Why is Romania so poor?

Imagine a science fiction scenario, a book (or film) set in the far future. A lone spaceship is hurtling through the galaxy, the humans on board desperately looking for a habitable world on which to settle.

Suddenly, on their long-range scanners they pick up what looks to be a suitable candidate. Further inspection of the planet reveals good news. There is a breathable atmosphere and liquid oceans of water. As they get closer, the weary humans happily discover that there is a land mass with a gentle, four-season climate and they begin to celebrate, realizing that they have just found their new home.

Now let’s further imagine that this imaginary planet’s terrain is identical to that of Romania. It has the same trees, flowers, forests and grasslands. It has the same mountain valleys, wide plains and sandy beaches. It has the same dark, rich soil. Computer scans reveal that it has the same mineral resources, from salt to copper to zinc and gold. It has the same energy resources, from (natural) gas to coal to petroleum. It has the same rich springs and rivers of clean water. And it has the same abundant wildlife, everything from pollinating bees to herds of deer and flocks of birds.

I think any imaginary spaceship of humans coming across a planet with all of Romania’s natural features would believe that they’d hit the jackpot. Literally everything necessary for a rich and wonderful life exists in this country.

And yet here on the real Earth, in this real country called Romania, life is very difficult and millions of its citizens are suffering from privation and poverty.


Why is Romania so poor?

That’s a question I’ve been asking for a long time. I’ve been to a lot of truly poor countries, lands where the soil is dry and broken, places where people can barely feed themselves and where disease, famine and war are endemic.

Once you get past the superficial political causes, in nearly every case the source of poverty in those countries is immediately obvious. There are simply too many people fighting over too few resources, whether that’s arable land or potable water (or both). Look at any country that regularly appears in the news because of fighting: Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Sudan. All four of those countries have vast amounts of deserts and sub-marginal lands and not enough clean drinking water for the people who live there.

Romania is only poor in comparison to its neighbors here in Europe. Compared to the billions of people suffering in Africa and Asia, Romania is clearly quite wealthy. But still though, why is Romania so poor compared to other European countries?

I’m not going to provide my answer to that question today, as it is part of a larger idea that I’m going to write about soon. But I’ve been asking this question for a long time and gotten a lot of answers that I think fall short of the mark.

Lack of resources – Certainly this cannot be the cause of Romania’s poverty as nearly every form of natural wealth, whether that’s a moderate climate, the planet’s most fertile soil, abundant wildlife and lots of fresh water is found here. Likewise, “commodity” resources such as gold and other valuable metals or fossil fuels like coal and petroleum are also abundant.

I really can’t think of a single country in Europe that is more blessed with natural resources than Romania.

On top of that you have millions of well-educated citizens, many of whom speak multiple languages and there is a large workforce here that is very adept at modern technology, particularly computers and programming. Certainly there is an abundance of “human resources” as well as natural ones.

Corruption – I’ve certainly written dozens of articles on corrupt and greedy politicians, so that’s certainly a factor. But taking a larger look at the European Union, you can see that corruption is everywhere, even in far wealthier countries like Sweden, Germany or France.

Nor is Romania the most corrupt country, as nations like Greece are far more corrupt than anything that exists here and the situation in Italy is pretty bad as well. So again, why is Romania so poor compared to those countries?

Low Salaries – Years ago I was riding on a train to Bucharest when I met a young man from China and we got to talking. He told me that in his country, his salary was roughly equivalent to the salaries that Romanians make. But what surprised him was that the prices were so much different. Where he came from, a bottle of water (or Coca-Cola) costs the equivalent of 20 bani, whereas here in Romania it’s well over 1 leu (or more than five times as much).

Likewise, prices in countries like Switzerland or cities like London are sky-high. But if your salaries are commensurate then the actual price of goods there is not that expensive. In other words, if salaries in Romania are low but the prices here were also low then it wouldn’t be a big issue.

Of course, prices aren’t low here and in many cases are far higher than anything I paid back in the United States. But why?

Stupidity – There are certainly stupid people here in Romania, as I’ve written about quite often. But you’d have to believe in some rather foolish racial theories to say that, on average, Romanians are stupider than all the other 400 million people living in the European Union.

I, for one, don’t believe that there’s anything special about Romanians as a race or nationality when it comes to intelligence. There are a few idiots here and there are also a few geniuses but the majority of people here are just like everyone else.

Victims of History – I can’t think of a single historical force in recent history that affected only Romania and not also the rest of Europe.

There were dozens of countries in Eastern Europe who suffered equally (if not more so) at the hands of Soviet oppression. There are lots of other countries who were also overrun by Nazi Germany. There are many other countries that were bullied and influenced and dominated by their more powerful neighbors. There were fascist leaders and cruel monarchs and Communist dictatorships and political prisoners and collectivized farms and population transfers and gulags in many other countries, all of which have somehow overcome those historical injustices to become wealthier than Romania is today.

Poland, for instance, was invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany, had half of its population shipped off to labor camps and saw its capital city of Warsaw completely destroyed once by the Nazis and then a second time by the Soviet Red Army. Poland had Russian troops on its soil right up until 1989 and Poland had its own fair share of domestic Communist dictatorships under Gomulka, Gierek and Jaruzelski, the latter imposing martial law on the country in 1981.

Latvia was wiped off the face of the map at the end of World War 2 and absorbed into the Soviet Union. Tens of thousands of Latvians were deported to Siberia and 150,000 were sent to work (and die) in Soviet gulags while hundreds of thousands of Russians were sent to Latvia to “Russify” the country and the Latvian language was banned in most schools and universities. Even today its own capital city is deeply divided along racial and linguistic lines, with more Russians living there than ethnic Latvians.

And yet both of these countries managed to rise up from their pasts and become more prosperous than Romania. Why were those countries able to succeed and Romania not?

The Butterfly

No, I don’t think any of the above are the true answer as to why Romania is so poor. Those answers above are not inaccurate, but I think they are just symptoms of the problem and do not adequately address the underlying etiology. I truly do think something unique happened to this country but its roots are far, far older than most people would ever guess.

I believe that everything began on September 23, 1543 when a Chinese man named Wu-Feng had his boat was blown off course and landed on the tiny Japanese island of Tanegashima. What happened on that fateful day in that remote fishing village was the butterfly flapping its wings that would lead one day to a “hurricane” of poverty and suffering halfway around the world in modern Romania.

That’s a long story to tell but I’m afraid you’re just going to have to wait a bit longer to read it as it is an important one, and I want to make sure I get it absolutely right.

Tagged as:

33 Responses »

  1. Please stop deleting my comments, if you want to talk about Romania at least have the decency to swallow the truth.

    Respecta diaspora!

    Noi suntem imaginea Romaniei in strainatate .Noi suntem cei care-si iau palme in fata pentru simplul fapt ca ne-am nascut in Romania .Noi suntem cei care dupa mult chin ridicam imaginea tarii prin tot ceea ce facem in viata de zi cu zi.
    Sau sterge din nou! Pana la urma am plecat si nu vreau sa ma intorc. Da-mi dreptate cand le spun tuturor celor care ma intreaba, cum tara asta isi merita soarta pentru ca oamenii si-au batut joc de ea.

    “Corruption is the abuse of bestowed power or position to acquire a personal benefit. Corruption may include many activities including bribery and embezzlement. Government, or ‘political’, corruption occurs when an office-holder or other governmental employee acts in an official capacity for personal gain”. Wiki, google it up!
    Oh corruption is here in Sweden. From the lägenhet mafia to the great inequality between the swedes and foreigners. Maybe your country should adopt the euro yes?

    Or being the only damn country to join the EU only to find a legal loophole to evade changing the currency doesn’t make you cheaters, abusing the system for personal gain???
    Show you my sources? Go back to sleep mate, close your eyes and keep dreaming that Sweden is the country that it thinks it is.

    And back on TOPIC, this is the reason everybody considers Romania as a satanic land filled with thieves , criminals, beggars and gypsies. It’s because unlike other countries like …let’s say… Sweden, it doesn’t invest resources and manpower in it’s image abroad. Actually it doesn’t care at all about it’s image and of course it gets bashed time and time again.

    Why is Romania so poor? Considering all the facts, it’s because it’s a country that has everything and most people living in it are content with what they have. Content with what they have? YES! Because when the taxes grew in Greece a few years ago,when the prices got up with with a few % everybody went to the streets to protest. And that’s nothing; I am sure if something like this would happen in the West, taxes get up, wages get lower etc everybody will march on the streets in protests.

    A westerner having to work 50-60 hours a week to get 150-200 euros a month barely having money to buy food and the basics? Phaf, he’d go out, protest,trash cars, brake shop windows and set fire to buildings in protest. Don’t get mad now, it’s true. I mean no disrespect, but anyone , ANYone no matter how civilized he thinks he is will loose it once a certain limit is reached. Go without food for almost a week? You’d murder for food.Something like that.. desperation,fury etc, crossing the line.

    Thing is, that doesn’t happen in Romania. The line isn’t crossed. Why? Because people are content. Yes they are content with their lives.They hate the poverty,the corruption, the decrepid healthcare, the huge prices, the low wages and the brutal labor. And they are CONTENT hating it, and wishing it would be better.They are content knowing this is life and it will not change. Why don’t they go out in the street? They do very rarely and in small numbers. What happens next? they are either dispersed,beaten or arrested or just ignored. Why don’t they go out and protest more? Wreak havoc and demand what they feel is right? Because they know they would fail, they know they will probably end up loosing the little they have. Because they are tired and the ones that could actually make a difference are too busy keeping the good life they created for themselves, and I do mean the people that have a working business, are into politics or have vast amounts of capital. Every Romanian knows this to be true. And the rest, yes they are tired and already at rock bottom, and they need to rest because they know tomorrow is another working day and they have problems to fix and work to be done.. in the same shitty system that gives them almost nothing.

    I know this must seem very hard to imagine for a westerner but it is the truth. The people that have a good life want to keep it that way and the people that want a change can’t/won’t take the risk to get it. So you might just say Romanians are content with the way things are. I know I will get a negative response from Romanians reading this post as they will feel insulted, but this is at least something they should ponder about.

    Romania, as a country, had to live for a long time with it’s face in the mud.So much time has passed that it doesn’t even remember what it meant to be standing on it’s feet with a clean face. Due to hardship and other dividing reasons, it has a population that does not work together for the good of the country.

    Other countries barely know what “mud” is, only to be shown on other countries’ faces. And for better or for worse they put their differences aside and have worked together for the benefit of their nations.Even if most disagreed on certain things, they sacrificed a little to make a greater good.

    Romania has to go trough incredible changes to get better and that means of course it’s people have to somehow magically change the way they see their lives and their role in the community. Maybe it will happen, but it will take a long time.

    But nothing is set in stone, Great empires rise and fall and maybe someday the Balcans will have it all and the west will be a ravaged nuclear wasteland. Things change, as people do.


  2. its a shitty country. Live with it . Nothing good at all . People are cold and stupid. They know you just for your money . Manipulators born ..


  3. Yesterday , theres has been an incident in bucharest 27 death in a club ,,and 100s injured . This is how the romanians work , they go on social media ,, tell their grief , sadness , bla and bla.. and none of them is one there helping or participate .. they just keep on doing talking. Yeah im romanian too ,, and im on the ground helping others .. i dont have a lot ,,but i make my best to help others ..As you will see ,, they talk a lot,,but matter of action ,, their is none ,, they just sell you a load of bullshit .. they dont really give a shit about their own people,, if they will have received money in this act ,,yes,, you will have see all of them . Never ever trust a romanian ,,never .. and never come to visit this country .. you will regret .. there is nothignt o be seeen here.. the people are hypocrite, they will used you .. no matter what .. i have seen it, and i have lived it . My country , my sadness.. their is nothing good here .. its a big lie ..imagine we have more church than hospital.. for what purpose .. romanians are always try to look cool,, but on the whole they arent .


‹ Older Comments

Got something to say? Try to be nice!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: