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The History of African Transnationalism in Romania

Rada Bogdacenco

On April 25, 2005, Romania made the final step toward European integration, becoming signatory, along with the European Member States and Bulgaria, to the Treaty of Accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the E.U. This latest development in Romania’s post-Communist reorientation toward the West marks a symbolic crossroads in the country’s history, a charged space of self-definition and (re)evaluation, in which competing theories of identity and belonging intersect and come to fore along such categories as nation, ethnicity, gender, religion, linguistic affiliation, etc. Underlying Romania’s geopolitical goal of achieving E.U. membership has been the notion of the inherent Europeanness of the Romanian nation, a notion that has prompted the country’s desire for recognition and inclusion in the continent’s efforts toward unification.
This paper will seek to complicate the structuring myth that forms the basis for Romania’s identification with Europe by tracing the history of African transnationalism in Romania and the ways in which it has profoundly affected the making of this modern-day nation. The term transnationalism here will be defined as a phenomenon of flow and formation of ideas, peoples and material cultures across borders, both real and imaginary, past and current. The focus on transnationalism in this sense will help set the debate beyond the traditional approaches in African diaspora studies, which often examine issues surrounding particular Black minorities within a set geographic space. Instead, this research will explore the multiple ways in which African transnationalism has shaped Romanian history and identities, including the transmigration of Ancient Egyptian philosophy and religion to the Carpathian kingdoms of the Geto-Dacians and the Greek city colonies along the Black Sea coast, the decisive and lasting participation of North African military forces in the Roman conquest and colonization of Dacia, the cultural linkages and influences between the Eastern Orthodox and African Christian traditions and the material interchanges facilitated by the trade routes of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires.

These findings will offer a point of departure and invite further investigations in the contributions and exchanges that have existed throughout history between African and Eastern European peoples and cultures. The topic is particularly important in light of post-Communist migration flows that have seen the diversification of African diasporic communities throughout Eastern Europe and the growing political, economic and cultural visibility of people of African descent in these countries. In the case of Romania, these phenomena have met with extraordinary levels of racism and/or ignorance both at institutional and individual levels. The marginalization of and discrimination against Africans and Afro-Romanians in Romania have been fueled by an ideology of Otherness that sustains their intrinsic difference and their “newness” to the rest of the population. This research will seek to undermine such claims by providing ample evidence of the historical participation of African peoples and cultures in the making of the country. The proposal is thus openly political in its desire to generate and support an interest in African-Romanian studies and a commitment for a civil rights movement in Romania that will achieve equality, freedom and betterment of life for everyone in the country, including Africans and people of African descent.

The question of African transnationalism in Romania falls within my larger research interests in the history of African cultures, postcolonialism, globalization, human rights and development. I have written research papers on a variety of subjects in these areas, including “Indigenous African Publishing and Development,” “The Adoras Phenomenon”:

Urban Women and Popular Culture in Francophone West Africa,” “Black Skins, Red Screens: Representations of Race in Russian and Soviet Cinemas Before World War II,” “Anthropologie-vérité: Jean Rouch Writes the Songhay” and “Négritude: The Spiritual Heir of the Harlem Renaissance.”

Potential Questions for the “Representing Black European History” Workshop:

  1. What are the strengths and weaknesses of qualifying the history of Blacks in Europe in terms of race?

  2. What is the relationship between Black European history and African history?

  3. How does Black European history define and posit itself within European history? How does it achieve political and cultural relevance and resonance beyond the walls of the academia?

  4. In what ways does Black European history impact the pan-European project of enlargement?

  5. What is the state of Black European studies in Eastern Europe and what are the specific challenges that the field must face in the post-communist societies of transition?

  6. What is the relationship between Black European studies and other minority studies in Europe, such as Romani studies?

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