mariaWith some people you can actually see that they are intelligent, and I think that’s true of Doctor Maria. Well, judge for yourself from her picture above. She is a 33 year-old dermatologist at a private hospital in the centre of Bucharest. The interview takes place here, in some kind of lab, filled with mysterious tubes and machines. The fact that the doctor has come straight from the OR and is still wearing her scrubs, adds to the clinical feel.

‘What kind of surgery were you in?’

‘It was a skin cancer procedure. Step by step you remove tissue, you wait for it to be analyzed in the lab and then you start to reconstruct the skin. Today is a good day, luckily we have had no severe cases. All operating appointments for today have to be finished today, and we cannot push them forward because tomorrow is a regular consulting day with new patients. Sometimes we have to work till one at night to finish all procedures. And the bad thing is that when I get home after such a day of surgery, I will be awake for at least another two hours. I cannot fall asleep with that much adrenaline running through my veins.’

‘This is a private clinic, right?’

‘Yes entirely. People here pay out of their own pocket, we have no connections to the state health insurance. It is good for business, but not for medicine in Romania at large. People tend not to go to state hospitals because they will not get the proper care there. And a lot of people cannot afford private practice.’

‘I heard you have to pay the doctor a little extra, under the table so to speak, if you go to a public hospital.’

‘Yes that is the Balkan way, I guess. People pay if they want to pay. But I never met a physician in all my years, who said that he wouldn’t do something unless he was paid extra. It’s more like this: if you are happy with whatever the doctor is doing you can give him something extra. Or you don’t.’

Becoming a doctor was a rational choice for Maria. She sums it up: ‘in school, I enjoyed basic science. My mother teaches physics, my father was a doctor. I didn’t like memorizing stuff, so no law school. I was not interested in computers, so no IT. I have no feeling for Economics, so med school was about the only thing left.’ She applies the same kind of practical reasoning to the EU membership of Romania as well. ‘Romania does no option other than the EU. If we were not in it we would fall into the creeping Russian sphere of influence. Without the revolution of ’89 I would not have had the chances that I had. Because of it I could travel and I could study abroad. Capitalism and democracy is the only way.’

‘Romania has gone through three distinct stages in the last 30 years: first Ceausescu, then the period after communism and currently it is a member of the EU. Is there a difference between these last two stages?’

‘It is a big difference. Now that we are part of the EU I feel more protected. The doors to the outside world have opened. I remember having to wait in line to get into an EU country. Now I can cross the borders without problems. The only thing is, I do not know if the big EU countries like us very much. The common opinion there seems to be that we are consuming their money and not producing anything in return. I really dislike that attitude. A British politician, Nigel Farage, said that he would not want to live next door to Romanians. He said that Romanians should not be allowed to enter Great Britain. I take such comments very personally. You cannot judge an entire nation based on the behavior of only a small group.‘

´It is the same in the Netherlands. Problems with criminals from Romania are often mentioned in the news. They travel to the countries where they can make the most money.’

‘I appreciate what you are thinking. But people should not be too radical about this. Criminals should be dealt with by the justice system. They should be sent back here and serve their sentence in Romania. I think the image of Romania is flawed. We really have smart people. We have great writers, like Cărtărescu, one of the best writers of our time. He was nominated for the Nobel prize for literature. We have Angela Gheorghiu, a Romanian soprano. We have very good film directors. We have good physicians. We have very good schools for physics. We have the best school of mathematics in the world. That results in a very strong IT sector. Near Cluj they are going to build a European Silicon Valley. Our country is beautiful. There are so many more things about Romania than just a few criminals.’

‘I am trying to find out what being European means to people. What would you say about that?’

‘I would not call myself European. I am myself. And I am Romanian. I really cannot imagine ourselves being outside the EU, however. I think I would need to leave this country then. Well, great things happened to me only because I was living in the EU so I am grateful for that.’

‘So you think the creation of a common European identity is not a good thing either?’

‘It is not a problem if we have common values. That’s a good thing to me. But it is very important that each country keeps its own traditions as well. Local values are really important. The common values are very general: being trustworthy, respecting your work, and helping whoever needs help. Respecting the law. I think there should be European legislation but not on all matters. Governments of the respective countries should have room to make the legislation their country needs. You cannot place the EU on the list of countries like the United States and Russia.’ She laughs: ‘that spoils all the fun. Why would you go on holiday in Europe if we were all the same? You have to enjoy the diversity.’

The interview with Maria takes place during the week of the European elections and I ask her if she is going to vote. ‘Absolutely. I hate people who do not vote but after the elections complain about all the wrong things that happen. I think you have to voice your opinions.’ With that comment, she seems to be speaking for a minority in her country. The turnout for the elections was only 32.16%, even lower than the European average of 43.09%. Maria herself also seems to be more involved with the national elections that will take place in the autumn. ‘The big campaign leading up to the elections will be ugly. They are very important to me. Public opinion is currently very divided between a more pro-EU course and a course more focused on Russia. I hope people will see that we need to be stable, that we need the EU with its common vision and common values. We are on the battlefield between NATO and Russia. We have our place in the EU. I want to stay there.’