People across Europe share similar dreams and fears. This can be helpful in the fight against nationalism, the German-Romanian novelist and poet Carmen-Francesca Banciu told DW.
DW: Your new novel, "Farewell, Comrades and Mistresses!" ("Lebt wohl, Ihr Genossen und Geliebten!"), is the last part of a trilogy that you describe as an attempt to build bridges between Eastern and Western Europe. The strongly autobiographical books depict the rebellion of a young woman against her parents, staunch communists during Ceausescu's dictatorship in Romania. How can this story work as a bridge between East and West?
Carmen-Francesca Banciu: It works because the protagonist, who is born in Eastern Europe, embarks on a journey to the past after almost 30 years in Western Europe. Bringing along the perspective of her new life in the West, she returns from Germany to Romania to confront the story of her family, to understand and "translate" it into a language that can be understood by someone who comes from the West.
The heroine's father thinks only three things matter in life: "The fatherland, the Party and family honor." However, she believes that "my fatherland is the world." How much do you identify with this perspective?
I already had the feeling that the world was my "fatherland" when I was living in Romania, but back then I didn't dare to put it like this, because I had never been abroad. I was longing for the vastness of the world. Whenever I heard another language than my native Romanian, I had the feeling it was also mine. My heart was beating faster, and I thought I might find a part of myself in the respective language and culture. While living behind the Iron Curtain, in communist Romania, I was already able to travel the world, but only through books, music, culture and arts. But my life changed; in 1991 I came to Germany. There I realized: I am everything I see, everything I discover and experience — all this is mine. This is why I never felt alienated in the new country. Of course there are many very specific things you don't know yet, but this also happens if you move to another town. I never felt lost. Today, I still have the feeling that I have to keep on learning and incorporating languages, places, life experiences. No matter where the people I meet come from, I always feel that we have something in common.
Unfortunately, this common ground is often ignored by nationalists in the European Union. What can be done to combat nationalism?
The most important thing is getting to know each other! For example, here in Germany school curricula in history or literature should include many more lessons on the culture of other EU countries. This would show us how similar our hopes and fears are, although our languages are different. Exchange programs for young people should be extended and developed. It is important for everyone to spend time abroad: By doing this, you get to know yourself better and experience a connection to others because you are more dependent on other people's help in another country — and you have to learn to accept this support.
Last year, I suffered a triple fracture of the leg in Greece. I had to rely completely on others and have faith that everything would work in a country I don't know very well. I wasn't able to take a single step on my own, and it's hard for me to communicate in Greek, but I made it from the place of the accident to Athens and then back to Berlin. Even there, I depended on the help of friends, acquaintances and even strangers — aside from family and doctors — in order to deal with daily life. In this difficult situation, everyone showed a lot of solidarity.
In a column about solidarity after the mass protests in Bucharest at the beginning of 2017, you wrote that civil society in Romania was becoming stronger and more united. The protests against corruption and the dismantling of the rule of law went on in Romania at the beginning of 2018. Are you still optimistic about Romania's civil society?
Unfortunately, the political situation in Romania has not improved — on the contrary, it has become more alarming. But I still see the unity and solidarity of civil society. This gives me hope. No, I have not left my optimism behind!
The novelist, poet and teacher Carmen-Francesca Banciu was born in Romania and in 1991 moved to Berlin, where she began writing and publishing in German. She created and taught her own course in creativity and creative writing at universities in Britain and the US. Her most recent books to be translated into English include "Light Breeze in Paradise" (2017), "Berlin Is My Paris" (2016) and "Mother's Day: Song of a Sad Mother" (2015). Her new novel, "Lebt wohl, Ihr Genossen und Geliebten!" (Farewell, Comrades and Mistresses!), was published in March.