sickness setting in – undoubtedly from all the stress and confusion. I was prescribed bed rest for the next two days, with the only allowances being to go out for food and accompany my aunt to studio of Romania TV. As I’ve had this opportunity to sit backstage at Romania TV almost every evening and gain a firsthand view into Romania’s journalism and media, I’ve been submerged in Romania’s tangled political environment. While I’ve learned how the production room works and sat behind the cameras to watch political debates with former presidents and members of parliament, almost every day, I’ve walked out overwhelmed by the scandals and corruption that plagues Romanian politics.
In the midst of this, I constantly remind myself: this is why you came here. To see what it was really like. It’s one thing to watch the news from the other side of the screen – it’s completely another to sit behind the camera and watch how it all gets made. Thanks to this citizenship process that has required me to go to Bucuresti, I’ve been able to scrape into the depth of issues that everyday citizens face – and now share in them myself. What began as a mere curiosity has become a vested interest in just one week.