Sunday, December 6, 2009

Eastern European inferiority complex

The NYT's website is currently featuring an interesting article about an ethnic German politician in Romania, and it touches on something that I've always found interesting about Eastern Europeans: they have a tremendous inferiority complex vis-à-vis the West. The article is about Klaus Johannis, mayor of the town of Sibiu (Hermannstadt auf Deutsch), who very well might become the country's prime minister.

Mr. Johannis also benefits from the positive stereotypes Romanians associate with the German population, known as Transylvanian Saxons, who have called the region home since the 12th century.

The Saxons, known in German as Siebenbürger Sachsen, are considered hard-working, precise and uncompromising, an attractive mixture in a country tired of mismanagement and corruption, and one of the hardest hit in Europe by the economic crisis. It also does not hurt that the country experienced some of its best moments under German kings more than a century ago, even though the monarchs were unrelated to the local German population.

“I think it’s a real advantage that he’s German,” said Bianca Florea, 18, a student, as she passed through the main town square in Sibiu on Friday. “Well, not exactly German, but Saxon.” Asked why, Ms. Florea responded, “We Romanians are a bit lazy, that’s my opinion.”

Romania's once large German minority mostly moved back to the Fatherland (sold by Ceaușescu to West Germany for a couple thousand bucks each), so Johannis is a bit of a novelty. Despite its power, the Eastern European inferiority complex apparently doesn't override Eastern European pessimism:

But like most of the dozen residents interviewed here, she was skeptical about Mr. Johannis’s prospective move to Bucharest, despite praising his work as mayor.

“He could go there and do a good job for a while or he could be a puppet for others,” Ms. Florea said. Mr. Johannis belongs to none of the major parties, but instead to the small German Democratic Forum, which represents the 60,000 ethnic Germans remaining in the country.

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